francis of assisi was wrong :: use words

April 19, 2011

You can’t show someone the gospel with a sandwich…

BAM. Here we go.  I’m stirring the pot. Somewhere out there, one of you is sick of the church giving lip service to love. You read that first line and just winced a little bit. In fact, this is the epitome of the gospel to you… loving people in Jesus name. Feeding the hungry. Hands-on love of the broken and wounded and penniless and hopeless. After all, Jesus talked about the least of these, right? And faith without works is dead, right? And the greatest commandment is “love God,” and we do that best by loving people, RIGHT? You remember this quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

It’s a great line.  Someone out there has written this quote in your journal, and it has changed your life.  The way you think about the Gospel and what you’re here for has been forever changed.  Praise God that you are hungry to serve Him and love people.  I mean that.  So don’t let this dampen the fire of your love…

Francis of Assisi was wrong.

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  Paul reminds us (because we tend to forget) EXACTLY what the clear, unadulterated Gospel message is… the one Paul would give his life for:  (1) Jesus died for our sins. (2) He was buried. (3) He was raised on the third day.

That’s it. It’s a clear message.  No sandwiches involved.  Love and service are a natural and healthy RESPONSE to the Gospel, but can never be mistaken for the message itself.  Jesus penal substitutionary atonement for our sin, and His victory over death in the Resurrection are the heart of the Gospel.  It is a message that must be PROCLAIMED… it cannot be shown.

You can show His love.  You can show your love for Him.  You can show the world a different way to live, and you can give yourself away in love and service to others.

But you are not sharing the Gospel unless you proclaim it. You’ve got to tell people who Jesus is and what He has done, because THAT is what has the power to save souls.

If we do not proclaim the clear message that our only hope is faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone, then Christ ceases to be our substitutionary atonement and becomes merely our example.  Is it possible that the people we serve will misunderstand the heart of our faith?  That when we sign on to the Christian faith, we are obligated to earn back favor with God?  I see it on bumper stickers and church bulletin boards…  Christ died for you – are you living for Him?  WWJD?  Serve like Jesus.  Love like Jesus.  Live like Jesus.
It is an impossible standard.  Instead we must serve, love, and live BECAUSE of Jesus.
For those of you who are sick of watching hurting people suffer because the Church talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk, I empathize deeply with your holy discontent.  However, we cannot SUBSTITUTE walking the walk for talking the talk.  Maybe we ought to start with the walk… but we must talk, too.
Over the past several years the Emergent conversation has been reexamining Christian faith, and what it means to be a Christ follower… and what it means to be saved.  Somehow definitions that have for centuries been bedrock biblical truths have become mired in conjecture and postmodern equivocation.  Some now see salvation as something we work out and experience here on earth by serving the needy and the poor, caring for others, caring for the environment, etc.
The Emergent redefinition of salvation fundamentally wrecks the Gospel, because it takes away the gift and replaces it with an obligation.  The Gospel through this lens is a transfer from grace received to something we do.  Galatians 5:1 reminds us:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
I believe we experience salvation here and now, too.  But it is in and through the finished work of Jesus, who died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.  I believe we are called to love and serve the hurting and needy, to be good stewards of the earth, and to give our lives away in Jesus’ name.  But it is all a response.
Because HE loved us, make those sandwiches.  Feed the hungry ones.  But you can’t show someone the Gospel with a sandwich.  Love ’em, and then tell ’em WHY.
Our friend Francis of Assisi was off the mark.
We proclaim the Gospel.
Then we live in light of it.
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“francis of assisi was wrong :: use words” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

14 responses to francis of assisi was wrong :: use words

  1. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. But such a struggle, too. It seems like I always fall into the habit of excluding one of the two; either loving people without sharing the Truth with words, or speaking the Truth without demonstrating love in my actions. When I’m with my non-Christian friends, it’s easier to show them love (aka “be nice”), but avoid the controversy that springs up at the name of Jesus. God’s really been tearing me up over a friend of mine who needs to hear the truth. I’ve been his friend for years, and I’ve shared the gospel with him before, but I guess I usually tend to avoid it unless it somehow comes up in conversation. THANK YOU for this reminder.

    • Thanks for your encouragement, Liz. Your friend needs a frank conversation. If you have a good relationship with him, I think you most likely have earned the right to talk with him about what matters most to you. It would be the same coming from him, right?

      Be bold and courageous. You can’t save anyone, anyway. Only Jesus does that work. So let yourself off the hook. The results are up to God.

      But He might want to use you to make an eternal difference in someone. Just saying. 🙂

      God bless you, Liz. Always love to hear your thoughts.

