One of the largest evangelical Anglican churches in the UK, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, recently announced that it will no longer accept episcopal oversight from the Church of England’s House of Bishops.

This comes as a result of the General Synod’s decision to bless couples who are in a same-sex marriage or civil partnership. According to Premier Christian News, the Rev William Taylor said:

Despite the very substantial minority vote in the House of Clergy and Laity – 40 to 45 per cent against – the bishops seem determined to persist with their proposals, exalting their own views above a very substantial minority of those who cannot accept it. Leadership cannot be deemed effective when vast sways refuse to follow.

The bishops of the Church of England have walked away from us. By contrast, we will continue to walk in closer union with those who uphold the teaching of God’s word, and will actively develop stronger gospel partnerships with them.

The current context raises the question of whether the late John Stott, the famous Anglican evangelical stalwart, would have himself continued to remained. In 1966 Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones had a confrontation which many regarded as a dispute over whether it was time for evangelicals to withdraw from the Anglican communion. For Lloyd-Jones the time was now, but for the Stott the response was not yet.

Significantly, three years before he retired due to ill health—in 1968—when Lloyd-Jones was 67 approached Stott who was 45 to be his successor at Westminster Chapel. Apparently, a shocked Stott replied to Lloyd-Jones: “While I am greatly honoured, I have no sense of cal­ling to leave All Souls’, or, indeed, the Church of England.” It would end up being a prescient response.

On October 18 of the following year (1966) The Evangelical Alliance hosted it’s second National Assembly of Evangelicals with Lloyd-Jones scheduled to give the key note address. The Church Times explains well what happened next:

AS LLOYD-JONES got into his talk, he warmed to his theme. “Ecumenical people put fellowship before doctrine,” he said. “We, as Evangelicals, put doctrine before fellowship. . . I make this appeal to you Evangelical people this evening: what reasons have we for not coming together? Some will say we will miss evangelistic opportunities if we leave our denominations, but I say ‘Where is the Holy Spirit?’. . . 

“You cannot justify your decision to remain in your denomination by saying that you maintain your independence. You cannot dissociate yourself from the Church to which you belong. This is a very contradictory posi­tion, and one that the man in the street must find very hard to understand. Don’t we feel the call to come together — not occasionally, but always?” 

The atmosphere as he spoke was electric. 

In the audience were many Anglican clergy; John felt especially responsible for them. “From the platform,” he later recalled, “I could see younger men with flushed faces, sitting on the edge of their seat, hanging on every word, and probably ready to go home and write their letter of resignation from the Alliance that very night. I hoped at least to restrain some hotheads from doing this.” 

Members of the audience who valued their existing denominational allegiances were horrified by what Lloyd-Jones was saying. 

Douglas Johnson, of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, thought that John looked “flushed, rattled, and annoyed”. And, indeed, John thought that using the opening address to make an appeal for action was an improper use of the assembly. 

WHEN Lloyd-Jones eventually finished, John rose to thank the speaker and announce the closing hymn. But he had something more to say. “I hope that no one will make a precipitate de­cision after this moving address,” he began. You could have heard a pin drop as he aban­doned a chairman’s neutrality. “We are here to debate this subject, and 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.”

Fast forward fifty years and here we are. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ exhortation has proven to be prophetic.

Light can no more be in fellowship with darkness than Christ can be in harmony with Belial.

– Mark Powell