Franciscans are members of a religious order that follows the teachings of Francis of Assisi, a Catholic friar, mystic, and “saint.” Franciscans are usually Catholic, but there are some Anglicans and Lutherans who also follow the Franciscan Rule.
Franciscans usually add some rules to those of St. Francis, observing some of the teachings of other Franciscans such as St. Clare of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua. There are several groups within the Franciscan Order, but the word Franciscans applies specifically to the First Order, or the “Order of Friars Minor.” These friars are men who depend on charity for their livelihood, owning no property and spending all their time and energy on religious work. This group can trace their beginnings back to Francis himself.
One of the main teachings of Francis was the duty of poverty. Having been inspired by a sermon he heard on Matthew 9:10, Francis spent his life in voluntary poverty as he traveled through the Umbrian Mountains preaching Catholicism. Francis gathered a group of men who believed as he did, and they traveled together.
The Bible does not require a vow of poverty. However, there are many verses on the blessedness of giving and caring for the poor (Proverbs 14:21, 31). Giving is to be done with a cheerful heart, not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:6–7). The Lord says that “whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done” (Proverbs 19:17).
The Franciscan commitment to charitable work is commendable, but the Bible is clear that no amount of charity can earn a place in heaven. Ultimately, the Franciscans miss the mark in that they promote the false doctrines of Catholicism, a works-based religious system. It is right for us, as Christians, to have empathy for the suffering of others, to view ourselves with humility, and to spend our resources wisely. But no amount of asceticism, self-denial, poverty, or prayers to saints can atone for our sins. Only Jesus saves, and that is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9).