The Unity of the Church

On October 18-19, 1966, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave a lecture at the Second National Assembly of Evangelicals in Great Britain on the subject of “Evangelical Unity: An Appeal.” His lecture proved to be controversial with many evangelicals in attendance and was openly opposed by John Stott as contrary to the whole history of the church. In 2019, there were some ministers with me in St. Petersburg, Russia at the Russian Pastors Conference who had been in attendance at that meeting in 1966 and one or two of them very clearly sided with Stott’s position. In our discussions at a restaurant near Nevsky Prospect[1], I agreed with Lloyd-Jones’ position, having read his lecture in Knowing the Timeswhich is published by The Banner of Truth Trust. 

Let me say at the outset that John Stott is certainly correct that the history of the church is overwhelmingly on the side of evangelicals remaining in their denominations and working for reform from within as fifth columnists. There can be no doubt about that. Yet, that is exactly where the overwhelming majority of evangelicals have gone wrong, in my opinion, and it is the way in which those evangelicals have ultimately done more harm to the cause of Christ than good. A typical scenario goes like this: a dynamic minister of a large church decides that it is best to fight for reform from within the denomination and convinces many other pastors to follow suit. Eventually, those pastors retire or die without having accomplished that reform and the pastoral vacancies of their congregations come under the control of a progressive or liberal group that decides the next ministers of those congregations are going to be in line with the majority of the denomination. It has happened over and over again. I could take each of you around to church after church in Great Britain and the United States where the gospel was once faithfully preached, but is not any more. Working for reform from within a denomination has never worked and never will. Moreover, that is not the type of unity of the church for which we are to be working. That is not the type of unity for which Christ prayed in His high priestly prayer in John 17 and that is not the type of unity Paul wrote about in Ephesians 4. If you have Lloyd-Jones book referenced above, I would encourage you to read pages 246 to 257.  

Lloyd-Jones acknowledged at the beginning of his lecture that “evangelical Christians have been less interested in the question of church unity than anyone else. . . We are always negative; we are always on the defensive; we are always bringing up objections and difficulties.”[2]At the time of his lecture, the World Council of Churches (WCC) was making inroads into the major Christian denominations of the world and was presenting a serious challenge for evangelicals in those denominations. Matters had remained fairly static from the time of the Protestant Reformation until the twentieth century, but the WCC began to change all that when they met in Amsterdam in 1948. The leaders of the WCC urged that all Christians come together and form one worldwide church by dropping all distinctives that would divide them. The National Assembly of Evangelicals in Great Britain did not begin until 1965. The impetus for this new alliance was the threat of Christian denominations going back to Rome. As Lloyd-Jones said, “The trend to Rome was the cause of the beginning of this Alliance; evangelical people saw the danger signs and felt that they must come together.”[3]Yet, those evangelicals were sadly divided on the right strategy to combat the ecumenical difficulties facing those Christian denominations. Lloyd-Jones’ views speak to the modern situation facing Christians in our day also as he addresses some of the major problems facing evangelicals.

The first problem that Lloyd-Jones saw was that evangelicals were often only interested in personal evangelism and ignored or totally avoided the doctrine of the church. That is a real temptation. Yet, in our day I think the reality is that most denominations are interested in neither personal evangelism nor the doctrine of the church. First, the doctrine of the church was thrown out and then evangelism was discarded sometime around 1980. Today, we have people who call themselves Christians, but ignore their responsibility to join a church and be under the authority of Christ’s ordained government. And, if evangelism is done at all, it is distinct from the church. People are encouraged to come to Christ, but they are not encouraged to unite with a church. That is a recipe for disaster. If the church and her officers and her sacraments and her members (all of which are clearly spelled out in Scripture) are ignored and discarded, the church will not be long behind in being discarded. Without members, there can be no officers elected by the members—not even pastors—and banks will not loan money for buildings without members who have voted to repay the loans. Without officers, who is going to preach? Who will fence the Lord’s table? Who will baptize? Scripture never gives any individual the right to appoint himself as a minister or an officer or to have the keys of the kingdom. So, the point is that evangelicals must deal with the matter of the doctrine of the church or there will soon be no church.   

