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The First Francis (And the Second)
Globalism - Ecumenism
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Wendy Wippel

I spent March 12, 2015 in the Italian city of Assisi.  Saint Francis of Assisi was born there in 1181, and it was ancient even then. Perched vicariously on a mountainside, a more charming, picturesque village there never was.  But that’s just the visual. Spiritually?  A dark place. Very dark place. (Think seat of Satan.)

Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant who, through his teens, was happy to play the part: gambling, drinking, sowing his oats, and happily spending his father’s money.  Then he went to war, got captured, and spent a year as a POW.

He came back changed. He now wanted to spend his life helping people.  (Nothing wrong with that!)  But it didn’t go over well with Dad, who wanted him to join the family textile business and help make more money.  Their quarrel escalated until Francis—accused by his father of rejecting the business while still willing to live off of it—stripped naked in the town square, folded his clothes at his father’s feet, and renounced all connection with his wealthy roots. 

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Francis began to preach in Assisi and its environs, calling all, “friends Romans and countrymen” to a life of public service.  And Francis and his disciples did many commendable things.  They worked with lepers. They helped the poor work their fields. They asked nothing for themselves.  And that was their gospel, based on Matthew 10:9, a verse in which Jesus instructed His disciples, early in His ministry, to go out and preach His coming, but to provide themselves with, “neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, 10 nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.”  Verse 11 follows:  11 “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.”

Together, verses 10 and 11 make clear that Jesus is not asking His disciples to forgo the basic needs of life. Rather, He expects their needs to be provided by other sheep who will hear His voice through their ministry He is asking His disciples, ostensibly, to trust that those things will be provided.

But that’s not what Francis got out of Matthew 10:9. What he got out of it was that real disciples will “follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and seek to walk in His footsteps”.  According to Francis, that meant that real followers of Jesus “would seek to live in poverty and serve their fellow man”.

Why? Because in that way (verbatim, confirmed by our Assisi tour guide, an uber-enthusiastic follower of St. Francis) “they would be granted the eternal life”. Poverty and good works would earn their salvation.  Francis, in fact,  forbade his followers to share the gospel until they had his permission,  declaring that, “As for me, I desire this privilege from the Lord, that never may I have any privilege from man, except to do reverence to all, and to convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule by example rather than by word.”

A teaching, across the years, that has been boiled down to this St. Francis Dictum:  Preach the gospel. When absolutely necessary, use words. 

At this point, several instances of Biblical confusion on Francis’s part are probably already apparent.

1) Romans 10:17 says that: “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Faith doesn’t undergo some kind of magic transfusion from believer to unbeliever through the sweat of a Christian do-gooder, no matter how helpful or well-intended said saint is.  It comes from the word of God, which clearly paints for us the incurable stain of sin on humankind as well as its only solution.

That being the substitutionary death of Jesus--God Himself in human form—in our place.

Francis, however, didn’t attach all that much importance to the Word. In fact, he didn’t really believe in teaching people to read, as it could complicate the simplicity of following God in the manner he (Francis) thought best. 

2) The verses before Matthew 10:9  make it clear that the instructions given to Jesus’ disciples in that verse were dispensational, and not intended for every disciple to come: “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

So if Francis really wanted to obey Matthew 10:9, he would have gone looking for disciples in Ashkelon, not Assisi.

Francis’ main point of confusion, however, was what actually constituted the good news.  He is known in particular for being a champion of the Eucharist, historians recording Francis’s obsession: "let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exalt when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present in the hands of a priest!"  Moreover, he granted the dry wafer the status of deity: “All are doomed who see the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and do not believe it is really the most holy body and blood of Our Lord.”

Francis eventually simplified the rules for the Order of Franciscans into a three-word slogan:  Poverty, Chastity, Obedience.

Poverty was pursued intentionally, to the extent of not only lack of comforts, but intentional discomfort and deprivation in the name of sharing the sufferings of Christ and atoning for sin.  (Francis often slept on a slab of rock, mixed ashes with his food, and wore a horsehair shirt under his cloak.)

