Authentic Church: Road to a Re-newed Reality

January 4, 2016

Celtic Transformation

I have been mulling on something the late Francis Schaeffer said:

“There are four things which are absolutely necessary if we as Christians are going to meet the need of our age and the overwhelming pressure we are increasingly facing.”

No doubt that the church, in our culture as well as other cultures, faces increasing and overwhelming pressure.  Pressure to cave. Pressure to capitulate. Pressure to compromise.  These pressures come from both  subtle and overt threats from the culture and from the government, as George Orwell predicted in his classic 1984.  Perhaps even more devastating is the subversive seductive pressure. The craving of the church to be “relevant”, to fit in, to be liked, so people will come in great numbers, so we can be considered successful, has seemingly replaced a commitment to faithfulness and fruitfulness.  This mindset seems in line with Aldous Huxley‘s “nightmarish vision of the future” in his opus Brave New World.  And while there is certainly nothing wrong with a desire to be liked, nor to see our churches full, these consuming desires are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, and consequently, I fear, resulting in an increasingly impotent Church.

So what are Schaeffer’s four things?

Schaeffer labeled them Two Contents and Two Realities.

First Content: Rooted Sound Doctrine

“If we want to see something profound happen in this generation [we must recover] clear doctrinal content concerning the central elements of Christianity.”

In Schaeffer’s own words:

Christianity is a specific body of truth; it is a system, and we must not be ashamed of the word system. There is truth, and we must hold that truth. There will be borderline things in which we have differences among ourselves, but on the central issues there  must be no compromise.

In a generation and a culture in which message of most churches, evangelical and otherwise, or at least the belief system of most Christians, has been described by sociologist Christian Smith as more akin to “moralistic-therapeutic-deism” than to historic Christian orthodoxy, there is a tremendous need for the Church to root its membership in Biblical Truth and a Biblical belief system.

Consider what Christian Smith asserts:

“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism seems to be colonizing many historical religious traditions and, almost without anyone noticing, converting believers in the old faiths to its alternative religious vision of divinely underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness.”

Schaeffer was correct:

“There is no use talking about meeting the threat of the coming time or fulfilling our calling in the twenty-first century unless we consciously help each other to have a clear doctrinal position.”

NOTE: For more info about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism check out:

 Second Content: Honest Answers to Honest Questions

I suspect that critics of conservative and traditional churches have at least one valid point: many of our churches are not safe places to ask questions.  At least there is not an environment that seems to encourage questions.  Granted, this is a highly subjective speculation, but whether or not our church, or your church, is a safe place for inquirers to ask questions, the church should always feel like a safe place to explore, question, and even express doubts.

As Schaeffer notes:

Christianity is truth, truth that God has told us; and if it is truth, it can answer questions.

Not only can Christianity answer questions, it must answer questions.  Questions abound.  And in a culture that is increasingly biblically illiterate, and shaped by moralistic-therapeutic-deism, questions will increasingly abound.

And it is not only the ill-informed who have questions. At least they should not be the only ones to be asking questions.  All students of the Bible should be asking questions.  I feel confident I am on safe ground to assert that if one does not have any questions, he or she is not reading their Bible with any authenticity.  There are many “questionable” things found in the Bible.  And God himself is mysterious.  Few – really None – actually will master the Bible in this lifetime. Even in the life to come, in heaven, when we will no longer see “dimly, as through dark glasses” (See 1 Corinthians 13.12), we will spend eternity experiencing the delight of deepening understanding. In that sense, cultivating a place where questions are not only permitted, but valued, is not unlike offering a taste of heaven.

But it is not just the openness to questions that Schaeffer is calling for.  While such openness is an essential foundation, his premise is that “we must give honest answers to honest questions.”

What is an honest answer?

Perhaps first we must realize and accept that often the most honest answer is “I don’t know”.  In fact, I suspect that “I don’t know” is at times the most powerful answer.  It communicates humility.  And it can make the questioner feel less out of place – even the “experts” are unsure.  Of course we don’t want to leave our answer at “I don’t know”, but it can be a good first response.  It should usually be coupled with some affirming expression of “Let’s find out” or “I will look it up”.

This kind of humility also reminds me of a label I learned long ago: Humble Orthodoxy.  This label describes an attitude that may be as important as the answers to many questioners.  In short, Humble Orthodoxy holds boldy, yet humbly to what we believe. We can be bold because God has spoken, and has revealed truth. We are humble because, while God has revealed his truth, we know only in part; and in fact we are sometimes wrong.  Our limitation is not reason to eschew seeking sound doctrine.  To seek such a minimalist faith is to reject God’s revelation.  But an honest humility does serve as a reminder, to us as well as to others, that we are all learners and sojourners.  It shapes the way we relate to those with less knowledge than ourselves, as well as the way we relate to those who differ with us.  And it reinforces the safe space to ask questions for all.

