|COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP) -- Christians use lots of quotes. Pastors use them in their sermons constantly. Writers illustrate their points with them. Nothing wrong with that. They are quite helpful and encouraging in making a point.
Save when the quote has no basis in fact.
We as evangelicals who claim we are committed to truth are certainly good at spreading falsehood, even if unintentionally. We can do better.
One very clever and popular quote we often knock around among ourselves is:
"Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."
It is always attributed to St. Francis of Assisi -- founder of the Franciscan Order -- and is intended to say that proclaiming the Gospel by example is more virtuous than actually proclaiming with voice. It is a quote that has often rankled me because it seems to create a useless dichotomy between speech and action. Besides, the spirit behind it can be a little arrogant, intimating that those who "practice the Gospel" are more faithful to the faith than those who preach it.
But here's the fact: Our good Francis, who lived in the 13th century, never said such a thing.
None of his disciples, early or later biographers have these words coming from his mouth. It doesn't show up in any of his writings. Not even close, really. The closest comes from his Rule of 1221, Chapter XII on how the Franciscans should practice their preaching:
"No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister. ... All the Friars ... should preach by their deeds."
Essentially, make sure your deeds match your words. While there's a nice and good sentiment in the statement -- be sure you live out the grace and truth of the Gospel -- the notion as it is typically presented is neither practical, nor faithful to the Gospel of Christ. It does not align with St. Francis' own practice.
His first biographer, Thomas of Celeno, writing just three years after Francis' death, quotes him instructing his co-workers in the Gospel thusly, "The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold." Continued...