John Stott ‘An Ordinary Christian’

John Stott

John Stott, Honorary Chair of The Lausanne Movement, went to be with Christ on the afternoon of 27 July 2011, aged 90.

This gracious servant-hearted leader exercised an unusual gift of friendship among students and pastors (to many of whom he was known as ‘Uncle John’). Over the decades this opened doors for influence in the high echelons of medicine and technology, in theological debate, and in the local church across the continents.  He was listed by TIME magazine (April 2005) among the 100 most influential people in the world.

Billy Graham, a friend since the 1950s, invited John Stott to help shape the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland.  (He had earlier played a leading role in the 1966 Berlin World Congress on Evangelism.)  In Lausanne John Stott served as chief architect of the landmark Lausanne Covenant, which was adopted as an evangelical basis of cooperation for hundreds of collaborative ventures.  Social justice, too long identified as a concern only for adherents to ‘a social gospel’ was now declared a biblical responsibility for evangelical Christians.  This proved a watershed moment for the Church.  In 1989 John Stott led the crafting team for The Manila Manifesto in The Second Lausanne Congress.  Twenty years later, he took a keen and prayerful interest in the crafting of The Cape Town Commitment.  This was, in his view ‘beautiful and profound’ achieving, to his delight, ‘an astonishing degree of unity’.

John Stott’s grandfather was a cotton mill owner in the north west of England; his father, later Sir Arnold Stott, was a Harley Street cardiologist.  John followed in his father’s footsteps to Rugby School and to Trinity College, Cambridge.  Sir Arnold hoped his only son would join the Diplomatic service and John’s eirenic nature and felicity with languages would have suited him well for this.  However, in 1938, at a meeting of the school Christian Union, he listened to a visiting speaker, the legendary public schools evangelist E J H Nash.  John Stott, aged almost 17, professed faith in Christ that Sunday afternoon, and it changed everything.

In 1950, while only 29, he was appointed rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place in London.  He had grown up through its Sunday School and served there as a curate.  He was deeply committed to the poor section of his parish, and in 1958 took founded the All Souls Clubhouse.

In an engaging interview in 2007 with Brian Draper, marking the 25th anniversary of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, which John Stott founded, he was asked when he felt ‘most alive’.  He gave a three-fold response: in worship, where praises reach to the heavens; in enjoying the gift of friends; and in the natural world, early in the morning, where the sights, sounds and smells are all clear and fresh.  (He was an expert ornithologist.)

Brian Draper also asked him how he would most like to be remembered.  He was by this stage speaking slowly, and occasionally faltering, but there was no hesitation in the content of his response.  ‘As an ordinary Christian who has struggled to understand, expound, relate and apply the Word of God,’ he said.

John Stott remained humble despite all his achievements.  He wrote fifty books, translated into some 65 languages, and edited more; he founded or was catalyst for the founding of many endeavours, national and international; he was decorated as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and served as a Chaplain to the Queen; he received a Lambeth doctorate and five honorary doctorates from universities; and was the subject of several PhD theses.

His royalties alone could have afforded him a comfortable life.  But he lived simply, preferring to invest them (‘recycle them’ was his term) in books for pastors and libraries in the majority world.  From 1970, his home was a modest two-room flat built above the garage behind the All Souls Rectory.  His bedroom doubled as a corridor, and as a study for his research assistant.  One wall of his living room was lined with bookshelves, and he worked from his dining table.

The Apostle Paul was John Stott’s model as a minister of the gospel, and he was described by friends as being, ‘like Paul, obsessed with the cross’.  For over 50 years he read the whole Bible through annually, using Robert Murray McCheyne’s reading plan.  ‘Nothing has helped me more than this,’ he said ‘to grasp the grand themes of the Bible.’  It became his pattern to rise early to read and pray, and to listen to the BBC World Service news.  Listening to God through scripture should not be removed from world events.  We must practise ‘double-listening’, he would say, so we can apply the Word to the world.

Read more on John Stott’s life in The Independent newspaper.

This article was published as part of the Anniversary reflections one year after Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. 

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