Someone recently lent me a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones entitled What is an Evangelical? Needless to say, it had a profound impact on me. I found I agreed with most of what the author said, whilst also disagreeing with him on certain points. In some ‘Reformed’ circles, this man is put on a high pedal stool, which annoys me greatly, however he was a man greatly blessed in ministry and wisdom. Many thanks to Josh for lending it to me, it has been a great inspiration!
Evangelicalism: Primary and Secondary issues
The whole point of the book (a series of lectures given in 1971), is to define what an Evangelical is; that they are one who focuses on the whole truth of the gospel, not jeopardising the primary issues, such as the Cross and the Resurrection, etc. He also is keen to point out a lot of matters which are not primary issues such as Calvinism, how the Spirit works, baptism, prophetic interpretation etc.… with which a lot of Christians can get carried away with and divided by.
When I read this, I was extremely glad when the author noted the secondary issues that should not get in the way of unity amongst Evangelicals. I would add to this, colour of church doors, the type of worship music that we use, whether or not we have pews, or the version of the Bible that we use. There are so many little divisions that keep us from this unity. I am also very glad that he notes of primary issues that we must focus on, and that we should be careful of those who vary from us on these primary truths. The Catholic Church for example, in doctrine on primary truths, varies lot and we must be careful. However Lloyd-Jones’ view on creation I think can be a red-herring, and a hindrance to real issues. Ultimately, how God created the world is neither here nor there when it comes to salvation. It doesn’t bother me, what bothers me is Jesus and his Word being proclaimed in our land.
Nonetheless, unity in the church is a topic Lloyd-Jones focuses on and I would like to take it even further, that the many denominations need to have further unity. In doctrine we will differ on these secondary issues, but with all our aims in evangelising, in spreading the good news, we must unite, as this infighting is just us letting sin control us.
Doctrine and Feeling: the Balancing Act
Lloyd-Jones attacks both intellectualism and emotionalism in these series of lectures. Both, he feels, hinder the work of the Gospel and our walk with the Lord. He notes that especially those in Reformed circles, if they feel the Spirit and are baptised in the Spirit they feel they have to become Pentecostal, which he states is not the case! How true is this! All Christians should welcome such a wonderful gift and should not feel inclined to change denomination because of it! In this, he notes that there has to be knowledge of doctrine, which warns us of the danger of ecumenicalism. That because we think we feel the Spirit does not mean that doctrine no longer matters, it does! That’s why there is still an important divide between Catholics and Protestants, etc… What Lloyd-Jones notes, is that both the Spirit and doctrine are vital for our modern day church. That either going too far one way will become very dangerous and I totally agree with this. I will later go into the Reformed-Charismatic movement as a way of reaching the balance, but for now it is important to note that balance is always needed in the church.
Lloyd-Jones notes of the danger of the growing ecumenical movement that he saw rise during his lifetime. As Christians, we need to be careful of sharing with other churches which vary from the primary issues of the gospel. The Catholic Church and some other denominations need to be kept apart from fellowship for our own good. How can we share evangelism platforms with those who compromise on fundamentals? Share a platform with those who do not believe in a personal relationship with God, who believe in an infallible man called a Pope and pray to Mary? The poor woman would turn in her grave, if only she knew! I am not saying that there are not Christians amongst the Catholic Church, far be it from me to say such things, but certainly the leadership and structure of the Catholic Church should never be met in fellowship, they are incredibly dangerous. I sometimes feel as though we think ecumenical movements are the only way to achieve unity. That idea is wrong, we can have unity in fellowship with our denominations, evangelize together, but we have to recognize our differences and stop trying to water down and compromise on doctrine.
He writes that the church has to be constantly reforming. This is an interesting notion and one that I fully understand. The church should not be relying on its traditions to survive; it should rather be looking forward, and constantly improving itself, adapting to new challenges and situations, and most importantly continually growing in the Lord.
Reformed and Charismatics: where’s the in-between?
I would know like to move onto an article that discusses unity in an interesting way. The term ‘Reformed Charismatic’ might surprise a few, but I think it is wonderful. By it, we see a church desiring to learn the word, whilst acknowledging the wonderful and powerful work of the Holy Spirit.
If you have read my post on Calvinism, you would know that I am deeply against labels. However, a recent post by the Gospel Coalition really stood out to me. ‘Why Charismatics and Calvinists Need Each Other’. I now aim to explain what the author means by the term ‘Reformed Charismatic’ and why I indeed agree with him.
