StoLivi 08-10-149

The Living Church

Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor


John Stott

InterVarsity Press, 2007, 180 pp., ISBN 978-0-8308-3486-0



John Stott is known worldwide as an evangelical preacher and communicator.  He has been in ministry more than 60 years at All Souls Church in London.  Stott was a principle framer of the Lausanne Covenant (1974).  "The Living Church is the full articulation of Stott's dream for the body of Christ in the world today." (Flyleaf)  His purpose is to bring together a number of characteristics of an authentic, biblical church. (15)


1.  Essentials: God's Vision for His Church

The church is not a divine afterthought but in the center of God's eternal purpose.  His purpose "is not just to save isolated individuals…but rather to build his church, that is, to call out of the world a people for his own glory." (19)


The church has a double identity.  It is to be called out of the world to belong to God and also sent back into the world to witness and serve.  Its mission is modeled on the mission of Christ in John 20:21. (20) 


Acts 2:42 describes the church as a learning, caring, worshipping church, but this is completed by Acts 2:47 which shows the church was an evangelizing church. (31)  All four of these marks have to do with relationships.(32)


2.  Worship: Glorying in God's Holy Name

Stott argues that worship is preeminent over evangelism because our duty to God takes precedence over our duty to our neighbor, evangelism is a spiritual gift not given to everyone (although we all bear responsibility to witness), and it is a temporary activity whereas worship will continue throughout eternity. (34)


"To worship is to 'glory in God's holy name.'"  (35)  "In particular, we who call ourselves 'evangelical' do not know much how to worship."  "We seem to have little sense of the greatness and glory of Almighty God.  We do not bow down before him in awe and wonder.  Our tendency is to be cocky, flippant and proud." (43)  "True worship…must not only express what is in our hearts but also be accompanied by an upright life." (45)


3. Evangelism:  Mission Through the Local Church

"And now he sends us into the world as he was sent into the world (John 17:38; 20:21).  We have to penetrate other people's worlds, as he penetrated ours: the world of their thinking (as we struggle to understand their misunderstandings of the gospel), the world of their feeling (as we try to empathize with their pain), and the world of their living (as we sense the humiliation of their social situation, whether poverty, homelessness, unemployment or discrimination)." (53)


"'Mission' arises, then, 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." (54)


Stott suggests doing a periodic audit of the community and an audit of the church.  Who are the people in our community and what are their institutions and circumstances?  What is our church like, its services, programs, membership, message, and its life?  The message of some churches is totally fixed, all wrapped up in a nice package and you can take it or leave it.  Some are totally fluid with no unifying message.  There is a fundamental underlying unity in the New Testament, a gospel revealed by God, and while we must contextualize it, we cannot edit it. (65)


"The church is supposed to be God's new society, the living embodiment of the gospel….  People have to see with their own eyes that the gospel we preach has transformed us.  As John Poulton put it, 'Christians need to look like what they are talking about.'" (66)  "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." (69)


4. Ministry: The Twelve and the Seven

All Christians are called to ministry but there is a wide diversity of gifts, callings and ministries.  We must discover our gifts and help others to discover theirs (Acts 6:1-7).  Pastors are called to expound the Scripture but too often get distracted and overwhelmed by administration. (74-5)


Pastors are called essentially to a teaching ministry.  But Christian oversight is plural.  We need to recover the concept of the pastoral team in the leadership of the local church.  This may consist of a mixture of full-time, part-time, ordained and lay leaders. (77)


5. Fellowship: The Implications of Koinonia

6. Preaching: Five Paradoxes

"The contemporary world is decidedly unfriendly towards preaching.  Words have largely been eclipsed by images, and the book by the screen." (97)  But persevere, "because the life of the church depends on it." (Mt. 4:4).  "Authentic Christian preaching is both biblical and contemporary.  It is an exposition of Scripture which is related to the world in which we live."  Preaching is essentially an exposition of the world of God in the sense that it opens up the biblical text. (98)  We must be biblical but not irrelevant. (99)


"…one of the major tragedies in the church today.  Evangelicals are biblical but not contemporary, while liberals are contemporary but not biblical."  "But authentic Christian preaching is a bridge-building operation." (100)  It is vital to recover the voice of authority in the pulpit.  "On the other hand, alongside authoritative preaching, it is often right to be tentative.  For God has not revealed everything…." (101)  "We should be dogmatic about those things which have been plainly revealed, and agnostic about those things which have been kept secret.  Our troubles arise when our dogmatism trespasses into the secret things, and our agnosticism into the revealed things." (102)  "Thus all preaching should lead people to the Scriptures and encourage them to browse there for themselves." (103)


The five paradoxes of preaching.  Authentic Christian preaching is

       Both biblical and contemporary

       Both authoritative and tentative

       Both prophetic and pastoral

       Both gifted and studied

       Both thoughtful and passionate.  (109-110)


7. Giving: Ten Principles

8. Impact: Salt and Light

What values and standards will dominate our national culture?  "Will Christians be able to influence their country so that the values and standards of the kingdom of God permeate the whole national culture…? (128)  "Our Lord Jesus Christ wants his values and standards to prevail.  For he loves righteousness and hates evil…."   Christians are to sweeten the whole community and make it more pleasing to God.  They are to be salt and light. (129)


A major theme of the Bible is that God is calling out a people for himself who are to be different from the prevailing culture.  At the same time Christians must permeate non-Christian society, but not like a mouse may be said to permeate a cat, i.e. be swallowed up. (132)  Christians can influence and change non-Christian society. (133)


The six weapons of Christians: prayer, evangelism, example, argument, action, and suffering.  According to retired sociologies Robert Bellah, "I think we should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a new vision of a just and gentle world….  The quality of a culture may be changed when 2% of its people have a new vision." (139)


Conclusion: Looking for Timothys in the Twenty-First Century

"There is no passivity in the attainment of holiness.  We do not just sit there and do nothing, letting God do it all."  "We just have to run for our lives, running away from evil and running after righteousness.  The apostle calls us to be good runners." (2 Tim 2:2) (146)


"There is such a thing as goodness: pursue it."  "…there is such a thing as truth: fight for it.  And there is such a thing as life: lay hold of it.  May God enable us to make an unabashed commitment to those three absolutes--to what is true, what is good, and what is real." (149)



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