Francis Schaeffer

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A Tale of An Unusual Providence

schaeffer02It was on this date, May 15th, in 1984 that Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer died. We have previously written of his death, and separately have posted a letter he wrote to Dr. Robert Rayburn during the time when both men were battling cancer.

But today, in observation of Schaeffer’s passing, we want to speak not of his death, but of his new life in Christ—some interesting archival evidence of his coming to faith in Christ. This is a bit of an unusual story, admittedly with some reading between the lines, with some previously unseen details of Schaeffer’s coming to faith in Christ.

About ten or twelve years ago, as I was leaving the PCA Historical Center for the day, a seminary student ran to catch up with me and asked if I had any samples of Dr. Schaeffer’s handwriting in the Archives. I indicated that we did, but inquired further. Often when people ask a question, that question doesn’t really get at what they’re actually after. As he began to explain further, the story became more interesting.

It was the habit of this particular student–I wish now I had made note of his name–when studying in the library, when he would get tired of sitting after an hour or so, he would get up and browse through the stacks of the books in the library. Notably, and to his credit, he said he tried to be methodical in his browsing, moving from one shelf to the next, range by range, in his review of the library’s holdings. Then one day, he came to a new shelf and as was his habit, began pulling down various books to inspect them closer. This particular day, in the book he opened, he was surprised to see the signature of Francis A. Schaeffer, with a date of 1929. [the comment “Not Sound” is in a different hand]:

Schaeffer_early_testimony_03

None of the other books on that shelf had that same signature, but there was a small slip of paper tucked into this book, with some writing on it. Putting the book back, the student had the presence of mind to seek out someone who might help confirm the signature as Schaeffer’s. On a following day, we met again and confirmed the handwriting from other examples in the Historical Center, and the student happily returned to his studies.

What is remarkable to me about this story is the background information. The book in question was a small hardback published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses! And there on the shelf with other JW publications, was another volume with an inscription from Aunt Mabel and Uncle Harrison, a couple who were in fact Schaeffer’s aunt and uncle.

Schaeffer_early_testimony_04

From this it is easy to surmise that as Fran Schaeffer began to be interested in spiritual matters (he is usually noted as having become a Christian in 1930), others in his family might have been aware of those stirrings. This aunt and uncle had probably heard that he had begun to read the Bible, and so looked around for something they could contribute. It might be a stretch to conclude that they were themselves JW’s, but it is at least curious that they apparently continued to gift several JW publications over the years.

And that slip of paper. Was this among Schaeffer’s earliest testimony to his new-found faith? Perhaps so. It reads:

Schaeffer_Early_Testimony_side01

If you can’t read it, this side of the paper reads:

“Studying his word, and doing his work is the only thing I enjoy now”

“The boy him-self must choose, no one can do any-thing but guide him”

“I don’t know what I will do, but I” [incomplete–there might have been a second piece of paper.]

On the back of this paper there is this:

Schaeffer_Early_Testimony_side02

The writing here is easier to read:

“All have sinned and must accept Christ to be saved.”

An evangelical confession of belief, to be sure.

Finally, it is remarkable to realize that Dr. Schaeffer had these books in his possession for some years, but most likely chose to leave them behind at his St. Louis church when he moved his family to Switzerland in the late 1940’s, beginning the ministry that would become L’Abri. Some seven years later, the church relocated to the suburbs, and when Covenant College was formed a few years later, these books must have been donated to the fledgling school’s library. The books were catalogued, labeled and placed on the shelf. Students must inevitably have looked at them from time to time. Someone might have even checked them out. And yet that little slip of paper stayed tucked in that book all those years until the seminary student at the top of our story came across the book.

Words to Live By:
To think that Francis Schaeffer could have been led astray by well-meaning relatives might be quite shocking. But the Lord has given us a promise. He knows those who are His, and He will never lose even one of His dear children.

This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”–John 6:39-40, NASB.

