Someone has said that a sunset on earth is a sunrise in heaven. Last week the Rev. John Peck passed away peacefully in his sleep, three days into his 93rd year. A godly, noble man who overflowed with wisdom. A true mensch. A dear friend. I knew John closely for thirty-three years and we collaborated on a number of projects. Since receiving news of his death I have been thinking: how strange it will be not to have this unique outlier in the world with us.
John, who has been called “The Least Known Best Theologian in the World,”* had an exceptional passion for the church. It would be hard to top his lovely and concise picture of a healthy church. It has been printed and framed and hangs on the wall of pastors’ offices. Part of John’s enduring legacy is being experienced today in churches who have taken his vision to heart and found ways to live it. Here is it is in his own words.
I Have a Vision
Of a church whose worship seeks out all the resources of its members and utilizes all their skills.
Where the hymns are sung with zest, perception, and expression, and accompanied by every instrument anyone can play, including hands, and feet, and smiles. And where the unfamiliar music of another generation is learned until it is loved.
A church with liturgies that are never mechanical, and spontaneity that is never trivial.
Where the least of its meetings are conducted like royal appointments, and its greatest days are marked with solemn hilarity.
Where organisational efficiency is always at the service of caring love.
Where even poor efforts are done with painstaking diligence, and commended with tolerant hope.
Where brilliance of mind or skill only serves to light up Jesus Christ and His Gospel; where no one can hog the limelight, no one gets too much attention, and no one gets left out.
Of a church were outsiders get as much welcome as old friends; were no one stands alone unless they need to; where the awkward ones are accepted, and the pleasant ones are disturbed by hard realities.
Where the first to hear a complaint is the offender, and the last to air it is the sufferer.
Where people’s interests are worldwide, without being worldly, and personal without being petty.
I have a vision of a church which shares an invincible passion for learning and giving, whose life is energised by a glad acceptance of the Cross as a way of life.
Whose self-critical humor puts people at ease, and whose self-denials disturb and brace them.
Whose sympathy is so warm and imaginative that no one has the nerve to indulge in self-pity; and whose ideals are so high that slightly soiled notions are shamed into silence.
Whose convictions are firm without being rigid; whose tolerance extends even to the intolerant; whose life is an admonition, whose love learns even from its opponents, and whose faith is infectious.
I have a vision of a church that is like that because from time to time it hears its Redeemer’s voice speak with such authority that nothing will do but obedience, nothing matters but God’s love, and others coming in can only wonder, and wish, and ask. . .
John R. Peck, B.S., A.L.B.C.
Earl Soham, Suffolk, England
*The art historian Karen L. Mulder’s apt description of John Peck.
Image of John Peck laughing courtesy of Karen L. Mulder.
A website has been created to continue the legacy of John Peck’s exceptional teaching ministry to a new generation. Here’s that site.
For more about John Peck, see:
A major interview with John in 1998
Martin Wroe’s tribute
Baptist Times (UK) tribute
The extensive obituary.
©2016 by Charles Strohmer
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