First Reality: True Spirituality

Schaeffer’s idea of “True Spirituality” is in line with what others call a gospel-centered spirituality.  While affirming that Christianity can be, and must be, presented in propositions, genuine Christianity must also be experienced.  Schaeffer emphasizes the necessity of a both propositional and experiential faith.

In his brief essay, Schaeffer offers his own biography as an illustration.  He has also written a far more expansive book on the subject, with the same title, True Spirituality, that is a worthwhile read.  But the short of it is that Schaeffer asserts that the Church, and Christians, need to experience the truths of the gospel, to apply them to renew our minds, our hearts, and our lives, to experience the vibrancy that God calls us to, and that is the essence of a genuine spirituality.  In other words, our lives, and not just our worship, must be marked by both “Spirit and Truth”.

Second Reality: The Beauty of Human Relationships

The final thing that Schaeffer says the church must recover is what might more simply be called Community.  It is a recognition that we are not created to live in isolation.  We are called to live, as Bonhoeffer wrote, “Life Together“.  But the phrase Schaeffer uses, “Beauty of Human Relationships”, is more melodic, and more encompassing.  In fact, Schaeffer’s words express the essential nature of Community to Christianity:

True Christianity produces beauty as well as’ truth, especially in the specific areas of human relationships.

This value of of Relationships affirms to us a longing we all share, and at the same time confronts the emptiness of cultural value most of us feel compelled to embrace.  It is an often unspoken tension, an irony, a hypocrisy, those of us raised in Western culture experience.  For on the one hand we know everyone wants to find a place where he/she can belong, on the other hand we, more than any other society, view ourselves almost exclusively with the lenses of individualism.  We admire the Lone Rangers, and many measure themselves against the rugged individualists who seem to need no one else.  No wonder we have such high levels of depression in our society.  Not only are we going against the grain of our own creation, but we are at odds within ourselves as well.  We want to be Lone Rangers yet belong; to be individuals yet connected.  Schaeffer’s Second Reality is a call for followers of Jesus to reject the worldly value, and to embrace the godly value.  It is a call to recognize we are created for community.

Schaeffer tells us that our relationships are to be all encompassing- both with other Christians as well as with non-Christians:

We are to show something to the watching world on the basis of the human relationships we have with other people, not just other Christians.

First, he is speaking about our day to day relationships with those who do not yet believe as we do. Such relationships are necessary to evangelism, but also necessary to reflect the heart of Jesus:

The first commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind, and the second is to live our neighbor as ourselves.

After Jesus commanded this, someone said, “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus then told the story of the Good Samaritan. He was not just talking about treating Christians well; he was talking about treating every man we meet well, every man whether he is in our social stratum or not, every man whether he speaks our language or not, every man whether he has the color of our skin or not. Every man is to be treated on the level of truly being made in the image of God, and thus there is to be a beauty of human relationships.

But the Beauty of Human Relationships also has tremendous and significant implications for those in the Church:

Now, if we are called upon to love our neighbor as ourselves when he is not a Christian, how much more – ten thousand times ten thousand times more – should there be beauty in the relationships between true Bible-believing Christians, something so beautiful that the world would be brought up short!

To true Bible believing Christians across all the lines, in all the camps, I emphasize: if we do not show beauty in the way we treat each other, then in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our own children, we are destroying the truth we proclaim.

In his essay, The Mark of the Christian, Schaeffer profoundly observed:

In John 13 the point was that, if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. Here (in John 17.23) Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.

Schaeffer calls the relationships we Christians have with one another the “Final Apologetic” – the final argument – that God loves people, and sent Jesus into the world to redeem a people for himself.  This is the point he makes in calling for us to recognize and cultivate the Beauty of Human Relationships.

Conclusion

The four categories Schaeffer provides are wonderfully comprehensive in scope.  In his essay, Two Contents Two Realities, Schaeffer merely introduces these categories to us. Likewise, in this post my intent is to introduce, or re-introduce the categories, and to provide some thoughts as a summary introduction to Schaeffer’s paper.  Each of the heading above is also a link that will take you what Schaeffer himself wrote about  the respective  Contents and Realities. I am convinced they are worthy of consideration and reflection.

While the Two Contents and Two Realities are but an introduction, I also see them as a vision.  Imagine what your church, our church, would be like if all four of these were to be cultivated into fruition. Imagine the impact that such a church, and such Christians, would have in our communities.

It seems only appropriate to let Schaeffer have the final word:

So, there must be two orthodoxies: the orthodoxy of doctrine and the orthodoxy of community. And both orthodoxies must be practiced down into the warp and the woof of life where the Lordship of the Lord Jesus touches every area of our life.

[W]hen there are the two contents and the two realities, we will begin to see something profound happen in our generation.

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