The second problem is that evangelicals seem to be content with being nothing more than an evangelical wing of a liberal or progressive denomination. That is what happens when evangelicals decide to remain in progressive denominations. They become members of “a kind of paper church, with a formula that people interpret in their own way. . . just an evangelical wing in this comprehensive, national, territorial church.” What unity is there when the unity is just a paper unity? What unity is there when the confessional documents are interpreted in many different ways and there is no commonly accepted position? Certainly, there are some areas where it is difficult to discern the meaning of Scripture, but those areas are few. Concerning all the essential doctrines of the Scripture, there must be unity. Those essential doctrines primarily comprise what we call the doctrines of salvation or the ‘ordo salutis’. The mode of baptism is not an essential doctrine. The view of the millennium is not an essential doctrine. Whether church government is independent or presbyterian is not an essential matter. There are doctrines that concern the well-being of the church, but they do not concern the being or existence of the church. There are things that are essential. Other things are adiaphora or non-essential. According to my observation, too many people get these matters completely backwards. They will divide over non-essential differences, but they will remain in denominations that are clearly progressive or liberal dominated. Every major Christian denomination in the US today has problems with homosexual officers (though many of them claim to be celibate); with Marxism (masquerading as social justice); with women officers, contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture; and, with progressives firmly in control of all the engines of power. Yet, it is even worse than that. Every major Reformed seminary in the US (but not necessarily every campus of those seminaries) is being influenced by money from George Soros funneled through James Riady in Indonesia. That money comes with strings attached—unhealthy strings. Now, there are still some options for those who want to be trained as reformed pastors—Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids; Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary; and, Erskine Theological Seminary. There are some others as well. To my knowledge, those seminaries have not taken “tainted” money that came from the dirty hands of George Soros. Soros has a plan to corrupt all the evangelical seminaries in America and, thus, destroy evangelicalism in this country. Is not that reason enough for evangelicals to come out and be separate, lest they be destroyed?            

Third, many evangelicals are accused of schism if they leave their denomination to form a new union. I have been accused of schism, as has Vanguard in general. Such people belie their ignorance when they make such accusations. If it is schism to leave the PCA for conscience’s sake, was it something other than schism when the PCA left the PCUS? Or when the OPC left the PCUSA? Or when many of the Puritans left the Church of England? Or when the reformers left the Roman Catholic Church? Of course, there are many people who would respond resoundingly that it was indeed schism in all those situations. I disagree with those allegations and will state why in a few minutes. But it begs the question if a denomination that has committed schism can take anyone else to task for committing schism? Would that not be the height of hypocrisy? Yet, I have numerous emails from people chastising me and those who are in Vanguard of being schismatic and stating that we should have left and joined one of the existing denominations, instead. Such people, in my deep conviction, simply do not understand what schism is. As Lloyd-Jones stated: “schism is a division among members of the true visible church about matters which are not sufficiently important to justify division.”[4]It is not schism to leave a denomination that has become heretical. It is not schism to leave a denomination that affirms ministers and officers who proclaim that they are homosexual (even if they claim to be non-practicing). It is not schism to leave a denomination that has become “woke”. In fact, it is one’s Christian duty to do so. That is exactly where the greatest problem with the modern church is. It is what I call Roberts’ Rules. The first rule is that the more serious the problem is, the less serious the church takes it. The second rule is that the less serious the problem is, the more serious the church takes it. 

In his lecture, Lloyd-Jones stated “that the only people I know at the present time who are guilty of the sin of schism are evangelicals.”[5]Consider that for a moment. If schism is division among members of the true visible church over non-essential matters, it cuts both ways. A Christian can be schismatic by rejecting a fellow Christian who follows their conscience to leave a denomination that they believe has become guilty of heresy in either orthodoxy or orthopraxy. In other words, before you ever accuse someone of schism, make sure that you have removed the log from your own eye. From my experience, schism is often committed by those who remain in progressive dominated denominations—especially if they divide from their evangelical brothers who have followed their consciences. In other words, schism is an attitude first and foremost. Schism is not a sin committed by leaving a denomination guilty of serious error or heresy. Yet, the position of Lloyd-Jones was that all evangelicals should leave their liberal denominations and band together in true Christian unity. That is the best way to preserve the remnant of the true church in times of persecution. 

I know of a large church in the southeast of the United States where a long-time pastor used to tell his members if the gospel ever ceased to be preached in that church, they should close their ears and rush out of the building. Today, that congregation is pastored by one of the most progressive ministers in that denomination. To my knowledge, there has not been a mad rush for the doors. Christians simply do not understand the importance of the visible and spiritual unity of the true church. 

 Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL

www.vanguardpresbyterianchurch.comPlease send any contributions to: Vanguard PresbyteryPO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540.

[1]One of the major streets in St. Petersburg that passes by the western side of the Winter Palace where the Bolsheviks staged their overthrow of the Tsar. 

[2]D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times(Edinburgh, Scotland and Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 249. 


[4]Ibid., 253. 


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