As the Schaeffers were preparing to move to Europe, the following article was published in BIBLICAL MISSIONS, the newsletter of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, under whose auspices the Schaeffers initially moved onto the European field, with the intent of planting theologically sound churches. The picture shown here is from the January 1949 issue of that same newsletter.
Some will remember that this same title “Revolutionary Christianity” appears as the title of the last chapter of Schaeffer’s book, THE CHURCH AT THE END OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. The content of the 1948 article is entirely different, though it would be an interesting exercise to compare the two messages. Great minds are always building on prior accomplishments and advances, and I have to think that Schaeffer hadn’t forgotten this 1948 article when he so titled that last chapter of his book in 1970. For instance, does the latter contain an outworking of ideas first formulated in the earlier article.
Rev. Francis A. Schaeffer
[Biblical Missions 14.2 (February 1948): 27-31.]
The International Missionary Council met at Whitby, Ontario, in the summer of 1947. In reporting on that meeting, Reinhold Niebuhr’s paper, “Christianity and Crisis,” in its issue of November 10, 1947, gave an account of one of the speeches in which account it stated: “Bishop Neill, successful Oxford missioner, warned lest the church cease to be revolutionary and identify itself with the status quo, the powers that be. ‘Then,’ he said, ‘the revolution goes forward under demonic powers, which God uses to discipline the Church.’ The church losing its mission becomes irrelevant.”
This is a highly significant statement, for it is an illustration of the type of thinking that dominates the modernistic missionary movements, including those that are Barthian and neo-Barthian. Insofar as this statement was presented at this un-Biblical, but influential missionary conference, it is well to analyze carefully this problem in a Bible-believing missionary magazine.
What is meant by “revolutionary Christianity” is that we now need a socialized gospel. To these men the revolutionary concept of Christianity is a part of world betterment through a revolution in the economic field; to them, socialization is the next upward step for Christianity to take. When therefore these men speak of “irrelevant Christianity” they mean Bible-believing Christianity. To them, our historic emphasis that the church’s task is to preach Christ crucified and raised from the dead that men might accept Christ as their personal Saviour and be justified by faith alone, is irrelevant and little more than magic.
The sad thing is that there are some Bible-believing Christians who find excuses for such charges. Orthodoxy is in a constant danger of allowing that orthodoxy to ossify so that it has no impact on life. Historic, Bible-believing Christianity believes that the task of the church is to preach Christ and Him crucified and that men are justified by faith alone; but this does not mean that after a man has accepted Christ as his Saviour his Christianity should not show, or need not show, in every aspect of his life. In spite of the minority of Bible-believing Christians who are irrelevant, historic Bible-believing Christianity has been and is the true revolutionary Christianity. We have the revolutionary Christianity, not the Modernists and neo-Barthians.
Historic Christianity is revolutionary Spiritually. By revolutionary, I mean that it is totally contrary to all the other religions of the world. Consider the prophets. They were the revolutionists, and they stood alone against their day. Christ, God the Son, when He was on earth, was revolutionary in that He stood alone against His day. Paul was revolutionary, and wherever he went, both Jews and pagans felt the clash of his message against the established religious order. In church history, the outstanding leaders have always been considered revolutionary. Who could be more I revolutionary than Luther standing against the established order of the I Catholic Church? The Reformation Monument in Geneva has carved in stone, “After the darkness came forth light.” Let us never forget that Calvin and those who were with him were revolutionists of the first order in spiritual things. Whitefield and Wesley preached in the fields because the churches were shut to them. The churches were shut to them because these men were spiritual revolutionists against the whole trend of the dead orthodoxy of their day. In our day, has the matter changed? Not a bit. We are the spiritual revolutionists of our hour. All else are agreed against us. The message of the cross is always against the whole world concept around about us. It is against the prince of this world. In spiritual matters, we have the revolutionary message, because the Biblical message in our age, as in every age, is totally contrary to all the religions of the world.
The Christian Century in reporting our attempt, by the grace of God, to form an International Council of Bible-believing Christians, said this attempt was of the Devil. Why have these men resurrected the Devil for us? It has been years since we have heard them mention the Devil. They do not say that the Roman Catholics are motivated by the Devil. At times, it is true, because of growing Roman Catholic political power, we hear them say that Rome is wrong politically, but in religious matters they hold out the hand of fellowship to Rome. They do not say that the Unitarians are of the Devil. In the leadership of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America and in the World Council there are men who individually hold the Unitarian position. They do not even say that the Hindu and the Mohammedan, or the Shintoist is of the Devil. In the Religious Congress that is being called in Boston for the United Nations, the modernistic leaders are calling to these primitive paganisms that they should labor together for world fellowship and brotherhood. However, when it comes to the Bible-believing Christian, then it is a different matter. Why is it that we are the only group they will fight religiously? Because we are the revolutionary group. The simple fact is, that religiously Modernism (including Barthianism and neo-Barthianism). Romanism, Greek Orthodoxy, and the rest, while having differences among themselves, are one in their basic errors.
There are too many who call themselves Bible-believing Christians who are only so because this has been the established position in their youth, not because they are convinced that it is right. They find it rather comfortable to say the old phrases without doing anything about them. Thus, Christianity loses its dynamic power, and dead orthodoxy comes in like a flood. Study what period of church history you will, the first step to heterodoxy has always been a dead orthodoxy.
