“Preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words.” This phrase, attributed to St. Francis, comes up frequently when we talk about sharing the Gospel. The expression certainly has an appeal as a critique of an “all talk and no action” hypocritical Christianity. We Lutheran Christians are often, shall I say, a bit shy when it comes to talking about our faith. We want to distance ourselves from the “Bible thumping” overly aggressive Christians and so we really like the thought that our actions will not only speak louder than words but even make our words unnecessary. Without a doubt, our actions can speak volumes–for better or worse. Nevertheless, even though the statement has some positives, it has a real problem.
You see the Gospel, the good news, is words. It is a message. It is the Word and words. The Gospel is not something we do or even “live out.” The Gospel is not our actions. The Gospel is God’s decisive action in Jesus of Nazareth, declared with its significance—the forgiveness of sins and defeat of death for all who believe. We have to use words because the Gospel is “news.” It is an event. It is a story. As important as our actions are in laying a foundation for others to hear the news, ultimately, our hope is that more and more people will hear the message and believe. I fear that the “if necessary,use words” part gives the impression that the Gospel is something we do vs. what God has done for us. If it is something we do, it is no longer good news. There is no way to preach the Gospel without words. Of course, it is true, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Yet, at the end of the day, they must hear from us the awesome and amazing news of God’s love and redemption in Jesus Christ. At the core of our Break the Barrier strategic plan is a focus on equipping each other to share our faith—perhaps part of this equipping is helping us see how essential “words” are to sharing the Gospel. Therefore, how about: “Preach the Gospel, use words, and accompany them with love.” Let’s keep the conversation going and keep praying for the Holy Spirit to guide us as individuals and as a church in sharing the Gospel.