“Proclamation, proclamation…proclamation! Enough already!” I heard this spoken at a gathering of missional folks last year. The person speaking was referring to what he presumed was the incessant verbalizing, ‘preaching,’ and vocalizing of the gospel without demonstrable living proof of the same. In other words, and from his point of view, Christianity’s walk wasn’t lining up with its talk. It had loud voices, but mumbled lives.
Preaching the gospel with unspoken deeds became missionally cooler than the antiquated peddling of propositions. It’s the tired ‘social gospel’ argument revisited. But, I believe it’s an overreaction to years of an imposing and aggressive gospel proliferation by disingenuous people who remain largely ignorant of what the gospel really is. Neither deeds nor speeches are sufficient alone, but no one will ever be able to claim that having heard the gospel, they didn’t believe it because they didn’t ‘see’ it in other’s lives.
Dr. Duane Litfin of Moody Bible Institute said the following;
The belief that we can “preach the gospel” with our actions alone represents muddled thinking. However important our actions may be (and they are very important indeed), and whatever else they may be doing (they serve a range of crucial functions), they are not “preaching the gospel.” The gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching it is inherently verbal behavior. If the gospel is to be communicated at all, it must be put into words.
I agree with Dr. Liftin. When too much weight is given to social action and too little to the verbal communication of the gospel, Liftin says that:
1. It can lead to an eclipse of our verbal witness. ”Our generation is “allergic to almost any truth claim” so when we offer the claims of the gospel it often reacts negatively. On the other hand, it looks with approval on Christians who feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Fear of man leads to deeds eclipsing words, so much so that often no words are uttered and the gospel is never preached.
2. It can deceive us into thinking the power of the gospel lies within us.” Rather than this poor, lisping, stammering tongue preaching the foolishness of the gospel to manifest the power of God, the gospel needs the help of my great generosity and magnanimity to gain credibility. We assume that because we plunge into disaster relief, the world will stand in awe of our Christ. The gospel is too weak to stand on its own, it must be accompanied by our deeds.
3. It can put us out of step with God’s own modus operandi in the world.” Paul says that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1 Cor 1.21b) Preaching, verbal witness, declaring the truth of the gospel to a lost and dying world is God’s method. He chose men to do it — men who aren’t that attractive or powerful in their persons, but are full of the Spirit of God.*
Additionally, I’d like to reference a recent blog post by Ed Waken where he brings together the following verses from the early history of the missional church in Acts 1-6:
Acts 1:2 The Twelve were ‘ordered’ by Jesus through the Holy Spirit for all believers to be focused on helping others become like Jesus (disciples). Acts 1:1-2 should be tied to Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:8.
Acts 1:8 Jesus gives every believer the Holy Spirit so that every follower of Christ will have the power necessary to tell of who Jesus is and what He has done for them.
Acts 2:1-13 The Holy Spirit filled the 120 (Acts 1:15) from the upper room so they all spoke in tongues (2:14) which was speaking of the mighty deeds of God (2:11).
Acts 2:14-36 Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) and spoke a message which lead to 3,000 people placing faith in Jesus Christ where they then lived out their faith radically.
Acts 3:1-10 Peter and John saw a lame man healed immediately which caused a revival (9-10). They spoke to this man born lame about Jesus the Nazerene.
Acts 3:11-26 Peter spoke another message of Jesus to the people who were amazed at the healing of the man born lame.
Acts 4:1-12 Peter and John were questioned by the Jewish leaders about this healing. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 8) and spoke another message about Jesus and that salvation only comes through Christ.
Acts 4:19-20 Peter and John were warned to stop speaking about Jesus but responded with, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 4:31 After a prayer meeting where boldness to speak for Jesus was requested, all of the people where “…filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Acts 5:1-16 This is the story of Ananias and Sapphira which lead to a revival where “…multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number.”
Acts 5:17-21 Peter and John were placed in prison where an angel of the Lord freed them with this command, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this life.” They obeyed, “Upon hearing this they entered the temple about daybreak and began to teach.” (5:21).
Acts 5:28-29 The Jewish religious leaders spoke to them again stating, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name…”, but Peter answered saying, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Acts 5:42 The result of all of these things above was, “…every day in the temple and house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
Acts 6:7 “The word of the Lord kept on spreading, and the number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great number of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
Ed goes on to say:
“When we think of being missional, it must center around being in the midst of those not yet connected to Jesus and speaking the gospel of Jesus to them as the Holy Spirit leads. There is no being missional without the telling of the good news of Jesus Christ.”
I’ve heard many times that we must “earn the right” to speak into another’s life, or that we need to “create community” before interjecting the gospel, but I think that puts the onus on humans to engineer environments for gospel acceptance. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for those that believe. (Romans 1:16) Disciples of the Kingdom are made by going, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and teaching others to obey all that Christ commanded. (Matthew 28:19,20) (Mark 16:15) (Acts 14:21)
Lastly, I want to make clear that when I refer to ‘preaching,’ I am not referring to what goes on behind most pulpits where there is no ‘conversation.’ I’m talking about the kind of dialogical preaching that Ed references above. A few questions:
1. The post-modern, or so it is thought, needs to ‘see’ the gospel in action before believing. Can that idea be biblically substantiated?
2. If our generation is “allergic to truth claims,” then how do we overcome that to communicate the gospel?
3. Can the gospel be communicated nonverbally? How?
*The Liftin material comes from his book: “Word VS Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance”