Interview with Jonathan Catherwood (MLJ Trust)

June 3rd, 2010

This week, I am excited to introduce Jonathan Catherwood to the readers here at Christian Book Notes. Jonathan is a direct descendant of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Enjoy this interview.

Christian Book Notes (CBN): Could you please share your testimony of how and when Jesus Christ became your Lord and Savior?

Jonathan Catherwood (JC): I became a Christian at the age of 15. Up until then I had rejected Christianity for all the usual reasons (“Why did God make the world if he knew we were going to sin? How could everyone not go to heaven if faith is by grace and not an act on our part?”), but I was always very troubled by the historical character of Jesus Christ. If Christ did not exist, or one was of many in a failed line of would-be Messiahs, then how did Christianity grow?

Christianity had nothing to recommend it for those who were looking for powerful, problem-solving gods. Christ did not overthrow the Romans–He was killed by them. The Jewish leadership did not embrace Him, they rejected Him. He preached a Gospel of love that included loving your enemies, which was anathema to those living under Roman domination. Why on earth would a small group of Christ’s followers face rejection by their community, their rulers and often their families, and undergo tremendous persecution, for a man that they had thought was the Messiah but had actually been killed and buried. It made no sense to me.

On a theological level, too, as we will always be trapped by our understanding of time and space, I came, I believe, to understand why Christ had come to earth. One cannot ever explain nuclear fusion to an ant (to paraphrase that great evangelist Becky Molenhouse), but one CAN become an ant and communicate at its level. I risk sounding anti-intellectual, but the fact that I cannot understand something does not mean that it isn’t true. Christ, through His teaching, His miracles, His sufferings, His death at Calvary and His resurrection, demonstrated that He was the suffering servant that Isaiah had prophesized was coming.

I just concluded that I was being arrogant like Job, who wanted to have a court trial where God would have to account for Himself, or wanting to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than being satisfied with the Tree of Life. Sin never really changes.  It was sin that was keeping me from Christ not logic.  So I confessed my sin and asked God for His forgiveness, which, as we know, is endless, even for me.

CBN: For those who do not know, you are a grandson of Martyn Lloyd-Jones on your mother’s side. Though he went to be with the Lord in 1981, can you share a memory or two of your grandpa?

JC: My grandfather had two daughters, Elizabeth (my mother) and Ann. My mother and Ann each had three children, so my grandparents had 6 grandchildren in all.  One of the wonderful things about my childhood was that we all lived within walking distance of each other in the London suburb of Ealing, so I grew up around my grandparents, Aunt and Uncle and cousins.

Unfortunately my grandfather never liked having his picture taken, so all the photos of him tend to show him looking very serious or stern, and as a grandfather he was anything but that! Therefore, I am happy to share a few memories of him.  When my siblings and I were very young, and he was still preaching at Westminster Chapel in Central London, we would go and see him in his study afterwards, and he would always have hidden mini chocolates for us to find.  During school vacations, which we tended to spend with our family in the country, he would endlessly play word games or croquet or snooker with us.

Possibly his greatest gift to me as a grandfather, however (my siblings and cousins will have their own thoughts, of course), was his infinite patience with whatever tomfool idea had taken hold of my teenage mind. When, for instance, I was very taken with a Buddhist mystic at the age of 15, it would have been very easy for him to have either dismissed it out of hand or to remind me of the biblical warning that to whom much is given, much is expected. Instead, he took me seriously, read the books, asked me to explain to him what I found to be interesting in them, and only then provided a counter-argument. In other words, he knew that the best way to engage with a teenager was to make him feel that he was being taken seriously. I often think of that time in my life when I hear that lovely old phrase “In the essentials, unity, in the non-essentially, liberty, in all things, charity.” Let us just say that he drew heavily on the charity leg of that stool!

CBN: The Doctor, as he is called by many, preached for 30 years at Westminster Chapel in London. His ministry reaches much farther than those 30 years in London thanks to the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust. Could you explain how and when the Trust came about and what is the primary mission of the Trust?

