Never before have I been so quickly offended by a book.
In the first paragraph, the author begins by referring to an image of “church according to the Bible,” and then urges his readers to: “think about your current church experience. Is it even close? Can you live with that?” (Chan 00:50-1)
I immediately went into defense mode. How dare Francis Chan speak so presumptuously against my own dear church! He doesn’t know how great it is. WE are not a mega-church. WE have acapella singing. WE include all the children in the sermon time. What does he want me to do – move to California and attend his church? My offense at this first paragraph was so great that I missed most of what he was really saying in the first half of the book, and later had to go through it again to understand the whole book more clearly.
The fact is, Letters to the Church may be a painful read for some like myself. However, I am realizing that truth that hurts is still truth. And Chan makes it clear that his intention is to speak God’s truth. “Many want to change the church, but it is often motivated by personal preference rather than Biblical conviction,” Chan observes, and then states his own purpose for writing this book – “I am trying to point out only the most obvious Biblical truths about God’s desire for His Bride – truths that none of us can afford to ignore” (Chan 25:27-1)
Chan begins with a short, personal biography, helping the reader to understand a little more clearly the setting for the “offensive” beginning paragraph. After decades of pastoring Cornerstone Church, the church he founded, Chan came up against some painful truths of his own. His church was not functioning the way the Bible described a church. In spite of the good intentions of the founders and leaders of the church, Cornerstone was not growing into the Christlike group that it should have become.
For Chan, there was the issue of personal fame attracting people into the church. He and the church elders grew concerned. “We wanted people to come to Cornerstone to experience Almighty God and the moving of the Holy Spirit – not to hear Francis Chan” (Chan 09:31-1) They came to realize that not only was this dangerous to Chan’s own spiritual growth, but also the church members themselves hesitated to take leadership roles while under Chan’s shadow. Spiritual gifts were not being used and nurtured, but rather suppressed.
But it was more than that. Chan briefly summarizes the journey of Cornerstone up to that point, and then describes how God led him to step away from Cornerstone. Francis and his wife Lisa ended up taking their family to Asia for more than a year, observing and participating in local churches there. This experience opened their eyes to some of the superfluous – and occasionally unbiblical – traditions that surround the typical American church. Challenged by what he was seeing, Chan began to intentionally search out what Christ intended His Body to look like.
Letters to the Church details Chan’s findings. He draws from both what the Bible commands for the Church and from his own experience, combining stories and wisdom. His black-and-white writing, though intimidating at times, is certainly a refreshing change from the current “churchless Christianity” trend. Topics covered range from serving other members to worship time.
“Is my relationship with Jesus one that I want replicated?” Chan encourages the reader to ask himself. Then he adds, “For those not currently leading, don’t assume you shouldn’t… No one is called to be constantly fed without leading and feeding others” (Chan 04:34-6)
On another note, he declares; “If you can accomplish your church’s mission without daily passionate prayer, then your mission is insufficient and your church is irrelevant” (Chan 28:56-3)
“It is imperative that we differentiate between what we want, and what God commands” (Chan Chap.3 06:16), he reminds the Christian reader. When addressing the leaders of American churches, he warns against honoring people’s wishes over God’s requirements. “If the sheep don’t hear His voice, let them walk away. Don’t call out with your own voice….By catering our worship to the worshipers and not to the object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centered churches” (Chan 13:02-27―3)
Ultimately, the Chan family returned to the States with a vision to pattern churches after the New Testament examples. They chose not to return to Cornerstone, but presently began to gather in their own home with a small, close-knit group. When the gathering grew to more than 20 people, they began a church plant in another person’s home. This was repeated – and they seemed to find it remarkably successful. Along with other reasons, Chan explained the duplicability of this model. “Everyone has a home,” he says. “If it’s possible for a church to fit in a home, then we have an infinite number of potential churches no matter where we go. Going small is our best shot at getting big” (Chan Chap.9 28:11).
As Anabaptists, we are perhaps better than some denominations at following examples of church in the Bible. We rarely have a church with a congregation larger than 500, so perhaps we have a better chance to love and get to know our brothers and sisters, then some of the greatest Evangelical megachurches. But look closer – when we honestly consider how our church members treat each other, are we actually loving each other in the way Christ loved us?
We may indeed have acapella singing, but are we truly worshipping? Whether our churches use the earliest hymns available or modern worship songs, are we ever overwhelmed with the glory and character of our magnificent God?
And yes, quite a few of us have spent Sunday mornings sitting through the sermon, no matter how long it may be, since we were old enough to fear the consequences of misbehavior. This is really a wonderful gift from our parents and church family – one we take too much for granted. But how old did we have to be before an older church member cared enough for how our hearts were behaving? Did anyone ever care that way for you? Do you care that way for anyone else?
Overall, I was interested and eventually inspired by Letters to the Church. It is true that every church needs growth, because every Christian needs growth (perhaps one of my own areas of growth is to receive helpful criticism without becoming irritated). Although the book seems to be written more for pastors and elders than for the average layperson, Chan shares a great amount of Biblical truth within these pages, and I would certainly encourage any believer to read it.
|Rachel Brubaker is a pseudonym, because she prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons. She is frequently shocked at her journey towards missions, which God has led her on throughout the past several years. She loves her dear family, a good pun, anything artsy or musical, real-life God stories, people who expect an honest answer to “how are you”, and of course, coffee and chocolate. Oh, and she also really wants to go skydiving someday.|
- Chan, Francis. Letters to the Church. Narrated by Ramon de Ocampo, Oasis Audio, 2018. MP3.