One of the more popular sayings rolling around the North American church these days is the classic “Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.” I’ve said it myself, blithely inserting it into conversations with friends about troubled co-workers, or difficult family members. The essence of the quote (which has wrongly been attributed to Francis of Assisi; the actual origin is unknown) is well meaning, especially in light of the fact that today’s Evangelical Christian is burdened by a stereotype of fire, brimstone and hate.
To repair some of the damage done to the name of our faith, we’ve tended to shy away from directly proclaiming Christ crucified. Instead we choose to roll up our sleeves and dig wells, raise money, swing hammers, and generally try to be nice, relevant people.
Don’t get me wrong, this is all good. Very, very good. Christ cares immensely about unjust conditions and physical suffering. In fact, one of the ways He has called us to show His love to the world is through tangible actions. Our hearts should sacrificially overflow for the poor, marginalized, homeless, sick, orphaned, widowed and hurting.
But perhaps in an effort to regain our credibility to the world, we’ve gone too far the other way—not using words of truth and love enough. At Lausanne 2010, a global congress on world evangelism, the conversation flowed around just that. Why does there exist a tension between doing and speaking the Gospel?
For someone whose life and ministry exists in a very comfortable (in the larger, global perspective) setting of New York City, I was convicted as I listened to testimony after testimony of people who willingly sacrificed everything, even their lives, for the preaching of the Gospel. I began to think about something that perhaps we tend to forget in our quest to be relevant—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Doing and Saying has so much more punch.
If my mom had not lovingly spoken words of truth into my life when I was young or if in the late 60’s Billy Graham had not called my mother to repentance, or if our church Fathers—Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, Augustine—had not given us eloquent expressions of our faith, if Paul hadn’t proclaimed Christ crucified or if Christ had only healed and performed cool miracles… where would the church be today?
It was John Piper, who spoke at one of the morning plenary sessions, that brought it home for me when he asked us, “…could the global church say ‘for Christ’s sake we Christians care about all suffering. Especially eternal suffering?’” Could it be that through action and silence we care more for the earthly needs of those we serve than their eternal needs?
I want to be a part of a church that is known for its care and love for our city and the world. I want us to be a church that, as Dr. Keller repeatedly says “Our unbelieving neighbors would say ‘They add so much value to our lives that if Redeemer left New York, the city would have to raise taxes.’”
I also want all of us, not just our pastors, to be people that are famous for proclaiming Christ crucified and backing it up with an overwhelming abundance of love and action.
Together, we must learn to marry the concepts of social good and speaking truth. To truly fulfill Christ’s commission, we cannot have one without the other.