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Quite often I struggle to pray. Much like, I suspect, a soldier who struggles to sleep adequately in a sodden trench, the activity that I desire the most can routinely prove the most elusive.
This is not coincidental. Satan constantly opposes the prayers of the righteous, perhaps especially the prayers of those who are sincerely earnest. But we must resist the devil and he will flee. Our Father knows our struggle perfectly.
Although it is true that the glory to be revealed to us will infinitely dwarf any of our suffering now, it is also true that the daily life of a faithful Christian solider is uniquely exhausting, discouraging, confusing and sometimes profoundly depressing.
We are not of this world though we are in it; we are aliens and foreigners looking forward to the city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God, (Hebrews 11:10).
Our home is not here and neither is our citizenship.
A man who understood this more than most is Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) who, for us all today, is a voice from the grave, a grave that one day soon will be emptied of its bones.
Schaeffer was born twelve years after the death of J. C Ryle who had no choice but to defrock his first-born son from a position of leadership in the Church of England, such was the tentacle reach of liberal theology even into his own family. There is no way that Ryle would remain within the Church of England today. He was too strong for that, too desirous of God. Spirit is always thicker than blood.
To be sure, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Schaeffer’s final book published in 1985 shortly after his passing) is a prophetic foghorn that still reverberates today, one that had been resounding as a trumpet from Ryle one generation before.
At the time of its publishing, I was five years old and learning to spell my name; Mairi was yet to be born.
I read Schaeffer’s warning to the Church in just a couple of short hours while my parched heart gulped deeply. What follows from me now is a brief series of thoughts that reflect the photographs of key excerpts of the book that I took with my iPhone as I read.
Before I get into that, I will include here the last four paragraphs from the book’s foreword, written by Schaeffer’s son-in-law, Ranald Macaulay:
Four Decades On
Nearly four decades on from the publishing of The Great Evangelical Disaster, I can not say strongly enough how eerily correct Francis Schaeffer was and yet, at the same time, how only partial his prophetic vision proves. (I will return to this at the end).
It is also the case that I have no idea how partial what I am about to write may be four more decades from now.
What I want to say is that all of us have inherited the blinding mess that Ryle and Schaeffer had forecast; most Christians, and especially most Christian leaders, did not listen. If you are in that category reading now, you must repent.
As with Schaeffer and Ryle and many other good, godly men gifted with courage and radical vision, some people accuse me of being a false prophet (people who are unwilling or incapable of reading what I have written or listening to what I have said). Others say that I am a ‘law unto myself’, implying that I am not fit for church leadership or collaboration because I am lacking in character.
However, please pay heed: the time-frame between these kind of prophetic books being written (e.g. Clifford Hill’s Towards the Dawn written in 1980) and their time-proven legitimacy being recognised more widely, can be just like a wilderness wandering – ie. four disobedient, dilly-dallying, arrogant decades of wilful church unbelief.
As a related reality that Ryle and Schaeffer addressed decades ago, you can also read an email that I wrote to a false church leader earlier this week, imploring her to repent for the sake of her salvation as well as every other harassed and helpless soul in her building.
But as we will shortly see, this counterfeit spiritual leader is not necessarily any worse than the high-profile “evangelical” brother today who evidently wants only to ‘expel the immoral brother’ (yours truly) because his conscience is conscripted away from what used to be known as the evangelical Church. Because I (and many other fine fellows) refuse to compromise on biblical standards, (matters pertaining to truth), some brothers attempt to mark me as false, as loathing the church, as harming her…as being out of touch with the heart of God.
As I will shortly show you, this blinkered blindness from some quarters of what is currently understood to be the Church, is diagnosed by Schaeffer in extremely sobering terms: holiness without love is neither one or the other and the unsaved world have the right to question the salvation of anyone who lacks either.
The connection between Schaeffer’s 1985 book, four rebellious decades in the Church since, the letter to a false church leader in 2022 and Baptist celebrities who think their articles in Crossway will save them, will hopefully become clear.
Before I give you my main observations from Schaeffer’s book as a rubber-stamping of its prophetic validity, please let me first draw your attention to the third to last word of Macaulay’s foreword: engulf.
What is it to be engulfed – what does this word mean?
Buildings engulfed by the ocean because of deteriorating climate change (or, perhaps, just a freak tsunami)? Engulfed by a strong spiritual delusion sent by God? Whole landscapes engulfed by thirsty flames? Spiritual discernment engulfed by a species of spiritual pride and arrogance hidden by evangelical professionalism?
