Words won’t save us
It should be clear from the title of this article that I don’t plan on bringing any profound insight or life-changing statement of doctrine. However, I do hope to offer direction to our conversations in life and in faith.
“You have heard it said…” is a prominent statement during the first portion of the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus’ teaching redefines basic tenets of faith in such a way that none can claim righteousness for themselves. Indeed, in the hall of faith (Hebrews 11) we see that faith or obedience to God is counted as righteousness. However, what does it take to be a righteous person? More succinctly, what does it take to be saved?
I have recently been thinking about the institutional church versus the missional church. We know a lot about institutions. They have bylaws and doctrines that clearly identify membership and function. Institutional church needs strict structure and relies upon labels.
Missional church is different. When Christians focus on the missional church, we are united in our mutual call to the Great Commission. We focus on the ways God is transforming us and guiding us to obediently “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)
St. Francis of Assisi is commonly quoted, “preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.”
We don’t know who first said this, probably Francis. It is a good guideline for Christians. Those who claim Christ as Lord, Savior and God ought to proclaim the Good News of God’s love. Many take issue with this saying, even calling it pithy, because they take it to be an instruction against oral proclamation. That is not the case.
Christ calls all who would be disciples to action. This is seen throughout the Gospels. At the Lord’s Supper, Jesus serves and then speaks, Jesus takes the bread and then speaks, Jesus takes the cup and then speaks. Jesus issues this commandment in John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” He explains the purpose of this commandment in the following verse (John 13:35), “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Love as I have loved you; they will know that you follow me by your love. Jesus expresses divine love by dying for the ungodly (Romans 5). Indeed the guarantee (or faith) given by grace (Ephesians 2) is Christ. We are not saved by doctrine, belief or creed. These are ways of describing how God is moving in the world, and such understanding can guide us toward accepting God’s work of grace in our lives. The institutional church tends to put believing before transformation. But no statement of belief can give true and lasting assurance of righteousness.
There is a lot of anger in our country. Instinct too often leads us to make a statement of our opinion. Sometimes we spend a lot of time crafting these words; other times we speak without truly thinking about what our words mean. I hope that we will demonstrate God’s love as we seek to respond to those who live or believe differently from us. The reality is that unity in mind, soul and spirit comes only through God.
My family recently had a medical emergency that took us to Wichita. We were separated from the support of our faith community. In the midst of trying to care for three young children (one of whom had a broken femur and another who was two weeks old), we received a visit from a stranger. Not a complete stranger — they were Facebook friends who saw our need. They brought us dinner, breakfast and lunch and gifts for the girls. They stayed briefly and were incredibly humble as we were overwhelmed by their kindness. They made it clear it wasn’t their kindness, saying, “God blesses us so that we can bless others.”
This is preaching the gospel and using words when necessary.
Christ is our hope. He lived our life, died our death, and we get to join in His resurrection. Let us allow God’s grace to transform us in heart, mind and relationship. This does not mean that we permit injustice or condone harmful teaching. Preaching the Good News of Christ is to remember that we are to accept the power God gives us to resist evil and injustice in all the forms they present themselves, to be the body of Christ poured out in ministry to the world; and when appropriate use words.