John Stott on Unity

John Stott on Unity

Urgency for Unity 

It is a curious fact. John Stott was a life-long Anglican, resolutely committed to ministry within the Church of England. In fact, for well over eighty years of his ninety years, he was a member, and sometime leader, of just one Anglican church: All Souls, Langham Place.

Despite this unusually restricted church experience, he was determined and committed to generous partnership with believers from across the world and across the churches.

This arose out of his deep biblical convictions about the nature of God’s church in the world. The Church’s unity is far more fundamental, far more challenging and yet far more urgent that we might realise.

Our Unity is Far More Fundamental

Because the church is made up of believers who have been saved through Christ, they automatically have unity. God has been at work. As he said, “You can no more divide the unity of the church than you can divide the unity of the Godhead.”[1]

The unity of Christians is simply a fact. It may also come as a surprise to many. For the church’s characteristic that is most obvious even to the casual observer is its disunity. So, what has gone wrong?

Our Unity is Far More Challenging

It follows that because unity is primarily theological, then theology must be central to how that unity is expressed. For “only loyalty to the gospel can secure unity in the church” 1994:25, but it is not any gospel. It is the gospel that brought the church into existence in the first place and is to be found in the Scriptures. One of the grounds for Uncle John’s Anglicanism lies precisely here. For the 39 Articles clearly state that the Bible is “God’s Word written” (Article XX) and therefore is supreme in its authority over all church matters.[2] When we fail to accept that, then true Christian unity is impossible.

This explains his interpretation of Christ’s prayer for Christian unity in John 17:20-23. He was not praying for “unity with each other, but unity with the apostles (a common truth) and unity with the Father and the Son (a common life).”[3] In effect, we are to live up to what we already are. But we can only do that by putting deep roots into what we have inherited in the gospel.

Our Unity is Far More Urgent

So we should never be satisfied with how things are. As Uncle John frequently reminded us from Paul, we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” (Eph 4:3)[4] It should be something we take very seriously indeed, as part of our gospel discipleship. This is not simply a matter of keeping good relationships with brothers and sisters in my local church. It is also about being generous and open to those who are different from us in all kinds of ways while still trusting wholeheartedly in Christ’s finished work. How else will a broken world know that the church really is different from every other human community that exists?

Uncle John lived this out. He demonstrated a lifelong commitment to searching deeply in the Scriptures for God’s truth, to building all who would listen up in this faith, and extending the hand of fellowship and partnership to any who loved Christ as he is presented in Scripture. Even though he spent his entire lifetime in just one place.

[1] John Stott,  ‘Christ’s Portrait of a Christian: Studies in Matthew 5,6 and 7’ in The Keswick Week 1972, ed. H. F. Stevenson (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1972), p209

[2] John Stott, The Contemporary Christian (Leicester: IVP, 1992), p182

[3] ibid, p267

[4] John Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Bible Speaks Today series, Leicester: IVP, 1979), p153

Mark Meynell

Mark Meynell

Associate Director (Europe & Caribbean), Langham Preaching

Mark was born in London and has authored several books, as well as blogging regularly at Quaerentia. In the past he has taught at a seminary in Uganda and been on staff at All Souls, Langham Place.

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