Notes on “Letters to the Church” by Francis Chan

On Sunday we reviewed Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church. Below is an outline of Biblical usage and some brief notes.

Chan’s book, Letters to the Church, begins by asking if all we had was our reading of the Bible, how would we imagine church to function? His thesis is that “God designed the Church to be much more than what the majority of us experience in America” (26). He begins his challenge to the church by quoting Revelation 3:19-21, stating that God calls lukewarm Christians in lukewarm congregations to repent and simply open the door to Him. He encourages us not to be weighed down by all that is wrong with the church but to join Christ in what He is doing (presumably through His work of sanctification).

Outline of Biblical Usage

The Departure

In this chapter, Chan describes his own exodus from the megachurch that he built.

“Nowadays people are eager to fight. Many are on edge, waiting for anyone to misspeak so they can pounce. It is in this environment that the Lord tells us to maintain unity (Eph. 4:3)” (25).

Sacred

Rushing into prayer and criticism- Ecc. 5:1-3, James 1:19, Pro. 10:19

Loving the church- Eph. 5:29-30, 32

The church is God’s temple- 2 Chron. 7:1-4, Eph. 2:19-22, 1 Cor. 3:16-17

We are a small part of God’s eternal plan- Rev. 5:8, 13, Eph. 1:4-5, 3:8-10

The Order

Following the commands of Christ rather than the expectations of people- Mark 7:3, 7-9

Giving what is needed rather than what is asked for- Rom. 9:1-3, 1 Cor. 1:17, 2:1-5, Rev. 5:11-14.

“… the most loving thing we can do is teach people that joy will come only when they stop screaming for attention and save their voices for the throne” (52).

Building with what pleases God- Acts 2:42-47

The apostles’ teaching- John 6:63, Is. 55:10-11, Rev. 1:3

The breaking of bread, the fellowship, the prayers (Acts 4:31)

Are we hosting a party or making disciples?- Mal. 1:10-11

“They saw worship not as an honor but as an obligation. Today we’d respond to this by saying, ‘Look at how bored they are! Let’s make worship more exciting; then people will really get something out of it!’”

The Gang

Going to gang

Supernatural Love- John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:7-12

Supernatural Unity- John 17:20-23, Acts 4:32-35, Phil. 1:27-28

Have We Given Up?- 1 Tim. 1:20, Luke 14:25-35, 9:57-62, John 15:12, 2

Servants

Matthew 20:28, Phil. 2:1-8

Experiencing God- 1 Cor. 12:7, 14:12

Task of Gifted Leaders- Eph. 4:11-12

What are we producing?- John 13:34-35

Becoming Attractive

No Longer Church

Forcing the Issue- 1 Peter 4:10, James 4:17

Good Shepherds

Traps of Ministry

Times Have Changed- Hebrews 13:7

The Christian Pastor- 2 Peter 2:1-3, 2 Cor. 13:5

The Praying Pastor- Luke 22:31-32

The Humble Pastor- James 4:5-10

The Loving Pastor- 1 Thess. 2:5-12

The Equipping Pastor- Eph. 4:11-14

The Spirit-Filled Pastor- Eph. 5:18-21, Galatians 5:22-23

The Missional Pastor- James 1:27

The Suffering Pastor

Unlikely Leaders- Ezek. 34, Eph. 3:20

Crucified

Gal. 2:20, Luke 14:25-33, Mark 8:34-37, Matthew 24:9-13, Luke 6:22-23, 26

When Suffering Becomes Strange

Not of This World- Romans 3:4, John 15:18-20

Pursue Jesus, Not Suffering- Phil. 3:8-11

Love People, Not Suffering- 1 Cor. 13:3

New Expectations- 1 Pet. 4:12-14, Hebrews 12:1-3

Could It Be More Obvious?- Rom. 8:16-18, Eph. 6:11-12, Phil. 1:29, 2 Thess. 1:5, 2 Tim. 2:3, 3:12, Heb. 13:12-13, 1 Pet. 2:19-21, 1 John 3:13, 16-18, Rev. 2:10

Unleashed

Lessons From The East

Hypothetical Power?- Eph 1:19-21

Keep The Children Away- Mat. 18:4-6

Lessons From Africa

Release The Children

Release The People

Sending

Church Again

Structure Matters

More Room For God

We Are Church Beginners

Why Go Small

ChurchBNB

Potential To Grow And Freedom To Decline

$$$$$$$$$$

Nowhere To Hide

Is It Time For A Change?

Are You Sure This Will Work?- Luke 18:8

Where The Spirit Leads

Final Thoughts- Heb. 10:37-39

Afterword: Surviving Arrogance- James 4:6, Eph. 4:11-12, John 5:19, 12:49-50, James 1:2-4, 2 Sam. 16:9-13, Rom. 15:1-3, Isa. 30:18, Titus 3:10-11, 2 Sam. 15:2-6, 2 Cor. 7:8-10, Phil. 4:8, Isa. 57:15.

