Thanksgiving for the life of Michael Green

Mar 4, 2019 by

Anglican Mainstream report.

Andrew Symes writes:

The famous image of Christ, lantern in hand, about to knock on a door overgrown with weeds, with no discernible handle, was painted by William Holman Hunt around 1850. Posters and other copies are to be found all over the world, including a ten foot high version behind the Communion table at St Aldates, Oxford. It was appropriate that this should be the visually arresting backdrop for the funeral of evangelist, scholar and pastor Michael Green, who would have preached many times on Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”. Perhaps some of the many hundreds of those gathered to pay their respects on March 2nd had come to faith years ago because of Michael’s urgent call to “open the door to Jesus” based on that verse?

The service was introduced by the current Rector of St Aldates, Charlie Cleverley; Michael was a predecessor there from the mid 70’s to the mid 80’s before he went to teach evangelism and doctrine in Vancouver. Bishop of Oxford Steven Croft also said a few words, remembering how when a student during that time, he had studied Hebrews in Greek with Michael one-to-one: “under Michael Green, generations of ministers of the gospel were formed and shaped”. Bruce Gillingham, a former colleague of Michael’s at Wycliffe Hall, and who accompanied him on many mission trips, then led the service with his usual humour and grace, noting that Michael himself often interrupted liturgy with informality. (That reminded me of an occasion back in the mid 1980’s when Michael spoke at the University where I was studying; after his talk he invited us to “be laid back in the Lord and invite the Holy Spirit to minister to us”, which I recall annoyed some of the more buttoned-up members!)

Bruce Gillingham read a short note, “written in that familiar spidery writing”, which he had found in a book of Michael’s by his bedside as his life was drawing to a close. A mark of Christians in the face of death is to mourn, but not as those who have no hope. Jesus promised that his followers would be with him in his Father’s house. To depart and be with Christ, seeing him face to face, is far better. 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “the time for my departure is at hand…now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness”. As with airports, said Bruce, a departure means a farewell, but it is not an ending, rather a journey to a known destination.

Very moving tributes from families followed. Rosemary, Michael’s dear wife of many decades (they first got to know each other while serving together on the OICCU[1] executive committee around 1950) read Isaiah 41:10 which she said Michael had learned by heart as a teenager and which sustained him through his life. Tim, the eldest son, long-serving missionary in the East, outlined his father’s biography, mentioning his considerable gifts and achievements but also capturing a strong flavour of the man as father, friend and unique person. His impact around the world was remarkable, and his energy and passion for the gospel meant that he was still writing and preaching until just before his death at the age of 88. He was servant-hearted and generous, but notoriously frugal with himself; he loved spending time with family, and fishing when on holiday, but sometimes could not resist using some of his leave for writing the next book! (he wrote 50 in all).

After his return from Canada and then the US, Michael continued teaching at Wycliffe Hall; he and Rosemary settled in Abingdon near Oxford, and became part of the Christ Church congregation, whose vicar, Keith Dunnett, paid tribute to Michael’s preaching, pastoral care of individuals including Keith and his wife, and his passion to reach the nation with the good news of Christ. 2 Timothy 4 with its call to “preach the word…do the work of an evangelist”, and Paul’s testimony “the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed” was an appropriate Scripture at this point, read with the visible emotions of sadness at their loss and pride in their father’s life by Sarah, Jenny and Jonathan, Michael’s other children.

Lindsay Brown, long time leader of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students and veteran of many university evangelistic missions with Michael, gave the main address. He began with more biographical details, then remarked that Michael’s attitude was the opposite of that of early 20th century politician Lloyd George, who saw youth as blunder, middle age as struggle and old age as regret. Instead, those present could celebrate a remarkable life of achievement and selfless service, which ended joyfully, at peace, looking forward to the future.

After noting some key points from 2 Timothy 4: the call to evangelism, the relationship with the Lord, the hope of heaven, Brown suggested we remember Michael for three particular traits. He was courageous, not afraid to challenge people with the gospel, using God’s word like a fencer (a sport at which he excelled as a young man). His ministry was always contemporary – his early evangelistic books in the 60’s had a freshness which set them apart from some of the “worthy, but dull” style of the time. Well into his 80’s he still was thinking of new ways to engage students, using music, drama, even using rap poetry!

And then he was Christ-centred. Brown concluded with a story of Michael preaching in a prison in India, where for some reason he was wearing ecclesiastical robes, perhaps at the request of the high church chaplain. Explaining what Christ has done for us, he asked a prisoner to remove his dirty rag of a shirt. Michael took off his pristine white surplice, put on the dirty shirt, and put the robe on the prisoner. “The place erupted”.

