On Tuesday 18October 2016, 130 people gathered at Christ Church Deeside from 16 different churches, to listen to Stuart Olyott speak about an event 50 years previously. His title was bold: ‘I was there on 18 October 1966, the evening that changed evangelicalism for ever’!
His message lived up to its bold title. He addressed three questions. The first was, ‘What was the state of evangelicalism before these events took place?’ To answer this, he recounted his own experiences, explaining that they were typical of the age.
Mr Olyott was converted when an evangelical preached in a church where the pastor was a modernist. When Mr Olyott preached in the Welsh Presbyterian churches, one congregation loathed him another loved him; one minister even questioned the deity of Christ. There were unconverted Sunday school teachers and church members, although also a godly remnant.
With this background, he went, on Tuesday 18 October, to hear Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Central Hall, at an Evangelical Alliance conference. He was excited because he had heard Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preach two years earlier, on ‘the weapons of our warfare’.
The second question was, ‘What exactly happened at that meeting?’ Dr Lloyd-Jones had been invited to preach in public what he had said in private to the Evangelical Alliance council. Lloyd-Jones was impassioned and spoke with an anointed authority. He was positive and the words ‘secede’ or ‘secession’ were not used.
The key things Mr Olyott highlighted were that, according to Lloyd-Jones, churches needed to start with the New Testament pattern of the church rather than just modifying the status quo.
The third question was, ‘What have been the long-term consequences?’ Mr Olyott briefly outlined eight: misunderstandings followed; there was confirmation of the need to act, a consensus among evangelicals; secession took place as ministers left their denominations or left un-reformable churches to pioneer new ones — this was nearly always at great cost to individuals, but their motive was the gospel.
There was annoyance among the denominations, as they saw many of their strongest churches leaving. Some evangelical Anglicans were annoyed because it undermined their new strategy to recapture the church.
New groupings were either formed or given new impetus. These included the British Evangelical Council, Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches and Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. The final consequence provided a fitting end to the evening. There was one great lesson, Mr Olyott suggested we may not have learned well. He said our loyalty is not primarily to friends or trends, denominations or movements, but to the Lord Jesus Christ. This means loyalty to the gospel! This is more important than anything.