Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Book Review: The Living Church

The Living Church: Convictions of a lifelong pastor – John Stott, IVP 2007: A Review By Davin Wong

I’ve come to observe that in every generation, God has placed the desire among his people to be alive! It is then timely that John Stott’s book entitled The Living Church was on sale at the recent Klang Valley Bible Conference. After all, as an Anglican myself, who better to learn about “doing Church” than from an esteemed Anglican Minister himself.

Having read the book, one of the chapters that particularly stand out was Evangelism. Specifically, the section entitled The Church Must Organize Itself: Its Structures. Here John Stott warns amongst other things on the danger of having too many activities during the week so much so that it becomes detrimental to the Christian family life. He then moves on to suggest a practical guide for the Church to organize itself especially to discover how far its structures reflect its identity. The questions are divided into 2 groups – a local community survey and a survey on the local church. He recommends that the church council studies the survey and then out of this reflection grow a strategy for mission.

Next was the chapter on Fellowship. I am in agreement with Stott that the word fellowship is an overworked and undervalued term. In this chapter, Stott wastes no time to recover the fuller meaning of the word fellowship with biblical, historical and practical arguments. He ends with some words of wisdom for us to consider “We want fellowship groups to be true to their name, expressing the fullness of koinonia. So we keep asking ourselves: are we growing in Christian maturity together? Are we serving the Lord, the church or the world together? Are we increasing in love and care for one another? Then, we may say with confidence and joy that we had good fellowship together”

Devoting a chapter to the topic of Giving, Stott affirms that Christian giving is an extremely important topic on the contemporary church’s agenda. This is why we need to think biblically about Christian giving. In expounding the ten principles of giving – mainly from 2 Corinthians 8 & 9, Stott reminds afresh that we are to give ‘what he has decided in his heart to give’, neither reluctantly, nor under compulsion, but rather ungrudgingly, because ‘God loves a cheerful giver’. Stott goes on to say that ‘There is a sense here of a settled conviction about how much to give; of a decision reached after careful consideration, and always with joy and cheerfulness.’ and ‘It is rarely necessary to give on the spur of the moment. How much better to take time and seek that settled conviction.’ giving what he has decided on his heart. Also noteworthy is the point on page 134 that Christian giving can express our theology.

Of particular interests to us Anglicans would be one of the 3 historical appendices entitled, ‘Why I am still a member of the Church of England’. Here Stott sketches 4 distinctive features of the Church of England which also constitute four reasons why he belongs to it. The features are: a historical church, a confessional church, a national church, and a liturgical church. But Stott is quick to admit that many evangelicals feel uncomfortable in the Church of England. And that his description of the Anglican Church is more of an ideal than a reality for many parishes. On this, he weighs 2 options - separation in order to maintain doctrinal purity or conformity to maintain unity. Showing the flaws of both options, he then offers a 3rd option – comprehension, the pursuit of unity and truth simultaneously. Even with the 3rd option, Stott doesn’t shy from acknowledging and listing examples of circumstances where believers might feel obliged to leave. He nevertheless concludes this section with these words ‘until that day comes, I for one intend to stay in and fight on. So I do believe in the Church of England, in the rightness of belonging to it and of maintaining a faithful evangelical witness within it and to it. For I believe in the power of God’s Word and Spirit to reform and renew the Church. I also believe in the patience of God. Max Warren wrote that ‘the history of the Church is the story of the patience of God’


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