JC:  The Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust has been around for decades at this point, thanks to the great endeavor of men and women who have wanted his ministry to live on. From an early date Westminster Chapel recorded sermons, which means that one can listen in 2010 to a series he gave over many years on the book of Ephesians from over 50 years ago.

The Recordings Trust holds the copyright to those sermons, and over the years, as technology has improved, they have done an incredible job in preserving the message from those original tapes in digital form and cutting out the hiss and crackle of the original recordings. The Recordings Trust is a UK charity, and it uses the proceeds of the sale of the sermon series to fund an expansion of the ministry worldwide. Many people ask why the sermons cannot all be free, but those funds are vital to fund the costs of the worldwide promulgation of the sermons.

CBN: Why did the trust decide to set up two separate organizations (not sure if that is the right word) one for England and one for the United States?

JC:  One of the most effective vehicles in recent years for getting the word out on the MLJ Ministry has been the website. Oneplace is based in the United States, and is a wonderful repository for sermons by countless numbers of evangelical Christian ministries. As there are many Christians in the US who have demonstrated an interest in my grandfather’s ministry, a small group of us thought it would be worth seeing if we could make the Unites States ministry self-funding so that Paul Mitchell and the Recordings Trust team in the UK could use their resources to promulgate the ministry in the rest of the world while we paid for Oneplace.

In God’s grace and providence we were able to form the MLJ Trust, a US charity.  Our purpose right now is to raise enough funds to pay for my grandfather’s ministry to be on Oneplace, and to alert all those who have shown an interest in the ministry as to when new sermons are available for free download. The numbers of those who registered for a download at the beginning was under 2,000, but now it has expanded to nearly 9,000! All four Board members (Lane Dennis of Crossway Publishing, Russ Rice, a Christian film maker, David Lovi, a wonderful young theological student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and myself) are keenly aware that there are many excellent ministries that deserve funding, so our prayer has always been that if it is God’s will for the MLJ Trust to be a vehicle in the promotion of the Gospel that we should see an increase in the number of souls who register to download a sermon. To date we think we see pretty clear evidence that the ministry still has an impact and so is worthy of support.

CBN: What is the lasting legacy your grandpa hoped to leave? Now almost thirty years after his death, do you think you can assess his legacy?

JC:  Other family members and the thousands who have read or listened to his sermons will have their own point of view, but I truly believe that his legacy as a preacher is twofold. First, to focus upon Christ and not laterally, that is, at others. It is my own characterization, but if his sermons tend to focus squarely on Christ and the wonder of resurrection, it is because if one can get men and women to focus on Christ then they are focusing on the light, which is something that we ALL need to do, and can never fail to benefit from.

Or to put it more colloquially, one rarely persuades another person that one is right by telling them that they are wrong. When we focus on Christ we ALL fall short, and ALL of us are in need of redemption through his Son.  I remember asking my Grandfather once why it would be “fair” for one person to go to Heaven and not another, and his answer was that it was a wonder how any of us could go to heaven. It disarms those who attack Christians for believing that they are better than others, and helps to reduce the latent Pharisee in all of us (“There is no-one righteous, no not one”).

Second, he almost never refers to current events, politics or family, which I think is the primary reason why his sermons can still be listened to today without any difficulty across the globe. In a recent sermon I listened to he asks the congregation if they are surprised that he hasn’t mentioned what had happened in the world that week (it was the Hungary uprising and its brutal repression in 1956). He explains that the reason he is not discussing it is because if he is discussing politics or current events he is not preaching the Gospel.  His belief was that by discussing anything but Scripture one is shifting focus to oneself, and not the Gospel.  It was his same perspective with discussing family matters.

CBN: How can we support the ML-J Recordings Trust today?

JC:  Either the MLJ Trust in the Unites States or the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust in the UK would be extremely grateful for any contribution from a brother or sister who feels called to do so. If you are a resident in the United States then you can make a tax-deductible gift (using Verisign) to the MLJ Trust through our website.  The website of the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust in England.  Please remember that it is a UK charity, and so does not qualify for tax deduction purposes for US residents.

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