Jennie and Francis Chan Talk about Unity and the Church

Jennie Allen
April 01, 2021

Jennie Allen

Bible teacher, founder of IF:Gathering
2021 Blog Images.png
 

This is such a selfish treat for me. If you got to watch IF:Gathering this year you know that one of my favorite parts was Friday night when we got to talk with Francis Chan about what it looks like to give our lives away for Jesus. After that, a pastor from the underground church shared what that looks like for him, and the whole night just had me in a puddle. After the conference, Zac and I sat and talked at length about the night. And what does that meant for us? And how do we take everything God's given us and use it for his glory. We always are asking God, "is there something we're missing? Is there something more you have for us?" My prayer is that's exactly what happens again today with Francis Chan. We're talking about what it looks like for the church of God to come together in unity. 



So Francis, let's start with what God might be thinking right now about the Church, specifically in the west, and how we're doing when it comes to unity.

It's so encouraging to hear you so passionate about this because this is more recent for me. I think I always looked at it as impossible, so I would just stick to my circle. Then, there's so many threats if you move outside of your circle. We live in such a weird time where you don't even have to change your views, but just being friends with someone from another denomination and exploring and listening and wanting to hear what they have to say can be threatening to your circle. I don't know if I'm right about everything. I mean, I used to think I was right about everything. You know, you graduate from seminary and you know everything, but the older you get, you go, "gosh, you seem like an incredibly godly man or a woman. And I feel like I have something to learn from you". When you start exploring that you might be off on one detail of your theology, you just get hammered by your own circle. It keeps people afraid to say maybe the circle is bigger than I thought, and maybe I'm starting to see some things in my own circle that I really don't like and don't think are accurate.

I just want to see where everything broke off because there was a time before denominations. You read Acts 4 and the full number of believers were one in heart and soul. All of them were one and had everything in common.

We are so far off. It shows that it was possible. 

Now that we've split off into these thousands of groups, it can feel impossible. But all it takes is for us to humbly come before Him and say, "God, I really want this. Would you do something? Even if it hurts or exposes us."

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WHAT KEEPS US FROM BEING UNIFIED?

Your book had me in tears because you say the thing that my heart is craving most. I do feel like if we could get this right in our generation, we would see revival, and I'm just so grateful that this is the topic you are tackling right now. I read Ephesians 4: We follow one, God, we are under one baptism, and we are one body. I read that, but that is just not our reality. What keeps us from that?

I think there's a lot that's going on that people don't realize. For example, like when I graduated from seminary: I really loved Jesus, but I was told that I've got to fix all these people, fix their theological views, and stay away from them. I really thought I was doing that in the name of Jesus - even to the point where I was mocking these other beliefs. 

I would say to just consider what you were taught, get to know people that may view things differently, and see if the spirit is in them. See if they truly believe in the blood of Christ washing over their sins and the Holy Spirit really sanctifying them. 

You end up meeting godly, godly people where you go, "whoa, his prayer life", or "the way she studies the scriptures is very convicting to me". Then you see the way they love others and go, "Ooh, that looks more like the Holy Spirit than what you could see in my life". It gets you to question yourself rather than telling everyone else that they're wrong. I think sometimes these things just kind of happen or we get going on them, and we're not trying to divide the church. I mean, that's a terrifying thought. It's just that we were doing it. We thought we were doing it in the name of Jesus. God just teaches you over time.

PURSUING UNITY & TRUTH 

So I hear you saying one of those things is protection, right?  I went to seminary, and I walked out with a lot of fear. I feared keeping everything in this little box and making sure this is what I believed. We do need protection. We've both seen people go off the rails into, outside of orthodoxy. There is tension. How do we move forward humbly learning, and we're not just accepting and undiscerning?

When you start pursuing unity, like you are right now, people will accuse you of wanting unity at the expense of truth. I've been accused of that recently. We need to fight for truth, but unity is not a stepchild that we don't care about as much. We're commanded to pursue both theological accuracy and holiness. God hates sin; therefore, we have to fight to purify the Church. We're not saying unify and follow what you think is right for you. There's a way to have it, and I'm not saying I know the best way. I'm just saying, okay, here are some ways that we can start first. 