  2. Great reminder, Josh. Living in light of the incredible Gospel story can often by a very effective tool for proclaiming the message, and could even be considered necessary to your sharing of the story, but should never be a replacement. “Love ‘em, and then tell ‘em WHY” is a perfect mission statement. Thanks!

    • Thanks Andrew! Glad you’re getting in on the conversation here. I think I may use “Love ’em and tell ’em WHY” as a summary of my evangelism strategy from now on. I hadn’t thought of it from a “mission statement” perspective, but you’re right. It kind of sums it all up. Thanks again for checking in. God bless!

  3. This will probably not be your most popular observation, but you have proclaimed the truth. What you have said runs counter to the voice of the world but succeeds in giving Jesus the glory He earned. This reader says Amen. I would rather offend another human being as much as I dislike doing so than to stand some day and have them point an accusing finger my direction and say, “You knew the truth and didn’t tell me!”. We certainly do need to be light and show the love of God in our lives but we must proclaim the gospel. As Paul said to Timothy, “Preach the Word”. If we could by kindness and good works atone for our sins and draw near to God then Jesus’ prayer in the garden to be spared the agony of the cross would have been answered by His loving Father. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was the only way to reconcile God and man. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

    • Amen, Paul. We’re on the same page here. This is the heart of it: we ought to love people well because God commands it, and fulfilling the commands of God is an act of joyful worship for the redeemed heart. Further, loving people well means more than physical or emotional care. It means SOUL-care. And caring for the soul means sharing the truth of the Gospel in clarity, not in attitude only. The Gospel is a message to be proclaimed. Thanks as always for your thoughts brother! God bless you and your family.

  4. Great post Josh, as always!
    This might be tangential, but here I go anyway… It might intersect, you never know.
    I was looking at a picture of a section of the Milkyway, the photographer had pieced it together from a handful of photos. It was breathtaking and then I scrolled down to the comments, which were not.
    One viewer had commented something about not being able to look at the photo without seeing God’s hand at work, I felt the same way. Then the flames roared. Some people just were simply dismissing the commenter’s sentiments with meh-like responses, but others responded with, not so subtle, vitriol. I don’t want to read too far into it because the internet is full of trolls. The question I pose is how could someone make this observation without receiving this type of a response?
    I don’t like the idea that some forums can’t be used to glorify God… no pun intended with ‘forum.’ Am I being idealistic? Or flat out wrong?

    • Nate – thanks for joining the discussion dude. On a side note, I want to eat lunch with you. Now, back on topic…

      I think that speaking highly of the God we love DOES honor Him, no matter the forum, and no matter the response. Further, I always think of posting what I post anywhere online as a means of ADDING to the intellectual stew. IF I am worried about the RESPONSE it will prompt, I am using these forums as a means to receive something. While it is great to interact with friends and I gain clarity in my thinking everyday by examining other people’s posts and comments and questions, the truth is, you almost have to be willing to present what you think without concern for how others will respond if you want to say things that matter. Many will disagree when you speak the truth. That’s just reality.

      So I say, in almost any forum, let Jesus be seen in you. It honors Him.

      Of course, it is helpful to be prepared to clarify, restate, or defend (if you think it is necessary) your point of view if you open the door with a comment. I, for example, sometimes read through atheists blog sites and comment threads to understand how they think. I almost NEVER post some contrarian Jesus-centered scripture-based nugget in that context, because I know it is a tar-baby. I know it will be red meat to a den of lions, and I will be surrounded and jumped upon by a number of people who have no intention of changing their heart or mind. That doesn’t intimidate me in any way, I just think that effoort won’t bear much fruit. So unless I feel a clear leading from God to interject the truth in a setting like that, I just don’t.

      Having given that rambling disclaimer… live your faith transparently, brother. On and off line. Vitriolic comments from strangers can’t really do you any harm unless you allow them access to your heart, right? And in what other context do we listen to the opinions of strangers about things that matter deeply to us? None that I can think of.

      Anyway, it is a fascinating and sometimes sad commentary on the psychology of people who feel safely anonymous enough at their computers to say things they would likely NEVER say to a person’s face. That anonymity emboldens the carnal core of man. I hope I can be the same guy online as I am face to face. That means equally respectful and bold with my faith.

      God bless you and Jess. I love you guys and miss you. 🙂

  5. I’m shuffling my feet a little.

    Quibble much?

    Christianity isn’t about philosophy. it’s about transformed reality. It’s active and dynamic and alive. It’s not a list of assertions on a sheet of paper. It’s regeneration and change and wild surpassment [Ed.: I just made up a word, I know] of expectations.