To me, in simplistic terms, Reformed (Calvinist) churches focus on doctrine but can tread into problems with intellectualism, whilst Charismatic churches focuses on the Spirit, but can tread in dangerous waters regarding emotionalism. Both broadly describe themselves as ‘Evangelical.’ There is no balance in either of these camps. Having emotion and doctrine is no bad thing; God has given us emotions that allow us to express ourselves when words cannot. God has given us doctrine to grow closer to Him.
The church needs to embrace both these. The Spirit is real, the gifts God give are real, and God is unchanging, so why would he suddenly withdraw them from us? The gifts are wonderful, and experiencing God is a fantastic experience that can stir our heart to praise Him more. Interestingly, many ultra-Reformed-types love the writing of Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards, however, it can be noted that he describes of incredible encounters and experiences with God, the like of which some would denounce today.
At the same time, doctrinal knowledge is needed. To keep us from wandering from God, to help us know more of him and to really grow as his children. To generalise the church here, we have gone to one extreme or the other, rather than desiring both. We have become scared of doctrine, or we have become scared of accepting the Spirit, of losing control and letting God use us. What we need to be is unafraid and let God work; we need to desire to learn more of him, whilst we long for his spirit to fill us, to overwhelm us, so that like the old Puritan John Flavel who knew ‘more of heaven from one experience with the Lord than all the books and sermons he had ever read’; or as D.L. Moody, “Stay thy hand Lord! Or the vessel will break!”
The dangers of both extremes are real, between stiff-upper-lip hermit hyper-Calvinists and bewildered Charismatics living for weekly-experiences and healings, perpetually worried about losing their salvation or grieving the Spirit.
Even in our worship we must see a balance. Now I do aim to do an article of worship later on in more detail; but even in our worship we must reform. In many Reformed circles, the organ and hymns are seen as the right way, that praising God can only be done this way; it keeps the emotions under control and is right and proper. In Charismatic circles, having the most up-to-date music, with choruses, and a variety of instruments is seen as the best way to praise God. That God can only work when music is used and that music is the only way we can praise God can sometimes be the message shown. Now both are naïve in their understanding of God, but both can be good forms of worship. To the Reformed, I say, do not box God up and tell him what proper worship is, and do not be scared of your emotions, neither should you hinder the use of God’s gifts he has given people, nor not allow other instruments or new songs into the church. To the Charismatic church I say, don’t let your emotions go unchecked, don’t be afraid of the old stuff and don’t get carried away by the music alone. We need authentic worship that comes from our heart. If both types of churches embraced each other’s style, with an authentic heart then maybe we would really see God work more and more!
Is what I’m saying ecumenical? Hardly! Churches will always have disagreements over secondary issues, but when it comes to Evangelical Reformed and Charismatic churches, we agree on so much, and the denominations agree on so much. By being a Reformed Charismatic, perhaps we can move to a position where the churches can come together to evangelise and fellowship more, presenting a unified Body of Christ, resplendent and effective in evangelism, ‘salt and light’. It will keep us aware of the doctrinal truth of the Bible, and thus aware of heresies such as the Roman Catholic Church, whilst engaging with so many more churches around us. It will allow us to have a church that is filled with the Spirit, and one that is strong in the word of God.
We must learn to come together in unity; we must immediately pray for this unity and get rid of the animosity in the church and we must learn to accept our differences. May our prayer be the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane as John 17: 22-23 states ‘I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. May we be like Christ as Philippians 2:1-5 says ‘Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’
Therefore to conclude, I think Lloyd-Jones’ lectures in What is an Evangelical? are as relevant today as they were then. We need to see the dangers of certain movements, and of the liberal churches that are around. We however, must move away from our extremes of intellectualism and emotionalism, and focus once again on the Gospel truth. We need to embrace the Spirit, long for the baptism of the Spirit, for the gifts, whilst also having a strong knowledge of the biblical truths. We need to be accepting of our differences, except when Gospel fundamentals are impinged on. Although I am wary of labels, perhaps calling ourselves a Reformed Charismatic is a start in bringing a unity between Reformed and Charismatic churches, whilst also bringing together the gospel truths once more. May you be blessed and may God burn in your hearts brothers and sisters!