The Beauty of Human Relationships

by Frances Schaeffer

This is the fourth of four posts in a series titled Two Contents, Two Realities.  These posts are slightly edited excerpts of a paper delivered by Dr. Francis Schaeffer  as part of the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland.


The second reality is the beauty of human relationships. True Christianity produces beauty as well as’ truth, especially in the specific areas of human relationships. Read the New Testament carefully with this in mind; notice how often Jesus returns us to this theme, how often Paul speaks of it. We are to show something to the watching world on the basis of the human relationships we have with other people, not just other Christians.

Christians today are the people who understand who man is. Modern man is in a dilemma because he does not know that man is qualitatively different from non-man. We say man is different because he is made in the image of God. But we must not say man is made in the image of God unless we look to God and by God’s grace treat every man with dignity. We stand against B. F. Skinner in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity. But I dare not argue against Skinner’s determinism if I then treat the men I meet day by day as less than really made in the image of God.

I am talking first of all about non-Christians. The first commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. After Jesus commanded this, someone said, “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus then told the story of the good Samaritan. He was not just talking about treating Christians well; he was talking about treating every man we meet well, every man whether he is in our social stratum or not, every man whether he speaks our language or not, every man whether he has the color of our skin or not. Every man is to be treated on the level of truly being made in the image of God, and thus there is to be a beauty of human relationships.

This attitude is to operate on all levels. I meet a man in a revolving door. How much time do I have with him? Maybe ten seconds. I am to treat him well. We look at him. We do not think consciously in every case that this man is made in the image of God, but, having ground into our bones and into our consciousness (as well as our doctrinal statement) that he is made in the image of God, we will treat him well in those ten seconds which we have.

We approach a red light. We have the same problem. Perhaps we will never see these other people at the intersection again, but we are to remember that they have dignity.

And when we come to the longer relationships–for example, the employer-employee relationship–we are to treat each person with dignity. The husband-and-wife relationship, the parent-and child relationship, the political relationship, the economic relationship 3 -in every single relationship of life, to the extent to which I am in contact with a man or woman, sometimes shorter and sometimes longer, he or she is to be treated in such a way that – man or woman – if he is thinking at all, he will say, “Didn’t he treat me well!”What about the liberal theologian? Yes, we are to stand against his theology. We are to practice truth, and we are not to compromise. We are to stand in antithesis to his theology. But even though we cannot cooperate with him in religious things, we are to treat the liberal theologian in such a way that we try from our side to bring our discussion into the circle of truly human relationships. Can we do these two things together in our own strength? No, but in the strength of the power of the Holy Spirit, it can be done. We can have the beauty of human relationships even when we must say no.

Now, if we are called upon to love our neighbor as ourselves when he is not a Christian, how much more – ten thousand times ten thousand times more – should there be beauty in the relationships between true Bible-believing Christians, something so beautiful that the world would be brought up short! We must hold our distinctives. Some of us are Baptists; some of us hold to infant baptism; some of us are Lutheran, and so on. But to true Bible believing Christians across all the lines, in all the camps, I emphasize: if we do not show beauty in the way we treat each other, then in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our own children, we are destroying the truth we proclaim.

Every big company, if it is going to build a huge plant, first makes a pilot plant in order to show that their plan will work. Every church, every mission, every Christian school, every Christian group, regardless of what sphere it is in, should be a pilot plant that the world can look at and see there a beauty of human relationships which stands in exact contrast to the awful ugliness of what modern men paint in their art, what they make with their sculpture, what they show in their cinema, and how they treat each other. Men should see in the church a bold alternative to the way modern men treat people as animals and machines. There should be something so different that they will listen, something so different it will commend the gospel to them.

Every group ought to be like that, and our relationships between our groups ought to be like that. Have they been? The answer all too often is no. We have something to ask the Lord to forgive us for. Evangelicals, we who are true Bible-believing Christians, must ask God to forgive us for the ugliness with which we have often treated each other when we are in different camps.

I am talking now about beauty, and I have chosen this word with care. I could call it love, but we have so demoted the word that it is often meaningless. So I use the word beauty. There should be beauty, observable beauty, for the world to see in the way all true Christians treat each other.

