Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What did Francis say??


St. Francis of Assisi is very en vogue today considering that he the "patron saint of ecology". He believed that all nature- sun, moon, water, wind, plants, and animals- are a mirror of God's majesty. As the founder of the Franciscan order he abandoned material riches and luxuries for a life of monastic devotion and simplicity. There is much to be admired about Francis but what he is most known for is a quotation he never really said.

Most people quote some variation of the statement attributed to Francis, "Preach always and if necessary use words". Sounds really profound right? There are two problems with this quote. First, Francis is never recorded as having said it. Second (and more important), it just isn't Biblical.

The Greek word for gospel is euangelion which literally means 'good news'. How do you communicate news without words? Furthermore the Bible instructs us to proclaim the good news. Read Paul's letters to Timothy or how about 1 Corinthians 1-2 and Romans 10 just to pull a few passages out of the air (among numerous).

So where does this quote come from and why is it attributed to Francis? In his written work, Regula non bullata Francis instructed the friars of his order to only preach if they have been given proper permission to. That's wise counsel as some are not gifted or called to be preachers in the formal sense (he was not speaking of personal sharing of the gospel). He went on to write, "Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds." Again, that is good counsel. You may not be called to be a preacher in the formal sense but your deeds should proclaim the gospel- this not proclude words. Personal evangelism is a deed.

We need to be careful building doctrine or convictions based on sayings and folklore. Always go back to the Word. Afterall it is also "said" that on his deathbed Francis thanked his donkey for carrying and helping through life. According to legend the donkey wept in response. The moral of the story? Don't believe everything you read... unless it comes from God-breathed Scripture.

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