Friday, December 5, 2008

Preach the Gospel Always, and if Necessary Use Words?

I recently found myself in a sparring match with some friends of a friend on Facebook. My friend had written a note wanting some encouragement about a rather insensitive email that she had received about the “lie” of Christmas. She has good friends because they all were ready to give her the support she needed. However, during the course of the dialogue there was some language that I was not entirely comfortable with. One well meaning friend, I believe, gave some ill-informed advice.
The best way to show you are a Christian is to not argue. Show them through your loving example what being a Christian really means... Actions speak louder then words. Love people to Christ. :)
To which I replied:

Great post Anonymous but I want to take exception on a couple of points. You are correct we should not argue, except when an assault comes against the faith. In which case we are commanded to defend it with great vigor. (Jude 3-4)

Actions can lend credence to your words but they do not speak louder. The best way to love people to Christ is to tell them the truth. That is why Jesus told us to go into all the world and PREACH the Gospel.

This was soon rebutted by another person on the thread who claimed that “Actions will always speak louder than words.” And,
“Arguing and constant defense only continues to perpetuate the negative stigmas christians are viewed with in this day and age. It's not about you're wrong I'm's about loving God and people.”
He later revealed that he chooses not to argue the merits of the Gospel with unbelievers because he does not want to alienate them. I will leave this one alone except to say that the Gospel is an offense to the unbeliever and Jesus tells us this. He says that the Gospel is a sword and that it will turn family and friends against us. The Savior also warns us that unless we love Him more than we love our earthly relationships we are not worthy of the Kingdom of God. So we are to anticipate persecution and we are to expect that we will alienate people. That is the nature of the Gospel.

The following is an unabridged version of my response to these arguments. I trust that the following will be an encouragement to some and a catalyst for others.

I never said that we should not live out the Gospel. Not in the least. 1 John 3:18 says that very thing, "…let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." It is similar to what we see James arguing when he says that faith without works is dead faith. So, in this case it could be said, that preaching without a lifestyle that supports the message may cause the message to be irrelevant to the hearer. We can stand together on that all day long. But deeds without the words are completely worthless. “Loving people to Christ” by doing unendorsed deeds can never convey the Gospel. People who feed the hungry, care for the sick, and build houses for the poor and never share the Gospel have ultimately failed. Sure they offer temporary comfort but in the end these poor hungry people who have been served die in their sin. I can help the proverbial woman across the street a million times but if I fail to tell her about the Gospel what good have I done? It would do her as much good as giving a guy in the electric chair a hand tailored Kiton suit and a $200 haircut.

So again my point is not for apologetic argument and preaching devoid of caring for people. Quite to the contrary, in fact I would say that the most loving thing a person could ever do is preach the Gospel. Sometimes this preaching takes place over a cup of coffee or in an email, sometimes it happens from a soap-box in the middle of the city, and sometimes it is manifest in the defense of the faith. My primary point of contention is this, that actions alone are never enough. It is a mistake to put a cliché like "Actions speak louder than words" above the authority of Scripture. I challenge anyone to find me a single scripture that support such a notion. I can guarantee that I will find you a score of admonitions to preach the Gospel, and preach it using actual words. The idea that we can be defenders of the faith and heralds of the Gospel without opening our mouths is ludicrous. Jesus certainly did not disciple His followers this way. He stood up against the self-righteous people of His day and He did it by proclaiming the Word of God with great authority in the public arena. Peter did this, as did Paul, John, Stephen and a thousand others that were killed for their public defense and proclamation of the Gospel. And we as Christians are called to nothing less than this.

It is my belief that people fall into a "let me show them Christ through my actions" lifestyle because of one of three reasons. The first, which I believe to be the most common, is that ultimately this person is ashamed of the Gospel. The end result of this shame is that the person attempts to pacify their guilt for their shame by doing random acts of kindness. And if we examine this a little further we see what this is in truth, self-righteousness. This person manages to suppress the truth of God and attempts to appease His God by “doing” good things.