    I don’t think St. Francis was saying that the underlying facts were unimportant. I think he was saying that they mean a lot more to you than they do to the person you’re sharing them with unless you’re ready to show them what dying for someone looks like.

    One takes an ability to communicate. The other takes a willingness to sacrifice. Jesus didn’t say he wanted (just) our pencils and Tweets and blogposts. He said he wanted everything.

    I’m kinda thinking that what St. Francis said is a superset of what you said.

    • DING DING DING!! You win the prize for favorite blog comment of the week. And I say that because you have opened the door here for a conversation that needs to be had. So thanks for quibbling. I’m not sure if it will put your mind at ease or make you even more frustrated to know that I actually agree with you pert’ near 100%.

      And now, to quote the venerable Mandy Patinkin, “Let me explain… there is too much. Let me sum up.”

      You said: “Christianity isn’t about philosophy. it’s about transformed reality. It’s active and dynamic and alive. It’s not a list of assertions on a sheet of paper. It’s regeneration and change and wild surpassment of expectations.”

      I say: AMEN! Absolutely yes. In fact, Christianity is so dynamic and alive that it requires made-up vocabulary. Words just can’t capture living faith. Blog posts, on the other hand, must often sacrifice nuance for potency. What I lose in exacting specificity witrh a club of a title like “Francis of Assisi Was Wrong,” I gain in punch – which brings more readers into the conversation – which I believe will bear more fruit.

      A more careful discussion of these issues can then be explored in the comment threads with those who want to engage. If I were crafting my blog title with a paint brush instead of a club, it would have been more like, “I realize that Francis of Assisi was using reductionist language to make a point about puting your faith in action as a means of communicating the Gospel with more effectiveness, but I belive many of you need to be encouraged to SPEAK what you belive, because many of you are loving people well but not connecting the dots to the true mnessage of Jesus substitutionary death for the forgiveness of sins.”

      “The dude was wrong” works better for Twitter.

      Truth is, Jeff, I give good ol’ Francis the benefit of the doubt. I really don’t mean to trash his good name. Maybe I should take that a little more seriously, but he’s not here… I guess I wouldn’t ever feel right about taking a living pastor’s words out of context to draw readers, so maybe I shouldn’t feel that freedom with dead saints, either. In this case, though, I think the this particualr quote (which may very well NOT have come from Francis anyway) has started to gain the kind of pop-sub-culture status among the 20-something Christians coming through and just out of college that WWJD held ten years ago. It is a bumper sticker now. And it does (on its face) communicate (out of context) that you actually CAN share the Gospel without ever speaking about Jesus.

      I actually agree with your last line. But the pedulum swings. Some days, I am prompted to encourage the Church to LIVE what they say. (see the first link under “related posts” below as one of several examples) Today (and lately) I’ve felt prompted to encourage the mobile, active, hands-of-Jesus church to TELL PEOPLE why they love so much. It’s both/and. Speaking and living in response to the message. Both are necessary. I think you and I and Francis all agree on that.

      Love hearing from you, brother. Push back on my thoughts any time. You make me think, and that deepens my faith and hopefully will make me a better communicator. God bless.

  6. We’ve definitely over-applied the statement. Where Assissi was directing comments towards people who talked and talked and did nothing, we’ve taken his directive to do and do and say nothing. Either extreme is wrong.

    There are – *gasp* – many nice people doing nice, noble, and great things for others.

    If we don’t share that we do what we do because of the Gospel, then there is nothing to separate us from anyone else, and nothing that directs anyone we do something for to anything outside themselves.

    • Hey there Rich. Really glad you joined our conversation. I agree with you on this. And yes, the world is full of people doing great works of compassion. I think that reflects God’s image in everyone – even the unsaved reflect some of His personality. I long for the Church to be known for their LOVE of people AND their love of God. We who are the Light-bearers should be LEADING the rest of the world by example. So I love seeing joyful, forgiven Christians giving their time and energy and resources and, as Paul did, “Sharing their very hearts” with people in need. I just hope that one or two (or a hundred) that read this post recognize how important it is to also share the good news of Jesus – with words. I loved your last sentence both as a reminder to make the Gospel known as we serve, but also as a reminder that we serve out of our joy and freedom, not out of religious obligation or duty. We’re not paying God back for what He has done for us. He did it all. I think living IN Him means He lives THROUGH us, and it is a relationship of mutual joy, and it bears much fruit.

      Thanks again Rich. God bless you today.

  7. Needed this kick in the pants this morning, Josh…thanks!

    • Hey Ben. Glad to provide a needed kick once in awhile. I sure need my daily boot in a variety of ways. Thanks for checking this out. God bless.