Whatever, the thought of being engulfed by anything or anyone means being taken over, submerged, overwhelmed and, ultimately, ruined.
The equivalent language that we have used to describe the chaos of the Church (our corporate lostness in a denominational maze) can be seen here.
We are describing exactly the same problem as Ryle and Schaeffer, just separated (and worsened) by more than forty years: we have all been engulfed in the collapse and disintegration of evangelicalism; we have all been overwhelmed by spiritual unfaithfulness to the Word of God; we have all been submerged in a spiritual climate so pervasively false that we literally can not see the route forward.
Which is why national repentance that disrupts/closes everything, is the only way forward. Anything else is only delaying the inevitability of the sinking.
But, of course, we have sunk; we have been engulfed; as Melvin Tinker said, the West has been lost. Most of us can not see the wood for the trees and yet still want to reject those who can.
This is what Macaulay was meaning as he warned us, forty years ago, about becoming engulfed.
This is the reality that I write from now: we are not being engulfed, or being lost; we are engulfed, the exact reason why fathers like Ashenden and Nazir-Ali acquiesce to Catholicism. And it is acquiescence, despite the protests.
Now to the photos of the book that I took as I read. I’ll quote them and then briefly comment on each.
What is the use of evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger if sufficient numbers of those under the name evangelical no longer hold to that which makes evangelicalism evangelical? If this continues, we are not faithful to what the Bible claims for itself, and we are not faithful to what Jesus Christ claims for the Scriptures. But also – let us never forget – if this continues, we and our children will not be ready for difficult days ahead.The Great Evangelical Disaster, page 64
Evangelical professionals are infatuated with numbers and allow them to paper over the colossal cracks of our abject failings to simply believe – and obey practically – the Word of God. We have inherited an engulfing capitulation and have passed on the very same.
Some said: this is not the moment to come out, but we will do so if such-and-such occurs. These in principle did not accept the concept of a pluralistic church. Some developed their own kind of hardness – a decision to stay in, no matter what happened.The Great Evangelical Disaster, page 78
We generally refuse to think/pray/listen radically enough to conceive of a new way forward. We love the cop out; we love church buildings more than God. Which is why the unfaithfulness towards Him doesn’t cut our hearts as it should. Some believers will remain within compromised churches until the day they die.
I do not believe, however, that those who made the choice to stay in “no matter what happens” can escape latitudinarian mentality. They will struggle to paper over the difference regarding Scripture so as to keep an external veneer of evangelical unity – when indeed today there is no unity at that crucial point of Scripture.The Great Evangelical Disaster, page 78
Latitudinarian mentality = accommodating compromise concerning the authority of the Bible as demonstrated, (perhaps preeminently), by evangelical majority silence about the ongoing evil of abortion.
If we are to talk truth at all, we must have content on the basis of antithesis; and to do this, we must have discipline with regard to those who depart from the historic Christian faith.The Great Evangelical Disaster, page 82
Church discipline today is 1) not “super-cool” enough for church leaders who should be exercising it and 2) misunderstood by those who do: we either have a neglect of the word of God or else a total abuse of it (ie liberalism or legalistic pride scuppering the Kingdom of God).
For it was the failure of evangelicals fifty years ago to practice discipline and maintain control of the denominational centres of influence – in colleges and seminaries, in publishing, and in the organisational structures – which allowed the liberals to take control.The Great Evangelical Disaster, page 89
Our evangelical fathers in the past, primarily in the churches but also in wider society, have badly dropped the ball and didn’t bother to pick it up again for the sons who would flounder on their coattails.
The matter of human life is a good case in point. “I am personally against abortion, but…” – (with any number of qualifications then added) – this became the mediating phrase not only of Christians in government, but also of many in the pulpit and in publications as well.The Great Evangelical Disaster, page 101
Our evangelical fathers lacked the courage in the face of ramping evil so that now the sons do not even see the evil…let alone feel it.
I have dwelt at length on this because it is an absolutely crucial point. To deny the truth of what it means to be male and female as taught in the Scriptures is to deny something essential about the nature of man and about the character of God in relationship with man. But this denial has equally tragic consequences for society and human life. If we accept the idea of equality without distinction, we logically must accept the ideas of abortion and homosexuality.The Great Evangelical Disaster, page 136
Schaeffer understood that the exact danger of liberal biblical theology was as much relating to church leadership/governance as it was the biology of our children. Today, Elim/Vineyard churches, as just two examples, want female elders but “disagree” notionally with abortion and transgenderism. However, they can not have their cake and eat it. But the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ very much is having your cake and eating it! We settle for a very poor religion indeed.
