Feb 09, 2009
The Command to Witness
I get a kick out of how we Christians actually believe that our superior morality will fascinate and charm the world into wanting a relationship with God. I've heard a million stories from Christians about how one of their unsaved friends noticed that they didn't swear or drink alcohol, and they were supposedly so intrigued by that, that they opened their heart to Jesus right then and there.
We were taught in our church that our testimony was our shining good behavior. If a group of friends were going to happy hour after work and one of them invited us, we would turn down the invitation as a testimony to them that we had found "something better." After rejecting their friendly invitations over and over, they would eventually see that we don't drink and they'd be forced to look at the ugly truth that they do. The end result would be that they would come running to church with us, begging and pleading to know our God so they wouldn't have to go to happy hour ever again.
In the church, we were taught that people who drank any form of alcohol were always doing so because they were unhappy and seeking answers. If someone smoked cigarettes, it was because they were desperately attempting to find fulfillment in their pathetic, away-from-God lives. People cussed because they were inherently angry and unfulfilled in life, and our "not cussing" was just the thing they needed to spark their interest in God. This is also why people had pre-marital sex. They were just so dejected, depressed, and downhearted that they were willing to try anything to give them a moment of relief. They didn't really enjoy sex, it was just a way of covering up their lonely and wretched spiritual state. If we could show them that there was "A better way," they would gladly come running from that terrible sex and join our church. Once they met the God we knew, all feelings of wanting to have sex would leave them.
If we happen to slip up and utter a swear word in the middle of a basketball game or if someone at work catches us having a beer at a local restaurant; we were taught that we will have "blown our witness" to that person forever! Christianity was always about being on our best behavior while in front of people. One slip-up could inadvertently send another lost, sex-having, cigarette-smoking, cussing alcoholic to hell. If we could just prove to them that these things weren't fun, they would surely want what we have.
We had the manual for life. We were gifted with a book of special information that the world didn't have. God had given us the answers ahead of time, so life always turned out better for us and worse for them. The purpose of our "manual" was to help us live a clean life so we could prove God to the world. This is also why we encouraged others to read it.
It wasn't until I got a little older and moved out of my parents' home and left Christianity that I began to see the ridiculousness of this notion. When my friends and I downed a twelve-pack of beer and caught a nice buzz, we weren't miserable lostlings looking for wholeness. We were a bunch of guys having a great time. When I sang in a rock-n-roll band for ten years in Hollywood, I don't recall a time when I slept with a groupie girl and woke up the next morning wishing I had power to never do that again.
People who didn't drink or smoke had no effect on me. I never once wished I could have what they had. Not once! Their morals meant nothing to me. If anything, I thought they were fools. I didn't envy, covet, yearn for or crave a single thing in their lives. Silver-lined morality is not the least bit alluring to people in the world and it isn't a witness of anything or anyone.
The other Christian definition of witnessing was a little more in your face, but just as silly. Our pastor in the church I grew up in would always rile us about witnessing. It seemed that every Sunday we were brought up on charges for "not being a good witness for Jesus." They planned outreaches for us and inevitably only two or three people showed up. The following Sunday we were all blasted again from the pulpit for not doing what Jesus commanded.
I have found that it is human nature to tell others when you have actually witnessed something worth telling. In fact, it's darn near impossible to keep quiet about it. Even Jesus Himself couldn't get people to shut up after He healed them, though He diligently tried. When people have experienced the power of God, nothing can stop them from spouting their mouths off to the world. The very fact that Christians have to encourage each other to witness is conclusive evidence that they have not witnessed anything. You don't plan a Saturday outreach when you've witnessed something spectacular. You tell the world today. You don't tell them because it's your job. You tell them because it's always on your mind and you can't stop yourself from doing so. It's just natural.
Witnessing cannot be and is not a command. It's NOT up to us to witness. If we witness something, however, it IS up to us to let someone know what we witnessed. The command to witness in an impossible one to fulfill. It's a man-maid command. Can you imagine commanding someone to witness a burglary or a murder? How is that in their control? If they happen to be in the right place at the right time when one of these things take place, that's a different story. It then becomes their responsibility to stand as a witness.
