Following the memorial service for John Stott in St Paul’s Cathedral on 13th January 2012, Michael Ramsden wrote this appreciation which appeared in The Times’ Religion Correspondent Ruth Gledhill’s Articles of Faith page.
It is rare for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishop of London and almost every other senior member of the Church of England to come together under one vaulted roof. But on Friday, with the City still in freefall and the tents of the Occupy protestors still pitched outside, they, along with 2,000 Christian leaders from around the world, packed St Paul’s Cathedral to remember a man who had much to say about the church’s place in the world.
John Stott, who died at the age of 90, was Rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place, and was not a well-known public churchman. He never held high church office, and indeed declined “all ecclesiastical preferment” as one obituary put it. But he was universally regarded as one of the most influential Anglicans of the twentieth century, and his quiet, humble leadership united Christian believers of all stripes around historical, Biblical Christian orthodoxy.
The son of a prominent Harley Street doctor, Stott experienced an evangelical conversion while at Rugby School in the 1930s. From there, he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took a first in Modern Languages, and then entered the Anglican church just after World War Two. From his base at All Souls in the heart of the London’s West End, he led a resurgence of the passionate evangelical Christian belief that had waned since its Victorian zenith. Not the empty public moralising and anti-intellectual rantings that sometimes masquerade as evangelicalism in the United States, but the deep, rich, intellectual evangelicalism of William Wilberforce and Thomas Barnardo, that called for the transformational power of Jesus in the individual human heart, and from there into all of society.
Stott was instrumental in writing the 1974 Lausanne covenant, which framed international cooperation in the cause of world evangelisation. He wrote more than 50 books, which have been translated into more than 60 languages. His magnum opus – The Cross of Christ – was, and still is, one of the most influential Christian books of the last hundred years (I have read it six times myself). Interestingly, the modern crop of “New Atheists” have largely ignored his writing and teaching. Perhaps he was too hard a target to ridicule and too humble a man to fit the grotesque caricatures created around evangelical Christians today.
The homily at Friday’s service could not have been more appropriate. Mark Greene, now executive director of the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC) that John Stott founded, summed up Stott’s unwavering commitment to Biblical teaching on the calling, convictions and lifestyle of all those who would claim Christ as their saviour.
“He yearned not only for the conversion of medics, lawyers and factory workers, he yearned for the transformation of medicine, law and manufacturing,” said Greene. Stott’s emphasis was on whole-life disciple-making, on the supreme transformative power of the gospel in the individual and through the Christian individual into the workplace. He longed for lay Christians to be Biblically envisioned and equipped for that mission in their daily lives.
“What would Stott’s emphasis on whole-life disciple-making say to us today in areas such as the moral and directional crisis in our economy?” Greene asked the assembled congregation, an audible silence falling across the great church, as he referred both to the bankers of the city and the Occupy protesters in their tents still spread across the churchyard outside.
The answer, he said, pointing to Stott’s beliefs, lies in our personal response to the Christian gospel. Quoting Jesus’s words from the Sermon on the Mount, Greene said: “You cannot blame the meat for going rotten, you blame the salt for not doing its job.” Stott believed it is our fault, the fault of the church, the fault of individual Christians, as Greene put it, “for not refining, reforming and rescuing for Jesus” in our place of work.
The message of all Stott’s work was that, while we are busy lamenting everyone else’s shortcomings, the responsibility lies within ourselves as individuals. The homily ended with an exhortation for us to pray, as John Stott did, “Lord, how do you want me to change so that I may be salt and light in my work place?” And from there the institutions and companies, the schools and clubs of our country can rediscover their moral, ethical core and move forward with renewed strength.
As Stott’s health failed towards the end of his life, he wrote a note to his doctors explaining that, since he had a living hope of eternal life, he didn’t want to be hindered unnecessarily from entering into it. It was this confidence in his eternal destiny, united with Christ, that permeated Stott’s life and teaching, and enabled him to unite and inspire.