We must give a practical demonstration of love in the midst of the differences. But at the same time God’s truth and the work of Christ’s church both insist that truth demands loving confrontation, but confrontation. The differences are already there in the evangelical world, and trying to cover them over is neither faithfulness to truth nor faithfulness to love. There are three possible positions: 1) unloving confrontation 2) no confrontation 3) loving confrontation. Only the third is biblical.The Great Evangelical Disaster, page 143
The Mark of the Christian
Schaeffer then includes an appendix at the end of the book which, as far as I can tell, is an excerpt from one of his others.
Under the title, “The Mark of the Christian”, Schaeffer concludes this prophetic warning and clarion call (to the radicals he is addressing) by emphasising the most elementary part of what it means to be in Christ – namely that the love with which each of us loves one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ, is intended to act as a sign-post for the unsaved world.
A signpost to what (to whom?).
Soberingly, (and he very much means to sober), Schaeffer rightly argues from Jesus’ words in John 13 and 17 that unbelievers have the right to challenge a Christian’s salvation if they do not love their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how important this moral imperative is both to confront and to confront lovingly.
Which brings me to the conclusion of this piece today.
Schaeffer’s warning to the evangelical Church was generally rejected (as most prophetic warnings are) and yet it is still valuable today, such is the mercy of God.
But the passage of time since Schaeffer (not to mention Ryle) is not without consequence, and eternally so. Our father’s wilful disregard for the palpably obvious (the horrors of abortion since 1967), means that there has been a compounding of the problem.
It wasn’t the job of Ryle or Schaeffer to write about this.
Returning to the beginning and Macaulay’s use of the word engulf, think of the layers of silt that build up on a shipwreck (or a sunken submarine) engulfed by the sea and the decades of concealment that pass:- is the ship not permanently altered? Is that which was once salvageable always salvagable henceforward?
And this is where, in my opinion, Schaeffer and Ryle couldn’t see beyond the boundaries and span of their God-ordained lives (Acts 17:26).
What didn’t they see? Humbly I would submit that they didn’t see that it was denominationalism that was/is at the root of this evangelical disintegration and capitulation to liberal theology, the hole in the bow, the ingress of water.
This is why I believe that a high-profile “reformed Baptist pastor/professor” today can be as wide of the mark of biblical truth as those who brazenly espouse liberal theology. His unloving contempt for a brother in Christ, because of a ‘failure’ to conform to the biblical standard of “church membership”, highlights the very fault line of the curious form of Christian faith that he resolutely defends. This is not incidental. According to Schaeffer, it is everything (please read the book for yourself).
Because blinkered Baptists (or any churchmen governed more by the constitutions of men than the Bible they espouse) are not seeing the Kingdom of God (the heart of Christ) in the midst of their entrenched denominational conditioning.
When a brother overlooks the longing of another brother for the return of Christ because he is not able to attend a local church because he is engulfed in the utter demise of evangelicalism, (labelling it ‘dangerous’ and ‘unteachable’ rather than seeing it as the circumstance of modern-day persecution) we are seeing that the fall of evangelicalism is less to do with a core set of doctrinal beliefs (and it is at least that) but it is, more fundamentally, an idolatrous penchant with the Church above Christ Himself.
The “evangelical” idolatry of the local church (seen perhaps most by the likes of Crossway’s conveyor belt of stunted church writings and Reformed celebrities) means that pastors today would rather we were all in compromised congregations rather than pioneering a new way forward.
Ironically, this is against the very bread and butter of their (our!) 16th C. Reformation, but they can not see it. Crossway can not see it. Good professors of eschatology etc. can not see it.
Hence, I believe that Schaeffer et al. saw some of the terrible roots of the Great Evangelical Disaster, (that still need uprooting today) but not the most intimidating and most rotten root of all…ie. our ecumenical unwillingness to face the idol that is our splintered denominations.
The devil never gives us the luxury of fighting on only one front, and this will always be the case…The Great Evangelical Disaster, page 150
Hence today, those radicals that Schaeffer and Ryle (and Tinker) were thinking of on their death beds need to understand this: to be faithful to the heart of Christ and, therefore, the Bible today, you will need to fight as a radical Christian solider on multiple fronts including not only “progressive” charlatans and counterfeits who falsely claim love for God, but also against those who are genuinely fathers and brothers in the evangelical faith but who are dangerously bent on rejecting, in horrendous pride and stupidity, the very prophetic foghorn that they need to hear.
We must prepare. We are engulfed. Christ is coming.