A New Kind of Testimony

As I mature in my faith, I’m constantly confronted with how little I know. So much of my dogma and my sense of orthodoxy and orthopraxy came from a deeply uninformed position. And I now realize that very much of that un-informed-ness came from fear. I was afraid of discovering a weakness in my carefully curated dogma. I was afraid of being polluted by heretical ideas. I was afraid of people unlike me. I was afraid of practices unlike mine.

So I dogmatically held tightly to my inherited doctrine at all costs, afraid to lose it.

Today I see so many religious people doing what I once did, holding on and defending their positions for dear life, because honestly they don’t know what would happen if they slipped even slightly. And as a result, no amount of fact or data will sway them from the dogma. It makes conversation almost impossible, because they fear losing that grasp more than they fear being wrong. And there’s no way to confront that fear, so it is almost pointless to try to persuade somebody to see beyond their very limited knowledge horizon. To them, it’s a wall of stark fear, surrounding them on all sides, even though they would vehemently deny that.

Perhaps the only thing we can do is give our testimony, not of coming to know Christ, but of coming to trust Him with our entire mind, of the joy we find in repentance from dead works and wrong beliefs, the deep satisfaction in forming vibrant and loving relationships with people we once thought of as not just lost but determined to drag us down with them too.

It’s no doubt that the world needs salvation today. But it’s also increasingly clear that the church is so broken that nothing it says will bring that salvation, or more precisely, that nothing it says will be heard in such a way that they turn to salvation. Our message is so utterly compromised that it’s nearly pointless to stand on the street corner – or any given social media equivalent – and loudly proclaim the way of Christ, when all the visible evidence shows the world that the church has literally nothing to offer, no better way, no gospel good news of any value to it.

“Sin” isn’t just the obvious actions of being lustful or greedy or uncouth. More subtly, it is far more often failing to walk in the loving path of Christ towards those around us, our neighbor who is different than us. It’s the kind of sin that Jesus calls out in Matthew 7:21-23 (“I never knew you“) and Matt 25:31-46 (“depart from Me“). And the associated kind of repentance is far more subtle, far easier to miss, but today is desperately needed. The world is already quite aware of the church’s position on those simplistic action sins – but mostly unaware of what a true believer ought to look like in how we can and should love our neighbors- even those Canaanites and Samaritans living among us, those “other” that need Christ and need our love and support. The world has never seen a functioning Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, and until they see it, even at a small scale, being lived out in real life, with all men coming together in unity and oneness, valuing each other over themselves, meeting each other’s needs, lifting up the poor and oppressed, the world will have no reason to come and say:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh,
To the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may instruct us from His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For from Zion the law will go forth
And the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.

– Isaiah 2:3-4

So our testimony to these matters is a critical part of bringing the gospel – the good news – of the Kingdom, about which Christ constantly spoke, to existence on earth as it is in heaven. It’s not a gospel of purity that the world needs, but our testimony of, a gospel of, real true oneness.

Because our testimony is more than story, more than preaching. It’s giving a window into a heart, into a life, into a soul that was changed by love. It offers a vision of what can be, that may never have been heard before. And it’s non-confrontational, non-accusing, non-demanding. It extends the hand, not a spear. It invites the Holy Spirit into a situation, instead of riding in like Jesus the warrior with a sword proceeding from His mouth, coming to slay the infidel in an orgy of blood (Revelation 19:15). Because it’s the Holy Spirit who will nudge the lost heart to change, often coming in stealthily, silently, peacefully, without raising the defenses. It’s an act of cooperation with God, far more than riding into battle could ever be.

And ironically, today those who need that testimony more than anything are those fearful but self-righteous Christians, standing with raised shield and sword against the imagined onslaught of evil and antichrist, defending first and foremost their own minds, much more than their churches, against anything that might challenge their beliefs. In a real sense, it’s “If MY people, who are called by My name” – it’s God’s own people – who need to humble themselves and repent.

So if we want to open those fearful Christians’ eyes to a truth they cannot see, if we hope to see change towards oneness and unity of the faith, if we want the united church to be a beacon of light in the darkened world, we have to testify in a new way.

Lest anyone miss a critical point here, this isn’t about bringing the gospel to the heathen. Instead, it’s explicitly addressing the church itself, and pointing out its – or our – or even my – own shortcomings. I’m being very direct here, asserting that on the whole we Christians have been doing a pretty poor job being Christlike, failing the world around us by failing to be the thing that Jesus modeled. And I’m explicitly suggesting that until we get our own act straight, we’re not doing the world any favors – any at all – by standing on the real or virtual street corner and telling them to be like us. Because right now, by and large, I don’t think we’re something that ought to be emulated. Until we represent Christ, I’m not so sure we should want people to be like us.

I’m keenly aware that this can sound arrogant, as if I’m saying “Some of us have something that the rest of the church lacks, and we need them to repent to be like us.” Such things have been said by various dissenting Christians for the entire life of the church, of course. But from my point of view, it seems as if the Lord is gradually opening the eyes of some of His people, awakening their spirit to hear the Holy Spirit’s nudging that things need to change within His people, that we’ve been corporately missing His direction.

I suppose those words could be equally applied to any of the major issues confronting the church at any time. I’d be surprised, honestly, if others were not saying the same thing about me and those like me, that we are missing His direction, running off in some heretical pursuit. There will always be those pressing the church from within.

So rather than go into any specifics on what exactly I think is wrong – if you’ve been following me for any length of time, you probably already know what I’ve been talking about – I think this particular message is generically useful no matter the topic at hand. And it could be distilled down as this: the church may be missing the mark, and the way we ought to handle it is with our testimony to each other, given graciously and invitingly, not with harsh rebuke and anger, telling how the Lord changed our minds and our hearts, how He led us to repentance. It’s calling each other to press in to the Lord. It’s inviting, rather than demanding. It’s intentionally leaving aside for a moment those outside the church, knowing that God will call them as He wills, trusting His grace for their outcome, but focusing at this moment on our own repentance and humility. As I said at the start: it’s a new kind of testimony.

And as a final thought, an invitation can never be a demand. It cannot carry any obligation. We lay it on the table and step back. If it’s accepted, there’s work that can be done together. If it’s not accepted, we move on with our relationship nonetheless, trusting that God will be more honored by our relationship than the other’s acceptance of our invitation. This is exactly what brought this topic to mind: an observation that lately I’ve seen this demanding, confrontational, angry insistence that the other Christian is unholy, unsaved, even demonic, because a given point of view is rejected. And that trend is highly visible to those outside the church, and that’s what pains me. So let’s demonstrate something better, something more holy, something more Christlike. When Jesus interacted with the rich young ruler, as recounted in Mark 10:17-27 (and Matthew 19 and Luke 18), Jesus was gracious when His invitation was rejected. He let the man walk away, and Mark actually records that Jesus – certainly knowing how this encounter was about to conclude – “looking at him, loved him.”

So, let us commit to loving one another, inviting to a better way, and graciously accepting whatever results.

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