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True Empathy

Two close friends, both pastors, both facing the struggle against cancer. One, the president of a small theological seminary, the other a world renowned pastor and theologian. Here in this letter, preserved at the PCA Historical Center, Dr. Francis Schaeffer writes to comfort and counsel his friend, Dr. Robert G. Rayburn. The letter provides a wonderful insight into Schaeffer’s view of death and dying, and more than that, his view of the nature of the Christian life, as overseen by the providence of God. The letter also provides us a very characteristic example of Schaeffer’s pastoral concern for others. Dr. Schaeffer was called home to glory just three years later, in 1984, while Dr. Rayburn entered into his eternal reward in 1990.

 

Francis Schaeffer letter to Dr. Robert Rayburn, March 1981

Dear Bob:

Thank you for your letter of March 5. It was so good to have the news directly from you. Of course, both you and I know that unless the Lord heals us completely that once we have faced the question of cancer we always must also face the possibility of re-occurrence. With modern medicine, and I am sure prayer very much goes hand in hand with it, there is a possibility of the thing being controlled even if the Lord does not heal us completely… I hope for both of us that we will really “beat the whole thing” by meeting the Lord in the air. However, if that is not the case, maybe we will both die from 63 other things or an automobile accident. Living this way has one advantage and that is we have had brought into sharp focus the reality of what is true for everybody from con­ception onward and that is that we are all mortal in this abnor­mal world.

In my own case, of course, if I could wave a wand and be rid of the lymphoma I would do it. Yet in my own case, in looking back over the whole two-and-a-half years since I have known I have lymphoma, there has been more that has been positive than negative. That is true on many levels and I am not just thinking of some vague concept of understanding people better, though I guess that is true as well. Rather, in the total complex of everything that has happened, I am convinced that there is more positive than negative. I am so glad that though I increasingly am against any form of theological determinism which turns people into a zero and choices into delusions, yet I am also increasingly conscious of the fact that Edith and I have been, as it were, carried along on an escalator for the entirety of our lives. I am left in awe and wonder with all this, and I very much feel the escalator is still in operation, not just in this matter of health, but in the battles that beset us on every side.

I wonder if you have read my article “The Dust of Life” in the current (March) issue of Eternity. I think you would enjoy some of the ideas there. The article was not born out of abstract thinking but asking, as I saw the struggles of the younger Chris­tians, what the real balance of life was so as not to have a plastic smile on our face and yet have an affirmation of life rather than a negation of it….

Thank you for plunking out the letter on the electric portable when it was costly to you. Edith sends her love to LaVerne and to you along with my own,

In the Lamb,

/signed, Francis A. Schaeffer/

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A Christian Apologist of the Twentieth Century

What more can be written about Francis Schaeffer that has not already been said?  Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1912 . . . Born again in 1930 . . . College graduate from Hampton – Sydney, Virginia . . . Seminary student in two historic seminaries, Westminster and Faith Seminary . . . Pastor to three conservative Presbyterian churches for ten years before he went to Europe to begin L’Abri Fellowship, reaching intellectuals for Christ . . . An advocate of both the gospel and cultural mandate to the masses.  In short,  Francis Schaeffer had an effective ministry in the seventy-two years in which he lived in the twentieth century.

On a personal note, this contributor was barely an adolescent when Dr. Schaeffer came to my chaplain father’s Army installation in Dachau, Germany for a series of evangelistic meeting in the late forties. Night after night, the gospel was presented to lonely American soldiers in post-war Germany. And the meetings were held right down the road from the infamous concentration camp building of Dachau where sinful depravity was the order of the day barely five years previous to these meetings. They were present in all their stark reality in that this was before the whole site had been memorialized by the West German government.  But beyond the meetings to the adults, day by day, this youngster, and a whole host of others, learned Psalm 19 by Edith Schaeffer, which I remember today! (Edith Schaeffer writes about all this visit in her book, The Tapestry.) In short, the Schaeffer’s were hungry for the power of the gospel unto salvation to be demonstrated  for all who believe.

It was in 1978 that cancer was discovered in Francis Schaeffer’s body. Despite this disease, even by his own admission, more was done in his ministry in the last five years of his life than before. He rewrote his book legacy and ministered to large crowds everywhere. He spoke to the combined General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in America and Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod in 1982, which had just merged together into one church. [click here to read “A Day of Sober Rejoicing”]

As the days grew difficult, Edith Schaeffer tells how ten days before he died, she brought him home from Mayo Clinic. She spoke about her conviction that he would want to go to the house he had asked her to buy in Rochester, Minnesota to pass from his body and be with the Lord. The medical staff agreed with that decision. Edith Schaeffer surrounded his bed with the things he loved, including music played into his room. All the favorites from Beethoven, Bach, and Shubert were played. On the morning of May 15, 1984, he was taken home to glory with Handel’s Messiah in the background.

