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The Shortsighted Nature of Francis Schaeffer’s Bottom Line

The Shortsighted Nature of Francis Schaeffer’s Bottom Line

A Review of “A Christian Manifesto” in the Light of Scriptural Revelation

Schaeffer’s “Bottom Line”

In A Christian Manifesto, one of the most influential books written in the twentieth century, theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer revived the traditional Christian view of civil disobedience that Christians must obey God rather than men when forced to choose between fundamental Christian principles and the dictates of the state (see Act 4:19).

Working from this Apostolic premise, Schaeffer argued that God’s laws are ultimately supreme over constitutional or statutory laws, and that allegiance to God’s law is the Christian’s “bottom line” when the “[State] commands that which is contrary to the word of God.” Applying this reasoning to the contemporary issue of abortion, Schaeffer argued that “there is not only the right, but the duty, to disobey the state” (pp. 90-93 & 120).

Schaeffer wrote that “if there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the living God.” Under this scenario, Government illegitimately replaces God, “because then you are to obey it even when it tells you in its own way at that time to worship Caesar. And that point is exactly where the early Christians performed their acts of civil disobedience even when it cost them their lives” (p. 130).

Writing at the height of the Cold War in 1981, Schaeffer drew from the persecution of Christians by communist atheists in the Soviet Union to argue that his “bottom line” of Christian civil disobedience extended to America. Schaeffer perceived that the American government acted largely in support of the interests of an elite minority of secular humanists and atheists who were intent on imposing immoral values such as the practice of abortion, among others, on an acquiescent and predominantly Christian populace. Schaeffer was disturbed that Christians would stand by quietly without protesting or even resisting the imposition of secular humanism in all facets of society, and he sought to use the book to rally this reluctant “moral majority” to action, and indirectly to applaud and buttress Jerry Falwell’s efforts.

Where Schaeffer’s thesis became rather radical—and to him, admittedly “scary”—was his suggestion that if painstaking, incremental attempts at political or legal change through civil-disobedient protests were unsuccessful, Christians were obligated to resist, even to “death” by revolting and abolishing the current government (pp. 127-28). This radical effort would bring about what Schaeffer believed was the ideal government supposedly envisioned by the nation’s Founders.

This ideal form of government was a “Christian consensus,” or an ecumenically-directed government short of a theocracy. Arguing for this change in governmental form, Schaeffer wrote, “[While] there is no New Testament basis for a linking of church and state until Christ, the King returns…none of this…changes the fact that the United States was founded upon a Christian consensus, nor that we today should bring Judeo-Christian principles into play in regard to government” (pp. 120-21). In keeping with the practical severity of enacting the Declaration of Independence, force might be necessary to achieve this ideal.

Ellen G. White’s “Big Picture”

Although Schaeffer made the argument that secular humanism and atheism would be the last great threat to the American constitutional system, late nineteenth century proponent of national reform, Ellen G. White, had a visionary understanding of Revelation 13:11-15 wherein an ecumenical revival of religious powers involving evangelical Protestants and the Catholic Church, similar to what Schaeffer promoted, would actually represent the final threat to our constitutional Republic.

White wrote, “[As did] the papacy, a church that controlled the power of the state and employed it to further her own ends,” so too, “in order for the United States to form an image of the beast [in the likeness of Rome], the religious power[s] must so control the civil government that the authority of the state will also be employed by the church to accomplish her own ends” (The Great Controversy, p. 443).

Today, regardless of perspective, it is evident that evangelicals and Catholic churches are joining forces against secular humanist agendas such as abortion and gay marriage. Many religious leaders are attempting to rally the American public, and in turn, are increasingly calling the shots when it comes to public policy.

Although they disagreed on whether Christ’s kingdom would be established before or after Christ’s second coming, the dreams of Schaeffer and Christian dominion planner Rousas J. Rushdoony as well as their devotees, including Dobson, Robertson, Kennedy, Falwell, LaHaye, Neuhaus, and company, are being fulfilled. As John W. Whitehead points out, the accumulation of political power is an end unto itself for some of these men. This view contemplates the establishment of a 1,000 year theocratic kingdom of God on earth as opposed to the Scriptural description of a kingdom in heaven. (See Rev. 20.)

This quest for political power and the “Christian consensus” government described by Schaeffer, and developed by Rushdoony, represent the seeds of constitutional instability, the loss of religious freedom, and the eventual ruin of the nation that White warned of over one hundred years ago.

The long term planning for Christian domination involves radically reinterpreting America’s history, rewriting the Constitution itself, or at least severely limiting its applicability. In short, America as it now stands, based on the rule of constitutional law, will be consigned to the dustbin of history.

In Schaeffer’s defense, while his concept of a “Christian consensus” flirted with the idea of theocracy, he warned against it, writing that “Witherspoon, Jefferson, [and] the American Founders had no idea of a theocracy. That is made plain by the First Amendment, and we must continually emphasize the fact that we are not talking about some kind, or any kind, of a theocracy.”

Whether or not evangelical and Catholic efforts will lead to an American theocracy is not as important as the process of getting there. In a nation that describes itself in the rhetoric of religious freedom, a gradual but meteoric shift in the balance of power between church and state is now taking place. Schaeffer saw this shift as vitally necessary. However, for White, the uniting together of Catholic and evangelical leaders to form an ecumenically-driven government, termed by Schaeffer as a “Christian consensus,” would devastate our Constitution, and render void the protections for religious freedom provided in the First Amendment. White predicted that this alliance would then influence and guide the policies of most of the nations of the world.

