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
Baptist Times extensive obituary
©2016 by Charles Strohmer
A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.
Brother John Peck was and is through his faith an incredible and amazing man of faith. Enjoy the glory of His presence Brother!
Thx for taking time to write Jim. I was just thinking of that time we had John with us, which I think you’ll recall, and Rich had him speak at a luncheon to a bunch of lawyers and judges about a biblical view of ethics and jurisprudence. What a moment in time that was, eh?
Wow, what a beautiful picture of im’Peck’able balance in working out the Christian experience in simplistic harmony. I think Christ would say Amen to John’s perspective wholeheartedly. Charles, I know John was a mentor to you and I am sorry for the loss of his many contributions. I know his works have and will continue to inspire you to carry the torch till it’s your time to pass it along.
Thx, Dan. Absolutely love the word you’ve created to describe John: imPeckable. He certainly was that!
I love reading and re-reading this essay, and I love to hear it when Paul Patton presents it orally. You could take each statement and spend an hour talking about it, discussing the Biblical basis for that statement. One that always strikes me is: “Where the first to hear a complaint is the offender, and the last to air it is the sufferer”. Wow! So simple, yet so profound. I pray that each of our churches would be more and more like this “vision”.
Thx for writing, Kathy. I feel that way too — pondering each element, each one so rich. It’s great to know Paul is performing it. And you keep up your good work too!
Charles, this is a beautiful testament to a Godly man. I love the sheer humanity of John and the church that he describes. I am actually deeply grateful to attend a church that shows some of these traits and reminds us a little of what heaven might be like when it comes to earth. I met John when I was at Cambridge University at Cambridge House over 25 years ago and the echos are still there in my life (not least in my friendship with you).
God bless you and John
Hi, Paul. Thank you for you kind words. I’m so glad you had opportunity to “feel the personal presence,” so to speak. John always had time for people. I’m having a website built that will carry many of john’s sermons, Bible studies, Cambridge talks, etc. As you know and as anyone who has heard him knows, he had an exceptional teaching gift. We hope to have the site up soon. Stay tuned.
I have fond memories of your church from my weekend there, so I know what you mean. My wife and I are glad to be part of a small church that also shows some of the traits in “I Have a Vision,” as I know others do as well. Thx, again, for taking time to write.
Reblogged this on Pasarea Phoenix Remixed & co and commented:
Viziunea lui John Peck cu privire la biserică
This has made me cry, because we at Wood Green Mennonite Church had all of that, not perfectly, not always, but in our vision and often in our practice. And we have let it go. Maybe we had to, maybe the vision will resurface in other ways and other places, but the loss is huge, and the people who mourn it go way beyond the few who were still trying to keep it afloat.
Thank you for sharing, with grace and hope, the heartfelt moment you encountered with John Peck’s “I Have A Vision.” Your words are very moving. I am close to a church that also practiced that vision — not perfectly, not always (as you say) — but it then got knocked horribly sideways for a long time and many people left. But a core stuck it out and struggled through, at times against huge odds. But that church, if you visited it today, well, you would see and taste that vision being practiced, not perfectly or always, but regularly enough that it’s becoming intuitive. It doesn’t have to be thought about. And I have heard from one or two others recently who have said that their churches have degrees of that vision in their DNA. I hope this is an encouragement to your group. Thx, again, for taking time to write. Grace & strength to you and your your community.
“When the Spirit is working most effectively, He is forgotten in the vision of Christ,” John Peck, British theologian, drawing an analogy to wearing eyeglasses, which work best when unnoticeable.
Sorry, I’ve realized I was ambiguous. We did not let the vision go, we let the church go. It closed down in March. There simply weren’t enough people to keep it going any more. I hope it was because we were in the wrong place, rather than that there really aren’t enough people prepared to commit to the work of a real, egalitarian church.
No worries. Thx for the clarification. The upside, I suspect, is that you and others may be able to bring the kind of grace and wisdom represented by “I Have A Vision” into another community of believers. What a good legacy that would leave.
Charles, blessings to you my wise friend. Thank you for carrying the torch for brother Peck. I know he was quite influential to you. As he pointed focus away from himself but ever toward the Light. May his words be loudest in his silence and may his message have more meaning and mastery in his missing. I thank you for your transparency and wise truth. You have been a true brother to me! Be Blessed in all your efforts. What a legacy.
Thank you for taking time to write, Jason. The Peck family have been greatly moved reading the Comments about John’s “I Have A Vision,” both here and elsewhere, and I know they will be equally blessed by yours. He did, as you say, point us toward the Light. And thx for your very encouraging words to me. But to God be the glory. Grace & strength to you in your new adventure.