Subscribe now

The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor

By John R. W. Stott
October 2020 | Review by Erroll Hulse

Synopsis

The Living Church brings together a number of characteristics of what the author calls 'authentic' or 'living' church. The marks, being clearly biblical, are timeless and need to be preserved. We are encouraged to become learning churches, caring churches, worshipping churches and evangelising churches. John Stott unpacks the Bible's wisdom rigorously with a teacher's skill and applies it faithfully with a pastor's heart.

  • Publisher: Intervarsity Press
  • ISBN: 978-1783591794
  • Pages: 192
  • Price: £7.72
Buy this book »

Book Review

Hailed by Billy Graham as ‘the most respected clergyman in the world today’, John Stott retired last year at the age of 86. The subtitle of this, his latest book, is self-explanatory.

There are eight chapters. He begins with ‘Essentials’. Any church worthy of the name must be a learning church (teaching), a caring church (fellowship and giving), a worshipping church (breaking of bread and prayer) and an evangelising church.

Some of  these themes are enlarged in the following chapters: Worship, Evangelism, Ministry, Fellowship, Preaching, Giving and Impact (the church as salt and light). All are rich in practical exposition.

Regarding worship – ‘in which we should always experience true transcendence’ – the author laments the fact that Evangelicals seem to have little sense of the greatness and glory of Almighty God.

He deplores both extremes of mechanical dullness and flippancy but doesn’t come down on either side of contemporary or conservative worship. He maintains that the musical instruments used are not significant but rather the spirit in which they are used.

The chapters on Evangelism and Preaching are outstanding. The church needs to be organised for evangelism but should not absorb every night of the week to the detriment of the family. The author asks searching questions such as, ‘Is the church in reality only organised for itself?’  And, ‘Do we imprison our members in the church?’

John Stott’s 350-page magnum opus I Believe in Preaching was published in 1982. The present volume summarises the larger volume in five paradoxes – preaching must be both biblical and contemporary; both authoritative and tentative (the preacher must not pretend to know everything; Deuteronomy 29:29); both prophetic and pastoral; both studied and passionate.

His stimulating discussion on fellowship and koinonia (‘sharing’) contains no reference to the church prayer meeting – when the church meets under the preaching of the Word but with the specific purpose of intercession. This biblical practice seems to be in gradual decline in favour of house groups. Is it not possible to foster both?

The book concludes with three appendices, ‘Why I am still a member of the C of E’; ‘I have a dream of a living church’; and ‘Reflections of an octogenarian’. The first is controversial in its reminder of the clash with Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1966.

Next year’s anniversary of John Calvin’s birth may remind us that he held church discipline to be one of three essential marks of a church. This subject receives no mention in this book. Stott makes clear what a Christian is, but not how believers become church members.

Does church discipline exist in the C of E? Is any effort made to ensure a believing membership? And surely discipline starts at the top. If bishops can be liberals or even practising homosexuals, what does that mean for the members? The present turmoil in the world wide Anglican Communion shows that we ignore church discipline at our peril.

Also, does having a Confession of Faith mean anything if in reality that also is ignored?

This first appendix should not be allowed to negate the considerable worth of the book, which is all about spiritual vitality. Any church that puts into practice the directions advocated here will be a living church.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Book Reviews

Read our latest book reviews

The Way of Life: Christian belief and experience
Charles Hodge

The aim of this book is to promote holiness, and the author’s view is that ‘the exhibition of the truth is the best means of promoting holiness’ (p.5). Thus he sets out in the first chapter to demonstrate that the…

See all book reviews
The History and Theology of Calvinism
Curt Daniel

This must be the most comprehensive study of the subject available today. It is difficult to think of any aspect of Calvinism that is not covered. It is divided into two major sections. The first covers the history, and ranges…

Searching Our Hearts in Difficult Times
John Owen

It is difficult to do this book justice in a review – the only way to grasp how helpful it is will be to read it for yourself. John Owen has a reputation for writing in a style that is…

An Introduction to John Owen: A Christian vision for every stage of life
Crawford Gribben

It is difficult to do this book justice in a review – the only way to grasp how helpful it is will be to read it for yourself. John Owen has a reputation for writing in a style that is…