Welcome to FaithbaseCreate a free account or log in to access all features & content.

David Eric Williams

Jan 10, 2024 12:00 AM

Time To Trim the Testimony

I had the privilege of attending Christian schools from elementary age through high school. Although there was much good in the experience there were a few unsavory aspects as well. One of the things we could have done without was the regular opportunity for giving our "testimony." Now, when I say testimony in this context I'm actually talking about something more akin to the youth group sharing time. Certainly, there were a few students who gave an actual testimony concerning their salvation in Christ but most of the time, members of the student body would simply talk about "what God is doing in my life" - an enhanced testimony if you will. One classmate was known for providing especially entertaining enhanced testimonies. This student was a frequent flier testifier and would regularly regale the assembly with stories of turmoil and trauma at home. There was nothing of benefit in those enhanced testimonies except, perhaps, a heightened appreciation of the uneventful domestic environment I enjoyed. My school days ended more than 40 years ago but I still run across the enhanced testimony from time to time. These days it's a feature of the small group or home group experience in modern "relevant" churches. Unfortunately, the enhanced testimony of yesteryear and the "sharing time" of contemporary churches suffer from the same problems. In fact, both then and now there are a number biblical principles regularly ignored when giving an enhanced testimony. Honor Your Parents Enhanced testimonies do not always target the testifier's parents but when they do it is a violation of a clear biblical directive. The student I mentioned earlier would typically portray their parents in a poor light. It not does not matter if the depiction was true. The Bible is clear; children should honor their parents (Exodus 20:12, Leviticus 19:3, Deuteronomy 5:16, Ephesians 6:1-3). There is nothing in the Bible saying the command is rescinded if your parents are incompetent, unloving and disinterested. It is interesting to note that when Jesus mentioned the command to honor parents, he did so in union with the penalty prescribed for speaking disrespectfully about one's parents. Matthew's gospel records Christ as saying, For instance, God says, 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death' (Matthew 15:4). As you recall, Jesus was taking the Pharisees to task for abrogating this command through their insistence the religious practices they promoted superseded God's word. Frankly, this is not unlike the failing of the modern church. The Christian school I went to and the contemporary "relevant" churches both insist it is okay to speak disrespectfully of parents if you are "sharing your heart," "bringing your burdens to light," and giving glory to God through your testimony of overcoming hardship. The only problem is, there's nothing in the Bible that says this is true. Instead, the Bible says anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father and mother must be put to death (Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:9). The Old Testament says that and Jesus repeated it when he was making a point about the error of elevating religious practice over biblical principles. Whether or not you believe the death penalty still applies here, the fact death is the proscribed punishment for the sin certainly alerts us to the importance of honoring parents. Right to Testify on Your Own Behalf In the book of Deuteronomy it says, if a malicious witness comes forward and accuses someone of a crime, then both the accuser and accused must appear before the LORD by coming to the priests and judges in office at that time (Deuteronomy 19:16-17). The point to note is that both the accuser and the accused must be present so each can tell their side of the story. As the Bible says, the first to speak in court sounds right - until the cross-examination begins (Proverbs 18:17). I imagine the parents of the student who took full advantage of chapel testimony time way-back-when would have fared much better had they been able to tell their side of the story. But it is not just parents who should have the right of rebuttal. Think about it; if you have heard an enhanced testimony you probably noticed they are usually about somebody else and how that other person has caused problems in the life of the one giving testimony. The truth is, no one who participates in a "sharing time" should be talking about another person - unless it is entirely positive and even then much care should be taken. Thus, a second biblical principle regularly ignored in enhanced testimonies is the right of the accused to give their side of the story. That's two strikes against the practice. More Than One Witness Another principle bearing on the subject is the requirement for multiple witnesses when an accusation is brought against another (Deuteronomy 19:15, 2 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:19). This is similar to the right to testify on your own behalf. Again, much of the modern testimony given in the church today is based upon some kind of accusation against another person. Unless there are multiple witnesses (along with the accused testifying - and calling witnesses) the one giving voice during the home group sharing time should keep their mouth shut. For that matter, they ought to keep their mouth shut during the small group anyway if their enhanced testimony involves