Notes on use of Scripture

Chan has a good handle on the text of Scripture in this book. He takes the time to explain the context for most of his references. The book is topical, which presents certain difficulties regarding interpretation, but Chan reveals his desire to force people to consider what the Bible states explicitly and in context. He begins by asking if all we had was our reading of the Bible, how would we imagine church to function? He follows the Scripture references he uses by making statements like, “Every believer needs to stare at those verses long enough to be stunned” (34), “Think about what this is saying” (43), and my favorite, “If you skipped past the verses above, please go back and read them. Then read them again” (79). Regardless, it is always important for us to go back and look at the text for ourselves and really think about what the Scriptures are saying in the context of Scripture. The best hermeneutic is a Biblical one.

By using the outline above, we can tell which chapters and sections at least use the Bible more and are more likely to express biblical, rather than experiential, truth. Since the book is not expository, even in a topical sense, fallacious prooftexting is more likely. So, we really should go to the Scriptures as we read this book, not to point out the mistakes we perceive in the author’s use of Scripture but to understand the Scriptures first so that we might understand God’s design for the church and recognize if and when a verse is used to prove a point that it doesn’t actually make.

Notes on criticizing leadership and true accountability

There was a sermon that Chan preached last year (2018) in which he addressed, topically, gossip in the body and the slandering, accusing, and criticizing of pastors and church leaders. The sermon is titled “Are You Destroying the Church?” and can be found on Youtube. Chan was, himself, criticized in the wake of this sermon by countless people because he seemed to affirm the ministries of some false teachers. Chan’s exposition of the Scriptures was good considering the sermon’s topical nature, though I think his application of the text was made more inclusive than it ought to have been. The proper application would have been, if God’s servants are sacred parts of His body, then God is serious about slander, accusation, malice, and unfounded criticism. God doesn’t like it when people tear down His body and seek to destroy the testimony of His true witnesses. People are also quick to define a “false teacher” as anyone who dissents from their specific theological viewpoint. In reality, false teaching or unsound doctrine is explicitly teaching that is “contrary” to salvation by Grace alone (Titus 3:11-15). If someone is wrong about something or makes an improper application or makes a mistake in exposition or believes something differently than we do but is in line with these Biblical doctrines, we cannot accuse that person of being a false teacher.

It is important for us to evaluate teaching, to reject the divisive person, and to keep from taking a sledgehammer to the body of Christ in any way. It can be a difficult balance if we are concerned with both truth and love (here to mean being kind and caring). We are called, then, to seek first understanding and resist the ad hominem and straw man fallacies; all content should be measured by the Scriptures whether we like or dislike the person teaching or writing. Scripture is our authority and we do not have the authority to exalt or condemn any person.

We question and evaluate the content. We do so not in an accusatory manner, but to understand. Our priority while sitting under the instruction of Scripture is to seek understanding, not confirmation. We look to the Scriptures to see if the Scriptures are accurately represented in any teaching.

Notes on ecclesiology

Ultimately, this book is about ecclesiology (meaning and practice of church). It was weighted on the practical side of doing church. At the beginning of the book, Chan asked how church would look different if we only had the Bible. This is a question of practice. In all but the last two chapters, the author at least supported his argument using prooftexts from the Scriptures. In the last two chapters, Scripture was almost absent and the reader is asked to question things like practicality and to observe the way that other churches in other nations are doing things- which is exactly the opposite of Chan’s thesis and challenge. One cannot coherently insist on using the Bible alone and also on considering practicality and ecclesiology as defined and practiced by groups outside of the Biblical text.

While I do not think it is wrong to consider practicality or to learn from the examples of other churches; this portion of the book simply did not fit with the author’s stated purpose and did not accomplish the drawing of the reader to the Scriptures.

Our ecclesiology truly does need to be based on God’s design for the church, not our preferences, not tradition, not experience, and not pragmatism (doing what works). Chan made all of these points previous to the last two chapters.

Recommendation

I recommend this book based on its thought and heart provoking nature. My hope is that it accomplishes the author’s stated purpose, driving us into the Scriptures to discover God’s design and plan for His church.

Soli Deo Gloria

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  1. According to Titus 2:11-15, sound teaching and doctrine is measured according to these truths: 1) The grace of God brings salvation to all men, 2) all men have the responsibility to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, being righteous and godly, 3) because we failed God redeemed us from every lawless deed, 4) God is purifying for Himself a particular people for His own possession, and 5) those people will be zealous for good deeds. (Cannon, Andrew. This Isn’t My Ministry, a devotional for leaders in the church. Lulu Press Inc. Durham, NC. 2019.)
  2. An ad hominem attack on someone is slandering him or her and expecting that to be a valid criticism of the point that he or she has made. Ex: “Chan associates with false teachers and therefore can’t be trusted.”

  3. A straw man argument is twisting someone’s words and misrepresenting his or her claim so that his or her argument can be defeated. This sets us up for failure because we end up not addressing anyone’s actual viewpoint. Instead, we have invented an opposing viewpoint to demolish. This is not edifying. Ex. Saying, “Chan claimed that we should not evaluate teaching according to the Scriptures,” even when Chan did not, in fact, make this claim.

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