(Part of a series entitled “The Power of One”)
Deep in the Swiss Alps is a legendary retreat center that’s a spiritual oasis in an otherwise secular desert of unbelief. It’s also a fine place to learn about how one person can make a huge difference.
Called L’Abri, it was founded by Christian thinker and writer Francis Schaeffer. Since the 1950s, it has been a pilgrimage stop for thousands of Christians hiking through the mountains. It’s also helped many become familiar with Mr. Schaeffer’s prolific writings about Christian life in modern America and Europe. It’s no exaggeration to say that Mr. Schaeffer’s sharp theological observations have become a lodestone of Christian wisdom in a hostile culture.
In fact, he was a major influence in persuading evangelical Christians to come alongside Roman Catholics in the pro-life cause in the 1970s and 1980s. He inspired political action that continues to this day.
“Francis Schaeffer helped lots of people see that the life issue is the anchor for all the other social issues,” said Art Ally, founder and president of the Timothy Plan, the Biblically Responsible Investing pioneer provider of mutual funds and ETFs. “He inspired me and many others to get off the sidelines and become active in the pro-life movement. His faith and intellect produced a remarkable, timeless body of work that is educating people today.”
Mr. Schaeffer wrote 22 books and gave countless sermons and lectures. He is perhaps best known for two books: “A Christian Manifesto” (1981) and “How Should We Then Live?” (1976).
The warm, welcoming center at L’Abri is no longer hosted by Mr. Schaeffer, who died in 1984, or his wife Edith, his partner in life and ministry who died in 2013, but the staff maintains the ethos that made it famously counter-cultural in the best sense. Visitors are free to listen to fascinating discussions, but they’ll also have to do some dishes or light housework to earn their keep. There are now 10 L’Abri branches around the world, including two in the United States and one in Canada.
Teaching Along the “Hippy Trail”
Christian cultural commentator Bill Muehlenberg, who publishes the CultureWatch website, describes how L’Abri first became a warm but effective center of the resistance during a time of cultural upheaval:
“[Francis] and his wife Edith soon settled in Switzerland and established a ministry which would influence millions of people. In 1955 they started L’Abri (French for ‘shelter’) in the Swiss Alps. There he taught Christian truths to anyone who would listen, and soon travelers worldwide were coming to the Swiss chalets to hear and learn and work.
“This ministry became especially vital during the counterculture of the ‘60s. Westerners seeking truth and gurus in the East would often travel along the ‘hippy trail.’ From London and Amsterdam, Western young people would travel through Europe to India, Nepal and other exotic locations hoping to find truth in the wisdom of the East.
“As they often stopped at L’Abri along the way, they were exposed to the truth about Jesus Christ and biblical Christianity. The routine there was fairly simple. They could stay at the chalets, do some work during the day, and study and listen to lectures by Schaeffer … Os Guinness and others during evenings and weekends.”
In 1977, Francis released a 10-episode video series entitled “How Should We Then Live,” about the rise and decline of Western culture. It’s a fascinating journey through art, architecture, philosophy and social life. Edith was a prominent writer as well, with such titles as “L’Abri” (1971), “Hidden Art” (1972), “The Hidden Art of Homemaking” (1985) and “A Celebration of Marriage: Hopes and Realities” (1994).
In 1979, Francis teamed up with soon-to-be Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to produce the pro-life video series “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” It was released with a study guide that was expanded into a book by the same name in 1983.
The Growing Cultural Pressure to Conform
In 2021, Christians are facing increasing resistance to the full Gospel message and pressure to adopt secular values. Many, especially teachers, government employees and corporate employees, are being asked to lie about gender and morality in order to keep their jobs. Others are being singled out as “haters” merely for relating the truths of the Bible regarding marriage, abortion and other moral issues.
As the secular world presses down on Christians, there is more and more talk about forms of resistance, including civil disobedience. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Francis Schaeffer long ago provided a roadmap, correcting a frequent misinterpretation of the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Romans 13 to obey the government. All things being equal, Christians are to be lawful citizens. But this is not a license to stay neutral if the government is committing evil.
In chapter 7 of “A Christian Manifesto,” Mr. Schaeffer deals with “The Limits of Civil Disobedience” for Christians:
“The civil government, as all of life, stands under the Law of God. In this fallen world God has given us certain offices to protect us from the chaos which is the natural result of that fallenness. But when any office commands that which is contrary to the Word of God, those who hold that office abrogate their authority and they are not to be obeyed. And that includes the state. . .. God has ordained the state as a delegated authority; it is not autonomous. The state is to be an agent of justice, to restrain evil by punishing the wrongdoer, and to protect the good in society. When it does the reverse, it has no proper authority. It is then a usurped authority and as such it becomes lawless and is tyranny.
“But what is to be done when the state does that which violates its legitimate function? The early Christians died because they would not obey the state in a civil matter. People often say to us that the early church did not show any civil disobedience. They do not know church history. Why were the Christians in the Roman Empire thrown to the lions? From the Christian’s viewpoint it was for a religious reason. But from the viewpoint of the Roman State, they were in civil disobedience, they were civil rebels. The Roman State did not care what anybody believed religiously; you could believe anything, or you could be an atheist. But you had to worship Caesar as a sign of your loyalty to the state. The Christians said they would not worship Caesar, anybody, or anything, but the living God. Thus, to the Roman Empire they were rebels, and it was civil disobedience (pp. 90-91).”
Today, resisting requirements to pay for abortions, sex-change surgeries or other procedures that violate the Christian conscience, or declining to bend to other immoral mandates, is fast becoming a form of civil disobedience.
In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, Francis Schaeffer warned where our culture was headed. His voice and wisdom should be heeded by anyone interested in preserving civilization for the next generations.
A writer for Timothy Partners, Ltd. He is a regular weekly columnist for The Washington Times and Townhall.com and is frequently published by AmericanThinker.com, DailyCaller.com, OneNewsNow.com, and others. He has authored the following books: “A Strong Constitution: What Would America Look Like If We Followed the Law” (D. James Kennedy Ministries, 2018), Invested with Purpose: The Birth of the Biblically-Responsible Investment Movement, and A Nation Worth Fighting For: 10 Steps to Restore Freedom.