This marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of L’Abri Fellowship. It is appropriate that we recognize it because Francis Schaeffer was born and raised in Philadelphia, in Germantown, and has had close ties to Tenth Church. He worked with Dr. Boice on the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and when Tenth Church was received into the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod, it was Francis Schaeffer who preached the sermon here, welcoming us into the denomination.
Fifty years ago this spring, Francis and Edith Schaeffer and their four children, missionaries working in Switzerland, made a bold step of faith. In their family devotions one morning, they discussed what it would be like if God took all His promises out of the Bible, not like modern theologians do, by denying their validity, but what if God Himself actually rescinded all His promises. What difference would it make in their lives?
As they discussed the trustworthiness of God’s promises to us, they decided as a family to live so as to demonstrate the existence of God and the validity of the promises He made in the Bible by living on the basis of answered prayer alone.
This was a radical step of faith to make. A few months earlier, the Swiss government had denied the Schaeffer family permission to stay in Switzerland because of their “religious influence” after a leading businessman in the Catholic canton in which they lived was converted. They had just moved to an officially Protestant Canton, where God had miraculously provided a home and the funds with which to purchase it. Apart from the threat of expulsion from the country, they had two seriously ill children: one with polio and one with rheumatic fever.
Nevertheless, once they had made the decision as a family to cut themselves off from all financial support and to live on the basis of answered prayer alone, they wrote to their mission to resign. Now it was not just a matter of how they would live, but what would they do? They decided to trust God to show them what to do day by day. They prayed that the Lord would bring them the people of His choice and keep all others away. They called their place, “L’Abri,” which is French for “the shelter.”
A few years before this, Francis Schaeffer had had a real crisis of faith. Even as a missionary he began to doubt everything that he professed to believe. He needed to know if the things he believed were real or not. He spent several months hiking in the mountains, talking to the Lord and thinking through the teachings of Scripture. Even as he hiked in the mountains, Edith prayed that the Lord would reveal Himself to Fran. How often he used to tell us, “You must understand, if it weren’t for Edith, there would be no L’Abri.”
Eventually Schaeffer had wrestled with the truths of Scripture and was convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that they were true and applicable to all of life. “They fit with what is, with how the world is made and with who we are as people made in God’s image.”
Having come to a philosophical resolution of the Bible’s teaching, he was ready to share the Christian message with people who were searching and who were unconvinced by traditional evangelistic methods that told people, “Just believe.” Schaeffer worked with thinking people and insisted that they examine whatever belief system they happened to hold, realizing that no philosophical system is logical or consistent that is not rooted in the Infinite-Personal God. He said the if he had one hour in which to present the gospel, say, to a person sitting next to him on a train, he would spend the first 50 minutes showing inconsistency of the person’s own position before he presented the gospel as the ultimate answer to life’s questions.
So L’Abri, became a place where people looked for valid answers to the philosophical questions of life and lived to prove the existence of God by a radical dependence on the promises of Scripture and prayer. But it was more than that. It was not just a study center or a radical religious sect. It was a community of very, very diverse people from around the world, who prayed, studied and trusted God together. Each person who came studied for four hours a day and worked for four hours a day, either in the gardens or the kitchens, or cleaning the residences. Everyone had a part in keeping the place going. There was a real healing for troubled souls just by being “in community.”
In spring of 1968 I was a graduate student in Paris. My faith had shattered, I was angry with God and I needed someone to help me pick up the pieces. I knew that there was a place in Switzerland called “L’Abri” and a man called Francis Schaeffer, who might be helpful.
When I arrived and poured out my case against God, my listener replied, “It’s no mistake that you came here.”
“How do you know it’s no mistake?”
“Because we don’t advertise this place, but we pray every day that the Lord will bring along the people of His choice and keep all others away, so if you came, it was no mistake.”
I was so angry with God for being so much in control that I left. But a couple of months later I returned.
What did I go up into the mountains to see? A philosopher? A theologian? An evangelist? Yes, all of the above, but what I actually found was a father who pointed out that my Heavenly Father was not the center of my life, which was the reason that everything else was out of kilter.
During the next few months I worked through the great philosophical questions in life: Who am I? Who is God? What is reality? I experienced the healing of being in community, the reassurance of knowing that my Christian faith is not only intellectually respectable, it is the most reasonable answer there is to life’s questions. Most of all, I learned to trust in the promises of the God who answers prayer.
When you find something life changing, you need to share it. Several years later, I found myself ministering in Florence, Italy, praying that the Lord would bring along people whose hearts He had prepared, sharing with them the answers to life found in the Bible, and living in dependence on the God who answers prayer.
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