The second reason, which I fear most of all, is that the person who fails to be obedient to the Lord’s command to preach the Gospel is self deceived and not truly saved. It has been said that there are only two types of people who truly believe in Hell; those who have been saved from it and those who are suffering in it. And if we as believers truly believed in a place where God’s omnipotent wrath is being poured out continually and eternally on the unrepentant sinner how could we not proclaim the Gospel? What would you say of a fireman who sat idly by and watched as a family burned in their house because he was too busy helping an old lady get her cat out of a tree? You would scream that their blood was on his hands. Sure it was nice of him to help the old lady with her cat but his priorities were completely wrong. And so are our priorities when we choose “do” without the “tell”.

Listen to the Word of the Lord in Ezekiel:
"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.”
These words should terrify the passive Christian. Do you hear what this text is saying? It is saying that if you fail to open your mouth about the judgment that is going to be poured out upon humanity that God will hold you accountable. God goes onto say that you will have saved yourself only if you have warned the perishing. I think Spurgeon captured the heart of this text perfectly when he said, “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself. Be sure of that.”

The third reason I think Christians trade the proclamation of the Gospel for social action or “loving them to Christ” may be ignorance to the command of Scripture. But listen, the Great Commission was not upon those alone who stood at the Mount of Olives, it is upon you and upon me. We are all called as ambassadors of Christ and ministers of reconciliation. We are a unique people because we are a kingdom of priests to the Most High GOD.

If you happen to find that you have been living in this third category of ignorance let me serve you notice. You have now just been evicted by truth.

If you find that you are in the first or second category let me plead with you to examine the validity of your salvation. Matthew 7 paints a very grim picture of the judgment of Christ. Jesus tells us that many will come to Him on that day proclaiming Him as Lord and professing the many works that they did in His name. But He will say to them, “Depart from me you worker of iniquity, I never knew you.” Calling Jesus Lord is not enough to enter into the Kingdom of God; it is only he that does the will of the Father that will gain entrance.

You know what is absolutely terrifying? That most of the people that we work with, most of the people we see at the grocery store, and perhaps some of you that are reading this right now will one day hear those very words from the Lamb of God.
I am certain that on that day we will care little about the alienation we may have risked or the offense that we might have caused. And for those whom have we failed to warn, who are even now being cast into everlasting darkness, they will have an eternity to wonder why we did not care enough to open your mouth.
"If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms around their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for." - C.H. Spurgeon.


Joshua Elsom said...

For those of you who may have followed this link over from Facebook and happen to be local to Tacoma; I am an equipping evangelist with a local gathering of believers. If you would like information on how to do biblical evangelism or would like practical training in evangelism I would be happy to assist.

OldBeans said...


I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that the reason a lot of people say things like "actions speak louder than words" is because they are actually ashamed of the Gospel and do not want people to think they "weird".

Nice blog :)

joshua said...

Maybe a better statement would be that our actions should qualify our speech. I know that as a Christian, Jesus comes into almost every one of my conversations, due to the fact His significant Lordship in all areas of my life. It is harder to preach the Gospel when my life is not lined up with scripture. Unfortunately, I believe most Christians use this well-intentioned quote from Augustine as a crutch for not verbally confessing Jesus' work publicly.

Work in Progress said...


Amen, Brother.

I agree completely with your statements. Many Christians try to use the "They will see Christ through my actions", therefore, I don't need to say anything."

That is a problem, because there are many nice non-Christians, and therefore you are not different from them solely by your actions. People MUST hear the GOSPEL to be saved.

I have tried to communicate this, but not nearly as eloquently as you have done in this blog.


Celestial Freak said...

Just came across your blog this morning from a video posted on Defending.Contending.

Anyway, reading through this post I just thought I'd add my perception.

I'm not looking to pat you on the back for this argument, though I agree it's one that needs to be made, simply I'd add that my perception of "They will see Christ through my actions", therefore, I don't need to say anything." seems to me to be a lukewarm attitude and not the mindset of a hot or cold faith.

It's the idea that not offending is the greatest form of witnessing, and yet to those looking on all it simply examples is a complacency that often looks like expectance of the very thing one may very well be against. It's hiding under a bushel, not letting one's light shine.

