Most of my Catholic readers probably wouldn’t have known who Francis Chan is until recently. If you’ve followed the renaissance of celebrity Protestant pastors which started in the mid-2000s (including the likes of John Piper, John MacArthur, Timothy Keller and Paul Washer), then Francis Chan is pretty much a household name. He was the founding pastor of megachurch Cornerstone Community Church before stepping down and pursuing smaller-scale forms of ministry involving social justice and small-church planting.
I have always admired and respected Chan as a man of faith. His walk with Christ has led him to make some highly unconventional choices for someone of his stature. Chan and his wife are also about to embark on a missions trip in China, leaving behind the faith communities he had built for so many years. To me, going from leading a megachurch to embarking on a missions trip where Christians are persecuted speaks volumes of the sincerity of his faith and character.
In a recent video, Francis Chan has caused quite a stir in the Christian community. Some reactionary Protestants were quick to conclude that he has embraced ‘transubstantiation’ (a Catholic dogma that the Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Christ). This message also had the Catholic community excitedly speculating that Chan might be leaning towards converting to Catholicism.
Starting around 35:06, Chan makes this profound statement:
“Again, I’m not making any like grand statements, I’m just saying some of this stuff I didn’t know. I didn’t know that for the first 1500 years of Church history, EVERYONE saw it as the literal body and blood of Christ. And it wasn’t till 500 years ago that someone popularized the thought that it’s just a symbol, and nothing more. I didn’t know that. And I thought, wow, well that’s something to consider.
And while I won’t make a strong statement, I will make a statement about this:
It was at that same time that for the first time someone put a pulpit in front of the gathering. Because before that it was always the body and blood of Christ that was central to their gatherings. For 1500 years, it was never one guy and his pulpit being the centre of the church. It was the body and the blood of Christ — and even the leaders just saw themselves as partakers.
And, oh man. We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy! I say that because the church is more divided than anytime in history. What does this book (the Bible) tell us clearly that He does not want any divisions in his church.
And for a thousand years there was just one church, you know that? We’re so used to growing up in a time when literally there are over 30,000 Christian denominations right now. But for the first 1000 years there was just one.
What was interesting is communion was at the centre of the room every time they gathered. And it wasn’t a pulpit where a guy preached after studying in his office by himself for 20 hours. See, right now we’ve got guys like me that go in a room, study. You know, that’s what I was doing for years! Meanwhile other guys went in their rooms and studied, and then we started all giving different messages, so many contradicting each other. And pretty soon there was, ‘Well I follow Piper!’ or, ‘I follow Chan! I follow…” You know, it’s like everyone’s following different guys.
I’m just saying I…. I believe there was something about taking communion out of the centre of the church and replace it with a gifted speaker. Not that that gifted speaker isn’t part of the body of Christ, and a gift of the body of Christ, but the BODY itself needs to be back in the centre of the Church.”
I think it’s important not to jump to any conclusions considering how Chan emphasized he’s not currently making any strong (presumably doctrinal) statements. He might not even be referring to transubstantiation per se. He could be referring to consubstantiation for all we know (which is a doctrine aligned with the Anglican and Lutheran traditions that still acknowledges the Real Presence, but with more emphasis on the spiritual essence as opposed to a physical change of substance).
In the meantime, until he answers his critics, it’s all hearsay.
But considering how a recent study has shown only half of American Catholics understand Church teaching on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Francis Chan’s message of unity and refocus is a breath of fresh air. He gets it. He realizes how placing mere men at the epicentre of congregational worship has continually contributed to the chronic fracturing of the Church to this very day.
With this in mind, I think Francis Chan and his family deserve our prayers and support. When a non-Catholic’s beliefs are more Catholic than the majority of Catholics, it is a sure sign that we are in desperate need of revival.
You can watch the full video here: