Meeting Old Friends for the First Time
In the fall of 1991, my future mother-in-law gave me my first substantial book having to do with the Christian faith. At the time, I was not an enormous fan of reading, but the book title was more than arresting: How Should We Then Live? I was captivated. How should I live? As a new Christian with an interest in art, music, archaeology, and philosophy, I was deeply concerned about what should be set aside in my pursuit of Christianity and what could carry over into my new life. I had drawn a fat line between the secular and the sacred, and I was learning to how to decrease the former to get just a little bit more of the latter. Francis Schaeffer, the book’s author, erased that line for me as he had done for many others. I now see that all of life is sacred. How could it be otherwise! An enormous influence on Schaeffer was Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper said “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” With the help of Schaeffer, I saw for the first time that all of my interdisciplinary pursuits (the serious and the non-serious) were constrained by King Jesus. He is King over the entire world, and every pursuit is to be a pursuit of His glory.
Francis Schaeffer passed into glory seven years before I discovered this book. Since then, I have read nearly all of his works. Just two years before he died, the denomination to which he belonged and helped form, the RPCES, merged with the PCA. It remains astounding to me that this great figure was a member of the PCA. It would be another ten years after reading his book that I myself would first hear of the PCA and another four years before I would become an ordained minister in the PCA. There is a lesson here: always read a book recommendation from your mother-in-law.
Last week, I traveled to England to get to know church planters doing work in the denomination that Francis Schaeffer founded in November 1954, the International Presbyterian Church (IPC). While the denomination began in Champéry, Switzerland, it is now based in Ealing (in the west of London) where my week began.
This denomination that Schaeffer founded grew rather slowly; after the congregation in Champéry, congregations formed in Milan (1958), Ealing (1969), Liss, England (1972), Wimbledon, London (1978), and Hounslow, London (1990s). This is not a rapid church planting movement. Since 2000, however, there has been an exciting resurgence in the IPC as they renewed their interest in church planting. In this regard, the IPC is experiencing the kind of expansion that mimics the PCA, one of the fastest growing denominations in the US and currently enjoying vigorous church planting success across the nation. As a PCA minister, I am honored to have pastored supporting churches of two of the largest church planting networks in our denomination: the Southwest Church Planting Network in Dallas and the Northwest Church Planting Network in Seattle. I have heard hundreds of reports from church planters and call many of them my friends. I have learned a great deal from men who witness first-hand how a congregation can spring from such ordinary means in the life of the church--preaching, Bible study, prayer, singing, and sincere Christian fellowship.
Visiting with church planters in the IPC represents for me the experience of meeting old friends. I had already met Kruger De Kock of Canada Water Church (London) and David Gibson of Trinity Aberdeen. Years ago, I met Paul Levy of IPC-Ealing. But, because I am so at-home with church planters, many of the unfamiliar faces became like old friends very quickly.
I am thoroughly grateful for my late mother-in-law introducing me to Francis Schaeffer. Under the leadership of Jonty Rhodes, chair of the Church Planting Committee and minister of Christ Church Central (Leeds), the denomination of Francis Schaeffer is seeing exciting growth. There are several active church plants and many ministers-in-training preparing to plant more. This is happening in a largely post-Christian part of the world filled with people who believe they have examined Jesus, found Him lacking, and moved on, just like the rest of the world. England and Scotland feel this way today. The US is feeling like this more and more. But remember, not a single square inch of this world doesn’t belong to King Jesus. It is all his. And if we take to heart what happened in the book of Acts, he makes himself known through the ordinary means of the gospel-proclaiming church.
I have made wonderful friends in the IPC. Speaking with a dash of sentiment, it feels like coming full circle, meeting old friends … for the first time. I look forward to sharing more with you about the work of the IPC.
~Pastor John Jones