Francis Chan, Church History and Why it’s Important

I originally intended this to be a short Facebook post, but how foolish it was for me to assume that something like this could be expressed in few words. For that reason, I’ve chosen to use my blog site to write about it. I’m not going to talk too much about Chan’s recent comments on the nature of communion and the Eucharist as I am about what his comments demonstrate is so important for us today.

What I will say, to the critics of those who have rightly criticized Chan, saying that Chan was simply saying we needed to just stop the division, and that Jesus didn’t start 30,000 denominations, and we need to just come together at the Lord’s Supper, and that’s more important than even preaching God’s word in a pulpit, to those saying this, I would simply defer you to a number of Roman Catholics on the internet right now who are saying amens to Chan’s comments and praying that he “come home to Rome”. The fact that there are Roman Catholics saying this should be compelling reason that, whether he intended it or not, Chan’s comments are swimming in the Tiber River.

Protestants, Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy

I want to talk about what seems to be a thing these days about Protestants finding an appeal towards Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. I have had friends in the past, and most recent past begin to drift closer and closer to these two institutions, people I once thought were solid in the faith. Surely, a reformed Protestant would be most immune to the lures of EO and the RCC. I was wrong, and being wrong, I’ve had to sit back and honestly reflect myself on whether I could be drawn to that.

If you haven’t listened to one of the most recent Dividing Lines (January 6th) I would highly recommend it. It’s lengthy, and I know I’ve said this before, but if there is one Dividing Line that, right now, you need to listen to, it’s now this one. I get it, you’re busy, you got family and kids and stuff. But I pray you make time to listen to this one. I haven’t gotten through the Leighton Flowers stuff as I write this, and I’m sure that’s important, but for the first hour, Dr. White discusses this issue of the current attraction towards EO and the RCC and I think his analysis is spot-on, right on the money. Almost everything he said was what I have been trying to say for some time now.

I don’t attend a reformed church, so I have the “non-denominational” believers mostly in my circle. It is because they are my primary personal encounters that I am very concermed about this. These people have children about to enter the high school and college years, and so I want to address them primarily in this article. For those people, I know that a lot of you guys will see this and think it’s just a waste of time, that all of this talk gets in the way of the Christian life. Why do we need to study church history? The only church history we need is what’s in the Bible, right? Where’s the value in learning about what is “basically just Roman Catholicism for over a thousand years”? is the general idea.

Well first, it actually isn’t that simple. Secondly, something Dr. White pointed out that I have been thinking greatly on is that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are losing people today and that is because of the internet. That is, there was a time when they could control their people, because they could restrict what information they got. Now that’s not the case. Your kids can access the internet easily these days and when they do, they will almost certainly discover that the world is much bigger than they thought it was. Christendom’s history involves a greater span than just America and Palestine/Israel. Dispensationalism is not the only eschatology out there. The subject of the nature of baptism is not so simple as we were told by our leaders.

The Youth Going to Rome and the East

Parents, your children are smart. They are not stupid, they are connecting dots that you may not even see. I’ve had kids ask me some questions that frankly blindsided me, and made me have to sit down and think through certain issues. One of these days, some (perhaps many) of those kids that you try to keep from knowing about the history of their faith in the world from the first century on to today, they’re not going to settle for the “no creed but Christ” idea. I’m already seeing it happening.

The reason I think that so many young people are attracted to EO and the RCC is having grown out of simplistic, independent Baptist circles (or circles like it) that taught shallow-level concepts drudge through the youth services and they come out doing one of two things: Either throwing the whole thing out, or realizing there are places they can go to get way more interesting “Christianity” than what they were raised in, such as Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s far more magisterial, it’s got rich history and philosophy. Because young people are starving for real, substantial things, such as a real, meaningful Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) not simply a memorial service. It is far more than that.

When they realize that there were people in the ancient past that spoke far more real about the Eucharist than their own elders ever said, there is a great chance they are enamored by it, and all they need is one guy from the EO or from Rome to give them a few quotes from Ignatius or Tertullian on the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, out of its context and meaning, and *finger snap* that kid’s hooked. It’s only a matter of time from there.

