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.

Why We Should Remember the Reformation

It is the beginning of October 2019, and we know what this means, do we not? No, I’m not talking about Halloween, a questionable practice amongst Americans. Whether or not you celebrate Halloween, it is a tragic thing that this tradition in America has overshadowed one of the most important anniversaries of October 31st. For myself, the greatest tragedy is that I spent my entire youth without ever being told about it (even though I was raised in a Christian home). It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I learned of this historic event, and even then, I only learned about it through self-education, not as a tradition among my Christian brethren.

What I’m speaking about, of course is the Reformation. 502 years ago from this October 31st, the famous 95 Theses that Martin Luther is said to have hammered to a Wittenberg church door, as was custom for the scholars of the day to do when they made propositions such as these, became the iconic moment that started it all. It was the posting of these theses on October 31st, 1517 that began the spark of the Reformation, which would change western civilization forever. But of course, we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves here. I want to discuss in this article why the Reformation still matters today, and why every Protestant Christian should celebrate it, and if I can speak personally, I prefer we celebrate this day over Halloween. While I find dark themes interesting, the sheer fact and weight of the Reformation is far too important to pass over, especially for a relatively meaningless holiday.

Remembering The Reformation

There are many factors that lead to an ignorance of the Reformation; some of them are unintentional, others are intentional, while still more others have a bit of both. For the unintentional ignorance, I will save for a later section. For now, I want to discuss the group that decidedly rejects any kind of allusion to the Reformation of 1517.

I once spoke briefly to a brother at church about the Reformation and church history, and he did not want to go there. He didn’t like church history, and his reasoning was because the men of church history were bad, filled with so much error and sin, and did terrible things. I smiled at him and had to say what I hope you the reader is thinking, “Strange. Sounds like you’re describing sinners!” Which is of course correct. They were sinners, just like we. I suppose we’ll stop reading about David, because after all, David was an adulterer, and a murderer.

Of course we read about David, and we read about him for two reasons (three, technically, it being divine revelation): One, he is central to the biblical story, and two, because from reading about David’s mistakes, we learn how to not do those things, and from his great successes, how we can glorify God in our own lives. In other words, it is to learn from the past of the men who walked the faith before us. To read about how their humanity limited and conflicted with them, and then how God in spite of such, used such a man (or woman) for His glory.

And that’s exactly why we should read and know church history. They were connected to the biblical story (how God works through His church, even in the darkness of pre and post-Renaissance), and two, because they did great things for God, and they did terrible things in His name. If we claim to be part of the body and church of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and King of all, we should desire to know about the body that came before us. There is a rich history in studying the church throughout the ages.

Truly, if you are not a Roman Catholic or of Eastern Orthodox, you owe your roots in some way to the Protestant Reformation, especially if you are Baptist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Calvary Chapel, Pentecostal, Charismatic and probably more (aside from the NAR and groups like it). The Five Solas are the basis for essentially all of these groups (in their basic form; whether they are consistent with these is not the point I am making) and those five solas find their origin in the Reformation. It is an inescapable fact.

It would seem to make sense then to want to discover the roots, history and tradition that gave rise to whatever denomination you ascribe to. Please understand, I am not here saying that everyone should become reformed as I am, but I do think that everyone who is connected to these groups in some way should celebrate this day, one of the most memorable moments in the history of humanity.

The Reformation in the West

The importance of the Reformation extends into various different areas. Firstly, let’s consider the Reformation in the west as a whole. What it did was it led to a revolt of a certain kind against the papal authority, which claimed to hold the Church in its hand, and consequentially the whole western world, and ultimately the salvation of anyone who lived in its domain. To be saved, therefore, required loyalty to the Church and its holy sacraments and dogmas.

This ultimately led to a darkness and corruption in the west. As the saying goes, absolute power corrupts, absolutely. The papal sea truly carried with it tremendous power, and with that centralization of power, history always tells us it never ends well. That kind of power typically always attracts the most ambitious, and most ruthless of men, and sure enough, it did.

