In the first talk he ever gave to a Catholic audience, Francis Chan shared that, far more than whether people label themselves “Catholic,” “evangelical” or anything else, he cares that people truly know Jesus. Chan made it clear he’s not on a one-man crusade to promote ecumenism. But he is concerned that many people who grew up in the evangelical and Catholic traditions are deceived into thinking they have peace with God.
“There’s a crisis in these two camps of all these people who are going through the motions,” said Chan. “It’s not an evangelical problem, it’s not a Catholic problem, it’s just a problem.”
Loving Jesus Leads to Ecumenism
At the beginning of his talk, Chan described the process of meeting people like Matt Maher and Audrey Assad (who are Catholic), seeing a true faith in God in them, and realizing it is possible to be Catholic while having a genuine faith in Jesus. Chan believes there is a tendency for evangelicals to see the problems in the Catholic church and for Catholics to see the problems in the evangelical church, all while each side thinks the other is oblivious to its own issues.
But then, Chan said he and a group of evangelicals got to have a meeting with the pope where the pope expressed his concerns that Jesus was not at the center of the Catholic church. That experience was eye-opening for Chan and helped him realize that Catholic church leaders did see the problems in their own community, just as he sees the problems in his.
So what is Chan’s main concern for evangelicalism? He believes that many people who attend an evangelical church simply grew up in church, but don’t really know Jesus. They might love Passion, Hillsong or John Piper, but they don’t love Christ. Chan compared knowing and loving Christ to being in love with a person, and he highlighted the expressiveness that being in love brings to people’s faces: “My biggest concern is when I talk to people who call themselves Christians, I don’t see that look in their eyes when they talk about the person of God.”
Chan referred to Matthew 7 several times during his talk, particularly verses 21-23 which read,
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”
Chan has a deep concern for people in the evangelical church who think they are believers, but will one day face Christ only to have him say these words to them. “I’m not judging,” Chan said, “I’m just scared.” Francis Chan has a similar concern for people in the Catholic church who grew up observing the sacraments and think that following those rituals makes them right with God. He said, “I don’t know if Jesus Christ is really the Lord of their lives.”
Ecumenism Recognizes True Believers
But just as there are many people in the evangelical and Catholic traditions who don’t know Jesus, there are also true believers on both sides. Yes, there are times when you meet people who talk about Jesus without seeming to have a relationship with him. But, Chan pointed out, “There are those times when you meet people, you talk Jesus, you talk about the Scriptures and they just come alive. And then you find out later—wait, you’re Catholic?”
Chan emphasized the importance of moving away from focusing on labels, whether Catholic, Reformed, Charismatic or Baptist: “The more I talk to people and I get to know people and not care about their labels…I see the spirit of God in certain people.” And it is the Holy Spirit, said Chan, that empowers us to love our brothers and sisters, no matter which “camp” they fall into. He alluded to 1 John 4:20, which says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
“I can’t hate Matt Maher,” said Chan. “It’s impossible for me.” The transforming, indwelling love of God makes it impossible. Chan also addressed the criticism he’s gotten from certain people in the evangelical world for his ecumenism and for associating with believers of other camps, such as Mike Bickle, the director of the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City, Missouri. Chan spoke at IHOP’s Onething conference, and he told his Catholic audience, “You guys have no idea how much flak I got for speaking at Onething the first time…It wasn’t fun.” People called him a false prophet, which was hurtful, but, “I can’t not love this other part of the family…I see the Spirit of God in them.”
While Chan’s view promotes ecumenism, he said he is not on a mission to unite the global church. He just wants, one step at a time, to be obedient to the Holy Spirit. He is hopeful, however, that the younger generation of believers cares less about labels and more about whether people are truly following Christ. Whether or not people know Jesus is what really matters and is at the core of what Chan himself cares about the most. “I care about that,” he said, “I don’t care what title you give yourself. I’m concerned you don’t know God.”