“Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
This statement, commonly attributed–though wrongly1–to Saint Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), is essential for Christians. This is not to say that speaking the Gospel is less important than living the Gospel (Paul is clear that people must hear the Gospel to be saved; cf. Romans 10:9), but it is to say that Christians have sacrificed their ability to impact the world by only focusing on the cognitive aspects of the Gospel.2
And what more proof of this do we need than the simple fact that the Southern Baptist Convention—the convention that is supposed to be known for taking the Bible literally—is suffering from an epidemic of sexual abuse by some of its pastors and leaders?
- Take the Bible literally and teach that Baptism is for believers only?
- Take the Bible literally and teach that marriage is between a biological man and biological woman only?
- Take the Bible literally and teach that human life begins at conception?
- Take the Bible literally, disqualifying and removing pastors from ministry who are failing to live up to the biblical qualifications?
- An eerie silence.
But what do we see when we look at Titus 1:6–9?
If anyone is blameless, a one-woman man who has faithful children that are not accused of rebellion or dissipation, for he must be a blameless overseer since he is God’s steward—not self-satisfied, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not a picker of fights, not fond of sordid gain, but instead he must be a lover of strangers, a lover of good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding fast to the faithful message, according to the teaching—in order that he might be empowered both to exhort with healthy teaching and to refute the ones who are contradicting.3
Interestingly, the Greek word behind the word translated “must,” implies a divine mandate.4 In other words, if the Church wants to be able to “exhort with healthy teaching and to refute the ones who are contradicting,” then God demands that Her leaders look like this. In fact, as the article cited previously notes, “The [word translated ‘must’] denotes that God is in Himself committed to these plans. It thus expresses a necessity which lies in the very nature of God and which issues in the execution of His plans in the eschatological event.”5
The structure of the sentence makes it clear that it’s not simply the “holding fast the faithful message” which enables one to exhort and refute. Rather, it is the entire idea of “blameless,” which actually includes 5 negative traits that must be absent, and 7—the number of perfection—positive traits that must be present, when you include “holding to the faithful message” as the seventh. This is the logical way to understand the list, as all seven of these traits (including the participle “holding”) are in the accusative case, thus direct objects of must, and thus further explanations of what it means to be “a blameless overseer.”
Lest someone still wants to argue that this is not the proper interpretation, the apostle John comes in, swinging for the fences: “Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action” (1 John 3:18, HCSB). If this is how we are to love, then isn’t it also how we are to live, especially since we are called to “live in love” (cf. 1 John 4:16)? And if all Christians are to live this way, then doesn’t it naturally follow that pastors should never take a “Do what I say, not what I do” attitude?
If pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention are not qualified—per Titus 1:6–9—then they should be removed from office for the sake of the furthering the Gospel (and this is a lot more than merely the lamentable sexual abuse scandals; pornography, greed, and bullying should also be cause for removal).6
We—as Southern Baptists—are quick to emphasize that the world needs the Gospel so that Jesus can return (cf. Matthew 24:14), but we are less quick to realize that the very thing keeping the Gospel from spreading is our inconsistency of life, and the fact that we have wolves in our pulpits.
We must resource St. Francis of Assisi’s words again today. “Preach the Gospel at all times. It must match your deeds.”
Disqualified pastors should be removed from office for the sake of the furthering the Gospel #sbctooTweet
If we fail to do this, we will continue to be a laughingstock to the world, bringing shame on our Lord and His Church. When we do this, and when we are truly dedicated to this task, revival will happen.
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
- See Duane Litfin, “You Can’t Preach the Gospel with Deeds: And Why It’s Important to Say so,” Christianity Today 56, no. 5 (May 2012): 40. It is worth noting that the present article, while disagreeing with a literalistic interpretation of St. Francis of Assisi’s words, does not disagree with the main thrust of Litfin’s article. His book referenced in his article is on my reading list.
- This is seen clearly by the unfortunate fact that Christians are too often known for what they are against and not what we are for. Passages like James 3:17; Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:12-4:4; and Romans 12:9-21 (the positive charges within this mixed list) are downplayed in comparison to their negative counterparts (e.g. James 1:13-15; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-9) and the deep, “theological” portions of Romans, even though James 4:7 teaches that failing to do positive, good deeds is just as sinful as doing evil deeds. Also note Tertullian’s positive, life apologetic in Apology, xxxix.
- Author’s translation.
- See Walter Grundmann, “Δεῖ, Δέον Ἐστί,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–) 2:23, especially the paragraph beginning with “The word δεῖ expresses the necessity of the eschatological event . . .”
- Ibid., 2:23.
- It is worth noting that this removal should not necessitate deleting their sermons and things off the internet. To do this consistently, we would have to throw out most of the Psalms, a lot of Early Church Father’s writings, and even Martin Luther’s works. However, if we lose Luther, we should all be Roman Catholic again. A forthcoming blog post will focus on the concept of scrubbing sinful pastors’ works from the internet, arguing against this practice.