In my last post, I did my best to dance around the idea that “witnessing” – understood as the act of articulating and arguing for the theological/philosophical claims of Christianity – is not something that all believers are called to do. Yes, we should study and grow in our knowledge of the faith. We should not be afraid of being embarrassed by losing debates or looking ignorant in the eyes of secular culture. But the evangelist-proper, the man or woman who is apt to make compelling arguments for the truth of the gospel, is probably a more specific spiritual gifting/calling, not a universal assignment. OK. Major paradigm shift there. And one that I hope not only alleviates a whole lot of illegitimate guilt, but energizes us to consider exactly what a universal Christian witness could look like “on the ground.”
I’m very comfortable suggesting that all Christian witness begins in behavior. Early on in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes it explicitly clear that his followers’ being a bright city on a hill is metaphorical talk for highly visible good works that cause people to glorify our Father in heaven. So this is where we begin, this issue that exposes almost all of us as not quite as serious about our faith as we may like to think we are. Do we speak and (re-)act in ways that echo the life of Christ? Do we (re-)present the life of the Kingdom Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount? This Kingdom life is a strange, counter-intuitive existence! No critical spirits. No lustful looks. No need to be respected. No insistence on one’s own rights. Oh and the blessing of enemies. The praying for those who harm us. The refusal to be satisfied with a good action (fasting, praying, giving), but rather, the insistence on the right motivation. All this leaves us with a picture of life that is not “natural” to us, but in our dark world, even an incremental embodiment of it will stick out…
And this is where most witness-as-articulation should come in: responding to the inevitable questions that a life which is faithful to the teachings of Jesus will raise. Hence 1 Peter 3.15b-16, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” When was the last time someone “demanded an accounting” of your hopeful, yet odd, way of being human? Yeah. I can’t remember either. We can increasingly enter into this Kingdom-life by doing a couple of things…
- study Jesus regularly and closely in the Gospels.
- pray without ceasing…the psalms, the Book of Common Prayer, explosive extemporaneous prayer, etc.
- practice silence and solitude, even if it’s five minutes to start and end the day.
- commit to fellowship with other believers who will provoke you to love and good deeds (Heb 10.24).
Aside from living a holy (i.e. strange, unusual…refreshingly weird) life and then being willing to sincerely answer the questions that life raises, there is another way we can be witnesses, and it has two expressions. This other way to be witnesses is to share your life with unbelievers in ways that are faithful to the realities of the Kingdom of God. So this begins with appreciating people strictly for who they are (not as projects!). I say “appreciating” rather than “loving” because I want to steer clear of religious manipulations. People are fascinating and they are incredibly valuable! We must learn to be enamored with the wonder of the Creator as we discover his image in the men and women all around us. If they never “come to faith” in Jesus, they’ll still be valuable and fascinating! If this premise is not in place, “sharing of life” will be little more than a classic bait and switch. Not cool.
But we must to share two central, defining aspects of our life with people: our worship and our fellowship. How and when we specifically do the revealing is almost certainly a matter of being led by the Spirit, but it should be an inevitability. In other words, our regular worship with brothers and sisters in Christ and our social/personal life together with these same brothers and sisters should be so central to our very identities that it won’t take long for “outsiders” (Paul’s term from Colossians 4) to bump into both.
It’s most natural and honest for our witness to begin by introducing our unbelieving friends to the beautiful life of Christian fellowship…meals, games, parties, cookouts, etc. The Body of Christ is at her most compelling when she exhibits this “other worldly” unity and affection (agape). Don’t keep your “church friends” and your work or neighborhood friends separate! I’m not suggesting you invite “outsiders” to a home Bible study as much as I’m suggesting you have a lobster boil and invite all kinds of folks. Let the wind of the Holy Spirit blow refreshingly and lead in that sort of situation, diffusing the “aroma of Christ” among people made in his very image and likeness! It’s an honest way forward: you like all these people, you all like eating shellfish and socializing – why not do it together?
The second part of our lives that is worth sharing is our corporate worship, specifically our Sunday celebrations of Christ’s resurrection. At this point, you might be seeing this as reverting back to *older* models of evangelism – invite someone to church and sick the preacher on ‘em! This is absolutely NOT what I’m suggesting. I am suggesting that there at least two things “outsiders” should experience that they almost certainly cannot experience apart from Sunday worship.
First of all, when the saints gather for worship, there is the beauty of God’s Presence in the praises of his people and in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Even if the guest never sings a song (it would almost be weird if they did, no?) and doesn’t come to the Table (again, they probably wouldn’t be inclined to do so), I am convinced that they WILL encounter the very real, very tangible sense of the risen Christ in that room! This cannot be duplicated in isolation – it is only manifest in Christian worship. Granted, this happens in house churches and “mega” churches, but the point being, this “manifest presence” of God is ordained for the corporate Body when she gathers.
And secondly, outsiders need to experience the beauty of the act of Christian worship itself. The sights and sounds of Christian worship should be beautiful, the “beauty of holiness.” Whether it’s the foot-stompin’ praise of the Pentecostals or the Eucharistic liturgies of Anglicans, there is profound beauty to be found in Christian worship. The Prayers. The Scriptures. The Creeds. And just maybe, if we’re lucky, we might hear some beauty in the preaching. And this beauty is what we humans were made for! I love my dog, and he’s pretty bright as far as dogs are concerned, but I’ve never once caught him sitting in the corner of our living room, enamored with the Rembrandt etching we have hanging there. No, human beings are unique in their attraction to beauty and that’s what we’re shooting for in the invitation to a worship service. The prayer is not that they’ll merely raise their hand for salvation, although that’s fine, but that they’ll deeply attracted to the beauty of holiness; that they’ll not be looking for a way out of hell, but a way into heaven now. So invite “outsiders” to church, but not for the typical reasons. Invite them to experience the same beauty that enriches and defines your life.
Everything I’ve written is trying to nudge us away from the high-pressure salesmanship we often associate with witnessing, whilst nudging us toward a highly relational, embodied witness that is not only patient, but fascinated by the glorious men and women all around us. This is not a removal of our responsibility for the “lost” and the mission of Christ in the earth, it is a reframing that, aside from potentially being more effective long-term, requires all of us to live intentionally as followers of Jesus and community of faith. I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes: “Critique by creating.” (Michelangelo) I think too much of our “witnessing” has been framed as an intellectual critique of either the culture or an individual. What if we so obviously displayed the “new creation” that we never had to explicitly point a finger? Imagine folks being convicted by the Holy Spirit not because we’re debating them, but because we’re living so beautifully! And then folks would come to us, demanding an account…