Why Would Protestants Make Arguments that Undermine the Reformation?

Why Would Protestants Make Arguments that Undermine the Reformation? October 20, 2016

Justin Taylor remembered that fifty years ago British evangelicals had their neo-evangelical against fundamentalist moment. For Americans, the split between evangelicalism and fundamentalism came in 1957 Billy Graham Crusade. There Graham enlisted the help of mainline (read liberal) Protestant churches. When Graham did that, Bob Jones and other fundamentalists stopped backing Graham.

It took British evangelicals a decade longer to split. In October 1966 Martin Lloyd-Jones issued a call for evangelicals to unite. Sounds good. But he did so by arguing that evangelicals should leave compromised (read liberal) churches.

In both cases you have what historians call separatism. That’s bad, supposedly, in religion. But it’s pretty good on Independence Day.

Taylor’s post includes comments on John Stott and J. I. Packer’s reasons against evangelicals leaving compromised (read liberal) churches:

Stott would never phrase the question in the way you have! Such a position would be impossible to defend! Stott and his Anglican evangelical colleagues, like J. I. Packer, protested vigorously against heresy in the Church of England, especially against liberal and catholic errors that were gathering pace in the 1960s. They were determined to protect their congregations from false teachers and from unbelieving bishops, and to keep their distance. Nevertheless, they did not think they were compromised simply by belonging to a doctrinally mixed denomination.

Their arguments took three forms:

(1) Historically, they argued that the constitutional basis of the Church of England was Protestant and Reformed, seen in the Reformation formularies like the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer. So evangelicals held the legal “title deeds” to the Church of England, and the liberals and catholics should get out, not them.

(2) Biblically, they argued that many New Testament churches were doctrinally confused or morally compromised, like the church in Corinth that was muddled about the resurrection, or the church in Sardis that numbered only “a few” godly people (Rev. 3:4). But believers in those churches are told to hold fast to the gospel, and to fight against false teachers, not to leave the church and set up a new one.

(3) Pragmatically, Stott and his friends argued that the Church of England provided many gospel opportunities for evangelicals, and that it would be a dereliction of duty to hand over their pulpits to unbelieving clergy. What then would become of their congregations?

The Anglican evangelicals in the 1960s held to the motto, “Cooperation without Compromise.” The problem was that in practice it quickly became “Cooperation with Compromise.”

Imagine if Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli had used that logic. Stott and Packer would have still been Roman Catholic.


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