“We want Jesus but there are limits to what we will sacrifice for Him,” Francis Chan
Pastor Francis Chan walked away from his megachurch to start over with a collection of home churches. His spiritual journey is an enormously valuable lesson for all Christians. In his book, “Letters to the Church”, Pastor Chan details his experience and his concern for the Christian church in America. His observations are enlightening and insightful; however they are, in my view, incomplete and I believe invite further discussion. To that end, my goal here is to expand on Pastor Chan’s experience by balancing his vast experience in ministry with my personal experience as a worshiper. It is my hope that these two points of view blended together will inspire the reader to carefully consider the path forward for the Christian church in America.
If you haven’t read “Letters to the Church,” I highly recommend you do. I’ll be offering my point of view chapter by chapter. It is not necessary to read the book before reading my response, but you will benefit greatly from Pastor Chan’s teaching and his inclusion of the scripture from which he bases his conclusions.
For many, this chapter will be a departure from their fundamental understanding of Christianity. For the most part, I agree with Francis Chan’s teaching in this chapter and believe it is profoundly important; however, in some respects I think he takes this biblical instruction to an extreme that is not intended. I tend to have a more nuanced understanding of the scripture he quotes and I’ll try to explain my point of view as best I can. The scriptural element in question is suffering. Francis Chan goes into great detail to demonstrate biblically that Christianity has to include suffering. He points to the teaching of Jesus in Luke 14:25-33 that clearly indicates absolutely nothing is more important than your walk with Jesus. Francis believes this kind of complete commitment that includes a willingness to suffer for God is missing from many churches. He goes on to say that becoming a Christian is complete surrender to the higher purpose of serving God. I couldn’t agree more.
To make his point, that suffering is an integral element in the Christian experience, Francis points to the church in Iran and Iraq where suffering is expected. He says “fellowship looks a lot different when the church consists of those who have a biblical understanding of Christianity” – meaning they expect suffering. I agree this is commendable and in fact expected if the circumstance presents itself, however, I don’t believe Jesus is teaching we all need to suffer in this way. Francis explains that believers in Iraq are not allowed to join the Church unless they surrender everything up front. I believe in this kind of commitment; however nowhere in the Bible does it suggest we establish this kind of criteria to become a Christian – indeed all are welcome and those who are weak will grow in the Lord once in fellowship with stronger believers. Francis also points to a similar situation in China where one church has five pillars that were established as their mission, and embracing suffering for the glory of Christ was one of them. This may be necessary in a country where Christianity is not widely accepted or in fact forbidden in some manner, but it doesn’t apply in the larger context of America.
Francis makes the point that Christians are stronger when they endure persecution in a Christ-like manner. There is no question this is true. The Bible makes it clear we are to count it all joy when we suffer for Christ; nevertheless, I don’t believe God wants us to suffer, in fact, I believe God wants the exact opposite. Francis does say we are not to pursue suffering – “we are to pursue Jesus and suffering always accompanies Him.” I do believe it is inevitable there will be suffering in this life – indeed much of life does include suffering of some kind – but the idea that suffering “accompanies” Jesus doesn’t ring true. Jesus tells us he will give us rest from our suffering and I think it’s important to identify suffering as a response to this world and not something that is connected to Jesus.
Francis extends his discussion of suffering to include sacrifice. He laments the fact that sin seems to have invaded the church. He says that “People are starting to water down their convictions because they don’t want to offend anyone” He goes on to say, “I think we have become much too accustomed to allowing sin to invade the church because it’s part of our culture” He doesn’t really name the sin he is talking about here, although he does point to divorce in passing. He seems to be pointing toward same-sex marriage and/or things of this nature. He goes on to say, “Our commitment to the Kingdom must take precedence over culture,” and I agree, but there seems to be a tendency by Francis to interpret the Bible without taking into account the 2,000 years of history that has gone by. While culture should in no way define our understanding of the gospel, it does change the perspective of scripture. I don’t believe God wants us to stand still. The devil certainly is not standing still. We need to adjust accordingly. We need to apply scripture in a way that makes sense in our current culture without changing any aspect of the original intent.
Continuing with his battle with today’s culture, Francis says, “We want Jesus but there are limits to what we will sacrifice for Him,” I do agree there are many who have this attitude. He goes on to say, “Other kinds of good news stir more emotion than the gospel.” He includes things like getting married or having a child. This may well be, but it’s a little more complicated than that. The gospel is settled law, so to speak, and other matters are more immediately pertinent to life in this world. So I don’t think this is a completely fair assessment. Francis goes on to say that the whole point of the gospel is to sacrifice for others. On this point we are again in total agreement.
Speaking about Philippians 3:8-11, Francis says “Paul wanted to know Jesus as deeply as possible, even if it required immense suffering.” Comparing our commitment to Christianity to the apostle Paul is in my view unrealistic. Yes, we should put the same weight on our salvation as the apostle Paul, but we are thousands of years removed from the actual events and our commitment may be more difficult to establish. We may need more experience as sincere believers to fully embrace suffering like the apostle Paul.
Francis concludes this chapter saying we should not question God’s sovereignty when suffering comes – we should expect suffering. He then finishes by listing a number of scripture verses about suffering. This is an important study and I don’t want to discount the importance of these verses; however, I don’t believe they all apply specifically to our lives as Christians today. More importantly, I think we need to look beyond the inevitable suffering to the love, joy, and peace that follows.