If we are to believe that there is a definite right, and a true wrong, why hide it!? Why not let the truth be known?

J May said...

I followed this from the other post. I don't know many of the people who were commenting and I really liked most of you said, Joshua. That being said, I have a few concerns. Firstly, in answer to your challenge to find a scripture that speaks to actions vs words: John 1. It's ironic that this post started from a discussion about the pagan origins of Christmas. Greek practice didn't just co-opt Christian practice, but Greek thought also co-opted Christian thought before, but definitely after, the fourth century. In your thoughts here I sense a deeply helenistic and individualistic approach to scripture and faith. I like the hebrew idea of knowledge, it's more, "Abraham knew Sarah" than, "I know the secret word formulations of the universe." For us to really know God, let alone be a disciple of Jesus (which is the actual Great Commission, the preaching of words being one of many possible steps to that), then we have to know Him in much more than words. "The Word became flesh." In 33 years of action and life from Jesus, all of it speaking of the reality of God (This is essential to understanding John 2), we only have maybe a day's worth of sayings (real time reading) and about that much in narrative. You mentioned the way Jesus discipled. Most of what we know Jesus did to disciple, that is, most the time he devoted to discipling, was spent in relational, daily, shared life. And, at the end of three years of that, 1 of His disciples betrayed Him and the other 11 left Him in His worst hour. But they weren't unchanged. From there, they continued to be taught, seemingly more explicitly with words, for a time by Him (the 40 days) and then Pentacost. From there, they finally start to fulfill the great commission around Acts 8 by moving out into the rest of the world (by force) and then we see Paul. We'd be mistaken if we thought Paul just went around preaching. I can only find two places he preaches anywhere outside of a synagogue (Acts says preaching in synagogues was his practice). This is significant because he was doing exactly what somebody would do today if Jesus came in an unexpected way, he went to the place that the people gathered who were waiting for Him to come and announced that He did in deed come! Outside of that, you'll find him in the marketplace at a point and at the Aereopageus (Mars Hill) trying to reason with the Greek intellectual types. Most significant, however, is what we know of Paul's life, He followed Jesus' example. Firstly, he spent daily life with the new believers as the means of discipling them (relationship!) and was with them, every day, anywhere from 1 1/2 years to 4 years. Secondly, he often would follow Jesus' pattern in walking in the will and ways of God and then explaining what it was all about when people were curious about his either odd or inspiringly powerful actions.

Secondly, the other instance other than the one you quote about who Jesus will and will not accept in the end is Mt 25. I sense a very evangelical flavor to your ideas here. I love evangelicalism, but it isn't the last word (and was far from the first) about Jesus and the Gospel. Envagelicalism arose in 18th century as a means to inspiring a dead Western Church. It was quite literally a missionary effort to Christians (missionaries had been going out to non-christians for centuries) inspired by earlier Lutherans and Moravians, led by guys like Wesley and later kept alive by guys like Spurgeon. By Spurgeon's day, England and the West in general was becoming much more secularized so it slowly became a mission to non-christians in the West using the same preaching methods. Though, the original Evangleicalism was the world leader in humanitarian effort and aid for nearly half a century. The social gospel arose around the same time, and as a result of, the secularization. Evangelicalism became more abrasive to humanitarian and physical deeds as a reaction. Since then, Evangelicalism, like early Lutheranism and Calvinism, have always had trouble with Matthew 25's claim that we will not "be saved" if we don't do something like love the least of these in physical tangible ways, saying nothing of a requirement of words (it'd actually be a pretty liberal interpretation to say that Jesus would consider preaching at the poor as making the cut in Mt 25. Though, I'd agree He'd probably see it as something that would be good in the context of physical action). The other instance of Jesus' judgement you quoted was all about knowing Jesus... like a disciple would, not someone who merely mentally accented to some of His words. Matthew 18 isn't a big surprise if we read the OT. God's all about loving the marginalized and outcast through the law and the prophets. It's everywhere in the OT. Take Zechariah 7. God's instruction is to show compassion to one another and make sure the poor have justice. This theme is carried far into the the NT and, in fact, is one of the main contrasts of Jesus' Judaism to Pharisaical Judaism. What we know of the early church is that many were won over to follow Jesus because of the clear contrast of the loving way of life to the self-centered, hopeless way of life of paganism and Rome.

