Monday, January 17, 2005

When are words necessary?

Lately I've noticed that the things that seem the most ironic (or perhaps coincidental) may actually be things that God puts out there to make us think more about something we may have been initially inclined to think about only a little bit.

This Sunday, our Pastor talked about Jesus choosing His disciples and the first acts of healing they performed as they traveled. Towards the end of the sermon he talked about how we as a small church in a small town can affect the world, but that in order to do that we have to obey God and we have to go out there and do something. And then he quoted St. Francis of Assisi, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel -- if necessary, use words."

I wrote that down in my notes with a question mark. Growing up in the Catholic church, I'd heard that saying many times before, but in the last few years, something about it always struck me as odd. I made a note that said, "I understand that we have to go and show love to the people of the world - Christ's love - but if we don't tell people that the love and compassion come from Christ, how will they know we be preaching the Gospel?"

And I didn't think anymore about it.

Then today I was reading this guest post by Mark Sides at Stones Cry Out. The initial theme of the post was about whether or not Christian aid workers in the Tsunami region should evangelize while serving there.

While reading the post, I immediately remembered the St. Francis quote from Sunday morning and my repeated misgivings about it. Sure enough, at the end of Mark's post, what do I see, but this:
Besides, providing aid is a form of witness, and perhaps a more powerful witness at that. As St. Francis of Assisi said, "[p]reach the Gospel -- if necessary, use words."

Overall, I think Mark has some good points about the whole question. In the case of the Tsunami, the victims needs aid. However, I would be deeply troubled if I thought that aid workers were at all hesitant to share the Gospel because they are there under the banner of "aid worker." Christians are Christians first and foremost, we do a lot of things in our lives, but at no time should we be worried about sharing the Gospel, of course in the "wise and sensitive manner" that Mark suggests, for we should not be "not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" [Romans 1:16].

Additionally, I think the quote by Gospel for Asia's KP Yohannon in the Crosswalk article is important to consider:
Now when we talk to people about death and eternity and what is to come, I can tell you -- strike while the iron is hot

That is especially true if, as he says, that people in the area are more "receptive to the Gospel" which is certainly likely after so much death and destruction. The purpose of Gospel for Asia is to work and serve in that region. They know the mood of many of the native peoples and they have worked for years to understand how best to reach them for Christ.

Also, what characterizes the "activist" approach that Mark refers to? I ask that question, not only in the context of the Tsunami, but in the larger context of preaching the Gospel. I may not just go up to people and say "Hey, what do you think about Jesus? Have you confessed Him as your Savior and Lord of your Life?" However, I would say things like "Praise the Lord" or "Thank you Jesus" or "God really worked this and such out for me" when sharing a story of something God did in my life. I consider those to be active approaches and a way to share the Good news of Christ without doing something that may seem pushy.

In other words, I think we all can show that love that Christ has for others, by actively sharing about the love, grace and mercy that God has shown to us in our lives.

Obviously this is a large and difficult question, and I am strongly considering revisiting it soon, and encourage others to do so as well.

But if I had to answer my question up there right now, I would say "Yes, words are necessary." Words, especially words that testify to the power of the Gospel, are the only things that separate the understanding of our motivation. Some people just like to do good things for people, and that's great. But ideally, Christians like to help people because their love for God and God's love for them compels them to do so. If Christians desire to "preach the Gospel" through their actions, then it seems they must use some words to explain that that is what they are doing.