Love this reflection on the relationship between right action and right belief by Franciscan Richard Rohr. It is available here.
Orthodoxy over Orthopraxy
A Christian, or any holy person, is someone who is animated by the Holy Spirit, a person in whom the Spirit of Christ can work. That doesn’t have to mean that you consciously know what you are doing, or that you even have to know, or that you even belong to the right Jesus group. As Paul said to the Athenians, “The God whom I proclaim is in fact the one you already worship without knowing it” (Acts 17:23).
In Matthew 25, the dead say, “When have we seen you hungry? When have we seen you thirsty?” And the Christ says in return, “Because you did it for these little ones, you did it for me.” In each case, they did not know, at least consciously; that they were doing it for God or Jesus or even love. They just did it, and presumably from a pure heart, without any obvious religious affiliation or other motive.
It never depends upon whether we say the right words, or practice the right ritual, but whether we live the right reality. It is rather clear to me now that the Spirit gets most of her work done by stealth and disguise, not even caring who gets the credit, and not just by those who say, “Lord, Lord!” (Matthew 7:21). Jesus seems to be making this exact point in his story of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). The one who actually acts, even if he says the wrong words, “does the Father’s will,” and not the one who just says the right words.
Adapted from Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go, p. 193, Day 206
Before you Reformed types dismiss the thrust of this reflection as universalist, check out this article on Jonathan Edwards’s willingness to think of the Stockbridge Indians as “noble pagans,” where Edwards scholar Gerald McDermott insists that “Edwards praised these Indians not for the truth of their ideas but the quality of their lives, just as Luke had commended Cornelius for the quality of his practice.”
And once and for all, NO, Francis of Assisi never said “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” Or at least, there is no evidence that he did. See here.