Why Martin Lloyd-Jones Matters Today

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Recently I have been reading a book about Martin Lloyd-Jones and the influence of his preaching. What I find most interesting is how relevant his approach to preaching is to our day. Here are a excerpts from the book to help you see what I mean:

Martin Lloyd-Jones began his ministry in a time when biblical preaching was considered irrelevant. The common thought of the day was that people are not interested in nor have the ability to handle anything but short “homilies” or “sermonettes”. Churches around the UK were in decline and it was thought that things such as clubs, activities and entertainment were needed to attract people to churches. Martin Lloyd-Jones did not agree with this; he felt that the greatest need in the church was for strong, biblical, doctrinal preaching.

Peter Lewis writes,

“Amidst the spiritual decline in post WWII England, this gifted expositor stood virtually alone in his commitment to biblical preaching.”

Having grown up in church (Calvinist Methodist {I didn’t even know there was such a thing!}), Martin Lloyd-Jones claimed that he was only truly converted at age 25. He later described this turning point in his life:

“For many years I thought I was a Christian, when in fact I was not. It was only later that I came to see that I had no inner Christian, and became one. What I needed was preaching that would convict me of sin, but I never heard this. The preaching we had was always based on the assumption that we were all Christians.”

This experience had a profound impact on the way he preached later on in his ministry; he was always doing the work of an evangelist, because he knew what it was to be in church but not be in Christ.

Martin Lloyd-Jones’ definition of good preaching was: theology coming through a man who is on fire.

Preaching, he believed, was God’s method, the primary means by which scripture is to be made known.

In this way, Lloyd-Jones stood with the Reformers and Puritans who insisted that preaching is the chief means by which the grace of God is administered to the church.

Hughes Olifant Old, one of the foremost experts on the history of preaching, states,

“the greatest impact of Lloyd-Jones on the English-speaking pulpit of today is the recovery of expository preaching.”

The attitudes and trends which characterized the times in which Martin Lloyd-Jones began his ministry seem very similar to those of today. Thus, he stands as an example of a different, and may I say: better way.

Author Steven J. Lawson concludes,

“The hour is upon us for faithful men of God to step into pulpits around the world and preach the Word. The need has never been greater. In a day that clamours for churches to captitulate to the spirit of the age and use entertainment in order to draw crowds, the primacy of biblical preaching must be restored wherever the people of God gather to worship. As it was the need in the time of Lloyd-Jones, so it remains the need today for preachers to herald the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit in order to feed the flock and evangelize.”

See also: Preaching While the Bombs Fell

Preaching While the Bombs Fell

Just a few blocks from Buckingham Palace and a short walk from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey is a building which has been used to influence London and the world greatly.

Westminster Chapel, pastored by G. Campbell Morgan and then by Martin Lloyd-Jones has served as a light to the city of London and to the UK for over 150 years.

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It was G. Campbell Morgan who invited Martin Lloyd-Jones, who had studied to be a medical doctor rather than a minister, to come and serve with him and be his successor at Westminster Chapel.

Lloyd-Jones was from Wales, and had been serving at a small village church there. At the time, doctors were considered the true heroes of society, whereas Christianity was already in steep decline in Britain. To give up a career in medicine to pastor a small church was considered a fools errand by many, but Ll0yd-Jones’ decision to become a pastor rather than work as a medical doctor had been aided by something he had witnessed from one of his mentors as he was studying to be a doctor:

He witnessed a doctor who was at the top of his field, the most respected position in that society, who supposedly “had it all” – and yet he had fallen into despondency, hopelessness and depression because of a failed marriage. Having witnessed this, Lloyd-Jones would later say, helped him to decide that he wanted to help people in a way that went beyond just caring for their physical bodies, he wanted to be a doctor for the soul.

Martin Lloyd-Jones became the pastor of Westminster Chapel in 1939, right before the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The people of Great Britain knew what was coming: they had seen the aggressiveness of the German military, the how the Luftwaffe had no qualms about bombing highly populated areas. They knew that soon the war would probably come to London, and they were right.

In 1939, Martin Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons which prepared his people for the war. He told them that whether the German bombs killed them or not, they should be prepared to stand before God, and he urged them to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ as their hope.

Throughout the war, as people evacuated London, Martin Lloyd-Jones continued to preach to those who gathered at Westminster Chapel. On one occasion, a bomb fell only a few yards from the church during a service, causing the plaster from the roof to fall on the heads of the congregation. When the bomb hit, Lloyd-Jones was praying. He paused for a moment, and then finished his prayer, and went on to preach his entire sermon.

