We’ve bought the line, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”
[This quote has been falsely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. See Gospel Coalition‘s and Christianity Today‘s treatment of the myth of this quote ]
A couple years ago, our family visited a booming church on the East coast. A representative from a humanitarian organization was speaking that day to the congregation and we listened to his stories about Africa and poverty and children. His message pinnacled around one particular story about a shy, little African boy. The story is fuzzy in my mind, but it involved this American befriending the boy and eventually giving him a pink ball that made this boy smile. The pastor, interviewing the man, commented at the end of the story, “That, my friends, is the gospel.”
My husband and I got into the car after the service and he asked me unsuspectingly, “So, what did you think about the service?” I was all smiles, thinking about children in poor countries being loved on. “It was great. I’m so glad that church is making a difference. “Yeah, but what about what the pastor said?” I wasn’t sure. “What did he say?” “He said that giving that boy a pink ball was the gospel. I am all for humanitarian work, but is it the same thing as ‘the gospel’?”
“Okay…well, gosh, Colby…It kind of is…“
“A picture of the gospel is different than the gospel.”
I think I probably rolled my eyes, annoyed that he was being so picky, splicing hairs, and being overly critical of the pastor.
He went on. “That is the danger for our evangelical Christian churches. Instead of preaching the gospel, they are assuming the gospel. They ASSUME that everyone already knows that the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. So, they don’t talk about that. And they confuse the gospel by saying that it’s the same as giving someone a pink ball.”
I sat and listened to him, as he got more and more passionate, leaning forward as he drove, pounding on the steering wheel as his stand-in pulpit. I looked around at the people we were sitting next to in traffic. Probably forced a smile so they wouldn’t be alarmed.
That conversation took place five years ago. Since that conversation, I’ve begun to see it.
We’ve bought the line, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Yes, I get the sentiment. Yes, showing love and taking care of people’s physical needs are essential. Yes, our words will mean nothing if our actions are unloving, unkind, uncaring and arrogant. Yes, actions speak louder than words. But, then…let’s not stop short of speaking actual words.
The gospel is the good NEWS of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When’s the last time you read a newspaper that only used words “if necessary?” We have been commissioned to share this message. Words ARE necessary.
If Jesus’ disciples hadn’t used WORDS, would the gospel have made it to you?
Perhaps this quote sums it up a bit better: Speak the Gospel. Use deeds when necessary.
What about you? Does your church do a good job making the gospel clear? Is it easy for you to love on people, but hard for you to bring up the gospel? Yeah, me too…let’s pray for each other…we can’t do this on our own…
Published May 5, 2014