First off, a special hello to anyone checking in from the Shepherd’s Conference. I’m sure you are getting some great teaching (especially when Phil Johnson mentions my blog–talk about pressure!).
Today we come to the third of three lectures from Martyn Lloyd-Jones on “What is an Evangelical?” As I noted yesterday, once when we’re finished I’ll offer some analysis of the Doctor’s lectures. I agree with a lot, but not everything.
Lloyd Jones begins the third lecture by distinguishing between essential and secondary truths. “We must be as inclusive as we can and yet draw certain lines which we regard as being essential” (336). The concern is that once “you divide yourself off from people who are heterodox or who have virtually no belief at all…you are confronted by a further problem (337-38).” Lloyd-Jones continues:
Having separated yourself from unbelievers, of from false professors of the Christian faith, you are now confronted by the problem of maintaining unity among yourselves. As I have tried to show, when people take doctrine seriously, a tendency develops in them, not perhaps to take it too seriously, but to become so particular and rigid that they demand too much, and put into the category of essential what should be regarded rather as non-essential (338).
We would do well to pay attention to the wisdom of Calvin in this regard:
For not all the articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as the proper principles of religion. Such are: God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests in God’s mercy; and the like [Me: And the like?! Would it have killed you to give us a little longer list, Calvin?!]. Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do break the unity of faith…Here are the apostle’s words: ‘Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be of the same mind; and if you be differently minded in anything, God shall reveal this also to you’ (Phil. 3:15). Does this not sufficiently indicate that a difference of opinion over these nonessential matters should in no wise be the basis of schism among Christians? First and foremost, we should agree on all points. But since all men are somewhat beclouded with ignorance, either we must leave no church remaining, or we must condone delusion in those matters which can go unknown without harm to the sum of religion and without loss of salvation (Inst. IV.i.12).
This, of course, does not mean we are indifferent to doctrine. Far from it. Doctrine is vital and essential (339). This is why evangelicals are opposed to the ecumenical movement. The movement pays lip service to statements of faith, but is actually based on doctrinal indifferentism.
So what are the essential doctrines for evangelicals that distinguish them from other Christians or professors of faith?
1. “The first is the doctrine of Scripture” (340). The Bible is our supreme and sole authority, God’s completely trustworthy self-revelation. The evangelical believes in propositional truth, the miracles of the Bible, the history as well as the didactic teaching. The Bible is not just true in its “religious” parts. It is without error in all that it affirms. This means that the evangelical believes in the historicity of Adam and Eve. Further, “we reject any notion of a pre-Adamic man because it is contrary to the teaching of Scripture” (343). The first chapters of Genesis must be accepted as history and cannot be undermined based on evolutionary theories.
2. We believe in the existence of the devil and evil spirits.
3. Man is spiritually dead and totally incapable, on his own, of any spiritual good.
4. The evangelical believes in the atonement, with a special emphasis on its penal, subsitutionary nature.
5. “We must also assert in a very special way justification by faith alone, faith only. We have to go on to assert that justification is not the result of regeneration, nor does it depend upon regeneration” (349).
6. No evangelical “can possibly believe in a state or territorial church” (349).
7. We believe in the importance of doctrine and church discipline.
8. We reject every notion of apostolic succession.
9. We believe in the sacraments, but reject every suggestion of sacerdotalism (the notion that there is inherent efficacy in the sacramental act itself).
Non-essential doctrines “are very important, and they must be discussed by evangelical people, but we must discuss them as brethren…we call them non-essential because they are not essential to salvation” (351). These doctrines are not as clearly taught as essential doctrines. Thus, sincere Christians sometimes come to different convictions in these areas. We must note that “difference between a defective understanding and a positive denial of truth by able people” (352).
So what are some of the doctrines Lloyd-Jones marks as non-essential?
1. “One is the belief in election and predestination” (352). Pelagianism is to be condemned, but not evangelical Arminianism. Though Lloyd-Jones was a convinced Calvinist, he put the issue in the category of a non-essential because Calvinists and Arminians disagree on the mechanism of salvation, not the way of salvation.
2. The age and mode of baptism. You cannot prove one or the other from the Scriptures.
3. “In the same way, we must not divide on the question of assurance of salvation” (353).
4. “We must not divide on the issue of church polity” (353).
5. “In the same way, clearly, we must not divide on the question of prophetic interpretation: pre-, post-, a-millennialist, and so on” (353).
6. Our differing views of sanctification are not essential.
7. Ditto for “the whole question of the baptism of the Spirit and the charismata, the spiritual gifts” (354).
Our object in all this is to safeguard the gospel, to keep the evangel clear. This is our motive for defining “evangelical.” By the same token, we should realize that none of us will be perfect in our understanding. We are all saved in spite of ourselves.
Tomorrow: an evaluation of the pluses and minuses of Lloyd-Jones’ approach.