Being God’s Church

As I thought about last week’s blog and God’s building of the church, I really wanted to present you with an imagination of what God’s active church would look like in today’s western-world culture (I don’t know about underground churches where great persecution is occurring).  I can only write about my observations concerning the church and church culture that I can see.  I am not writing about the culture of Chapel Hill Bible Church specifically, because my sense is that there is a cultural shift going on in the American church as well.  I am grieved at what I see as compared with the scripture that describes God’s purpose and vision for the church.

I picked up a book off my shelf, looking for help in expressing what I am perceiving.  There was a pastor who lived within my life-time who nearly walked away from his faith as he grieved what he was seeing and experiencing in the evangelical world of his time. I’d like to share some of what he did and what he learned as he struggled.  His name is Francis Schaeffer.  This particular book by him is True Spirituality.  Let me tell you a little about him.

Francis schaeffer

Dr. Schaeffer became a believer at the age of seventeen in 1930.  He soon felt called to the ministry of the Word and enrolled at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia in a pre-ministerial degree program.  He met Edith Seville while he was a student and they married shortly after his graduation.  He enrolled at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in 1935 and completed his theological training at Faith Seminary in Wilmington, Delaware.  

The Schaeffers served in three churches in the U.S., started a ministry to children which eventually became international, and Dr. Schaeffer was also involved in the International Council of Christian Churches (a body formed to stand for biblical orthodoxy against the increasing liberalism of the World Council of Churches).  Beginning in 1947 Dr. and Mrs. Schaeffer spent several months in Europe to understand and evaluate the condition of the church in Europe following WWII.  The report from their findings resulted in them being called to serve in Switzerland. There they devoted themselves to ministries of evangelism, training others to lead evangelistic studies for children, speaking and writing against theological liberalism, Bible teaching and hospitality.  After three years Dr. Schaeffer experienced a spiritual crisis and felt that he had to “go back to the beginning and think his faith through all over again.” 

How did this crisis come about? During Dr. Schaeffer’s time in college, and later in seminary, he and Edith were bothered by the lack of love shown between Christians, especially where there was disagreement. The denomination they had joined was a split from a denomination during a controversy over liberalism.  The new church within that denomination experienced a division into two denominations within a year of the first split.  The Schaeffers were wrestling with this questioning: “How could people stand for God’s holiness and purity of doctrine in the church and in one’s personal life, and yet not have it turn out to be harsh and ugly?”  With all the fighting and defining what one was “against”, with struggles for power and control, Schaeffer wondered what they were “for” and what there was to affirm.  His questions:

  • Where was the passion for evangelism that fills the pages of the New Testament?
  • Where was the devotional literature expressing love for the Lord?
  • Where were the hymns that would demonstrate that the imagination and the heart were being touched by God’s truth along with the mind?
  • Where was love for fellow believers and for one’s unbelieving neighbors that would show to the world that the Father sent the Son for our salvation?
  • Where was the spiritual reality that fills the pages of the book of Acts and of the New Testament Epistles? 

Not only was Schaeffer not satisfied with the circles of which he was a part, he was not satisfied with himself.

Schaeffer did the only thing that he felt he could do.  He went back to the beginning to reexamine the whole matter of Christianity.  He walked in the mountains around their Swiss home or in the attic of the barn adjacent to their home. He reread the Bible, wrestling with the most basic questions of our human situation all over again.  This was a period lasting several months.  Just as when he was first converted, he found his answers in the unfolding of God’s revelation of himself in “the flow of biblical history”.  Finally he was ready to write and to pray: Come Christian Triune God who lives, shake the world again! 

What did Dr. Schaeffer learn out of this experience?

  • He found a solid foundation for his own faith and life as he became convinced again that the Bible answers the most basic questions that all human persons ask.
  • He developed a confidence in Scripture as the sure and inerrant Word of God which, through God’s providence, equipped him to answer the questions of the many struggling unbelievers who were drawn to their study center L’Abri, established during the turmoil of the 60’s and persisting even today. He learned to take their questions and doubts seriously and learned to answer them with gentleness and compassion and deep understanding.
  • He was also being prepared to deal with questions, doubts, and hurts of Christians who were struggling with their faith as they also made their way to L’Abri.
  • Prayer became much more real to him and far more important in his own life.  He would often say, “How many churches and ministries would not even notice and would carry on in exactly the same manner as usual, even though every reference to dependence on the Holy Spirit and to prayer were suddenly to disappear from the pages of the New Testament!
  • He also “discovered” that the central, unfolding theme of God’s revelation is the love shown by God to us, and trusting and dependent love that we are called to show him in return.

It was out of those experiences and months of questioning that Dr. Schaeffer wrote True SpiritualityHe examines what it is to live as a Christian — not by just believing in Jesus and then proceeding by our own efforts as if we would readily sanctify ourselves.  Christian growth is a work of God’s Spirit, a work to be appropriated by faith – just as much as our initial salvation is a work of God that is received by faith. 

Schaeffer appeals to the example of Mary to help us to see what God intends for us. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary to announce to her that she would conceive a child, she did not respond: “Great! I will do this task myself!” Rather she replied in humility: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).

I would commend Dr. Schaeffer’s book to you if you, like me, struggle to see Christ’s bride, the Church, in today’s world.  I would leave one quote with you from the introduction by Jerram Barrs in this 2001 reprint of True Spirituality:

If there is biblical purity, then there will be not only contending for the faith against false teaching and unbelief, but also an outpouring of devotional literature, hymns, and devotional sermons.  If there is true purity, then there will also be a growing reality of prayer in public and in private.  Any commitment to purity must arise out of a deepening love for Christ, not a desire for honor, leadership, or money, and especially not a desire for power.  It was this hunger for power among Christian leaders that had so soured his own confidence in the gospel that he had to go back to the beginning and think everything through again.

Jerram Barrs – Foreword to “True Spirituality”