Theologian J.I. Packer sat under Lloyd-Jones’ ministry and called him “the greatest man I ever knew – not just brilliant, but wise.”

Westminster Chapel continues its ministry in its efforts to be “a prophetic voice to London, the UK and the nations.” Their website here.

A documentary was made about Martin Lloyd-Jones’ life and ministry a few years ago called Logic on Fire. Here’s the trailer for it:

To Seminary or Not to Seminary

Seminary – AKA “Semetery”: the place where young people who love God go to have their faith shaken and their enthusiasm killed forever. At least that’s how seminary was portrayed to me as a young Christian who was eager to serve the Lord.

Today, as a pastor and seminary student, I have to say that I actually agree with that. I can see how seminary can kill a young person’s faith and enthusiasm. However, I think that seminary is a good thing, and something pastors should do. For me, going to seminary has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, both personally, and for my calling as a pastor.

I didn’t start going to seminary until after I had already been ordained and pastoring for years. The group of churches I was ordained in didn’t require formal seminary training in order to be ordained; they simply required 4 years of theological training, which could be received in an institution like a Bible college or seminary, or on the job, through apprenticeship/discipleship. I did the latter. I was encouraged that men like Peter were unlearned men whose training came from having been with Jesus.

When I had been a pastor for a few years, I began to really feel the desire to deepen my understanding of theology, church history, and the many other topics that are taught in seminary courses. A friend of mine turned me on to a great school in England, which I have been attending now part time for several years. I’m not doing it because I need a degree in order to become a pastor; I’m doing it to make myself a better pastor.

We need to train the called, not call the trained.

And I have to say – I think this is the ideal way; I believe that we should be training the called, not calling the trained. If someone has a calling on their life and an enthusiasm to serve the Lord, then why would we lock them up for 4 years and tell them to read a bunch of books before they can go out and serve the Lord?  That’s now what Jesus did. Read the first few chapters of the Gospel of John – you see people who had little to no theological understanding leading people to Jesus. The woman at the well went and told the whole town about Jesus. The man born blind simply testified to what had happened to him.  However, enthusiasm can only take you so far, especially as a pastor. The job of a pastor is to teach and the lead as a shepherd, and they need to be able to do that with understanding about God’s Word and people.

The Problem with Being Self-Taught

I know that many people would respond that one doesn’t need to go to seminary in order to get a theological education. Surely there are a number of books available, and if one is a disciplined student, then they can simply educate themselves while doing the work of the ministry.

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones is perhaps the greatest example of a master preacher and pastor – certain one of the greatest of our modern age. He was known by those who looked up to him as “The Pastor”. Dr. Jones never went to seminary nor had any formal theological training. He had studied to be a medical doctor, and later switched to Christian ministry, becoming a pastor. Dr. Jones is often cited as a perfect example of how one does not need to be sequestered in a seminary in order to receive theological training – it is possible to be self-taught.

Here’s the problem with being self-taught, which I realized years ago, when I desired to deepen my knowledge base and started trying to teach myself:  When you teach yourself, YOU pick what you want to learn and read. The great thing about being part of a seminary program is that I am forced to read and consider viewpoints which I would have otherwise avoided. Basically, self-taught people tend to read things which simply bolster the positions which they have already held.

For some people, being faced with views other than those who they already hold leads them to confusion and uncertainty. Certainly I have become a lot less dogmatic about things I used to be dogmatic about, because I more understand now the complexity of the questions and arguments. And it is this uncertainty which leads to confusion and disillusionment for many young seminarians who go to seminary because they want to know God more and because they have a passion for the Gospel and for serving others like Jesus did. They go to seminary hoping to be set on fire in a greater way and be given tools to minister effectively, and find themselves bogged down in discussions which bring into question things which they never thought were issues! And then the Bible becomes a book you read for school, and you hear people splitting hairs on seemingly irrelevant theological arguments, and it can easily kill one’s enthusiasm.

The study of theology is faith seeking understanding – Saint Anselm

As Anselm said: The study of theology is “faith seeking understanding”. And I believe it should be treated that way. Karl Barth taught that Christian theology should be an endeavor done by Christians who are committed to Jesus Christ. I agree with that. I also believe that if someone has a desire to serve God, we should encourage that, rather then kill it by making them jump through a bunch of hoops first. Let’s see who is called and then be diligent to train them, rather than training people to death and then asking them to be called and enthusiastic about the Gospel.

What do you think?  Seminary, or not to Seminary? Comment below!