Words to Live By: Francis Schaeffer was a sinner saved by grace, as all believers are. We by no means believe that he was without difficulties in his life towards those nearest and dearest to him, as well as the Christian family as a whole. But despite these foibles, he will be remembered as the spiritual father of many a Christian today, while his work continues on in many lands today to reach the intellectuals of the twenty-first century with the same precious gospel. As God enables us, let us each be faithful, in word and in deed, in proclaiming the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.

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True Empathy

Two close friends, both pastors, both facing the struggle against cancer. One, the president of a small theological seminary, the other a world renown theologian. Here in this letter, preserved at the PCA Historical Center, Dr. Francis Schaeffer writes to comfort and counsel his friend, Dr. Robert G. Rayburn. The letter provides a wonderful insight into Schaeffer’s view of death and dying, and more than that, his view of the nature of the Christian life, as overseen by the providence of God. The letter also provides us a very characteristic example of Schaeffer’s pastoral concern for others. Dr. Schaeffer was called home to glory just three years later, in 1984, while Dr. Rayburn entered into his eternal reward in 1990.

 

Francis Schaeffer letter to Dr. Robert Rayburn, March 1981

Dear Bob:

Thank you for your letter of March 5. It was so good to have the news directly from you. Of course, both you and I know that unless the Lord heals us completely that once we have faced the question of cancer we always must also face the possibility of re-occurrence. With modern medicine, and I am sure prayer very much goes hand in hand with it, there is a possibility of the thing being controlled even if the Lord does not heal us completely… I hope for both of us that we will really “beat the whole thing” by meeting the Lord in the air. However, if that is not the case, maybe we will both die from 63 other things or an automobile accident. Living this way has one advantage and that is we have had brought into sharp focus the reality of what is true for everybody from con­ception onward and that is that we are all mortal in this abnor­mal world.

In my own case, of course, if I could wave a wand and be rid of the lymphoma I would do it. Yet in my own case, in looking back over the whole two-and-a-half years since I have known I have lymphoma, there has been more that has been positive than negative. That is true on many levels and I am not just thinking of some vague concept of understanding people better, though I guess that is true as well. Rather, in the total complex of everything that has happened, I am convinced that there is more positive than negative. I am so glad that though I increasingly am against any form of theological determinism which turns people into a zero and choices into delusions, yet I am also increasingly conscious of the fact that Edith and I have been, as it were, carried along on an escalator for the entirety of our lives. I am left in awe and wonder with all this, and I very much feel the escalator is still in operation, not just in this matter of health, but in the battles that beset us on every side.

I wonder if you have read my article “The Dust of Life” in the current (March) issue of Eternity. I think you would enjoy some of the ideas there. The article was not born out of abstract thinking but asking, as I saw the struggles of the younger Chris­tians, what the real balance of life was so as not to have a plastic smile on our face and yet have an affirmation of life rather than a negation of it….

Thank you for plunking out the letter on the electric portable when it was costly to you. Edith sends her love to LaVerne and to you along with my own,

In the Lamb,

/signed, Francis A. Schaeffer/

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Living in an Abnormal World

May 15th marks the death of Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer, in 1984. Dr. Schaeffer and Dr. Robert G. Rayburn were close friends who had gone through many challenges together, as Dr. Rayburn relates here in the following eulogy, delivered in memory of Dr. Schaeffer. What is not told here in Rayburn’s eulogy is how they both faced death in the early 1980’s, both men having been diagnosed with cancer, and how Schaeffer continued to prove himself a constant friend, writing to Rayburn to encourage him. About three years before his own death, Dr. Schaeffer wrote, upon hearing of a recurrence of Rayburn’s cancer:—
“Living this way has one advantage and that is we have had brought into sharp focus the reality of what is true for everybody from conception onward and that is that we are all mortal in this abnormal world.” 