You cannot walk into the courthouse during a murder trial and take the stand unless you were actually there when the crime was being committed. You can't claim to have witnessed it just because you read about it in the paper. Even if you read about it in four different news publications, you still cannot call yourself a witness. If you have studied this crime and interviewed all the parties involved, your testimony still means absolutely nothing. This is precisely what Christianity has asked their people to do for hundreds of years.
The sad result is that we now have hundreds of people who haven't witnessed a darn thing, going door to door, making stuff up as they go. They'll quote a few sentences they memorized from a newspaper article (Bible) about the crime. They'll recite the testimony they heard of someone who was actually there and they'll tell it like it's their own. They'll even be on their best behavior and put a radiant smile on their face as though it's an after-glow from the actual experience. They do all this because we've made witnessing a "command" in modern-day Christianity. People are trying their best to please God and do the right thing.
When I was in school, I studied the Vietnam war extensively. I read articles and books. I read the death and injury statistics. I watched every movie on that subject that I could get my hands on and spent hours thumbing through encyclopedias and history books in an effort to come as close to the actual experience as possible. People who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in a conversation with me about this war would tell me how they could see the passion in my eyes when I talked about it. My own father told me how impressed he was at how much I knew on the subject. There were times that I actually felt like I had been there.
One day I met a man who actually served in the Vietnam war. I was excited to be there with him and because of my studies, I felt uniquely qualified to converse with this man. I remember sitting up straight and leaning in to ask my first question. I asked, "What was it like?" This man's eyes went out of focus for a moment as if revisiting the jungles of Vietnam, and he quietly whispered, "It was terrible." He said nothing more.
The weight of this man's testimony was far heavier than all the books, articles, stories, and movies I had studied. There is something about a true witness that outweighs all the facts compiled. Three words from a man who had been there spoke a billion times more than the over three million words I had read and memorized on the subject.
Interestingly enough, this man only talked about the war when the subject came up and he was called upon to do so. I made a decision years ago that I would never approach a witness stand unless I'd witnessed something that was relevant to the subject matter at hand. I cannot stress this enough. Witnesses are traditionally "CALLED UPON." Our testimony of what we've actually witnessed is only valuable when it is within the parameters of the subject at hand.
In other words, if a group of people are talking about building a new house on the east side of town, it is NOT the time to step in and tell them about what you've witnessed Christ do in your life. If the topic of conversation is about the stock market or the economy, it's not the appropriate time to approach the stand and give a testimony about what Jesus has done. Wait until you are called upon to approach the stand. This is another area that has been drastically affected by our belief that witnessing is a command from God. Because of the desperate nature of the "command" we feel God has given us, we often find ourselves having little or no tact at all. We appear to the world as though Christians only have a one-track mind.
In the end, it is not our moral lifestyle that will serve as a witness to people. It's not our eager willingness to foolishly blurt out a testimony at inappropriate times, or our accumulated knowledge based on a lifetime of study. In the end, the only real witness that the world will be unable to shoot down or explain away with logical thinking, will be the authentic love that we have for people after experiencing God firsthand. It is really the only way someone can know that we know Him, if we have love for one another.
I think it's interesting that this one fact has been the most overlooked, sidestepped and downplayed fact in all of modern-day Christianity and I am convinced that it's because no one has really witnessed Him. You'll know when people know him, not because they'll say all the theologically right things, but because they'll love. We don't see this love in the church today for the most part. I believe the reason is simple. We don't see it because people generally don't know Him personally. We all just read about Him and get together and tell stories about Him.
We are a generation of second, third and fourth-hand witnesses. We give ourselves away when we say things like, "It's not all about love," or "love is part of it, but there are a lot more things we need to focus on." When someone accuses us of acting like hippies or sounding "a little New Age," you can be relatively certain that they have never personally witnessed Him before. When people get angry because your testimony of what you actually saw doesn't follow the script that they've memorized, you know they haven't really seen Him themselves. Free Believers usually leave their church eventually because inevitably they end up never being "called upon" again. Once you're banned from the stand, you know that you've witnessed something that the institution can't explain.
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