Thirdly, I mentioned the individualistic interpretations of scripture. The call to make disciples (aka the Great Commison), in Greek, is a communal (grammatically speaking, plural) call, not an individualistic one. In the early church, and indeed in most of Church history, this has always been seen as a shared call. Meaning, "and some to be prophets and some to be evangelists..." (1 cor 12:27-31/Ephesians 4:11) It's may be seen as a mishandling of scripture to start telling everyone they should be evangelists, as a conservative thought. But, as food for thought, in scholarship, the writers of the Gospels are called " The Evangelists." Namely because they are the tellers of Jesus' story which we call the Gospel(s). It makes you wonder if "the Gospel" is just a soundbyte that we can throw around, threatening hell. Why couldn't God just yell that down from Heaven or through a prophet and show up as a sinless 33-year-old-looking man and die for us on a cross? Why is Gen 4 not Jesus dying on the cross? Why all this narrative and story and incarnation and working with us in relationship for thousands of years? Why is Abraham, a pagan who came into relationship with God, messed up a lot for 100 years and slowly came to walk in trust of God over the course of that time, named as the template of our faith?

What I'm getting at is, we don't own the keys to Hell, God does. We don't own all the mysteries of the universe, God does. We are called to acknowledge Jesus as Lord in our whole life (which, like God's actions with the grace He gives all people every day, should lead to insanely kind acts regardless if we ever speak a word of truth) and to bring people into this intensely relational process of discipleship with Jesus. Even if evangelism could be divorced from discipleship and relationship, we can't possibly think we can "save" the whole world by ourselves. That's not our job. It's God's. There's a lot of pressure on us when we start to try to fill God's shoes.

Now that I said that, I appreciate your love for scripture, bro. I also really appreciate your zealously for explicit truth. I love truth in words and certainly see a lack of it in our world. Right now, as I am understanding the context God has placed me in, I see that preaching with words only or initially and especially forbidding deeds without words, would win some and send many running. I/we (my community of Christ-followers) have many among us and in relationship with us who would, and have, run from someone that preached words and wouldn't do something selfless just to be selfless. They want something real not something that looks contrived because it can't be done without a little plug for our sponsor Jesus. And they want something they can actually see as truth not just conceptualize. They know hell because they live some of it everyday. They want a life based on the hope we proclaim is in Jesus. That is something they will respond to and recognize as truth. Anything else to them would be a clanging symbol or a smashing gong. But that just be my context. I imagine other contexts could be different.

Thanks for listening, man. I pray, even if my words aren't useful for your context or seen as true to you, you will see people come to follow Jesus and to acknowledge Him as Lord. Thanks for your passion!

Joshua Elsom said...

I don't think I would disagree on much of what you said Justin. Though I am certain we would not agree on everything. However, the main thesis of this post was not to argue discipleship or benevolence but simply to show that the Gospel can not be defended nor proclaimed by simply filling empty bellies, it must be spoken. Preaching is the primary means by which God has determined to save souls and it is the only method that He has promised to bless. (Romans 10:14)

So we should feed the poor, we should help the widows and orphans, but if these actions come without giving a reason for the hope that lies with in us they are done in vain.(1 John 3:18)

I wonder what you mean when you say,"In your thoughts here I sense a deeply helenistic and individualistic approach to scripture and faith. I like the hebrew idea of knowledge, it's more, "Abraham knew Sarah" than, "I know the secret word formulations of the universe."

Do you believe that the Bible can be understood or do you believe it to be ambiguous and mystical? Is it inerrant and infallible? Do you believe it arrogant or individualistic for one to suggest that they know what the Bible means?

BTW, I attend Soma Communities in Tacoma, we are a missional gathering of believers.

Thank you for you response.

J May said...