Dr. Robert G. Rayburn’s Eulogy for Francis Schaeffer:

schaeffer02My first contact with Francis Schaeffer came at a very critical time in my life. I had just suffered an experience which had a shattering effect upon me. I had been tried and deposed from the ministry of the denomination in which I was born, reared and educated and in which I had served as a chaplain on the battlefields of World War II. I was still in the uniform of my country when the sentence of deposition was pronounced upon me by my presbytery. Actually, I was declared guilty and deposed from the ministry for thinking about doing something which I had never done! No word of proof was ever introduced into the trial which established the fact that I had violated my ordination vows. My “guilt” was established entirely on my admission that I had written a letter in which I indicated deep distress over the growing liberalism in my denomination and confessed that I had seriously considered leaving it.

It would be difficult for anyone who had not passed through the experience of being stripped of his ministerial standing and told he was not welcome in the church he had sought to serve faithfully to understand what a traumatic incident this was in my life. The details of that episode in my life do not belong here. What is of deep significance to me is the fact that although he had never known me personally, when Francis Schaeffer learned of the action of my presbytery, he came to see me traveling the considerable distance from St. Louis where he was pastor of a growing congregation to Texas where my trial had been held and where I was endeavoring to decide what my future ministry was to be.

Although Francis had never personally experienced the shock of ecclesiastical censure, I was impressed almost immediately with the fact that here was a man who seemed to have grasped the reality of genuine Christian empathy. He could and did “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”

He was quite willing for me to share with him the details of the event which had both grieved and humiliated me. He understood my pain. At the same time he kept reminding me of the never-faiiing love of the Lord and of His promises never to forsake those who are His very own. He reminded me that I had preached to others the never-failing grace of God and gently called me to that implicit trust in God which I had entreated others to demonstrate in their lives. I had never before experienced such an amazing combination of deep understanding based upon genuine Christian love and absolute loyalty to the sure word of Scripture. Francis and I sat alone for several hours sharing our thoughts. We continued this fellowship as we went for a long walk together. From that day on we were close friends!

Another aspect of Francis Schaeffer’s character became clear to me when it came time for me to be examined for reception into the presbytery of the small denomination in which he was a teaching elder. His personal vital interest in me had been a major factor in my decision to seek membership in the Bible Presbyterian Church, yet I realized that there were some potential doctrinal problems. I had come under the strong influence of Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer while doing my graduate work at Dallas Seminary and had embraced a substantial amount of his dispensational theology, enough so that I could be granted a degree from the seminary. I had been uneasy about certain points of doctrine in the dispensational system but had resolved to work out my problems in further study when I returned to the pastorate. I shared my concerns with Francis and discovered in him a wonderful willingness to be patient with my lack of precision in some areas of doctrine. On long walks together he questioned me carefully and thoroughly on all of the major doctrines of Presbyterianism as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, and because I held firmly to such distinctive doctrines as infant baptism and the so-called five points of Calvinism, he assured me that he felt I could come to more fully understand the unique facets of Covenant Theology as a member of the presbytery and that he would use his influence in the presbytery to bring about my reception. There was both kindness and patience manifest in his attitude.

It was not long before I had justified his confidence by embracing thoroughly the Reformed doctrine of the Westminster Standards in all details. I have asked myself many times since whether I would have the same patience and understanding with a young minister seeking admission to my presbytery that Francis Schaeffer manifested with me.

It was not long after I became a member of the Bible Presbyterian Church that a crisis developed and a division occurred which had profound effects upon the lives of both Francis Schaeffer and me. He had resigned his pastorate in St. Louis and had gone to Europe to work with children, thinking that this kind of evangelistic activity provided perhaps the best hope of exerting a strong influence on European society and bringing back a powerful evangelistic witness in the Protestant churches of that continent. I had been summarily and involuntarily called from my pastorate to return to the army chaplaincy and had spent several months on the battlefields of Korea where God had richly blessed the preaching of the Word.

Returning to civilian life I accepted the presidency of a small struggling college in Pasadena, California, which had been established by energetic minsters and laymen in my own denomination. The school was independent of denominational control, but I was assured by the board of trustees that it was founded to further the purposes of my denomination. This was a vital challenge.

