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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Wimpy Gospel

Saint Francis . . . A Sissy?
- By Ray Comfort

One hundred and fifty thousand children had been on the brink of starving to death, but thanks to the kind gift of a very generous billionaire, every child now had enough food to keep him alive. That gift had arrived in the form of one big check. The horror was now over. It was finished. It was just a matter of distributing the food using the few relief workers we had. Without them to get the food to the children, there would have been many more deaths.

Some days later, a frantic worker burst into the camp and cried, "Some of the relief workers have stopped distributing food. Masses of children are dying!"

Why would the workers stop when there was plenty of food? It didn't make sense. The distraught man said, "It's because one of them held up a sign that said, 'Feed the starving children. Where necessary, use food.' That has caused some of the workers to simply befriend the starving children without giving them food. It's insane!"

The first time I ever heard of Saint Francis of Assisi was back in 1965. It was during the surf movie "The Endless Summer." Four surfers who were chasing the sun discovered the perfect wave, at a place in South Africa called "Cape Saint Francis." The sight of the perfect wave excited me beyond words.

The Unspeakable Gift

The next time I heard of him was when I heard that he said "Preach the Gospel at all times. Where necessary, use words." That statement upset me beyond words, because it was a philosophy that I knew sounded deeply spiritual . . . to those who were spiritually shallow. It made as much sense as "Feed starving children. Where necessary, use food."

On 16 July 1228 Francis of Assisi was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX. That's a long time ago, so it's a little late for questions, but if I could I would like to find out why anyone would say such a strange thing? Was it because he was fearful to use actual words to preach the truth of the Gospel? Or was it because he thought that people would see that he had good works and hear the message of salvation without a preacher, something contrary to Scripture's "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14).

Whatever the case, 800 years since Francis we have many who profess faith in Jesus, and are no doubt using this popular philosophy to justify being speechless. To them salvation truly is an "unspeakable" gift.

Recently someone told me about a conference where 100,000 Christians gathered to worship God. When I asked if they were exhorted to go out and preach the Gospel to every creature, it was no surprise to me that they weren't. Instead, they were exhorted to live a life of worship. Again, that sounds spiritual, but you can't worship God without obedience to His Word, and His Word commands us to preach the Gospel to every creature.

I regularly meet those who think they can obey the Great Commission without using words. When they hear the Gospel preached that are usually offended and say things like, "I appreciate what you are saying, but I don't like the way you are saying it." With a little probing, they are the relationship folks, who think preaching the Gospel means building relationships with the lost, and never mentioning words like "sin," "Hell," and "Judgment Day." They think that real love is to withhold the Bread of life from those that are starving to death. Remember that Jesus said, "Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38, italics added).

According to the dictionary, a "sissy" is "a timid or cowardly person." From what I understand of Saint Francis, he was no sissy. He was a loving man who was not afraid to use words when he preached. He wasn't frightened to preach repentance to a sinful world. However, there have been times when I could have been called that name. I have felt the grip of fear and have wanted to drop words such as sin, Hell, repentance and Judgment Day when I have preached to sinners. I don't want to come across as being unloving or judgmental, but I fear God more than I fear man. So when God's Word tells me to use words, I use words, despite the consequences.

Listen to the Apostle Paul's sobering warning to his hearers: "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20: 26-27). Perhaps he spoke about being free from their blood because he was familiar with God Himself warning Ezekiel of his responsibility to warn his generation: "When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand." (Ezekiel 3:18, italics added).

When someone thinks that they can feed starving children and not use food, that's their business. But when their philosophy spreads throughout the camp, it becomes an unspeakable tragedy. If we become passive about the Great Commission because we are more concerned about ourselves than the eternal well-being of others, we may be able to hide our motives from man, but not from God. He warns, "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Surely we did not know this,' does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?" (Proverbs 24:11-12).

There's an interesting irony to this story. After a little research I came across a quote about the famous saying. It is from someone who had been a Franciscan monk for 28 years--and had earned an M.A. in Franciscan studies. He co ntacted some of the most eminent Franciscan scholars in the world to try and verify the saying. He said, "It is clearly not in any of Francis' writings. After a couple weeks of searching, no scholar could find this quote in a story written within 200 years of Francis' death." (1.)

