Monday, August 27, 2007

Preach the Gospel at all times; where necessary use words

This quote, attributed incorrectly to St. Francis of Assisi, is often used to discourage people from actually preaching the Gospel. It seems to me that one reason it's so popular is that it encourages people to do what they naturally would anyway. After all, look around: you will see lots of examples (not enough, of course) of people being nice to each other. Simply put, it makes us all - unbeliever as well as believer - feel nice to be nice. Being nice salves people's consciences and gives them plusses that they can pile up on that scale in their minds to balance out the minuses and (in their own minds at least) keeps them out of hell. Oh man, I fed my lustful thoughts and then lied about it ... well, let me give a few dollars to these homeless people to balance it off and keep myself in the "credit" column with God.

Don't think I lack sympathy with these people. All too often I would rather work my way back into God's good graces rather than facing the tragic truth that in my flesh dwells nothing good. Reminds one of the old prejudice about the Irish and Polish Catholics going out drinking and carousing all night, and then running in and confessing it in the morning. (It strikes me that while drinking and carousing isn't a good way to spend your night, it may at least bring you to true repentance and genuine conversion, far more likely than going to a lukewarm liberal church, giving to charities, and thinking you're getting an "in" with God.)

Anyway, Ray Comfort has a great column this month about this insidious little Franciscan saying. Read it, and I guarantee (at least, if you're a Christian) you'll never look at this saying the same way again. One small thing that I hesitatingly add is the quote you always hear on Way of the Master Radio: "What Bible verse is that?" There you hear "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life ... What Bible verse is that?" I would say, similarly:
Preach the Gospel at all times; where necessary use words... What Bible verse is that?
No matter how much one might respect somebody like St. Francis, we must give Scripture a greater weight, and nowhere there do we see this statement or even the sentiment. Scripture is about helping people, true, but I don't see it implying that we can really do that without taking care of their greatest necessity, the spiritual. It sounds very deeply spiritual to say "where necessary use words", but tragically it encourages us to do what we would naturally. Meanwhile, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that which he shed His own precious blood for, that which the martyrs died to proclaim, is preached less and less. We haughtily say we don't want to be "bullhorn guys," but silently we wish we could be as bold as them, and know we ought to be. We recite little sayings to make us feel better about our fear and timidity, and countless people are - no thanks to us - on their way to hell.

Update: Way of the Master radio has an update on this subject. "Run as fast as you can, where necessary use your legs ... it's a little hard to proclaim something [i.e. the Gospel] if you don't open your mouth." It's a classic.

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