As I once again became able to be active in the courts of my church, I began to be troubled by several things which were taking place, particularly in our participation in two small interdenominational councils of churches on both the national and world level. A discussion of these issues is not necessary here. It is of interest, however, that when I wrote to Francis about these concerns, he answered immediately assuring me that he was deeply troubled about the same matters, and he was looking at our church and its activities from a European perspective. In our correspondence we continued to share items from both continents which troubled us. Our principal concern was the honor of the Lord and the realization that He could not bless us as we needed to be blessed unless our denominational programs were conducted in complete accord with the high standards of the Word of God.

In the providence of God the Schaeffers returned to the States for a few weeks, and we invited Francis to come to preach the Word of God in southern California. Then we made arrangements to drive together across the continent to South Carolina for the annual meeting of the Synod of our denomination. I had been elected by the Synod the previous year to a place on the church’s delegation to the American Council of Christian Churches. Sensing my responsibility in this position, I had made serious inquiries into the activities of this association, and the more I learned the more disturbed I became. On our trip across the country we shared the information we had acquired, Schaeffer on the international scene with the work of the International Council of Churches, and I on the national activities of the American Council. We heartily agreed that the church must be aroused to the need of purifying its witness.

Since I was an official delegate of the denomination and therefore had the obligation to report my findings to the Synod, it was obvious that I had the responsibility to alert the church to the problems and sound a warning concerning the need for reform in certain areas if we were going to experience the blessing of the Lord. Neither Francis nor I had expressed any desire for anything but a recognition of the problems and a change in some of the policies of the council. Both of us were convinced that the testimony of these interdenominational councils was valuable and much needed. The changes we desired were to bring the work more fully under the blessing of God.

After I gave my report to the Synod, however, a wave of accusations against Francis Schaeffer and me swept over the church. It came largely from Dr. Carl McIntire in his paper The Christian Beacon, but his charges were echoed by those in the denomination who accepted his analysis of the situation without carefully examining the facts which had been presented.

It was then that i learned how completely lacking in a vindictive spirit Francis Schaeffer was and how forbearing he was in the face of false charges. He was denounced as having plotted with me to take over the denominational leadership. He was accused of putting me up to formulating the report which I had given so that it would enhance his leadership in the church and in the International Council. None of the charges had any basis in fact. It was a blessing to me, however, to observe how unconcerned Schaeffer was in defending himself. His continuing concern was to remove from the church any activities which did not reflect the glory of the Lord. As we prayed together in the fellowship of our long journey, our concern was entirely for the spiritual well-being of the church which both of us loved.

The tragic results of the bitter denunciations which were hurled against Schaeffer and me need not occupy our attention here. Dr. Schaeffer returned to Europe where fortunately he was beyond the reach of anyone who might want to punish him for being implicated with me in disturbing the church. The Bible Presbyterian Church at its Synod voted decisively to demand some changes in the policies of the American and International Councils. It was not long, of course, before Dr. McIntire led a small group of his followers out of the church and formed another denomination using the same name. Our denomination changed its name to avoid confusion and soon merged with another small denomination and became the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, which was blessed with steady growth and in recent years has merged with the Presbyterian Church in America. In all of this progress Dr. Schaeffer’s influence has been strongly felt as in his correspondence as well as his occasional trips to the U.S.A. he has encouraged ministers and laymen alike to demonstrate their loyalty to the Scriptures and their love for one another.

When it came time for my two daughters to go to college, it was the desire of their mother and me for them to have an opportunity to gain a good command of a foreign language and to be exposed to European culture with all of its refinements in music, art, and literature. Because of the closeness of the friendship which had developed between Francis Schaeffer and me, I felt free to ask him for a special personal favor. We were unwilling to send our young daughters to one of the European universities where they would be subjected to pagan influences with little or nothing to encourage them in their Christian lives. Knowing that the Schaeffers had opened their home high in the Swiss Alps for a ministry to young people from all over the world, I asked them for that special care for our daughters as they studied at the University of Lausanne which would make it possible for them to spend their weekends with the Schaeffers. To this they responded with happy agreement and the assurance that our daughters would be treated as their own. Both of them feel a deep debt of gratitude to Dr. and Mrs. Schaeffer as do we. Their lives were enriched and their spiritual discernment deepened by their months of fellowship in the Schaeffer home.

