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Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his address to the Westminster Ministers’ Fellowship in June 1962:

The starting point in considering the question of unity must always be regeneration and belief of the truth. Nothing else produces unity, and, as we have seen clearly, it is impossible apart from this.

An appearance or a facade of unity based on anything else, and at the expense of these two criteria, or which ignores them, is clearly a fraud and a lie. People are not one, nor in a state of unity, who disagree about fundamental questions such as:

(a) whether we submit ourselves utterly to revealed truth or rely ultimately upon our reason and human thinking;

(b) the historic fall, and man’s present state and condition in sin, under the wrath of God, and in complete helplessness and hopelessness as regards salvation; and

(c) the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and the utter, absolute necessity, and sole sufficiency, of His substitutionary atoning work for sinners.

To give the impression that they are one simply because of a common outward organization is not only to mislead the world which is outside the church but to be guilty of a lie. (Knowing the Times, 160-61).

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22 thoughts on “The Starting Point for Christian Unity”

  1. Vic Williams says:

    Martin Lloyd-Jones had some amazing things to say and I believe many preachers today should learn from him. A lot of preachers today speak to tickle ears and avoid the hard truth. Thanks for your really encouraging posts.

  2. JW says:

    So, no unity unless you are already a conservative Reformed Calvinist?

  3. Dan says:

    JW, based on what I see above I do believe there is room for non-Calvinists. But regardless, Christianity does need a non-negotiable theological center, and to me that’s a pretty good succinct expression of what that center may be. And mind you, this is only a quote; the surrounding verbage may provide more helpful context.

  4. Dan says:

    I’m open to suggestions as to some essential works by Lloyd-Jones. As I go through James Boice’s Romans sermons, I see that JMB cites him quite a lot, and in agreement in the vast majority of cases. I’ve seen shades of Lloyd-Jones’ bluntness in a few cases but I lack any first-hand familarity with his work.

  5. david carlson says:

    actually jw, I don’t see this quote as demanding adherence to the truly reformed mantra. In fact, it is a fairly limited statement of faith, so to speak, for the basis of unity. He could go all Hammite, but doesn’t. He could demand fidelity to a particular dispensational view (i.e. if your not pre mil your not really a calvinist) but doesn’t. While he lists substitutionary atonement as a shibboleth, he doesn’t limit it (here at least) to one specific viewpoint (ransom, penal, govt, etc)

    I mean if Wesley would agree to those things (and I think he would) you cannot claim this is some truly reformed mantra

  6. Kevin DeYoung says:

    I recommend Lloyd-Jones novices start with “Spiritual Depression” and “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.” These are classics that would benefit any Christian.

  7. Jay Beerley says:

    Dan, I’m loving his exposition of 1 John. The collection of sermons is called “Life in Christ”

  8. Jimmy says:

    You’re not quite spot on, but you’re close. Let the forum go on, and soon the circle of necessary non-negotiable beliefs will exclude Arminians, Roman Catholics, the historic Orthodox, Anabaptists……. This is where the spirit of “Truth is the Basis of Unity” line of thinking leads. So, you were a bit broad, perhaps, in your question, but on the right track, imho.

  9. Dan says:

    Jimmy, I would believe that if one were to disagree with DMLJ’s statement as quoted by Kevin, he ought to propose an alternative basis for Christian unity without regard to reader comments. In my opinion, DMLJ refers us back to Scripture alone for determining the basis for that unity.

    One one level, the Church can have unity on the items that he cited. At a lower level, within a local church body itself, there will necessarily be a prevalent theology in place whether written or not. A church that cannot decide whether it is Arminian or Calvinist (being simplistic here) will be in chaos because the ramifications of a church’s theological views will be found in every endeavor in which a church engages. Conflict is indeed inevitable, because you’ll have differing factions interpreting Scripture in different ways. The outgrowth of this will be conflict, and that will need some kind of resolution or else you’ll see church splits, leadership in opposition to each other, and disgruntled members. In such cases it’s naive to plead with members simply to forget the differences in theology and give each other a hug. That’s where DMLJ’s comments prove themselves true.

  10. Phillip says:

    It has been said; Once an agreement is reached on what the problem is, tis then that a solution to the problem can begin.
    Praise be to God high in the heavens.

  11. david carlson says:

    Emil Brunner wrote (regarding unity and the church)

    There is no scandal in the fact that Lutherans and Calvinists do not have precisely the same understanding of the Lord’s Supper. The Scandal, however, is that they therefore cannot celebrate the communion with each other: which indeed amounts to this, that they do not acknowledge each other to be the church

  12. Our unity is in who we are, not in the details of what we believe. First, when we are born again, the spirit–righteousness–that made Christ the only begotten son of God is created within our physical bodies. Second, because we all have had very different experiences in our lives (many of which came without us choosing them–ex. parents, schools, churches), what we know and understand about God and the Bible will be mired in differences. That’s okay–Christ came so that each of us can develop a one-on-one relationship with God and can find the life that is greater than the loss, death, and destruction that evil has pounded our world with. Let’s encourage each other to seek God and His absolute love with everything we have, and let’s give each other the freedom to find the power of that love in our individual lives.

  13. Justin F says:

    It’s been my experience that using a theological matrix as a requirement for unity is misguided. It’s actually a basis for fracture and division. Hence the tens of THOUSANDS of subdivisions within Protestant Christianity. Everyone seems to have their own version of absolute, revealed truth. Not that theology and beliefs aren’t important, but I think that the last 500 yrs of church history shows us that we have our priorities out of place.

    What is the basis for unity?
    Love the Lord your God . . . and love your neighbor as yourself
    And they will know that you are my disciples by how you have love for one another.
    And these three remain faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

    We will always be confronted by people who are different than us, and our natural response will be to withdraw from those who are not like us. Love is the bridge. Love is the basis for unity.

  14. Ethan Sayler says:

    I appreciate your post from Lloyd-Jones. As a pastor in a denomination (PCUSA) that stresses unity more than anything else, we are so far from it. The recent push to accept the Belhar Confession, which seems to emphasize unity over orthodoxy in faith and action, is only further evidence. I think the only thing keeping this denomination “unified” is money and fear.
    We are one in Christ, or we are not one at all.

  15. Phillip says:

    Paul,to the Ephesians,expressed unity in terms of “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of paeace”. Preserving as to guarding.
    A. W Tozer expresed it well.
    “Hss it ever occured to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each othr? They are of one accord by having tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each on must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” concious and turn their eyes away from God to srive for closer fellowship.” From “The Puruit of God”.

  16. John Metz says:

    This is a good post and a good discussion.

    It is sad that apparently there is no unity on the “basis of unity.” I have no basic disagreement with Lloyd-Jones’ comments but the responses above illustrate an important point. That is, there is very little practical oneness among Christians today.

    The responses above indicate a deep suspicion by some believers of at least some other believers in the Calvinist camps. This should be a warning to Calvinists that perhaps in their zeal for Calvinism, they have damaged the oneness of the church. It should also warn those believers who have been offended by Calvinists in like manner. How can there be oneness without trust?

    While not discounting the matters of truth, oneness is the “oneness of the Spirit,” the oneness of a living person. In Romans 14 it is clear that we should receive those whom God has received. Admittedly, both are subjective, yet both are scriptural. As John 17 indicates, genuine oneness is to be found in the Trinity and to be communicated to us, the believers, as we experience and appreciate the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Perhaps our disunity indicates our lack in this area.

  17. Dan says:

    Thanks Kevin and other readers for your suggestions on Lloyd-Jones reading!

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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