Francis Schaeffer was a Christian thinker and author whom I have benefitted much from. In the 1980’s I read his book “the Church at The End of the Twentieth Century”and benefitted from the points he raised.
Schaeffer pointed out that if the Church is to thrive in the ever changing world we live in, we must know the distinction between Form and Freedom. What is essential to the structure of the church (Form)? And what in church life is fluid, as regards organization , liturgy, practices, services, etc. ?
Schaeffer taught that the true Church is structured around eight essential, non negotiable norms.
- That local congregations, composed of believers, must exist in a region. Of course unbelievers would be welcome to the services, but Schaeffer believed that Church is made up of believers, and should revolve around the need of believers, while at the same time reaching out to unbelievers.
2. That the congregation must meet once a week. Schaeffer went further and insisted that it be on the first day of the week.
3. Churches should be led by Elders and Overseers, men who would take responsibility for the teaching and practice of the church.*
4. Schaeffer taught that Deacons be appointed to care for the physical aspects of the body of believers and their outreach.*
5. The Church must Take discipline seriously. She should exercise church discipline upon herself, in accord with the teaching of the New Testament. In Schaeffer’s view such discipline was essential to keep the Church distinct from the World,”
“The New Testament stresses such purity, for the church is not to be like an ameba so that no one can tell the difference between the church and the world. There is to be a sharp edge. There is to be a distinction between one side and the other – between the world and the church, and between those who are in the church and those who are not” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).”
6. The True Church administers the two ordinances, The Lord’s Supper, and Baptism.
7. That there is a place for form on a wider basis than the local Church. Schaeffer cited Acts 15, and the council in Jerusalem as an example of this. There was submission and assent in the early church, among the churches.
I submit this topic for discussion, agreement, disagreement, what have you. Perhaps Schaeffer took for granted as an obvious given, but I would have added, that it is essential form that the Church be centered around the Word of God. The Church is the very pillar and ground of the Truth. Without the Word of God there is no church, and to depart from the Word of God, is to depart from remaining as a church.
What is the bare minimum, non negotiable characteristic of the True Church? Can a church ever stop being a church? At what point is a Church no longer a Church? We literally live in times where these are valid and timely issues.
*The standards of I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, should be met by the leadership of said churches.