First, would you just humble yourself and get in the presence of God. We have to realize we need Him for this and to pray for it. We have to pursue it and ask Him to expose any ways that we are off. I don't know how to do it. I just know I'm commanded to pursue holiness and theological accuracy as I pursue the oneness of the body of Christ. 

In your book, you talked about how holiness and theological accuracy do not immediately exclude each other.  The word of God says they're possible together. This is exciting to me. The darker the world gets, the less common it is to be a Christian in the west. The exciting thing happening in the underground church is unifying. It may not feel like it online, but I have seen streams come together in a way that I haven't ever seen before in my lifetime. That gives me hope. 

We don't have it perfectly spelled out in scripture. When you think about that first division in 1054, the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic suddenly were two churches. They were divided because they looked at one word and tried to figure out how to interpret it. Now we are a thousand years from that, and we're splitting over everything. I'm not saying I have the answer to all of that. I do have faith that there may come a day that you may teach some things that are just away from the core gospel. All we have biblically is 1 Corinthians 15, where the gospel is laid out there. To deviate from that falls into Galatians 1 because you're not teaching the same gospel. These days, people start to take anything someone says or believes, and they're divided over it. 

I believe the Holy Spirit leads me as long as I'm waking up with a genuine reverence for God. On my knees, I am trying to do what is right in the eyes of God. I want the unity God desires. I don't ever want to lead your church in the wrong way. Remembering God possesses all knowledge. I'm okay with specific groups of people hating me. This is not about me. It's about God's name being hallowed. 

I believe that God dwells with me and His spirit is in me because I trusted in the blood of Jesus. He will guide me in my conversations in these directions. I don't want my flesh to get in the way. I don't have answers to all of these things, but for now, I will just bow at God's feet and worship and adore Him. Just stare at Him in silence and gaze at his beauty. I've just got to believe the Spirit's going to lead me as I study, as I converse.

That's exactly right. It's not an easy thing for people to hear because what does that mean? How does the spirit lead you? And it's like, well, it's a relationship. There have been times that I have had to do the hard thing and choose truth above the relationship very publicly. It was excruciatingly hard for me as I'm a relational unity person. The Lord led me in those moments, and I knew it was right because of the relationship I have with God. I knew what He was asking me to do.

This is how I walk with God. Jesus said, " My sheep will hear my voice." I  know how to follow him, and I let the scriptures play out in my life as I walk with him. 

BEING WITH GOD AND NAVIGATING CELEBRITY CULTURE 

I think there's something unique right now in the world that you and I live in with the public sphere that causes this to be a little different from what the scriptures talked about, primarily relationships between individuals in local contexts. So talk to us a bit about how that has changed.

Something I've been very convicted about recently is trying to clear my mind. Peter says, "we have to be sober-minded" for the sake of our prayers. Trying to pray the Lord's prayer and mean every word of it without my mind wandering is so hard. I realized I talk too much. I've listened to interviews I did recently. I don't like to listen to myself, but I heard one interview, and I didn't like how I sounded. I sounded defensive and arrogant. I sounded like I wanted to fix these things and everything else. I didn't sound like a guy who has just been in God's presence. 

That doesn't sound like a guy who had just been saying, 'hallowed would be your name."  I was trying to protect mine. That is so wrong, and I don't want to be that person. So I need to sit in silence, and I figured out a way to decrease so that God can increase. 

This hasn't been the mindset of most ministers nowadays. And it hasn't been my mindset. There was this position of I must increase so that I can bring you up to Jesus. I must increase so that God can increase. I've got to figure out how the name Francis Chan doesn't draw people, but the name of Jesus does.

