WHY FRANCIS SCHAEFFER MATTERS: The Responsibility of the Church in Post-Modern Culture – PART 8

Francis Schaeffer has an extremely high view of the church and great expectations as any Christian should.  He details some solemn responsibilities that the church of Jesus Christ must consider.

We Must Adhere to the New Testament Boundaries for the Local Church

Schaeffer’s primary assertion is that Scripture mandates  eight specific norms for the New Testament church (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 51-60).  The first norm: Local congregations are to exist and should be made up of Christians.   Schaeffer would have clearly opposed the so-called seeker sensitive movement that is so prevalent in the church today.  While he believed that the church ought to evangelize the lost, he would have had real problems with the present day fascination of catering to the non-believer.

Second, Dr. Schaeffer believed these congregations ought to meet in a special way on the first day of the week.  He clearly has Sunday as the specific meeting day in mind, although I am inclined to think that Schaeffer would be comfortable with the new trend toward Saturday evening services and the like.  The critical issue for him was that the church met regularly each week.

Third, the church should have elders who have a responsibility to shepherd the flock of God.

Fourth, there should also be deacons responsible for the community of the church in the area of material things.

Fifth, Schaeffer strongly believed that these elders and deacons should be qualified in accordance with the Pauline standards set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

The sixth norm is that the church must engage in church discipline.  Schaeffer goes to great lengths to show the necessity and benefits of church discipline in accordance with the principle set forth by Jesus in Mathew 18.  Schaeffer explains, “The New Testament stresses such purity, for the church is not to be like an amoeba so that no one can tell the difference between the church and the world.  There is to be a sharp edge.  There is to be a distinction between one side and the other – between the world and the church, and between those who are in the church and those who are not” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).  He  writes in no uncertain terms: “For a church not to have discipline in life and doctrine means that it is not a New Testament church on the basis of the New Testament norms” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).

Finally, Schaeffer declares that a vital mark of the church is the administration of two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

These seven norms are non-negotiable principles in the thinking and ecclesiology of Francis Schaeffer.  These norms are commanded by God.  Any church that fails to engage in even one of these crucial norms forfeits  the right to be called a true church.  However, Dr. Schaeffer believes there are many areas in which the church is left free.  There is a form and there is also a freedom.  “It is my thesis that as we cannot bind men morally except where the Scripture clearly commands (beyond that we can only give advice), similarly anything the New Testament does not command concerning church form is a freedom to be exercised under the leadership of the Holy Spirit for that particular time and place” (The Church At The End of The Twentieth Century, 59-60).

In many ways Francis Schaeffer may be considered very conservative in his approach to “doing church.”  But in other ways, he is a bit of a radical.  His views on form and freedom leave room for creativity, spontaneity and a wide variety of ministry options.


Over the years, I’ve grown weary reading books that relate to ecclesiology.  Recent works that focus on the church are either driven by pragmatic presuppositions, man-centered principles, or church growth techniques that compromise the essence of the gospel, not to mention the mission of the church.  Mark Dever’s newest book, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible is a totally different kind of book.  He steers clear from the usual drivel that saturates many books devoted to ecclesiology.  Indeed, the church is should be thankful for such a work.

Part One: What Does the Bible Say?

The first section focuses on the nuts and bolts of the church.  Dever leaves no stone unturned.  The nature of the church is explored, membership is reviewed, polity is discussed, church discipline is covered, among other things.  Each section is rooted in the biblical text.  The writing is clear and compelling.  The reader walks away from the first part with a clear understanding on what Scripture says concerning the church.

Part Two: What Has the Church Believed?

Part two explains the classical distinctions between the visible and invisible church and the local and universal church.  The author includes a helpful discussion on the rise of denominations.

Also included is an illuminating discussion on the history of ordinances.  A wide variety of traditions are surveyed.  And the various positions are presented for the Lord’s Supper as well as baptism.

Part Three: How Does it All Fit Together?

The final section discusses the marks of the church, namely – the faithful preaching of God’s Word and the faithful administration of the two ordinances.  Dever includes a helpful section on church membership.  He writes, “Churches that submerge difference of age, race, status, background, or employment give witness to the power of the gospel.”

One of the most helpful chapters is devoted to developing a biblical leadership model.  Dever’s holds to an elder led/congregationally affirmed leadership structure.  He adds, “The most coherent way to understand the New Testament’s presentation of local church polity is to recognize the role of both individual leaders and the congregation as a whole.”  He does not minimize the role of the congregation.  Dever writes, “The congregation is not in competition with the elders.  The congregation’s authority is more like an emergency brake than a steering wheel.  The congregation more normally recognizes than creates, responds rather than initiates, confirms rather than proposes.”

In the final analysis, “a right ecclesiology matters for the church’s leadership, membership, structure, culture, and even character.  Ultimately, a right ecclesiology touches on God’s glory itself … Therefore, getting the doctrine of the church right becomes a benefit to the people, as the truth about God and his world is more correctly known, taught, and modeled.”

The Church: The Gospel Made Visible should receive a wide readership and will be a tremendous tool in the hands of faithful pastors and shepherds!

4.5 stars