Understanding Opponents

Seek to discern with understanding, care and charity the personality, background and circumstances that animate others, especially those with whom we may have had a sharp and even irremediable rift.

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.”

 

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

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