I've got to decrease. God helped me. I've had to stay away from social media because I know my competitive nature. I know my defensive side, and God helped me. He helped me figure out how to navigate this world of social media in a way that we make much of God. I must decrease. We need to get back to those sacred elements and remember this is about the body and blood of Jesus. It is about bowing before him, worshiping him, and getting more excited about the presence of Christ than we are of each other. This generation has to kill this whole celebrity culture somehow.

You know, I love what you're saying so much. Celebrity culture is one of my biggest fears. When I got my first publishing contract, I emailed your wife because I viewed you as someone fighting this celebrity culture. I saw you as someone trying to walk a public life and ministry in a way that brought glory to God. I knew God had called us to make disciples. I thought maybe I could do that with books. I was terrified that I'll get to heaven one day, and God would say that one day I went after this public ministry instead of intimacy with Him. 

I think what you're saying today, and in your book, there is not another answer. Our view of God will shape our view of people and our view of ourselves. I hear you saying that we need to get this right. Spend time with God, and the overflow of that time will be the thing we're craving. We're living in a noisy generation, and we have to cut out the noise - as the scriptures talk about cutting off your arm if it's causing you to sin. You've done this in a lot of different ways.

Yes, but I feel like there's more. The closer I've been to the Lord these last few weeks, I just want to sit here in God's presence and picture myself before the throne staring at him. The more I do that, the more I realize, wow, he doesn't need me to say so much. I think I'd be of more use to this world if I said less and spent more time in silence. Maybe God would speak and point me to something specific. Every morning with scripture, he does that, but perhaps it would be even stronger if I sought after him even more deeply. What if  I told you, "Hey, Jennie, I can give you three minutes because God told me to only speak for three minutes." I've just been wrestling with that and asking God if this is the next season of my life. Rather than flying around speaking ten times a day. Instead, being still before the Lord all day. And it seems like, amid all the noise, this might be the best direction for me to move because I hear so much external input.

This is what's new about our world right now. Never has any culture had this much external input, and it's messing up our minds and is detrimental to our prayer lives. I'm thinking about taking my family away to Hong Kong to talk, pray, and see if God doesn't meet us in a new way. We have to have faith that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. If we come before him as a family, putting aside the input of the world and wanting to experience God fully. 

I want to experience that with my family--a little more peace, more human interaction with no screens between us. I wonder if our prayers would be more meaningful and our experience of God be more significant. I want to read a passage of scripture. John 14: 21, "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.  Then Judah said to him, Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to and not to the world? Jesus answered him. If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him. And we will come to him and make our home with him."

God said that He would manifest himself to us. What does that mean? In my tradition, we just quickly move on. We pray this prayer but is there something more I can experience God on this earth? It's not just looking at creation and seeing the beauty of it. I know the creator and God is going to manifest himself in me. I don't know what it means to be filled with the fullness of God. 

I believe there's more to being a partaker of the divine than just accepting it in my head as truth. There's some sort of manifestation that I will see. I want to seek God and experience all I can have of God on this earth. Maybe all of this talking keeps me from really seeking God humbly and asking Jesus to manifest himself in me. 

Before my life end on this earth, I want to know I'm experiencing God and close to him. That out of the overflow of experiencing God, my mouth speaks. This means I will be humbled because no one who's been in the presence of God walks away boasting. The angels closest to him are the most humble, and all they can talk about is how holy he is. This will happen when we're close to him. So when we hear people speaking with arrogance, when I listen to myself talking with arrogance, it's just a sign that I was not close to him. 

MOVING AWAY FROM THE NOISE AND STANDING FIRM IN THE TRUTH

This could change everything if this were the place the church was. Suppose we were all before God humbly and connected to him. How could we be divided? How could we hate? How could we not listen and love him? 

I want to ask you a hard question. It's the question I ask myself sometimes when I'm listening to you. You are an oxymoron in that you are so passionate for the nations and that people have Jesus, which requires our words. You're also so passionate that we are with God and Jesus and do not use too many words. What is the relationship between those two things?