accusing another person. An accusation of wrongdoing against another should take place in the company of church leadership not the general church body. Gossip and Tale Bearing The Bible says, it is foolish to belittle one's neighbor; a sensible person keeps quiet. A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence (Proverbs 11:12-13). At it's core, the enhanced testimony is often about belittling one's neighbor. After all, it is only by diminishing a brother or sister, parent, coworker or friend that the enhanced testifier is able to bring their own suffering into sharp relief. Nevertheless, to drag someone's name through the mud is a violation of biblical principles. It does not matter if a person feels they need to get something off their chest. It doesn't matter if they believe their story will help others "grow in Christ." What matters is obedience to God's word. Indeed, who may worship in your sanctuary, LORD? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? ...Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends (Psalms 15:1, 3). Think of Others More Highly Than Yourself The failure to observe the basic Christian principle of preferring others is what underlies the ongoing popularity of the enhanced testimony. It boils down to the testifier believing their "felt needs" trump everything else. The Bible says something different; don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too (Philippians 2:3-4). If Christians adhered to these words of Paul the enhanced testimony would be a thing of the past. It is inherently selfish to consider yourself so important that the circumstance of the other person doesn't matter. The enhanced testimony offers opportunity for the testifier to impress others. It is not an act of humility or an act of service to others but is behavior showing concern for one's own interests. Love The Bible tells us that all the law and the prophets can be summed up in love (Matthew 7:12, 22:39-40, Romans 13:8-10, cf. Leviticus 19:18). This does not mean God's commands are accomplished in warm fuzzy feelings for others. Biblical love is active. Loving others in a biblical way means we do not murder, do not commit adultery do not slander and so on but it also means we actively do good to others: we honor parents, we protect the vulnerable, we stand for justice (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 24:19-21, Psalms 82:3, Proverbs 24:11, 31:9, Isaiah 1:17, Jeremiah 22:3, James 1:27). Love is not simply the absence of wrong it is also the presence of biblically defined good. In short, biblical love is doing what most benefits the other person even at great cost to ourselves. It is clear the enhanced testimony is never a labor of love. For, love keeps no record of being wronged (1 Corinthians 13:5b). Yet, the enhanced testimony is usually all about a record of wrong. It is in the recitation of the wrong suffered that one seeks to paint themselves as a Holy Spirit empowered survivor. In reality, they reveal themselves to be embittered salves of unforgiveness. Certainly, the testifier needs the Body ministry of love and compassion but that does not mean there is a place for the enhanced testimony in the process. The Biblical Way To Deal With The Sin Of A Brother or Sister If a Christian finds himself in a situation where they are harmed by a fellow believer they must deal with it in a biblical fashion. In the first place, they need to speak to the person privately (Leviticus 19:17, Luke 17:3). If the offender refuses to listen, the victim must take the matter to church leadership. At that point, it is required for both parties to present their case. If the one who was originally accused is found at fault he or she must repent. If they refuse to do so, The entire church body will eventually participate in passing judgment of excommunication (Matthew 18:15-17). However, the goal is to clear up an issue "with sensitively and with a minimum of publicity. The principle set out in these verses is of minimum exposure, other people being brought in only when the more private approach has failed. The ideal solution is 'just between the two of you'"(R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of Matthew, 692). Conclusion A recent study conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University found that only 2% of American millennials have a Christian worldview. Part of the definition of a Christian worldview for the purpose of the study was, "believing that absolute moral truths exist and that such truth is defined by the Bible." When the Bible is no longer the foundation for living, Christian behavior is guided by emotion. Rather than asking "what does the Bible say?" the question becomes "how does this make me feel?" The enhanced testimony flourishes in that environment. The other person doesn't matter; in emotion-based "Christianity" it's all about "me." The way out of this mess is to teach the Bible and hold people accountable for their behavior. If someone begins to deliver an enhanced testimony during a gathering of the body, church leaders need to interrupt and tell the testifier they cannot continue. Leadership should investigate further to discover if there is a need for a Bible guided confrontation as described in Matthew chapter 18. If not, the person who desires to deliver an enhanced testimony must be instructed in proper Bible-based behavior. Unless we are willing to do this, the enhanced testimony will continue to be a part of the Christian experience and will continue to do damage to the Body of Christ.

Christian Living