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Essential truth

February 2017

In four addresses on ‘What is an evangelical?’ given in 1971, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminded his hearers of the vital distinction between what he called ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ biblical truths.

Safeguard

His was no plea for doctrinal indifferentism and laxity, as the addresses made abundantly clear, but an impassioned call to define the heart of the gospel and thereby help safeguard the precious gift of evangelical unity among believers.

In words quoted from John Calvin’s Institutes, book 4, Dr Lloyd-Jones said: ‘For not all the articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned … Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith’.

Such reasoning has strong biblical warrant, particularly bearing in mind Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:17 and 15:1-4, where he affirms preaching the gospel to be more important than baptising people, and teaching the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ to be of ‘first’ importance compared to other doctrines.

Dr Lloyd-Jones was prepared to explain and exemplify what he meant by ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ truths, and notably to include the special creation of Adam and historicity of the early chapters of Genesis as essential.

Inerrancy

Fifty years on from the launch of Evangelical Times in February 1967, with many challenges this commemorative edition bears witness to, perhaps no challenge to contemporary evangelicalism is greater than the undermining of belief in biblical inerrancy in the name of evangelical scholarship (‘inerrancy’ means that Scripture, as originally given by God, is without errors and mistakes).

We should ask ourselves: do we claim ‘not to be ashamed of the gospel’, yet feel ashamed of God making the universe in only six days, only thousands of years ago; ashamed of him creating the first man Adam from the dust of the earth rather than from a pre-existing hominid; ashamed of him flooding the whole world in wrath against sin, and leaving reminders of his wrath as fossils in the rocks?

If so, such felt shame should rouse us to repentance for our unbelief and make us reason again that the One who could miraculously lead Israel out of Egypt through the Red Sea, feed her with manna and lead her day and night with a pillar of cloud and fire — who could also be miraculously conceived in the womb of Mary, and as the Son of Man feed thousands miraculously, heal the sick, cast out demons, walk on water, raise the dead, and finally himself rise triumphant from the dead — might actually have the ability to handle creating the cosmos within a calendar week!

True interpretation

What it should not do is make us spin Scripture into teaching something it clearly does not teach; into saying Genesis does not really mean the Lord created the world in just six days.

The nineteenth century witnessed many attacks of a similar nature on Scripture’s inspiration, the reality of miracles, the existence of Satan, eternal punishment and vicarious, substitutionary atonement.

And the present generation has witnessed similar ‘reinterpretations’ of biblical teaching on justification by faith and homosexuality. We certainly don’t need that kind of ‘scholarship’, evangelical or otherwise!

Today, God’s people can utterly rely on the Word of the Lord that endures for ever (1 Peter 1:25). This Word repeatedly uses the word ‘day’ in its account of creation in Genesis 1 — an account that repeatedly speaks too of ‘morning’ and ‘evening’. It can only add up to one thing: when Genesis 1 says ‘day’, it means just that — a day! This is essential truth.

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