Francis Schaeffer and the Lord’s Work
Most people think of Francis Schaeffer of one of our great Christian apologists of last century. And that he certainly was. His work in the mountains of Switzerland, L’Abri, was and still is a terrific ministry which has reached so many people.
But he started as an American pastor, and of course he always had a pastor’s heart. I remember listening to one audio recording of a session of his at L’Abri. It may have been in a Q&A session when he said that he was just a ‘simple, old-fashioned evangelist’.
The students and staff broke out in laughter at that. This was because he had just finished a lengthy discourse on matters of history, art, philosophy, etc. After such a brilliant lecture it seemed a bit incongruous to claim to be a mere evangelist.
But that of course was what he really was. All the apologetics work, all the terrific books and lectures were simply meant to bring people to Jesus Christ. That is why he did what he did. Yes, he reached plenty of intellectuals and deep thinkers through his ministry, but he was really just a fisher of men.
And it is in his sermons that we find the pastor’s heart of Schaeffer especially. Thankfully a collection of his sermons were released back in 1974 called No Little People. The 16 sermons contained in this volume are all well worth highlighting, and I have mentioned some of these in the past.
For example, the first sermon, “No Little People, No Little Places” we find these powerful words:
Each Christian is to be a rod of God in the place of God for him. We must remember throughout our lives that in God’s sight, there are no little people and no little places. Only one thing is important: to be consecrated persons in God’s place for us, at each moment. Those who think of themselves as little people and little places, if committed to Christ and living under His Lordship and the whole of life may, by God’s grace, change the flow of our generation.
But let me here focus on just one of the other sermons: “The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way”. It begins this way:
For a number of years the theological school from which I graduated sang at its commencement exercises “Give Tongues of Fire.” The first verse reads like this:
From ivied walls above the town
The prophet’s school is looking down.
And listening to the human din
From marts and streets and homes of men:
As Jesus viewed with yearning deep,
Jerusalem from Olive’s steep,
O, crucified and risen Lord,
Give tongues of fire to preach thy Word.
This verse pictures Jesus standing on Olivet, looking over Jerusalem, crying for its lostness. As students go out from studying at Farel House here in Switzerland, it is our desire that they will look down over the world, be filled with compassion, and speak with tongues of fire into the world’s needs.
Because the world is hard, confronting it without God’s power is an overwhelming prospect. But tongues of fire are not to be had simply for the asking. The New Testament teaches that certain conditions must exist. In short, they come down to this: we must do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.
There is no source of power for God’s people – for preaching or teaching or anything else – except Christ Himself. Apart from Christ, anything which seems to be spiritual power is actually the power of the flesh….
If we want tongues of fire, our first step is not only to stand by, complacently thinking the right theological thoughts. We must have a genuine feeling of need. Furthermore, this feeling need is not to be once and for all. A Christian can never say, “I knew the power of the Holy Spirit yesterday, so today I can be at rest.” It is one of the existential realities of the Christian life to stand before God consciously recognizing our need.
He goes on to speak about our central problem:
The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus that surrounds us. All these are dangers but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.
He concludes his sermon as follows:
Often men have acted as though one has to choose between reformation and revival. Some call for reformation, others for revival, and they tend to look at each other with suspicion. But reformation and revival do not stand in contrast to one another; in fact, both words are related to the concept of restoration. Reformation speaks of a restoration to pure doctrine, revival of a restoration in the Christian’s life. Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture, revival of a life brought into proper relationship to the Holy Spirit. The great moments in church history have come when these two restorations have occurred simultaneously. There cannot be true revival unless there has been reformation, and reformation is incomplete without revival. May we be those who know the reality of both reformation and revival, so that this poor dark world in which we live may have an exhibition of a portion of the church returned to both pure doctrine and a Spirit-filled life.
As I see it, the Christian life must be comprised of three concentric circles, each of which must be kept in its proper place. In the outer circle must be the correct theological position, true biblical orthodoxy and the purity of the visible church. This is first, but if that is all there is, it is just one more seedbed for spiritual pride. In the second circle must be good intellectual training and comprehension of our own generation. But having only this leads to intellectualism and again provides a seedbed for pride. In the inner circle must be the humble heart — the love of God, the devotional attitude toward God. There must be the daily practice of the reality of the God whom we know is there. These three circles must be properly established, emphasized, and related to one another. At the center must be kept a living relationship to the God we know exists. When each of these three circles is established in its proper place, there will be tongues of fire and the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, at the end of my life, when I look back over my work since I have been a Christian, I will see that I have not wasted my life. The Lord’s work will be done in the Lord’s way.
The last verse of “Give Tongues of Fire” summarizes it so well:
O Son of man, O Son of God!
Whose love bought all men by his blood,
Give us thy mind, thy soul’s desire,
Thy heart of love, Thy tongue of fire
That we thy gospel may proclaim
To every man in thy great name!
O, crucified and risen Lord,
Give tongues of fire to preach thy Word.
This should be the desire of our hearts. But if we are going to know it rather than just sing it and talk it, we must not do the Lord’s work in the flesh. We must do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.
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