Hey Josh. Thanks for reading all of my thoughts. That's great you attend Soma! Soma and my church have worked closely together since the beginning. Jeff and Caesar are friends of mine and Abe is part of my room mate's (who is part of Soma) DNA group that meets at our place every Tuesday morning.

Yeah, I think preaching is important. I tend to just be weary of a hard and fast rule like, "One must always proclaim why we do what we do." Being ready with an answer or a situation that the Spirit really seems to lead us to share overt words about Jesus is one thing, but I don't see a need for a rule, I guess.

I also want to stay mindful of the great commission to make disciples and sometimes I see discipleship lost in lieu of getting people to agree to words. But, as you said, we know how important discipleship is.

I think for me, it's deeply contextual. There's definitely times I feel led to preach. Often times when I do and I don't feel sure I'm led to, it goes south. It may just be the tribe I find myself missionally interacting with or something off with me, though :-/

J May said...

Oops! I forgot to answer your questions about what I said.

I believe the Bible can be understood, but it's 4,000 of history and 85% narrative so it needs to always be searched out and understood in context. As far as context, we should consider four things: historical context of the scripture, the rest of the Biblical context, our context and how it translates, and the context in which our views, doctrines or interpretations arose from. Studying the history of doctrines and theology is telling. I also think we should careful of abstracting statements of truth, forsaking the narrative. Everytime the truth is proclaimed in Acts it's always in the deeper narrative. Stephen just goes on forever about it, for instance.

I absolutely believe in the authority of scripture. Inerrant is a tough word because I want to say, "yes!" But, that's a hard one. For instance, the Bible that was used by most of the Western Church (Protestant and Catholic) from roughly 1500-1900 has over 4,000 of what we'd now consider errors because they differ from the overwhelming majority and early manuscripts we now have (most modern translations are up-to-date in the respect). The differences were known about very early on in that period but the change came slow because it was hard for some leaders to accept that God would allow an off translation to circulate so widely because some enterprising printers got to print with bad manuscripts first. (This strand of thought still exists: King-James only ppl) So, no, I probably don't think it's inerrant, but I do think most translations mostly are.

Infallible, yeah, mostly, given the previous misgivings, then yes besides that. I think all of the key doctrine is there and intact and we have comparatively very little to be concerned with in that dept.

I don't think Bible is mystical, but I do think it contains a lot of mystery that we get to seek out. I definitely think the most ostensible answer isn't always the true one when reading scripture. But I think that is mostly because we have 2000 years of cultural muck surrounded around how we interpret scripture. We just need to be mindful of that and be humble enough to not miss the deeper truth as we read God's word. We shouldn't master God's word, it should master us.

I don't think it's individualistic to claim to know what the Bible means. It may be arrogant to say one person has the market cornered. I have mentors and also scholars I've read that know scripture better than anyone else I've encountered and I still don't get the sense they have the whole thing mastered. Some I feel are even missing huge truths sometimes as they make a decision on a particular interpretation (this happens mostly because I think we tend to miss a lot of things as we are searching out the things that excite us or encourage us most in scripture).

The Helenistic vs Hebrew thing can be kind of summed up in John 8's "the truth will set you free." Jesus said to some who called themselves disciples, "If you remain in my teaching, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." Remaining in His teaching is the rabbinical equivalent of, "take me seriously and walk out my teachings for the longhaul." Some things we just can't know through words. Like riding a bike. One person could read all about the mechanics, physics and practices of riding a bike and another could just try. I put my bet on the second in learning how to actually ride it sooner. Certainly if the first also starts just trying to ride a bike, they'll have some extra insight into how it works, but the key is riding. God's answer to Job could also be said to heavily lie in the demonstration He puts on while and the ways He points of that He interacts with the world. If it's just the words about "Who are you to question me?" stuff, He doesn't really give much of an answer... especially to a man that suffered like Job. But, I imagine seeing God manifest in all that wondrous glory communicated the majority of what He needed to hear with the words bringing definitive strength to the message.

I'm indebted to Caesar for turning me on to that insight about John 8 years ago. One of the coolest things he's ever told me and as you know, that's tough because Caesar's pretty friggin' cool.