That's the tension I've tried to fight my whole life. Right now, I've noticed that I'm way too concerned about listening to other people and speaking to other people. God may call some people to that type of deep prayer and stay in it. As a culture, we're leaning on the other side of everyone talking. I believe that there's a power that will accompany the person who is close to God, that God abides in. If I spent more time meditating on him and adoring him, then when I did speak, it'd be so much more powerful. People talk about Acts 2 a lot and forget that in Acts 1, they were in that upper room for ten days. Peter gives a 5-minute sermon, and the birth of the beautiful church takes place. There were 3000 people, miracles, and everyone in awe. At first, they spent ten days in prayer. We kind of flipped that equation.  We give all of these messages for the next ten days and do a quick 10-minute prayer right beforehand. Look at what we're doing and where it's getting us. Do I think that my next podcast is going to change the world? The next book is what's going to do it. Everyone's thinking that. What if we all just went back to silence because we're in this impossible situation. In Exodus 14, when they were against the Red Sea, Moses says in verse 14, "the Lord will fight for us. We need only to be silent."

I think this is what we need right now. Everyone is trying, maybe out of a good heart, to say the things that will bring us together. God may be calling you to do that. I just know for me, I hear words come out of my mouth, and they're just coming out too quickly, too easily, too flippantly, rather than meaning every word.  I spent a week just praying the Lord's prayer because I want it to mean every word. I want to be one with every word coming out of my mouth and saying it to someone. I realized I say many things I don't mean, and I don't want to do that.  I want to speak less and speak from the core of my being. I want to use fewer words but mean the words I say.  I fear that some of my words were that noisy gong or claiming symbol because they were not said out of a love for God or a deep love for these people. I said it, and it was true, but it was just noise. 

I think about that verse a lot. All those things were noble, all the things in 1 Corinthians -  it was as noble as it gets to be a martyr. Yet if we don't have love, it's meaningless. In our culture right now this tendency, I do see that you have to be one thing or the other. There's this pressure to make a choice and a public choice. What are your thoughts about this? 

Well, I hear you cause there's a lot of pressure. For me right now, as an Asian American, there's a lot of people telling me to speak. I do not want to remain silent when there are victims involved. I know that a lot of your life is fighting for those whose voice has been silenced. Just last night, I was on a reservation in Arizona with an indigenous friend. I was sickened by my ignorance of what they've gone through. So there's a part of me that says, I need to speak out. I'm sick over this nation's history and what we've done to people.  I'm not saying we shouldn't speak up. I'm saying that if you look in scripture, there was a power. I think Paul speaks to that. He goes, you have all these other super-apostles and great communicators, and they're saying all these things. He says, "when I get there, let's see what kind of power they have" I don't want my power to just be, oh, I have a gift of communication that is flesh. Do you know what I mean?

If I was working for Chick-fil-a, I could market and sell their latest product. I can do that in the flesh, but there's a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. It's a spiritual gift with spiritual power that we supposedly have that will look different from just our natural ability. This comes from this deep communion and desire to use that gift for the common good of the church. I believe that something that Paul had because his passion was to live for Christ. There's that tension you were talking and referencing. Paul loved God so much that he wanted to die right then to be in God's presence. How many people do we hear talking like that? People who are obsessed with Jesus and can't wait to be with him.

Like Paul, I want to be obsessed with God. While I want to experience God, and I want him to manifest himself in me, I know there's something that's still greater, and I want more. When that is indeed there, the words that come out will be like, Elijah on Mount Carmel - just a few words with the power of God that accompanies it. I just think there's more for me to experience, but that won't happen until I stop talking so much. Stop striving, sit in more silence in the presence of God, and just stare at him and mean "hallowed be thy name" with the core of my being. 

We all need you to come off the mountain sometimes and remind us of all of this. Thank you for still using your words for that, because it does cause my heart to want the same things. Thank you for holding those tensions. I feel like it is a hard life. When I stop wrestling, I get complacent and too comfortable. You model this so well, and you help us keep fighting our sins. Let's keep fighting with everything that we might love more than God. Thank you for how you model it, and we'll still talk about it. Come off the mountain. Thanks for being here.

Jennie Allen

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