As the Lord blessed the faithful witness of the Schaeffer’s at L’Abri and more and more troubled young people began to feel the impact of the life and teachings of this godly man and his wife, he began to be well known in many parts of the world. Young men and women whose lives had been radically changed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit during their time at L’Abri began returning to their homes and joining the evangelical churches and spreading the word of God’s amazing work through the ministry of the Schaeffers.

It was one of the blessings of my personal friendship with Francis Schaeffer that I was able to interest him in widening his influence by coming to teach at Covenant Theological Seminary on a regular basis for a few weeks every two years. This he did for some time to the great blessing of our student body and the faculty as well.

He became something of a celebrity in the Christian world and because of his enthusiastic endorsement of Covenant Seminary, we began to receive student applications from many men who had become Christians or had their Christian commitment deepened at L’Abri. Indeed, we soon found that Dr. Schaeffer was our most effective recruiter of seminary students. In our personal correspondence he continued to share his observations of movements in the theological world and his concern for the contnued faithfulness of our institution in doctrine, but also in Spirit-filled living.

During his frequent visits to our campus, he and Mrs. Schaeffer were always guests in our home, and we had many opportunities to observe their selfless consideration for others. They received telephone calls form people in many parts of the land who sought their aid in their spiritual problems and in their battles with evil. I remember one particular occasion very vividly. Dr. Schaeffer was on the telephone for nearly three hours with a deeply distressed man in Florida who had just lost his wife after having been assured by a “faith healer” that she had been cured. Schaeffer was unwilling to terminate the long telephone conversation until he had some assurance that the comfort of God’s Word had touched the heart and mind of the needy widower.

Some years ago a young man came to Covenant Seminary to pursue theological studies, and it was apparent early in my contact with him that he had an unusually sharp intellect. Knowing that he had been reared a Roman Catholic and had turned away from that faith to atheism and existentialism, I inquired as to his spiritual pilgrimage. He told me that he had gone to Paris to study with Sartre and other existentialists there hoping to find some meaning in his life, but his studies and contacts in Paris had only driven him deep into despair. Through a casual (but obviously providential) encounter with a stranger in Paris to whom he confessed his deep despair, he was advised to go to a little mountain village in Switzerland where he would come in contact with a man who could certainly answer his questions and provide him with meaning for life. He soon found himself at L’Abri listening intently to Francis Schaeffer, asking questions and frequently raising objections to what he heard. I asked then how he was brought to personal faith in Christ.

“It was not by the strength of the intellectual arguments which I heard,” he answered. “I still had questions, plenty of them. But it was the love of this man, Dr. Schaeffer, that touched my heart and made me see the reality of the living Saviour he talked about. He would spend hours with me, and he never seemed to grow weary of my almost endless questions. I couldn’t resist the love of Christ when I experienced it in this man.”

I am not unaware of the fact that Dr. Francis Schaeffer has been criticized by some and even ridiculed by a few who fail to recognize the immense impact of his life upon our generation. I have only deep gratitude in my heart for the way my own life has been enriched and blessed by this godly man. I am truly thankful for all those who share with me deep appreciation for the way the Holy Spirit has made manifest the living presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the life of Francis Schaeffer. He leaves behind for those who did not know him personally his written works, and in the memory of all of us who knew him and loved him, he leaves behind the aroma of his godly walk with his Lord and Saviour.

Words to Live By:
In our introduction we referenced a letter that Dr. Schaeffer wrote to Dr. Rayburn in 1981. Toward the close of that letter, Schaeffer said this:—
“…yet I am also increasingly conscious of the fact that Edith and I have been, as it were, carried along on an escalator for the entirety of our lives. I am left in awe and wonder with all this, and I very much feel the escalator is still in operation, not just in this matter of health, but in the battles that beset us on every side.”

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; and he delighteth in his way. (Psalm 37:23, KJV)

I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep; for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8, KJV)

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highland_ college_1953

When the Bible Presbyterian denomination was formed in 1938, they consciously chose to have all of their associated agencies, schools, and mission boards established as separate, independent organizations. It was sort of like “every egg in a separate basket” — in case one work went bad, the chance of affecting the others was minimized.

In 1950, Rev. Clyde Kennedy was the leading force in establishing Highland College in Pasadena, California. The former Annandale Country Club property was purchased, and Rev. Kennedy began to promote the school. Somehow the school struggled through the first two years, and by the fall of 1952, Dr. Robert G. Rayburn, recently returned from the chaplaincy in Korea, was hired as a full-time president. As more students began to enroll, things were finally looking up for the school.

rayburn_highland_1953But Rayburn was a man of honor and conviction. He ran a tight ship and he expected the same of others. He became aware of improprieties in the management of the American Council of Christian Churches, another BPC-related agency. He began to speak to others in the BPC about those problems, and that in turn brought conflict with some of the denominational leaders. Eventually Dr. Rayburn lost the battle and the Trustees of Highland College dismissed both he and his registrar, Rudy Schmidt, on March 1, 1955.

Half-way across the country in Iowa, the Rev. Max Belz heard about the problem. Belz was the founder of the Cono Christian School. His papers are preserved at the PCA Historical Center, and from all I’ve seen of him, he has my respect and admiration. He was a wise Christian.

Belz wrote these words of counsel to his friend Rayburn:

“Rudy called to tell me that you were no longer President of Highland College, and that he was no longer Registrar. This is most disturbing news. I am wondering  if there is anything I can do to help in the situation. I know that you must be in financial straits, but that is also our situation. Letters have come in from several different directions expressing deep concern, and our people are upset. The sympathy, of course, goes to you and Rudy. Everyone who writes to me seems to expect me to take sides with you and Rudy. I do, of course, but I am not free to enter this thing with both fists swinging because, after all, I assume that the board at Highland has a right to dismiss the President and anyone else they choose to dismiss. Furthermore, I doubt if you, yourself, desire that any intra-Synod strife should come from this.

“Surely now is not the time for any of us to descend to the childish device of saying ‘I’ll quit if I can’t have my way.’ I am always tempted in that direction; but I am a part of the Church, and I know I must never leave it unless it becomes an unequal yoke with unbelievers.

“Perhaps you will not agree, but I think, Brother Bob, that you and Rudy and the others out at Highland are experiencing the bitter results of an error in which we are all involved. We have permitted Highland, (and others) to grow up outside the actual jurisdiction of Synod, and thus the steadying balance of the whole body is lost. I believe we must all soon face the issue as to whether we want our agencies to be independent or whether we want them to be subject to the Synod. Now, I do not have boundless confidence in our Synod, but I am committed to it in the name of Christ; and I am not committed to any other visible body, individual, or clique. I believe this bitter experience at Highland should make us all more determined than ever to build a Bible Presbyterian Church that is truly Presbyterian.

“Right now I want to do anything I can to help you, and help the cause. Shall I sit still? Shall we get busy with the printing press and linotype and editorialize the Synod by mail? Shall we gird for the battle in St. Louis [site of the next Synod meeting], where it appears that we shall be forced into conflict with men we love in the Lord? Shall we conclude that they are determined to oust us, and go down into the arena with them, or shall we bide our time, commit the whole thing to the Lord, and keep a tight rein on our tongues?

“I have a deep feeling that the latter course is the best, but perhaps you have a different view.”

Words to Live By:
And so far as I can discover, that is how they conducted themselves–with honor and with love for their brothers in Christ. Regrettably the denomination split that summer in 1955, but on the positive side, Rayburn and others were able to quickly establish the school that became Covenant College. After one semester, property was located in St. Louis. Then a year later, Covenant Theological Seminary was also established.

The Rayburn/Schaeffer/Buswell side of the BPC split initially called themselves the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod. After four years they changed the name to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Then in 1965, that group merged with a small denomination called the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod. The denomination created in 1965 was the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), and in 1982, the RPCES became a part of the Presbyterian Church in America.