The war between a Christian consensus and secular humanism rages on today as Pope Benedict XVI, echoes the call of Schaeffer and modern Evangelicals for Christians to unify against the anything-goes “dictatorship of relativism” that emerged from the French Revolution in 1789. Secular humanism must be challenged and eviscerated from the Western World, including the United States.

For White, the momentum, and thus the final threat to our country’s constitutional system, does not come from the morally bankrupt bastions of secularism and atheism, but from the reaction of Christian forces and other religious entities who come to battle for social, moral, and political dominance. It is these forces, assembled under a false banner of “righteousness,” that White predicted will win the culture wars, assume national and global power and ultimately establish an “image to the beast.”

Revelation 13 Predicts Constitutional Collapse

Using the symbol of the two-horned lamb found in Revelation 13:11-15, Ellen White wrote that a “religious power” from a traditionally “liberal” “peaceful,” “republican,” “Protestant,” country whose “principles” were once “the foundation of its” constitution and diplomatic “policy” would rise up and cause this lamblike nation to speak like a dragon. While White would probably have applauded America’s movements toward national reform, as she did in her day, she nevertheless wrote that Protestant, Catholic, and Spiritualistic (charismatic) influences would cause our nation “to repudiate every principle of its Constitution,” including the Bill of Rights.

Ironically, this devastation of freedom would take place while Americans thought they were part of a great spiritual awakening symbolized by “fire coming down from heaven” in Revelation 13:13. Although tongues of fire appeared on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4, in Revelation 13:14, John describes this “fire” as a religious and political force robed in supposed spirituality that promises peace and revival even while it “deceives the inhabitants of the earth.” This deception causes the earth’s inhabitants to establish an “image to the beast.”

This emerging global force, this beast, centered in Rome and the United States and drawing from the massive resources of the combined powers of global politics, religion, and finance, will tower volcanically above the former governments of earth. It will be further aided by the coming of a counterfeit Christ who will manipulate the governments of the world to “cause,” or force through legislative action, every man, woman, and child on earth to worship the “image” or “be killed” (verse 15). Thus, according to Revelation, what Schaeffer called a non-violent revolution will one day assume complete control and threaten all who dissent with death—a “scary” prospect indeed.

Seventh-day Adventists believe that the “image” will be a legislative action by national leaders who will enforce “some observance which shall be an act of homage to the papacy.” This act of homage, a national Sunday law representing Rome’s clear defiance of the law of God, will be extended worldwide by the counterfeit Christ, or Anti-Christ, as a symbol of global unity and will usher in an eagerly awaited 1,000 year reign on Earth. The inhabitants of earth from many faith traditions who have waited for the “fire from heaven” will be ready for this. These include Hindus, Buddhists, Jainists, Taoists, Shintoists whose sacred writings call them to look for a great being of light from heaven, Orthodox Jews who still wait for the Messiah, and Muslims who wait for the coming of Jesus, sent by Allah to establish Allah’s kingdom of earth. In addition, many evangelical Christians wait with open arms for “Christ” to subdue the earth and restore man’s dominion.

The star of this great deception will be none other than Satan himself who will come “as an angel of light.” He will ratify the worldwide revival and usher in the Sunday law that will bring death to all who dare disobey. (See 2 Corinthians 11:14 and compare the usage of “fire” and “light” with Revelation 13:13.) Thus, prophecy foretells that a earthly drive for domination in the name of Christ will ultimately bring in the reign of the Anti-Christ and a time of trouble just prior to the true Second Coming of Christ.

Schaeffer’s Legacy

While Francis Schaeffer rightfully discerned the need for Christians to speak out against America’s moral lapse, he did not see the prophetic big picture where the “scary” revolution that he warned of will, in reality, bring about the end of Constitutional government in America. Evangelist Billy Graham, like White, saw the danger in 1982 when he wrote to Jerry Falwell, who was advocating for Christian dominionism. “I want to preserve the purity of the gospel and the freedom of religion in America. I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form….” Graham continued, “It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

In spite of Schaeffer’s call for a more moderate approach that excluded theocracy, he encouraged evangelicals to use whatever non-violent means were available to assume control of the three branches, including Congress, the White House, and the Judicial system.

Before his death in the spring of 1984, Schaeffer did not have the opportunity to appreciate the extent to which his “Manifesto” could sow the seeds of religious and political intolerance, and form a real threat to America’s constitutional system vis-à-vis a conservative evangelical revolution run amok. Though theocratic dominion may not have been Schaeffer’s intent, the spirit of dominionism is systematically reshaping our future.

Think Glenn Beck and David Barton, and all the politicians who come running to them for revisionist historical instruction on America’s Constitutional Founding, all-the-while thinking it is the truth! Though theocratic dominion may not have been Schaeffer’s intent, the spirit of Dominionism, and the perception of persecution by secularists, is dramatically reshaping our future as E.G. White and Scripture foretold.

» More about Francis Schaeffer

» More about A Christian Manifesto

About Greg Hamilton

Greg Hamilton
Gregory W. Hamilton has served as President of the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA) for 19 years. His graduate work at the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Constitutional Studies at Baylor University culminated in the work titled "Sandra Day O'Connor's Judicial Philosophy on the Role of Religion in Public Life," which remains an original work of scholarship. The Northwest Religious Liberty Association is a nonpartisan government relations, and workplace mediation, program that champions religious freedom and human rights in the legislative, judicial, civic, academic, interfaith, ecumenical and corporate arenas, and is recognized as the premier religious liberty advocacy organization in the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Greg’s abiding interest in U.S. foreign policy—specifically in U.S. international religious freedom policy—has led him to appreciate, as a pastor, how religion is a key component toward prophetically understanding how the world’s religious and political leaders seek to use religion to resolve major conflicts and bring about world peace.