We need two orthodoxies: first, an orthodoxy of doctrine and, second, an orthodoxy of community. Why was the early church able, within one century, to spread from the Indus River to Spain? Think of that: one century, India to Spain. When we read in Acts and in the epistles, we find a church that had and practiced both orthodoxies (doctrine and community), and this could be observed by the world. Thus, they commended the gospel to the world of that day and the Holy Spirit was not grieved.

There is a tradition (it is not in the Bible) that the world said about the Christians in the early church, “Behold, how they love each other.” As we read Acts and the epistles, we realize that these early Christians were really struggling for a practicing community. We realize that one of the marks of the early church was a real community, a community that reached down all the way to their care for each other in their material needs.

Have we exhibited this community in our evangelical churches? I have to say no – by and large, no. Our churches have often been two things – preaching points and activity generators. When a person really has desperate needs in the area of race, or economic matters, or psychological matters, does he naturally expect to find a supporting community in our evangelical churches? We must say with tears, many times no!

My favorite church in Acts and, I guess, in all of history is the church at Antioch. I love the church at Antioch. I commend to you to read again about it. It was a place where something new happened: the great, proud Jews who despised the Gentiles (there was an anti-Gentilism among the Jews, just as so often, unhappily, there has been anti-Semitism among Gentiles) came to a breakthrough. They could not be silent. They told their Gentile neighbors about the gospel, and suddenly, on the basis of the blood of Christ and the truth of the Word of God, the racial thing was solved. There were Jewish Christians and there were Gentile Christians, and they were one!

More than that, there was a total span of the social spectrum. We are not told specifically that there were slaves in the church of Antioch, but we know there were in other places and there is no reason to think they were not in Antioch. We know by the record in Acts that there was no less a person in that church than Herod’s foster brother. The man at the very peak of the social pyramid and the man at the bottom of the pile met together in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they were one in a beauty of human relationships.

And I love it for another reason. There was a man called Niger in that church, and that means black. More than likely, he was a black man. The church at Antioch on the basis of the blood of Christ encompassed the whole. There was a beauty that the Greek and the Roman world did not know–and the world looked. And then there was the preaching of the gospel. In one generation the church spread from the Indus River to Spain. If we want to touch our generation, we must be no less than this.

I would emphasize again that community reached all the way down into the realm of material possessions. There is no communism, as we today know the word communism,  in the book of Acts. Peter made very plain to Ananias and Sapphira that their land was their own, and when they had sold their land they were masters of what they did with the money. No state or church law, no legalism, bound them. What existed in the early church was a love that was so overwhelming that they could not imagine in the church of the Lord Jesus having one man hungry and one man rich. When the Corinthian church fell into this, Paul was scathing in 1 Corinthians in writing against it.

Note, too, that deacons were appointed. Why? Because the church had found difficulty in caring for one another’s material needs. Read James 2. James asks, “What are you doing preaching the gospel to a man and trying to have a good relationship with him spiritually if he needs shoes and you do not give him shoes?” Here is another place where the awful Platonic element in the evangelical church has been so dominant and so deadly. It has been considered spiritual to give for missions, but not equally spiritual to give when my brother needs shoes. That is never found in the Word of God. Of course, the early church gave to missions; at times they gave money so Paul did not have to make tents. But Paul makes no distinction between collections for missions and collections for material needs, as if one were spiritual and the other not. For the most part when Paul spoke of financial matters, he did so because there was a group of Christians somewhere who had a material need, and Paul then called upon other churches to help.

Moreover, it was not only in the local church that the Christians cared for each other’s needs; they did so at great distances.  The church of Macedonia, which was made up of Gentile Christians, when they heard that the Jewish Christians, the Jews whom they would previously have despised, had material need, took an offering and sent it with care hundreds of miles in order that the Jewish Christians might eat.

So, there must be two orthodoxies: the orthodoxy of doctrine and the orthodoxy of community. And both orthodoxies must be practiced down into the warp and the woof of life where the Lordship of the Lord Jesus touches every area of our life.

3 thoughts on “The Beauty of Human Relationships

  1. Pingback: Francis Schaeffer on Unity : EX vilis CATHEDRA

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