Understanding Opponents

Of the numerous regrets I have in life, not having been more understanding of others ranks high on the list. I have, many times, drawn hasty conclusions about others without having considered all that may factor into their lives. Many times, I have been critical of others when I should have erred on the side of seeking to understand more about their personality, background and life circumstances. By so doing, I would have been much slower to draw conclusions about them and much quicker to extend grace to them. I was reminded of this principle while reading J.I. Packer's article, "D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Kind of Puritan."

It is a well known fact that Lloyd-Jones had splintered relationships with both John Stott and J.I. Packer. The rift between Lloyd-Jones and Stott occurred on October 18, 1966 at the Evangelical Alliance's National Assembly, where Lloyd-Jones called ministers to leave liberal-drifting denominations and enter into independent ecclesiastical fellowships instead. After Lloyd-Jones made his appeal, Stott publicly derided his proposal--saying,  I believe history is against Dr Lloyd-Jones, in that others have tried to do this very thing. I believe that Scripture is against him, in that the remnant was within the Church and not outside it." The parting with Packer occurred in 1970 on account of the publication of a book titled, Growing into Union--the product of the ecumenical affiliation of Packer, a fellow Anglican minister and two Anglo-Catholics. Lloyd-Jones adamantly opposed affiliation with denominations in which theological liberalism was tolerated. Packer would later express his own dismay over the doctrinal declension in the Anglican fellowships. However, he downplayed, the divide between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Growing into Union.

Although I wholeheartedly share Lloyd-Jones convictions about defending Scripture and doctrinal purity in the church--as well as his insistence that faithful ministers ought to align themselves with other faithful ministers--I do not support his proposal concerning ministers separating from denominations altogether and becoming independent churches belonging to highly intentional evangelical fellowships. However, had I been alive when the controversy erupted, I would have certainly stood with Lloyd-Jones as over against Packer. While sharing Packer's convictions about the biblical mandate for maintaining spiritual union with all believers, I strongly oppose his willingness to compromise the truth of Protestant doctrine for the sake of ecumenical unity.

That being said, I find it a thing of great interest that Packer has--despite the great personal fall out--called Lloyd-Jones, "the greatest man that I ever knew." Packer sought to understand Lloyd-Jones--concluding that the Doctor considered himself to be a sort of modern day non-conformist Puritan. In seeking to see how much he was "in line with the Puritanism that he celebrated so vigorously," Packer explained:

1. He was Welsh. Packer explained, "As such, Lloyd-Jones distrusted the English...he saw them as having a genius for compromise and for maintaining inert institutions...Though not a typical Welshman, since he was unsentimental, nor a typical Welsh preacher, since he spoke and thought like a barrister and put no imaginative flights into his sermons, his Welshness--geniality, courtesy, sensitivity, warmth, magnetic vitality--remained pure and potent, and it was as a Welshman contemplating Englishmen that he viewed the Puritans and the battles they fought."1

2. He was a physician. Packer drew out a parallel between Lloyd-Jones' medical background and pastoral approach: "Starting from a clear view of what constituted theological and spiritual wholeness, he analyzed everything and everyone systematically, and as a matter of habit, to detect first of all what was disordered and then also what was lacking; for he recognized what was not seen or not said can be as significant a sign of spiritual or theological ill-health as any actual sin or error."2

Packer then made the connection between Lloyd-Jones the apothecary and his affinity for Puritanism when he wrote,

"One thing that delighted him about the Puritan writers was that they, too, in their character as physicians of the soul (their own phrase to describe themselves), were thorough in diagnostic analysis within the frame of their profound understanding of what, according to Scripture, constitutes theological and spiritual well-being, and of the damage that one-sidedness, imbalance and tunnel vision can do to one's Christian life."3

3. He was a biblical, rational, practical, pastoral theologian. Packer recalled, "He once spoke of a person we knew as having a 'naturally theological mind.' Well...it takes one to know one and if I am any judge that is exactly what must be said of him. Though he never attended a theological college and was to all intents and purposes self-taught, he read constantly, thought deeply, and during the years that I knew him could keep his conservative Reformed end up in any company--indeed, he could dominate any theological discussion in which he was involved.'4 

Speaking of the unique gifts that God had given the Doctor, Packer wrote,

"There was a prophetic quality about his ministry, which during the years when I knew him isolated him from the religious establishment and the mainstream cultures of both England and Wales."5

Packer continued,

"He was, to be sure, strong enough to cope with the isolation, and it was in fact given him in the post-war years to see the quality of evangelical teaching in England and Wales change for the better through his own weaving back into it the binding thread of Reformed theology--a thread which had snapped after Spurgeon was defeated in the Downgrade Controversy, and Keswick teaching swamped Anglican Calvinism, and liberalism an the social gospel captured the pulpits of Wales."6

He then concluded, "Yet, deep-level isolation from most of his ecclesiastical peers was a permanent part of the Doctor's experience, and this, I think, gave him a special sense of affinity with the Puritans, who were the odd men out in relation to the Anglican establishment in the century after the Reformation."7

4. He was a dyed-in-the-wool Reformed Churchman. Packer noted,

"[He was] one who saw that in Scripture the church is central to both the fulfilling of God's purposes and the furthering of his praise, and one for whom therefore the state of the church was always a matter of prime concern...But he would never make polity an issue; he urged rather, that evangelical churches should accept without question each other's varieties of organization and usage provided these did not directly contradict Scripture, and concentrate together on the common quest for doctrinal purity, spiritual profundity, and missionary validity, under the guidance and authority of God's written word. It was thus, to his mind, that true Christian unity would be shown and the church's real health promoted."8

After giving further consideration to Lloyd-Jones' ministry in light of Puritan traits, Packer concluded his analysis of the Doctor in the following way:

"It has to be said of the great Puritans, Owen, Baxter, Goodwin, Sibbes, Perkins and Howe, and of their greatest followers over three centuries, Edwards, Spurgeon, Ryle, and now Dr Lloyd-Jones, that we shall not see their likes again; each great man is unique. In another sense, however, we may hope and should pray that tomorrow's church will be blessed with many like then in stature, principles, wisdom, gifts and godliness, and so in every generation until the Lord comes. Men who faithfully maintain the essence of the Christianity the Doctor stood for are the memorial that he himself would have desired. May such a memorial be forthcoming; for there is nothing today that the church needs more."9

Whatever one may make of all of the facets of Packer's assessment of Lloyd-Jones, of this much we can be sure: It is always right for us to seek to discern with great understanding, care and charity the personality, background and circumstances that animate a man or woman--especially a man or woman with whom we may have had a sharp and even irremediable rift.

1. J.I. Packer Collected Shorter Writings of J.I. Packer (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1999). p. 65

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. p. 66

5. Ibid.

6. p. 67

7. Ibid.

8. pp. 67-68

9. p. 76