The Living Church is one of those books that every pastor should own. It’s vintage John Stott and is full of so much practical insight that it really has become a treasure chest for my reading. It’s more or less Stott’s fleshed out Ecclesiology. In The Living Church, Stott offers us an Anglical definition of evangelism by saying that to evangelize is “to make known by word and deed the love of the crucified and risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that people will repent, believe and receive Christ as their Savior and obediently serve him as their Lord in the fellowship of his church” (p.47). I love Stott’s definition because it includes the message, the lifestyle, and the power of the Spirit, which happens to be the way that I understand the biblical presentation of the gospel too.
Stott goes on to suggest that local church evangelism is “the most normal, natural and productive method of spreading the gospel today” (p.49). His reason is (1) the argument from Scripture and (2) the argument from strategy. In other words, Stott believes that Scriptures indicates that the normal process for carrying out the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) through the work of the local church is supported by a lot of Scripture and makes the most practical sense because churches are in particular locations.
Finally, Stott lays our four different subtopics and draws out the implications of each. They are as follows:
- The Church Must Understand Itself: Its Theology
- The Church must Organize Itself: Its Structures
- The Church Must Express Itself: Its Message
- The Church Must Be Itself: Its Life
I found it interesting that Stott’s first priority for evangelism is that the church understands its theology. He doesn’t mean all doctrine under the banner of systematic theology, but specifically in regards to Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). He writes,
“I make no apology for beginning with theology. Many churches are sick because they have a false self-image. They have grasped neither who they are (their identity) nor what they are called to be (their vocation). We all know the importance for mental health of having an accurate self-image. What is true of persons is equally true of churches.” (p. 50-51)
Since the church is made up of the Elect (2 Tim. 2:10) who have been reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10) in order to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31) and bring reconciliation to the world (2 Cor. 5:18-19), it makes sense that the church should be aware of her identity and up to speed on her mission. I think Stott is right.
The Church’s identity has been stolen, and we need to recover it.