A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer is a book to ponder and reread. Though his style is simple, Schaeffer’s subject is one with far-reaching consequences for every Christian. How are we to live in a culture that is increasingly hostile toward the Christian worldview? What kind of choices are we going to have to make in the future if we reach the point of persecution? In this book Schaeffer explains the framework of human government and where it derives its authority, laying out the theoretical justification for religious protest and civil disobedience.
Schaeffer lays out Locke’s theory of government which was basically a secularized version of Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex (which means “law is king,” a shocking concept in the 17 century), arguing that America’s government was based on that model (not anything from classical Greece). He contrasts the American Revolution with the French, writing that the reason that the French Revolution ended in a bloodbath (and the American didn’t) was because God was left out of the lawmaking process. Without some higher law than our own to be supreme, there is no final authority, and might equals right.
Schaeffer discusses America’s current policy of arbitrary lawmaking; that is, making up laws as we go along, based on nothing but the preference of the majority (or in many cases, the preference of the minority in power in our courts). It may be the same in other countries around the world as well. Arbitrary law is dangerous because it has no foundation except circumstances, which are always changing.
Therefore we are depriving ourselves of foundation and stability when we make laws arbitrarily. Confusion and ultimately tyranny will inevitably result, and it’s a grim picture. Thankfully, the Christian’s hope is not in human government which, although ordained by God, will always be flawed. We are here now and have a responsibility to do all we can to glorify God on Earth, but our real citizenship is in Heaven. I’m so thankful!
Mixed in with all this is what is replacing the Christian worldview in Western countries: secular humanism. Secular humanism is a religion just like Christianity or Judaism or Islam; it just replaces God with man. What is so sad is that as we make man the center of the universe, he loses his humanity. We were never made to be God and when we worship ourselves and our achievements, we dehumanize ourselves. Ironic, isn’t it?
So what’s a Christian (or a Jew, or a Muslim) to do with all this? For Christians, we know that we are to obey our governmental authorities as per Romans 13. But human government derives its authority from God’s law; we are not a basis for ourselves. So when a human government begins to require that its citizens perform acts that are against God’s law, that government has abrogated its authority and the Christian is no longer under obligation to obey it. As Victor Hugo puts it, “a prince is nothing in the presence of a principle.” God’s law trumps human laws every time.
Schaeffer is careful to stress that living out one’s faith (for Jews and Muslims as well as Christians) in a secular humanistic culture may entail acts that are not considered mere religious protest, but actual civil disobedience. One example he uses is abortion. Some Christians may choose not to pay a portion of their taxes if that money is used to fund an act that directly contradicts God’s law about the sanctity of human life.
That’s not a decision to be made lightly, and one thing I really appreciated is how Schaeffer is careful to leave this as a matter of personal conviction. He says that we should never judge believers in other countries where persecution is a matter of course, not the exception. I’m reminded of the verse in Romans 14 that talks about the weaker brother and how it is to his own master that he stands or falls, and he will stand because Christ is able to make him stand. We don’t earn our salvation by being brave and bold in the face of persecution, and that is a great comfort.
I didn’t know much about this book before I started it, and I’m glad I didn’t. I might have shuffled it to the bottom of the to-read pile if I had known it was so political. I don’t like politics, mostly because I have strong convictions based on my worldview and the political scene is a profoundly discouraging one for the Christian. It depresses me to see all the ways in which our society and government are displaying hatred of God. And yet I believe that He is sovereign, actively directing all of human history according to His will. So I trust that even when things look bleak from a human perspective, God is working out His plan — and it’s a good one.
I’m still thinking about this book and its implications, and will be for some time. The world has always been the enemy of the Christian, and this won’t change until all things are made new in the New Heavens and the New Earth. It is our responsibility to be good stewards of the rights that our government has granted us until those rights are taken away. And that means that Christians need to be active in our communities, upholding God’s law as the only legitimate basis for government. When our rights of free speech and protest are taken away, there will be other decisions to make.
I will certainly be reading more of Schaeffer’s work. Highly recommended. ( )