All who attended were given a copy of Michael’s most recent publication, ‘Jesus for Sceptics’, which has been translated into many languages and is the best-selling evangelistic book on European campuses today. This is typical of Michael’s enduring international impact. Before the service was concluded with the committal and a blessing from former Archbishop George Carey, we were given a challenge: who will take up the baton? The faithful church needs to encourage, nurture, resource and pray for the new generation of evangelists who will communicate the message of the One who stands at the door and knocks, in a society which has largely forgotten him, and where ‘another gospel’ (2 Tim 4:3-4) is, sadly, increasingly found in the church itself.

Andrew Symes is the Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream.

Chris Shell writes:
     After lunch, the proceedings resumed with over 20 ‘open microphone’ tributes. Had it ever been doubted, Michael emerged as the ‘five-talent man’, and even to some degree the ‘other Wesley, to stalk this land’, for whom his mentor Eric Nash had long ago repeatedly prayed; yet his enriching and unique character, even with all its imperfections, was more treasured still.
     Former Cabinet minister Revd Jonathan Aitken remembered Michael as ‘friend, mentor, tutor, and prayer-partner’, recounting an occasion when his unrelenting soul-winning instinct (‘it’s no good influencing the fish – you’ve got to get them in the net’) found him and the convert-to-be wandering head-in-clouds across the Oxford Playhouse stage. And ‘I did bag him for Jesus’, rejoiced Michael.That was always his ultimate joy: we also heard how at James Robson’s conversion he leapt in the air; and how to a drunken man he called that joy ‘better than making love’.
     Long-time colleague and friend Revd Andrew Wingfield Digby spoke of Michael’s never-say-die faith when Andrew’s whole cricket team were left stranded visa-less the night before their flight for an India tour that involved playing the national XI. As Andrew pounded on the vicarage door at 11pm, Michael had to cut short the casting out of an evil spirit (‘But what about the evil spirit, Michael?’ ‘Oh, I told him to wait.’). There was a further story of telling successive batting partners also to ‘Wait! Yes! No! Sorry!’ – among other warts-and-all eccentricities.
     Revd Charlie Cleverly told of how Michael led a man to Christ right in the midst of Communion being passed along a row, and then shouted ‘Bring back the bread!’ once the commitment was made.
     Evangelist J John, with his wife Killy, spoke of the mentor who pushed him hard to undertake university missions. Accordingly, he led 102 of them, though when speaking in tandem with Michael he felt like the after-dinner mint to Michael’s 3-course meal.
     We heard from former Oxford colleagues Revd John Samways (Michael’s 7 wickets for 3 runs on page 1 of The News of the World – all because he’d bagged the downhill end) and his predecessor Preb. John Woolmer (the incredible tale of the resurrection of dilapidated St Matthew’s church, as Michael cried ‘Fling wide the gates!’ after 30 minutes of ‘seeking’ prayer, and received the first convert through the open doors almost at once). Bishop Colin Buchanan spoke of army days, and of the ancient friendship triumvirate with Julian Charley: their era at the London College of Divinity / St John’s Nottingham ‘changed the nature of theological education’.
     Carl Armerding and Bill Stewart travelled from Regent College, Vancouver – where the impact of Michael and Rosemary’s brief stay (1987-92), during which both faculty and student body experienced a notable renewal, is still definitive for the current President, Dean, and board.
     Several younger UCCF workers gave their tributes, including ‘young Michael’ Ots. A bewildering succession of multiple UK and international university mission-talk programmes, even at Cambridge yet again, marked Michael’s 88th year – his ‘departure’ (in the Pauline sense) was always going to be in a blaze – and how this impacted the young co-workers and students who were with him! Even with his heart at one-third capacity, his energy and effervescence remained legendary. Daughter-in-law Rachel pleaded with him to take a holiday; inevitably he responded that there’d be plenty of time for that in heaven.
     Finally, Michael’s beloved wife Rosemary spoke movingly of her husband’s remarkable initiative and leadership gifts, and his passion for students. The institutions of LCD / St John’s (till 1975) and St Aldate’s (1975-87) were transformed. Gowns and choir-robes went out; Christian-names, shared leadership (according to giftings) and a stronger female profile came in. Michael and Rosemary were themselves the shining example of shared, complementary ministry – which they both adored. The session ended with a heartfelt ovation for Rosemary, and a recommitment by her and others to the evangelistic spirit and the eternal gospel.
     Dr Christopher Shell, a married father of 3 who attended St Aldate’s 1984-90, manages a large Christian store and is an occasional speaker at academic New Testament conferences.


Some earlier tributes can be found here.


[1] Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union

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