Pessimism Defined, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Political Divisions Among Christians

Pessimism Defined, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Political Divisions Among Christians The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show

Having spent the last 7-10 years at the intersection of faith and politics in my private reading, writing, discussion, and contemplation, it is of great interest whenever I hear of some noteworthy person – whether because they are important in just my private life, or else have an outsized influence on our culture and the world – who has something to say about how our Christian faith in particular should relate to questions of engagement in the civil realm and public life.

Just so, the famed Welsh preacher and physician Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) caught my attention recently for his remarks in Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, as quoted in a recent Sunday morning message at our church in Evans, Colorado.

Having admittedly not been familiar with him overmuch or for long, I have nevertheless come to appreciate and respect what Lloyd-Jones has to say, particularly his handling of the Scriptures in nearly everything of his material I have come across. Nevertheless, where Lloyd-Jones ventures into the question of Christians and politics while expositing Matthew 5:10, he insists that Christians who are persecuted because they get political should not expect the promise of the blessing of “for righteousness” applies to their endeavors.

Quite frankly, I fail to see why this is so. Nevertheless, or all the more because of it, my being troubled by the stance Lloyd-Jones takes with regards Christians in politics has led me to dig in deeper, and to want to grapple with what he had to say and whether I should disagree with or object to it. Depending on how he meant some of these things, one might either reasonably and readily agree or else respectfully dissent.

Just so, the following extended quote from Studies in the Sermon on the Mount serves as the anchor for my exploration. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says:

Much talk which appears to be, and is said to be, Christian, in its denunciation of certain things that are happening in the world, is, I believe, nothing but the expression of political prejudices. My desire is that we might all be saved from this serious and sad misinterpretation of Scripture, which may lead to such needless and unnecessary suffering.

Another great danger in these days is that this pure Christian faith should be thought of by those who are outside in terms of certain political and social views. They are eternally distinct and have nothing to do with one another.

Let me illustrate this; the Christian faith as such is not anti-communism, and I trust that none of us will be foolish enough and ignorant enough to allow the Roman Catholic Church, or any other interest, to do delude and mislead us. As Christians we are to be concerned for the souls of communists, and their salvation, in exactly the same way as we are concerned about all other people. And if once we give them the impression that Christianity is just anti-communism we are ourselves shutting and barring the doors, and almost preventing them from listening to our gospel message of salvation. Let us be very careful, Christian people, and take the words of Scripture as they are.” (p. 114)

On the one hand, he is right. The Christian faith is not just anti-Communism. And the Christian faith as such is not anti-Communism. But what should we mean by that, and what did Lloyd-Jones mean by it, and what do those who quote him mean by it?

Seeking greater clarity, another quote was sent me by my friend and pastor Paul Pavlik of Lloyd-Jones in a sermon series on Romans 1, which he started in 1958, when he once had this to say about why Hitler had never worried him:

“I was never worried for a second about a man like Hitler; it was enough for me to read the thirty-seventh Psalm, and there I read of a man like him spreading himself like a green bay tree, a sort of colossus striding the whole earth. But I read on and learned that a day came when a man wanted to go to see him and to speak with him, and he could not find him. He searched everywhere for him; he could not find any trace of him; he had vanished. Why? God had blown upon him.”

And that is well. It is a fine sentiment. But I think more needs to be said about it, particularly where Lloyd-Jones says in his exposition of Matthew 5:10 that many of the Christians in Germany who were hauled away to concentration camps under the Nazis were not persecuted for righteousness sake, but rather were troublemakers after a fashion. Plenty of saints were able to preach the gospel without being molested by the Hitlerian government. Therefore, those Christians who were done away with seem almost to be dismissed as having had it coming that they stopped talking exclusively about the gospel when they applied their practical theology to the present circumstance and called for repentance of the Nazism around them. That is a hard pill to swallow, to be sure, and I cannot affirm it.

But Martyn Lloyd-Jones had other things to say about politics. For instance, when he came to preaching on Romans 13 in the years 1966 and 1967, he expressed at some length how and why he did not believe professing Christians should ever divide over politics. 

“Is there is only one view amongst Christians with regard to economics or any of these questions? The answer, quite plainly, is no. That is why I have always opposed the idea that there should be a Christian political party in this country. In some countries you will find such parties, but that, to me, is based on a complete misunderstanding of this teaching. You cannot have a Christian political party because Christians hold different views on the economy and other issues.

You can have equally good Christians in the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Labour Party. What is it that divides them? Not their Christianity, not their spiritual point of view, but their opinions with regard to specific problems in the realm of economics, or drainage even, or one of these other questions that law and government have to consider.

Now I am not saying that the fact that people are Christians does not make a difference at all to their views on these matters. What I am saying is that you cannot say that there is ‘the Christian view’ with regard to most of these questions that have to be considered by the powers that be. And historically it has, of course, always been the case that Christian people have differed for one another on many of these questions without there being any reflection whatsoever upon their Christianity.” 

So then, Martyn Lloyd-Jones did not believe there should be a ‘Christian’ political party in Britain. Fair enough. Christians do hold different views on the economy and all other issues.

Yet Christians congregate in separate denominations because we disagree about doctrine and practice too. And should we not do that either?

I mean no disrespect. Yet clearly, not all disagreements between professing Christians are legitimate. For instance, in our day, consider the contention regarding sexual ethics, abortion, Climate Change, and public health policy, to name just a few of the most heated and pressing debates in recent years. These are not just issues “of drainage even.” It would be a mercy if we could say that, but we cannot. And maybe if Lloyd-Jones were alive with us in this context he would recognize that and agree.

Either way, there certainly were Communists in the 1950’s and 1960’s. And if Lloyd-Jones held that equally good Christians should be found in every political party, did he include the Communist party in that broad statement? I ask not for his sake. He passed away 5 years before I was born. But I ask for the sake of those who quote him.

What about those who believe they can mix in Marxism with the Gospel, and even deny that anyone who refuses to do likewise really knows and follows Jesus?

The truth is that the most profound of political differences actually stem from profound theological, teleological, and ontological differences dealt with in the Scriptures. And I would have assumed Lloyd-Jones would agree on that point. Yet now I am not so sure he would.

Regardless, I know this – that sincere Christians believe God’s Word is a tool to transform our hearts and minds, while others nevertheless claim Christ while stubbornly insisting that their political ideology and philosophy should be the guide to reinterpret and even hijack the Scriptures for what they deem to be the greater good. And I am not so sure that all who quote the esteemed Welshman recognize this as well generally as I would hope he did, nor am I confident that all who concede the point generally recognize in the particulars and specifics when they are dealing with one kind of person and when they are dealing with the other. And yet knowing the difference between the two is critically important to the end of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

When the latter happens – that some hijack the Scriptures to promote Marxism in our day – we cannot just shrug dispassionately because it’s generally true that Christians can disagree, or because it’s generally true that Christianity is not anti-Communism, per se. After all, sometimes political differences between those who claim Christ both stem from and result in false teaching. Some divisions and distinctions come to be due to a false testimony, and a false gospel. And though all parties alike may claim to be Christians, and despite the fact that we want to be careful accusing anyone of bluffing about that, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as Christ tells us to judge good and bad trees by the fruit they bear. We must be clear about that, regardless who is quoted.

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