This was until 1517, when Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Ironically, Luther had no intention of messing with papal authority at first. His only desire was to discuss the matter of indulgences and the abuse of them in Germany. When he did not receive his audience to discuss this matter, the consequence for the Church was that the people of Wittenberg got a hold of the theses, translated them into the vulgar (common tongue), and distributed the copies across Germany, causing the people to rise up against the papacy and its abuses of them.

While Roman Catholics today can cry foul and make a big issue about the “Revolution” (as they often call it), the fact is that the Roman Church had itself to blame in Luther’s day. Imagine what would have transpired if, instead of ignoring Luther, they responded to the theses immediately. But they opted to ignore it, which allowed the theses to stay up long enough for the people to get wind of it. The rest was history.

With the Reformation underway after Worms in 1521, when Luther was excommunicated, the result would be a split in Christendom that exists unto this day, leading to great wars across Europe, and a battle between the Protestants and the Roman Church over control of the land. While in the end, no one won, one thing the Reformation did achieve was breaking the Roman Catholic Church’s hold on Europe, never to have it again. The result of Protestantism would eventually lead to the Enlightenment (something we may see as a detriment and consequence of the Reformation, but not a direct result), the nation states, and the fall of feudalism and monarchical reign across Europe and further west.

The Reformation in the American Revolution

While the Reformation itself is not to be considered a revolution, it’s impact would lead to an eventual revolution. Two, to be exact. However, one of these—The French Revolution—was a terrible event, the other was a far greater revolution that did not lead to the rivers of blood and gore in the streets from headless, limbless bodies in the Reign of Terror carried out by one Maximilien Robespierre. This revolution would spark the conception of the most remarkable country ever to exist in history. That of course is the United States of America.

Yes, the Reformation was an important role in the American Revolution. In fact, most Americans, even among conservatives, don’t realize just how much they owe to the traditions that came out of the Reformation. These traditions would be extremely influential on the lives and thinking of the Puritans (who were Calvinists) that came to the Americas, seeking refuge from the persecution in Europe.

That unique Puritan tradition would raise generations after it that reach to the founders themselves. The majority of the leading founders were themselves Calvinists, and those that were not, owed their influences in some way to Protestantism, or in other words, the Reformation. Even for Benjamin Franklin, who was not a Christian by confessional standards, loved Jonathan Edwards’ preaching, and George Whitefield, two major Protestant reformers in America during his time.

As with the five solas, the simple fact of the matter is that every American who loves America, and the history of America owes much credit to the Reformation, and what came out of it in the next three centuries.

The Reformation in Liberty

While Luther and Calvin after him did not intend the Reformation to lead to what the American Revolution envisioned and realized (that is to say, the Reformation was a magisterial one), their work and influence would inevitably lead to these things. As we have shown, in brief, the Reformation led to the breaking of Roman Catholic control over the west, and sub-sequentially, it lead to the United States.

Remember, the five solas were a radical idea during the Reformation. Jan Hus and John Wycliffe, who came before Luther, had a less crystallized view of the concept of the five solas, and one of them ended up martyred over it. Imagine when Luther and Calvin come along, and especially with Calvin’s brilliant systematic thinking, putting these together in ways no one had done before, what that would end in. In other words, it was the most radical form of what Hus and Wycliffe were preaching.

The reality is that the Roman Church realized the danger of the solas. If the solas were true, it completely and utterly shattered Roman Catholic control over all of Europe. It meant that the Church could not control salvation, could not be the mediator between God and man. It had no right to stand in the way, and dictate to any man whether he was a sinner or saint. Only God had that power, and the church’s job therefore was a steward, a faithful servant to God on behalf of those whom God has Himself saved and is saving.