So if it wasn't Saint Francis who said not to use words, who was it? Who is it that would like to see the truth of the Gospel hindered from being preached to every creature? That doesn't need to be answered.

The time is short. The laborers are few. Please, cast off your fears and equip yourself to preach the Gospel with words. They are necessary.


Faithful Catholic said...

Hi Amy,

I've read Ray Comfort's piece on "preach the gospel always, when necessary use words." His take on the matter reminds me of this "to everything, there is a season. . ." and I recognize that there is a time and a place for everything.

A very good example of when I feel "preach the gospel always, when necessary use words" is an appropriate and effective method can be found in the second comment on Candy's latest post, "Answers to Susan." The woman, Melissa, talks about wanting to engage in church activities but, her husband, an atheist, objects. As she submits to her husband, she cannot do what she's feeling called to do. I'm interested to see how Candy will "advise" her, and I am guessing that she will advise that Melissa deomonstrate her own positive change and growth in a manner that will allow her atheist husband to recognize it as positive and hopefully persistently but gently lead her husband back to the Lord. If and when he sees the positive change in her, the Lord working through and in her life, he will hopefully want to follow. That would be good advice, and if I remember correctly, Candy has used that approach with others in the past. I believe that is an example of when it's prudent to preach the gospel without using words. What do you think?

motherofmany said...

I haven't read the comment so I cannot speculate as to what Candy should or would say, but I can guess at the general situation and and would say the gospel still must be preached with words.

We are told to have an answer for the joy within us, to not hide our light undear a bushel, to preach in season and out of season, etc. I think the difference would be that she should not cram it down his throat, but rather be sure that he understands that the reason she is deferring to him is because of her obedience to Christ first. While she is responsible to submit to her husband, she is MORE responsible to the laws of The Lord, and he calls us all to preach the gospel. I think it is the wrong advice to tell her to just be gentle and loving and never mention the gospel because then she will be guilty of neglecting to preach in season and out. It is also a secondary concern if she offends her husband, and I know that sounds harsh, but whether she sinned by marrying 'unequally yolked' or came to Christ after her marriage, the Bible clearly says that if he choses to leave because of her 'religion' she is freed.

I don't know what the part is about church activities, but that would have to be examined very closely. We are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves with other Christians, but we are not given a schedule and requirements of when, where, or for how long. So if she wants to be in the choir or something that is not necessary for serving and worshipping, I would say she needs to deferr to him. Besides, she has a much greater mission need right at home than at church. If he is forbidding her to go to any kind of study or meeting or even have other Christians over or speak aloud of the Bible, she will have to defy him.

I understand the sentiment behind the saying "Preach the gospel always: if necessary, use words". I used to have a plaque with that very saying on it. But the danger is that so many people are now using the silent gospel instead of it being that they preach the gospel with words and the rest of their minutes are filled with visible witness. Kirk Cameron said it best when he talked about being a new Christian and on fire to share the Word, but afraid of people, He said he would give them 'that smile' and assumed they knew what it meant.

Our lives have to be a constant display of the gospel in action, but we cannot be remiss in sharing the Word because THAT is what converts the soul, not a smile!

On a side note, it is good to hear from you. I have to admit that I was hurt to read your words that I went back and forth between being nice and not so nice. I could remember nothing I said to you that was not said in love and with a great deal of respect. Even when it was intense debate, I never felt I was mean to you. I had been gone from the blog world for a while, and when I returned I found myself the target of such character assassination, I delted that blog address and will not return.

Faithful Catholic said...

Hi Amy,

Thanks for responding so quickly. I am truly sorry if I have said anything since our last exchange on Elena's blog that was hurtful or ugly to or about you. Honestly, I don't remember having done it. I wouldn't know where to start looking to see what I said but, I think it would be helpful to me to be able to remember it and take full responsibility for it. I'll look when I have time but, I've commented many, many times over there and it will take a good while for me to find it. At any rate, until I do, please forgive me for whatever it is I've said to hurt or offend you.