Such an attitude is not Christian. It is old, but all old things are not good. Christianity is the snatching of brands from the burning. It is the shouting aloud from the pulpit or the stake: “You cannot call Jesus Christ your Lord until you call Him first God and then your personal Saviour.” The Christianity that has moved ahead through the centuries is the Bible-believing Christianity that stands completely against all the other religions of the world. This is true whether they are primitive paganisms, Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, old-fashioned Modernism, or neo-Barthianism. True Bible-believing Christianity is never comfortable and it is never fossilized. Christians should know these facts and act upon them. We know that the world will never be normal until Christ comes back and supernaturally makes it so.
Bible-believing Christianity is also revolutionary in its relationships to the external world. This is what I mean by materially. As the religions of the world are not in line with Christianity, so also the civilizations that are built upon them are not in line with Christianity.
The Bible’s position is that you can only understand a civilization if you see the religion or religions upon which it is built or which are dominantly behind it. This is a part of the complete world-view of Christianity. The true Bible-believing Christian in faith knows that he can in general tell what the civilization of the next generation will be because its basis is found in the religion of this generation.
Now let us ask ourselves. Who are the liberals and who are the reactionaries in our own day? I want to say it very carefully, the Bible-believing Christians arc the true liberals. The modernists, including the Barthians and neo-Barthians, are the reactionaries. What do I mean by this? Bible-believing Christianity, wherever it has gone preaching Christ and Him crucified and raised from the dead and keeping as its primary message justification by faith, has always been followed by certain peripheral and secondary blessings. These blessings have not followed in a day, but they have always come. What are these peripheral blessings—the emancipation of women, the freeing of slaves, the increase of education, and, in general, a rise in the level of civilization, including the material benefits of a high standard of living. There are many others, but the greatest of the peripheral blessings that have followed historic Bible-believing Christianity has always been an increase in individual liberties. Remember, this is not the primary message of Christianity. It is a purely secondary result of the preaching of the cross.
In the light of this, who is the liberal today and who is the reactionary? Who is continuing the message of individual freedom, and who is leading us back to slavery? It is the Bible-believing Christian who is continuing to insist upon individual freedom all over the world, and equally all over the world it is the modernists and the Barthians and neo-Barthians who are casting away our freedom and leading us back to slavery. In whatever country you read the writings of these men, you find that they believe it is now the Christian’s duty to give up his individual freedom to the state, so that their socialistically-planned economy can come into effect.
In a press release at the Oslo Young People’s Conference, Reinhold Niebuhr said that all laws are under the judgment of Christ, and that this includes those from Scripture and those that were enacted by states and communities. He says that among the laws that we must refashion is the law of property rights, and also the law of individual liberties. What does this mean? It means, these men tell us, that it is our Christian duty to give up our individual liberties to the Socialistic State. They couch their teaching in religious language, but that does not change it.
Who then is the reactionary? The so-called “liberal” is the reactionary, for he would squander all those individual freedoms which our Bible-believing forefathers have won. He decks this road to the slaughter-house of our freedoms with Christian signs and symbols, but it is the road to the death of our freedoms, nevertheless.
Should individual Christians and Bible-believing mission boards be interested in this? I believe they should, for the loss of our freedoms will eventually lead to the loss of the freedom of the preaching of the Gospel.
This totalitarian trend among the modernists is clearly demonstrated in the churches themselves. In the recent church unions in India and Ceylon, the church governments have been led back to the more totalitarian forms.
Thus, it is our message that is truly revolutionary spiritually and in the external world, because our primary message and its secondary results are totally contrary to all the religions of the world and to the civilizations built upon them.
However, it would be wrong to finish this article without saying that if we intend to stand in the historic stream of Christianity, we must never close our eyes to the wrongs that do exist in our own external world. The reason the secondary blessings of Christianity have followed the preaching of the Cross is that the true preachers of the Cross have always been willing to point out the evils of their own day. Thus, we should raise our voices against not only the theological “liberal” and the totalitarian trends of our day, but we must be especially careful to point out the weaknesses of our own churches and of our civilization. When we find a Bible-believing Christian who, for example, would turn his back on the cry of the world in its present need for food, we should be the ones to tell him that his Christianity is irrelevant. When our nation would break its solemn promises, we should be the ones to speak most loudly for national integrity. If the church in its time of power prior to 1900 had been faithful in pointing out the abuses of our economic system, I seriously doubt if Communism and near-Communism could have gotten such a hold upon us. It is imperative that we should be the ones to take the lead, especially when it is uncomfortable, in pointing out the evils round about us. Being in the “old paths” does not mean keeping on in things that are wrong. Worldliness is more than smoking, drinking and card playing. A far worse worldliness is keeping quiet when our nation breaks its promises; or sharing, through silence, in murder through mob violence; or by driving men to communism by squeezing them in any of the economic processes.
If the church had not lost its revolutionary message through dead orthodoxy and laziness, modernism could never have come in as it has.
Christianity will always be revolutionary until Christ comes back. We should teach our young people carefully that not only all the false religions are against us, but the civilizations built upon them as well. We should present this to them as a challenge. We have the greatest marching orders that men have ever been given, and when we allow our young people to go on the defensive rather than to march straight forward, it means that we have failed to get across the perennial challenge of our calling.