Mark Alan Williams
One Of The Worst Christian Quotes Ever
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Don’t you hate it when Christians take a biblical concept and twist it around so the meaning is lost?
One such twisted perception is expressed in a quote usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”
That quote has always rubbed me wrong. Recently I decided to analyze why.
I gave it some thought, did some research and found 5 major problems with the quote and why it is one of the worst Christian quotes ever:
01. It contradicts the Bible.
The quote says, “if necessary use words” to preach the Gospel. But over and over the Bible speaks about how Christians must use words and preach the Good News.
For example; “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15 ESV)
The passage asks, “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” Preaching means speaking the words of the Gospel. The implied answer is, “you cannot hear unless something is spoken.”
Another verse says, “And then he told them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.’” (Mark 16:15 NLT)
Are you beginning to see why I think this is one of the worst Christian quotes?
Please don’t misunderstand: I believe it is very important to live an authentic Christian life and to do ministries of compassion. But this is only one third of the Bible’s description of effective evangelism, which I outline in my article on the 3 P’s of Evangelism.
02. It’s illogical.
Duane Litfin, former president of Wheaton College, points out the misdirected sentient behind the quote: “Let the gospel be seen rather than spoken, it’s implied. Words may serve a useful backup role, but our actions must take center stage if we are to make a difference in the world.”
But he writes: “It’s simply impossible to preach the gospel without words. The gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the gospel is inherently verbal behavior.”
If you are a good person, but no one knows why, depending on where you live, people are likely to say, What a nice Muslim he is.What a dedicated Jew she is.Must be a good Mormon.What a wonderful couple they are.
The Good News cannot be communicated by good deeds any more than the nightly news can be communicated by deeds.
03. Francis never said it.
Although it is usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, it is very unlikely that he said it.
Mark Galli, a biographer of Francis, writes about problems with this saying, “First, no biography written within the first 200 years of his death contains the saying. It’s not likely that a pithy quote like this would have been missed by his earliest disciples.”
In fact, St. Francis himself was quite a powerful evangelist who said, “The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons.”
When he preached it is said that he was sometimes so passionate his “feet moved as if he were dancing.”
St. Francis was a powerful evangelist who knew that we HAVE to use words to communicate the Gospel.
04. It encourages Christians to overemphasize their own importance.
Consider again the saying: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”
In this quote, the emphasis is on Christians preaching by living a good life in order to impress people so much that they will automatically be saved without a word being said.
It also leads people to think that they never have to verbally share the Gospel and lead people to Jesus.
Aren’t you glad that your goodness is not the final determination of evangelism? I am, because I know I am not that good!
The Bible actually warns against arrogance that might make us think so highly of ourselves: “Love the LORD, all you godly ones! For the LORD protects those who are loyal to him, but he harshly punishes the arrogant.” (Psalm 31:23 NLT)
Rather than looking at ourselves so highly, the Bible says: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:5b-6 ESV)
05. It undermines evangelistic efforts.
The idea of this quote is that if we just “live a good life” we won’t have to say anything; people will somehow become Christ’s followers. Thus, I fear that some have declined to share the Gospel and some have not therefore been told of Jesus.
Ideas have consequences, sometimes tragic consequences. This idea, found in one of the worst Christian quotes, has surely had terrible consequences: the Gospel has not been shared with people who desperately needed to hear it.
Mark Galli suggests a far better saying that I can heartily recommend: “Preach the gospel—use actions when necessary; use words always.”
Preach the gospel—use actions when necessary; use words always. | CLICK TO TWEET
For more of articles on my website about sharing Jesus see:
Five Questions for Those Who Think Many Roads Lead to Heaven
4 Great Questions to Ignite Passion for Evangelism in a Lost World
Podcast: Will someone lose their salvation if they commit terrible sins?