I have pretty much decided that I won't respond to any person's comments that provoke me, in attempt to avoid falling into sin in that way which is so easy for me. I've temporarily closed my own blog where I addressed some of those issues that got me riled up because I recognized that it was not constructive or productive for me or anyone else. I'm waiting to repost there until I'm certain that I won't be drawn back into the negativity.

Anyway, I'm very much conflicted about the necessity of words when preaching and am also very interested in how people approach situations like the one presented by Melissa. I think, depending on how this is handled, this situation could turn out very well or very poorly. I mean there is so much about this specific situation that we don't know and could only speculate. I have to rely on my own experience and those of others to see how these issues might best be addressed or resolved. In my experience, when confronted with someone who does not know Christ, and who is completely resistant to literally hearing His word, I've found that there are many ways to draw the person in, not the least of which is to lead by example.

In other words, if I am talking to the void, rather than lose the person altogether, I preach through action, preach through example, preach through the way I live my faith. I have but to look at those who were steadfast examples to me, who bade me to follow rather than continuing to talk when I so clearly had tuned out their words. This is when I was young, at that age when I felt I had heard and knew it all. Not willing to listen but, still willing to be with the few who lived their faith, lived their lives for the Lord. It was compelling to watch their devotion, witness their joy and peace, recognize that I wanted what they had. I saw far more than just a smile. I saw true devotion to the Lord. I saw the words, the teachings in action. I saw true, honest dedication and what it means to love the Lord with all you heart, with all your mind and with all your strength, what it means to love your neighbor as yourself, as the Lord loves each of us. Watching and wanting necessitated me asking questions and of course, the answers to those questions had to be answered with words to which I then was ready to listen. Not just words, THE WORD. I was not ignorant of the Word, believe me, I had heard and read it but, not yet had I begun to internalize it. In these few others, THE WORD came alive for me.

So, while I am not afraid to use words or THE WORD, I do believe, in some cases, first fostering and maintaining a relationship will open the door to opportunities to use the actual words.

These are just my thoughts and experiences, not meant to disagree or argue. Again, I apologize for any hurt or pain I have caused you. God bless you and keep you.

Faithful Catholic said...

Hi Amy,

Thank you for giving me that link. It saved me a great deal of time (which I don't have much of right now.) I'm glad you were able to show that to me. Again, I do hope you will accept my sincere apologies. I really did not mean to hurt your feelings. I know it must have sounded like I was being ugly. It's so hard to read peoples' tone and intent into these comments. That's precisely why I've decided not to comment when I feel angry about what others' have said because I don't want to assume things that they might not intend and just fuel the fire, so to speak. I think you'll agree that when people talk about their faith and the differences they have regarding faith with others, especially when we hold that faith so dearly and place our belief and understanding and relationship with the Lord above all else, it can be hard to hear others be critical and it can be easy to criticize as well. On the internet, it's easy to see others as no more than their words or statements.

This whole thing (finding all the anti-Catholic stuff on the internet) is really baffling to me because, though I know there are people out there who don't like Catholics, not just disagree theologically but, really don't like Catholics, I'm sure I've met them in person but nobody has ever said anything ugly to me directly. Do you know what I mean? And, I have to say that, since I've moved to the South, the only Catholics I spend time with are my family and two friends, aside from people at church. So, what I'm trying to say is that the vast majority of people I spend time with are not Catholic. We talk about our faith all the time and never, ever does it get ugly. I think that's the difference between trying to communicate on the internet and in person. See, when I first saw your blog I thought that you and I would have a great deal in common. I work with foster children and train foster parents and do home studies, etc. I have the utmost respect for those special people who are willing and able to foster and adopt children.

I do get agitated, irritated, frustrated, what have you when I feel people are being critical without understanding. It's caused me to say hateful things. I am sorry I directed any of that toward you. I hope you'll be able to forgive me.

motherofmany said...

All is forgiven, and please forgive me for anything I said to offend you. It was not my intent.

Bless you!