Saturday, May 05, 2007

Gratitude for the Ministry of John Stott

Having now celebrated his 86th Birthday, Rev. John Stott has made it clear that after speaking at the Keswick Convention this summer for one last time, he will be retiring to a retirement facility for Anglican clergy in the south of England.

And so draws to a close the public ministry of one of the most substantial Christian leaders of our time, one whose influence will be felt for decades, possibly centuries, to come. It is hard to believe that distinctive voice of his will no longer be heard constantly and consistently enunciating and expounding the Scriptures, which have been his lifelong passion. This, perhaps, has been his greatest example.

John Stott is in many ways a man from another time, yet there are countless numbers in Christian leadership today who would probably not be where they are without his books, his preaching, his speaking, his prayers, or his wise counsel. He has certainly been an example to me of what it means to be obedient to Jesus Christ -- and to the ordination vows that we as deacons and priests in the Anglican tradition take.

I have not read all of John's fifty published books, but I have absorbed enough of them to know that his mind, shaped by God's mind revealed in the Word Written, has helped form my mind and influence my discipleship. I spent several months this winter re-absorbing his magnificent work on the Cross once more, and realized as I did so just how poverty-stricken was my own understanding of the finished work of Christ. Once again he encouraged me to, as it were, reach higher.

The last time I saw John to speak to was at the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in England in September 2003. Personally I was still reeling from the blow of the General Convention of that year and felt frightened, angry, and sad. Although it can hardly be described as a proper conversation but more of a chance meeting in the hallway outside the main assembly room, he held my arm wanting to make sure that I was alright. That meant a lot. I suspect our American tragedy of these past few years has been very much part of his prayers.

I first encountered John Stott when I was in my early twenties and he was in his mid-forties. I remember soon after I was ordained John speaking at a junior clergy conference, and as I looked across the room of several hundred eager young men each one was taking notes, we were hanging on his words, learning from the way he apportioned the Word of God. Yet he would never have wanted us to accept what he told us unquestioningly.

Half a dozen years or so later, on a cold, snowy February day in New England, having preached at the parish of which I was then the interim rector, John came to our tiny house and ate lunch. I will never forget the sight of him sitting in the middle of our battered old sofa chatting with and providing entertainment for our elder daughter, Olivia, then four years old.

John is a man who loved children. He made up for his own single state and resulting childlessness by being uncle to countless small kids whose homes he visited in his endless travels around the world. He is not lovingly known as "Uncle John" for nothing!

During the last few years we have watched a triumvirate of extraordinary figures move off the stage of active Christian leadership: two Johns and a Billy. Dr. Graham's public ministry is now, like his old friend John Stott, over. Each of these great evangelical figures, one a Baptist and one an Anglican, has fought the good fight, and henceforth is laid up for them a crown of righteousness which they will receive when they meet their Master face-to-face and hear his, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

The third member of that triumvirate came from a very different background. He was a Pole, Carol Wojtyla: John Paul II. He is already experiencing that fuller life, and is being fast-tracked to sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. I doubt John Stott would be at all comfortable if such a practice was carried out in Anglicanism, yet I hazard these two Johns together with Billy Graham have made a contribution to the advance of the Gospel which is so huge that it is hard to measure this side of eternity.

As I wind up my own thirty-one years of ministry in the United States and prepare to wend my way home to England, I am beginning to realize what a great privilege it will be to serve the Lord at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. Ridley was where Rev. John R. W. Stott was trained for ordination during the years that surrounded the end of World War Two.

And to Dr. Stott I say from the bottom of my own heart, "Thank you, John, your witness and your ministry has been an inspiration and challenge for which I am profoundly grateful. May God bless you in these your golden years, your active presence will be missed. I hope, however, that your pen will continue to be active!"

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