John Stott is a preacher, speaker and author of more than 40 books. Rector emeritus of All Souls Church, London, England, he has been called one of the most influential Christian writers of the century. Dr. Stott spoke with Karen Stiller.
How do you define Anglican comprehensiveness?
There is principled comprehensiveness and unprincipled. The principled type insists on agreement and unity in fundamentals of the faith while allowing people liberty to disagree, particularly in ceremonial matters, but also in matters of secondary doctrine and unbelief. Unprincipled excludes no one and in due course you would, of course, include everyone. The true Anglican position is a principled comprehensiveness in which there is agreement on essentials and liberty to disagree on non-essentials.
What are the essentials?
We certainly would say that the Apostles Creed is an elementary statement of Trinitarian faith and I think we would also want to add the Nicene Creed which enlarges the credal statement about Christ. The rule of thumb that I like to use is this: That when equally biblical Christians who are equally accepting of the supremacy of Scripture which is essential to Anglicanism, of course, come to a different conclusion we must say that this is a secondary matter in which we can give one another the liberty to disagree. I’m not talking about people who don’t accept Scripture as the supreme authority, but those who do and are anxious to submit to it.
What would your advice to the leaders of the Essentials movement in Canada be?
I would tell them to continue in a positive witness. There are occasions when we have to fight a battle against false teachers but the most important thing we have to do is build up the truth positively and it will automatically undermine error and cause it to fall. I would say to the Essentials people: go on meeting, go on affirming the truth, go on claiming that you are the constitutionalists and that it is the liberals who are the deviationists. We are not deviating, we are maintaining the faith and they are deviating.
Are lay people concerned
about these issues?
I would say from my travels in different parts of the world that lay people are very concerned about these issues … If there are leaders in the church who are now denying or repudiating what have been age-long beliefs of the church then lay people ought to be worried. To not take an interest in fundamental doctrine seems to me to be seriously wrong in itself …
What is your opinion of Alpha?
I’ve spoken to Nicky Gumbel and told him that I don’t agree with their teaching on the Holy Spirit. There are three chapters on the Holy Spirit which are Pentecostal or charismatic in their teaching and I don’t believe that the charismatic view of the Holy Spirit is correct. It’s a pity because that is the one thing that makes it unacceptable to our parish in England. There is a great deal of very good, well communicated teaching in it.
The explosion in growth of the Third World church has been attributed by some as being based on a too simplistic understanding of Scripture and the Gospel message. How do you respond?
You can’t generalize about the Third World …You can’t possibly say that about them. There are some rural people whose education has been quite minimal but they are not the only people who are multiplying rapidly. It is also the educated people. What worries me is the standard of teaching after they’ve been converted, baptized and welcomed into the Christian community. One must say that there is a great deal of superficiality of discipleship everywhere and that if you asked church leaders in Africa or Asia as to what the West could do to help them they would reply with one voice: help us to equip our pastors to be better teachers.