When the PCA meets annually in General Assembly, at the close of Assembly each year, we sing Psalm 133. But it wasn’t always that way. We used to follow the practice of the Church we had left. The Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern) would sing most anything. And some of the choices were atrocious! It was only with the reception of the RPCES that we began the tradition of singing Psalm 133. It had been a tradition with the RPCES since 1965. More importantly, it had been a tradition with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod since 1833! For you see, it was in 1833 that the Reformed Presbyterian Church suffered a division, creating the Synod (today’s RPCNA) and the General Synod. In singing Psalm 133 we affirm and pray that God would preserve the unity that we have in Christ. But in our singing, there is also an element of repentance, looking back in sorrow at divisions past, praying that in the mercy and grace of Christ our Lord, that one day those divisions will surely be mended.

Behold how good a thing it is,
And how becoming well
Together such as brethren are
In Unity to dwell.

Like precious ointment on the head,
That down the beard did flow,
Ev’n Aaron’s beard and to the skirts
Did of his garments go.

As Hermon’s dew, the dew that doth
On Zion’s hill descend,
For there the blessing God commends,
Life that shall never end.

 

Bonus Extra (no charge!, and thanks for sticking with us; this was a long post today):
Below is an image scan of the Commencement bulletin for Highland College in May of 1954.
On this occasion, the Rev. Francis Schaeffer brought the Commencement Address, titled “In the Spiritual Seat”.
At that same Commencement, Highland College awarded Schaeffer the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.
Later in 1971, Gordon College presented Dr. Schaeffer with the Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree.

highland_commencement_1954

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

A Christian Apologist of the Twentieth Century

What more can be written about Francis Schaeffer that has not already been said?  Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1912 . . . Born again in 1930 . . . College graduate from Hampton – Sydney, Virginia . . . Seminary student in two historic seminaries, Westminster and Faith Seminary . . . Pastor to three conservative Presbyterian churches for ten years before he went to Europe to begin L’Abri Fellowship, reaching intellectuals for Christ . . . An advocate of both the gospel and cultural mandate to the masses.  In short,  Francis Schaeffer had an effective ministry in the seventy-two years in which he lived in the twentieth century.

On a personal note, this contributor was barely an adolescent when he came to my chaplain father’s Army installation in Dachau, Germany for a series of evangelistic meeting in the late forties.  Night after night, the gospel was presented to lonely American soldiers in post-war Germany.  And the meetings were held right down the road from the infamous concentration camp building of Dachau where sinful depravity was the order of the day barely five years previous to these meetings. They were present in all their stark reality in that this was before the whole site had been memorialized by the West German government.   But beyond the meetings to the adults,   day by day, this youngster, and a whole host of others, learned Psalm 19 by Edith Schaeffer, which I remember today!  (Edith Schaeffer writes about all this  visit in her book, The Tapestry.)  In short, the Schaeffer’s were hungry for the power of the gospel unto salvation to be demonstrated  for all who believe.

It was in 1978 that cancer was discovered in Francis Schaeffer’s body.  Despite this disease, even by his own admission, more was done in his ministry in the last five years of his life than before. He rewrote his book legacy and ministered to large crowds everywhere. He spoke to the combined General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in America and Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod in 1982, which had just merged together into one church. [click here to read “A Day of Sober Rejoicing”]

As the days grew difficult, Edith Schaeffer tells how ten days before he died, she brought him home from Mayo Clinic. She spoke about her conviction that he would want to go to the house he had asked her to buy in Rochester, Minnesota to pass from his body and be with the Lord. The medical staff agreed with that decision. Edith Schaeffer surrounded his bed with the things he loved, including music played into his room. All the favorites from Beethoven, Bach, and Shubert were played. On the morning of May 15, 1984, he was taken home to glory with Handel’s Messiah in the background.

Words to Live By: Francis Schaeffer was a sinner saved by grace, as all believers are. We by no means believe that he was without difficulties in his life towards those nearest and dearest to him, as well as the Christian family as a whole. But despite these foibles, he will be remembered as the spiritual father of many a Christian today, while his work continues on in many lands today to reach the intellectuals of the twenty-first century with the same precious gospel. As God enables us, let us each be faithful, in word and in deed, in proclaiming the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 103 – 105

Through the Standards:  The Nature of repentance

WCF 15:1
“Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minster of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.”

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