Something that could have been avoided if we, A: taught them church history, and B: gave them the biblical foundations to see the problem with the citation, and also with recognizing that even if Ignatius or Tertullian were speaking about “transubstantiation” it would have been in error because neither man was infallible.

The superficial Christianity that tries to separate itself from the history of Christianity is not going to work anymore. Young people are rebelling against their traditions. Let me put it in simple terms: One of these days, your kids are going to learn about smoking. It’s going to happen. What would you rather have? Would you rather have introduced them to it yourself, and have given them the proper foundations to resist it, along with all the other problems of the world? Or would you rather have not, and inculcate them in the walls of your world in the hopes that if they ever do step outside those walls, won’t be attracted to that stuff?

I don’t know about you, but the ladder option rarely turns out well. Suddenly they learn there’s more stuff out there, stuff they didn’t know much about, and they begin to wonder why you not only didn’t make them aware of this, but that you didn’t give them sufficient reasons for why this is bad.

What Lies Outside the Walls

In a novel I am writing, one of my main characters, whose name is Bella, comes to learn that there is a whole world outside of the congested urban city she is raised in. But she’s an orphan with no money to go anywhere. She is found by another of my main characters, a half-elvish character named Annastaria, who saves Bella from her own low-life family (what family she has left). As a consequence, Bella comes with Anna on her own quest across the land, and now Bella embarks on her own journey to see just how big the world is.

This will be illustrated at an important point in the book, and I made that point very specifically for this purpose. She knows the world is far bigger than she ever dreamed it was. But with that also comes great danger. Bella has to learn that with that great wonder comes a world full of dragons, strange and dark creatures, as well as evil men and women who would seek to do her harm.

Hence I am aware of how dangerous it can be to open yourself up to that, which leads me to my final point. When I began to study church history, I had several people (some of which may read this) come to me and were concerned about me. They were concerned that I was going to be distracted by this stuff and end up going down a road that would take me off the road to Christ. They were right to be concerned, and I greatly appreciate that concern.

But it’s one thing to ask someone to be careful and be grounded first, it’s another to try and tell someone that because the “risk” of going off the road is there, don’t ever take the risk. That I cannot do. Why? Because I’m one of those young people who suddenly learned the world of Christendom was much, much, much bigger than I was ever told it was. Indeed, I have opened a Pandora’s Box that won’t close anymore. I’ve opened that door and gone to where there is no return.

Folks, you don’t simply open that door, walk past the walls and just go back to the simple life behind the walls. For someone like Bella (and even like Anna) there is no going back. Now you know there’s a whole world out there. Young people, who may be your kids, will do the same thing as Bella has embarked on. This is just the beginning of her journey. What would you rather them have if and when they do? The awareness of the world and to thus prepare for it when they open that door to go out? Or to blunder into that world with a poor foundation, subject to all the heresy that’s out there? Neither outcome is wonderful, I understand that. But if there was ever a good time for “the lesser of two evils is the best option” this is it, the way I see it.

Why did I not go off into Eastern Orthodoxy? Or swim through the Tiber River into Rome? Ultimately, the only conclusion I can give is by the grace of God. All I knew was that I was committed to Sola Scriptura, because that was the only safe place to be. It was my conviction of Sola Scriptura that carried me and continues to carry me through all the zanniness and weirdness and all the heresy in the world.

I know that we would rather the massive complexity of the history of the world simply not be an issue. Maybe in the next life it won’t be anymore, but where we are now, it is an issue, and my friends, though I don’t have kids of my own, I care about the youth. I know from personal experience, being one of these young people, what can happen when I have to find out for myself that the world is bigger than I was ever told it was. I know teaching church history is a huge risk, as Dr. White said in his latest Dividing Line, but I would rather they know about it from me than from learning about it themselves, without the guidance, without the foundation to confront it.

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