St. Frances of Assisi

St. Frances of Assisi is reported to have said:

“Preach the gospel always, and when necessary, use words.”

I remember the first time I heard that. Just like half those in attendance that day for chapel at DTS, we all went, “Awesome! What profundity!” Or some blather like that. We did that because on the surface of the statement, it sounds so biblical and Christ centered. It basically means that if we get our lives right, then we won’t have to use words at all when it comes to sharing the gospel. People will naturally be drawn to us, because our lives are so spectacular and special, they will see the greatness of who we are, and then, when they ask how we became so great, we can remember to point them to Christ.

Ah! What wisdom! What insight! What heresy!

Don’t get me wrong. I respect St. Francis of Assisi. I’m not sure in what context he was making the statement. But as it is presented, it is heresy.

Why?

For several reasons. The first is the one that always bothered me. God has chosen to advance the gospel through the preaching of His word. 1 Corinthians 1:21 and Romans 10:14ff. These sections show that we are to preach the gospel to those for salvation. This is His chosen means to advanced the Kingdom. Not living out the gospel.

Which brings me to my second problem with the statement. It assumes we can live out the gospel and truly puts an unnecessary burden on the life of the believer because it says: “If we want to see people come to know Christ, then your life must be perfect.”

Sorry, but we cannot ever live to that level of perfection. If we could, there would be no need for the gospel at all. All we would need to do is try harder in life, getting our life perfect, and see great hordes of people coming to know Christ. If this is what must be done, for anyone to come to know Christ, no one would.

The reality is that even though we are saved, (I’m writing to believers), we are STILL sinners. Our lives are imperfect and we still need the gospel in our lives. To place Assisi’s statement on us, is truly a wretched form of legalism. It shouldn’t be done.

The third problem I have with Assisi’s statement, as presented, is that we are NOT the gospel. Let me see if I can be clear on this. Jesus Christ is the gospel. He is the One that lived the perfect life, fulfilled the Law, satisfied God’s wrath, died on the cross on our behalf and was raised again from the dead. That IS the gospel. WE are NOT the gospel We are never to preach ourselves, but to preach Christ crucified. He is the One that brings salvation, not His children living the perfect life, or best life now.

The best way to understand evangelism, and sharing the gospel, is that we are all sinners in need of Christ. Not: “I’m already saved, so you need Christ, because I’ve reached a wonderful level of perfection, you wretched sinner!” We are all in need of the Savior, and that Savior is Jesus Christ, not the church, not those in it.

I believe once the church starts getting this point correct, we might truly see a revival or a reformation. But as long as we are preaching ourselves as the gospel, the church will remain small and shallow. The gospel needs to be preached… by proclamation, not by our lives. To think otherwise, is to place ourselves in the pace of Christ. That is heresy.

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