The consequence of this truth, therefore, meant that the church did not have the authority it claimed, and when the Reformation’s ripple effect of those who followed after the Reformers, continued to crystallize what they themselves started, the result was the recognition that no man, no matter how pious and godly he may appear, has a right over any other. The life of every man is squarely in the hand of the Almighty Himself, who owns all peoples by His sovereign right as God of the universe.

The church’s responsibility, therefore, was to be a witness to the world on behalf of her Bridegroom, her Lord and God in heaven. She is never to be seen as He the Judge on earth. Once this concept took shape in the Puritans, which would then influence the founding fathers, the concept of true liberty took form in the United States of the eighteenth century.

The Reformation Today

Now I wish to begin addressing those who are unwittingly ignorant of the Reformation. With this brief overview of the impact of the Reformation, my hope is that we now have the context to understand where we are today, and perhaps a greater insight as to why our society is crumbling around us. Listen to your standard talk show host on either left or right, and you will likely never get to the root of the problem. If you understand what led to the American Revolution and the government it produced, it would make more sense why the government that claims to be the same one of two-hundred years ago is nothing like it.

It is not an increase of God in America that is causing our societal collapse, it is a removal of Him from American society. The fact is that man was made to worship something. When the One to whom proper worship is owed becomes obscured and removed, who do we then go to for hope? Someone has to be our god, and hence, the government must come in to take that place. When man no longer has a God over him that gives him light to see who he is and who the world is, man will be left in darkness and decay, and will rot, taking everything else with him, including his neighbor, and eventually his society.

Hence it requires a recognition of the holiness of God, that He has the right to rule over us, and when we recognize that, and repent of our sins, then true liberty reigns. The Reformation restored that idea to the western world, and the United States adopted the crystallized essence of it, recognizing that true liberty is not when man is freed from all authorities, but freed from all man-made authorities, so that nothing stands in his way of being fulfilled and thus truly free in the God he belongs to.

I hope that this will inspire many of my readers to begin to study the Reformation, and the rich history from it. Not all of its history is great; there are many terrible things that Luther did. And if I can speak frank here, I don’t even think I could stand to be around Luther. In fact, Luther and Calvin both would consider me a heretic. I might not even be safe in Calvin’s Geneva because I am of a baptist persuasion.

Why then do I love Calvin and Luther? Because I look past these things, and see the value in studying what they gave to us. We have to be willing to do the same. I cannot stress to you, my reader, in these written words the deep conviction of my heart when I say this: You who do not study the history of your heritage as a Christian, who denies to your children the history of your heritage as a Christian set them up for disaster in the future. I pray that in that case, God is merciful to them, and will keep them safe despite your failure to show them these things. That is how strongly I believe in this.

I am not saying that you will lose your salvation in the slightest over this. Nor am I saying that you need to learn about the Reformation and be reformed. I believe you can truly celebrate what the Reformation gave us without being uber-reformed. You don’t need to be a Calvinist to believe in the five solas, nor to celebrate the Reformation. To my Calvinist brothers, please understand, I am not talking about consistency here, I am just stating a mere reality, that you and I must realize: Not everyone who holds to the central tenants of the Reformation are themselves reformed. You have to deal with that, just like I have to deal with it. Maybe the best way to do it is to meet your local church family that does not share your reformed convictions, buy them lunch and talk it over in brotherly love and grace.

My simple point is that those who do not learn from history are always doomed to repeat it, and even as Ronald Reagan said, freedom is always one generation from extinction. Franklin also said it is only in the religion of ignorance that man will lose his freedom. A people who know their heritage, know their history cannot be enslaved, and are far greater prepared for the future when they learn from the mistakes of their forefathers, as well as their successes.

The Reformation is, of course, not the gospel, but what it gave to us was a lesson in history that there is hope even in darkness, that God can and does do amazing things, with sinful human beings, and each and every one of us are connected to it in some way. Take some time this month and discover how you are connected to the Protestant Reformation, to the glory of God, Soli Deo Gloria!