I recently was in a casual conversation when a friend of mine, another believer in Christ, mentioned that he’d been serving somewhere and “incarnating” the gospel. I said something to the effect of “That’s an interesting way to put it. Were you able to share the gospel with them?” his response was a slightly back peddling “Well I only use words when necessary.” This is a common sentiment particularly among the MacArthur termed Young Restless and Reformed and much of the evangelical youth on up to my own peers, the 20 somethings.
This, naturally sent me off into the cloud of confusion that usually results in some reading, some prayer, some contemplation and the eventual establishment of a principal I try to live by.
My friend’s reference was to words attributed to St. Francis of Asissi, the Franciscan monk, scholar, and hymn writer. The complete alleged quote is “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary”. The Franciscans were an ascetic order which took vows of extreme poverty. Most authorities on the matter do not consider these words likely to have been said by Francis himself.
More concerning than the validity of the quotation, however, is the upsetting set of theological implications that are to be dealt with if it is indeed possible and (it would seem) preferable to preach the gospel without using words. Here are a few of the issues that immediately come to mind as I consider the quotation.
1. Preaching is an inherently verbal practice.
The Bible never uses the term “preaching” or “teaching” in any way except one of a verbal nature. “And then Jesus preached to them by washing their feet.”? I don’t think so. Our service can certainly confirm our words but I think we’d be hard pressed to express the width and breadth of the good news of Jesus Christ coming to earth only by our actions. I wonder if Paul could have performed on his claim in Acts 20:27 if he were only given the gift of service and not of preaching or teaching.
2. The Gospel is Jesus Christ, not me.
A turn of phrase that often accompanies quotes like this is the “being” of the gospel. “that poor old woman just needs someone to be the gospel to her.”, or “we just need to be the gospel to those starving children in Africa.” These sentiments attempt to get at the point that we should do something about the suffering of our fellow man, but they also try to create an equality that doesn’t exist. I am NOT the gospel. Jesus IS the gospel. I am not good news to anyone unless I bring them to Jesus. I do not have the power to save them from sin. Jesus does! What I need to do is be a Christian to those in need.
Just a little food for thought….