“No Little People, No Little Places”: Francis Schaeffer’s Vision of Faithfulness

“No Little People, No Little Places”: Francis Schaeffer’s Vision of Faithfulness

The church (regenerate persons) is, in the new covenant, the people of God. One biblical image or metaphor for the church, or the people of God, is that we are the “temple”—the “temple of the holy spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). Would not then pastoral ministry—whether in Toone, Tennessee, or in Willow, Alaska, or in Manhattan, be equally concerned—as a part of the ministry, in taking care of the temple? The location is not particularly important—in terms of worth or value. Pastoral ministry at least includes the task of shepherding a flock, of helping the temple be all that it can be, of engaging in that kind of ministry that will prepare the bride to be “holy and without blemish,” one day to be presented back to the bridegroom (Ephesians 5:25ff).

Editor’s note: This message was originally given to the Cornerstone Network Conference on October 7, 2023 in Jackson, TN.

I have long had an interest in Francis Schaeffer. I am 58, which means I was a college freshman in Monroe, Louisiana, in the fall of 1983. I have distinct memories of going to the Christian bookstores (there was more than one) in Monroe and seeing various books by Schaeffer. He was one of InterVarsity Press’s key authors during those years—especially when it came to books on social issues and worldview and the pro-life movement.

Schaeffer was born in the Philadelphia area on January 30, 1912, and died in Rochester, Minnesota, on May 15, 1984. Many of us may have become aware of Schaeffer as a sporty looking older man with a goatee, wearing lederhosen, and lecturing in the Swiss Alps at L’Abri (“L’Abri” is French for “shelter”). But Schaeffer was quite American. He attended Westminster Theological Seminary for a year (founded in 1929), where he studied with Cornelius Van Til. He transferred after a year to Faith Theological Seminary (founded in 1937), a newly formed seminary closely aligned with, but not controlled by, the Bible Presbyterian Church. Schaeffer was the first graduate of Faith Theological Seminary. I will not go into further detail on that era of Schaeffer’s life except to note one interesting item: Schaeffer himself was a kind of “presuppositionalist,” though Van Til offered significant criticisms of Schaeffer’s method. One time Van Til and Schaeffer were brought together to try and discuss their differences. In the midst of that meeting, Van Til was asked to summarize his own approach to apologetics. Van Til apparently gave a particularly insightful and short summary of his own position. After he was done, Schaeffer commented that he wished it had been recorded, for what Van Til had said was in fact Schaeffer’s own position exactly, and Schaeffer said he would not disagree with a single thing Van Til had said.

But though Schaeffer was a very American man, he is known to many of us through his work at L’Abri in southwestern Switzerland, about 55 miles east of Geneva. He and his wife Edith moved to Switzerland in 1947 or 1948 (I have seen both dates) to start L’Abri, something of a Christian community, study center, or place of respite. Schaeffer and others at L’Abri would lecture, and there was plenty of time for discussion. Through word of mouth, many persons heard of L’Abri and found their way to this Swiss outpost. At one point, the Schaeffers were receiving around 31 visitors a week. Luminaries such as Os Guinness and Hans Rookmaaker would make their way to L’Abri and would be influenced by Schaeffer.

Many of us who came of age in the 1980s came to know of Schaeffer through a number of key works dealing with fundamental questions of apologetics:

  • The God Who is There
  • Escape from Reason
  • He is There and He is Not Silent

Or perhaps we came to know of Schaeffer through certain works dealing with general challenges in Evangelicalism. For example:

  • The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century
  • The Church Before the Watching World
  • The Great Evangelical Disaster

Or perhaps we came to know Schaeffer through his interest in certain culture issues, especially the moral question of abortion and the question of the role of civil government:

  • Pollution and the Death of Man
  • How Should We Then Live?
  • Whatever Happened to the Human Race?
  • A Christian Manifesto

But Schaeffer was also intensely interested in what we often call “spirituality.” Thus, he wrote such works as:

  • Two Contents, Two Realities
  • The New Super-Spirituality
  • True Spirituality
  • The Mark of the Christian
  • No Little People

I want to draw a few insights from that last book: No Little People, first published in 1974. This book is a collection of sixteen sermons. The first chapter is “No Little People, No Little Places”—the title of this talk.

No Little People

The initial theme of this chapter is Moses’s “rod.” In Exodus, Moses was called to go to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. You know this story. Moses engages in a conversation with the LORD concerning what he is to say when the Israelites doubt that the LORD has really spoken to Moses.

Exodus 4:2 reads: “The LORD said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A [rod] staff.’” You know the story:

  • (4:2–4) The LORD tells Moses to throw his rod on the ground. He does, and it turns into a serpent. The LORD commands Moses to put out his hand and catch the serpent by the tail. He does so, and it turns back into a rod.
  • (4:5–7) The LORD then tells Moses to put his hand insides his cloak. He puts his hand inside his cloak, takes it out, and it has turned leprous “like snow.” God commands Moses to put his hand back in his cloak. He does, then takes it out, and it has returned to normal.
  • (4:8–9) For the third sign, the LORD tells Moses that he (Moses) will take some water from the Nile and pour it on the ground. It will turn to blood on dry ground.

Moses proceeds (4:10–12.) to express concern about his own speaking abilities. The LORD’s promise is straightforward: “Go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

Moses still doubts (4:13), the LORD’s anger is kindled, and the LORD says that Aaron, Moses’s brother, will accompany Moses. The LORD promises to speak through them both, and Aaron—at least at this point of the story—will be the one to speak to the people on behalf of Moses (4:14–16).

4:17: Moses is reminded to take his rod.

Moses will depart from Jethro, his father-in-law (4:18), and when he departs he takes with him what is now called “the rod of God.As Schaeffer sees it, the “rod of Moses” has become the “rod of God” (p. 6).

This rod shows up again in Exodus 7:15–17 where the LORD again gives Moses a certain command. Moses has gone to Pharoah more than once since his original call in Exodus 3. At this point in the story, the LORD says:

15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water. Stand on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the [rod] staff that turned into a serpent. 16 And you shall say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” But so far, you have not obeyed. 17 Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.’”

A couple verses later (4:17), we read:

“Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, with the [rod] staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.”

The LORD says to Moses (4:19):

“Say to Aaron, ‘Take your [rod] staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, so that they may become blood, and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”

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