John Stott’s recent book, The Living Church, can be added to the expansive list of superb books by John Stott! The book had been sitting on my desk for months. I finally picked it up the other day and started reading. Once again, the ministry of John Stott has radically impacted my vision for ministry!
The now 86-year-old retired Anglican pastor sets out his vision for the church in the twenty-first century. Stott has things to say about worship, evangelism, ministry, preaching, giving, and how the church should serve as a social force within society – bringing about Gospel-driven social reform for the Kingdom of God.
My church, Grace Christian Fellowship, is spending the next two weeks focusing on who we believe God has called us to be and challenging our congregants to commit to our church mission statement. We’ve never had any official church membership, but this will serve as our own version of church membership. We’re calling it our Covenant Community Commitment.
For me, Stott’s The Living Church is very timely and he addresses the issue of commitment to a local body head on. Here are a number of great quotes from the book…
On committing to a local church:
“First, I am assuming that we are all committed to the church. We are not only Christian people; we are also church people. We are not only committed to Christ, we are also committed to the body of Christ. At least I hope so. I trust that none of my readers is that grotesque anomaly, an unchurched Christian. The New Testament knows nothing of such a person. For the church lies at the very centre of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history. On the contrary, the church is God's new community. For his purpose, conceived in a past eternity, being worked out in history, and to be perfected in a future eternity, is not just to save isolated individuals and so perpetuate our loneliness, but rather to build his church, that is, to call out of the world a people for his own glory....So then, the reason we are committed to the church is that God is so committed.”
As Stott meditates on Acts 2:47 – "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” – one of the observations he makes is:
“The Lord did two things together. He 'added to their number... those who were being saved.' He didn't add them to the church without saving them, and he didn't save them without adding them to the church. Salvation and church membership went together; they still do.”
The church being in the world, but not of it:
“‘Mission’ arises, then, not from the biblical doctrine of the church in the world. If we are not "the church," the holy and distinct people of God, we have nothing to say because we are compromised. If, on the other hand, we are not ‘in the world,’ deeply involved in its life and suffering, we have no one to serve because we are insulated. Our calling is to be ‘holy’ and ‘worldly’ at the same time. Without this balanced biblical ecclesiology we will never recover or fulfill our mission.
“We cannot proclaim the gospel of God’s love with any degree of integrity if we do not exhibit it in our love for others. Perhaps nothing is so damaging to the cause of Christ as a church which is either torn apart by jealousy, rivalry, slander and malice, or preoccupied with its own selfish concerns. Such churches urgently need to be radically renewed in love. . . .”
Being missional, willing to engage culture:
“In order to build bridges that are solid, we have to study on both sides of the canyon. It goes without saying that we must study Scripture until we are really familiar with it. But we must also study the world in which we live. Nothing has helped me do this more than belonging to a reading group which began in 1972. We met every few weeks, having read an agreed non-Christian book, to discuss its challenge to our Christian world-view. I call this ‘double listening,’ listening to the word of God and listening to the voices of the modern world, its cries of anger, pain and despair.”
Here are some endorsements for The Living Church:
“Young pastors with a love for Jesus’ church will be blessed by this timely gift from one of the most important evangelical voices.”
Mark Driscoll, pastor, Mars Hill Church, and president, Acts 29 Church Planting Network
“Vintage Stott: faithful, rigorous biblical exposition; crystal clarity; challenging contemporary applications with plenty of punch; great wisdom.”
Vaughan Roberts, author, God’s Big Picture
“I have relied on John Stott’s books for decades as both guides to practice and nourishment to belief. Our church, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, has attempted to incarnate all that I, and a generation or more of Christians, have learned from him. This new book promises to be just as helpful in navigating modern controversies and issues.”
Dr. Timothy Keller, senior pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City