Chastity: (Francis rolled around in thorn bushes or snow (or indulged in self-flagellation) in order to quell any natural impulses towards interest in a relationship with a female.)

Obedience was owed not (as one might think) to God, but to the Order’s leader.   

Well-meaning, but here’s the deal: Satan’s up to his old trick. Trick. Singular, because he only really has one: salvation through works. Reiterated openly at the National Shrine of St Francis in San Francisco:

“It is the purpose of the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi to provide more abundant means of salvation, through the rich liturgical and devotional life of the Roman Catholic Church for the Christian faithful, …who seek to encounter the living God through religious worship and special devotion to St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan saints”.

More abundant, because Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, apparently, just didn’t quite cut the mustard. A viewpoint expressed at the Basilica of San Francesco of Assisi (kind of right over his grave) in a medieval wall fresco in which the Virgin Mary expresses that she now, in fact, prefers Francis to John the apostle (who Jesus
Himself designated as her protector shortly before His death).  John, who watched His precious blood spill out for our redemption, is now replaced by St. Francis, who hands out bread, with a twisted, useless version of Christianity.

Salvation by works, (whether that obedience is obedience to church rituals, or serving one’s fellow man. Or the animals (Francis is a known as the patron saint of animals, and spoke of their salvation) or the earth itself. (Francis was possibly the first wacko environmentalist. He actually talked to Brothers Son, Wind, and Air, Sister Moon, and Mother Earth.)  

Interesting, right? But ancient history.

Unfortunately, no.  Francis of Assisi, probably below your radar is currently enjoying a resurgence of his rock star status, particularly among the emerging, postmodern, back- to- our- origins church.  Brian McLaren released “Songs for a Revolution of Hope", including St. Francis’s ode to the environment: Canticle of the Sun. Scads of books about Francis have been released to feed the new interest. And Assisi is the go-to location for every interfaith, GBLT, environmentalist, feminist, pseudo spiritual (heck let’s just say liberal and get it over with) conference on the horizon.

Because Francis ministered to everybody. He was so open-minded and non-judgmental.

Again, ain’t nothing wrong with that. But there’s a fine line between loving everyone (which God commanded) and losing sight of God and His righteousness in the process.

The God that cannot dwell with evil.

Francis sought God, but his ministry started with a vision in which Christ spoke to him from a crucifix and told him to reform his church.  In the context of the vision, Francis felt compelled to remove Christ from the cross.

And now we have a second Francis, hailed by many current Christian leaders as a return to humble impoverished, all-accepting St. Francis. A second Francis who also speaks for the environment and other created species.  A second Francis whom protestant religious leaders adore, who seeks to bring everyone from Kenneth Copeland to all of Islam into his new inclusive, non-judgemental, eco-conscious fold. A second Francis who champions the environment and shares the first Francis’ view of salvation. Thereby separating Christ from the cross, metaphorically, just as St. Francis vision did. 

As Jack was fond of saying, history doesn’t repeat itself, it just stutters.

Maybe a prophetic stutter.  People idolized the first Francis to the point of deification.  Pope Pius XI stated that "there has never been anyone in whom the image of Jesus Christ and the evangelical manner of life shone forth more lifelike and strikingly than in St. Francis." He is “rightly spoken of as 'another Jesus Christ,'" Pius said. And we all know there’s another figure prophesied who will likewise imitate Christ, and be accepted as Him too.  

It’s interesting that it all started with Francis’ vision. Reminds me of an old (old) Christian rock band called Steve Taylor Band, and the song “Guilty by association”. Which included this line:  “If the Bible doesn’t back it then it seems quite clear, perhaps it was the devil that whispered in his ear.” And the Bible—even Matthew 10:9—doesn’t back St. Francis’s method of redemption.   

Modern science, actually, recently determined Francis’ cause of death:  Radon poisoning. Radon being emitted from stone, which he made an effort to sleep on every night. Poverty, Obedience, Chastity, in a quest to obtain the eternal life.  When all the time it was right in there in I Peter 3:18:

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God”.

His suffering, not ours. His righteousness for our sin. That’s the real gospel.  Not the snake oil sold by the first Francis and the second.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

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