Christian Witnessing (1)

[Introductory Note: The contents of our column this issue are the substance of a speech delivered for a Mr. and Mrs. League Meeting held last month. Since the speech is concerning a matter which properly belongs to subjects treated in this rubric, we thought it appropriate to include a written draft in our column. 

The treatment of the subject of Christian Witnessing in this article must not be considered exhaustive. There are aspects of witnessing which are not mentioned. There is first of all, e.g., the whole subject of the witnessing which is carried on by the Church as a whole. I refer specifically to such work as is being done by our radio broadcasts, our Standard Bearer andBeacon Lights, the programs of our local congregations in pamphlet distribution, etc. And it would be a mistake to de-emphasize the importance of this work. There is also the whole subject of so-called “corporate witnessing,” advocated strongly by some and a form of witnessing which takes place through various Christian organizations. This is a subject in its own right which is not treated within the scope of this article. 

The article is intended, rather to concentrate upon the individual believer’s calling to be a witness; and to lay down guidelines and Scriptural principles which ought to be followed.

Nor is it our intention to overlook the positive Christian witness which is made constantly by our people and our Churches in the establishment and maintenance of Christian day schools, the support of various kingdom causes as our Theological School, the faithful attendance at divine worship services—all of which are means of witnessing in their own right which have far greater effects than we can measure. In all these things we ought to give humble thanks to our covenant God Who has enabled us to perform all these tasks to His praise and glory.] 

Christian witnessing is a subject of considerable interest in our day. There are several reasons for this. One such reason is that various movements have emphasized this aspect of the Christian’s calling very strongly. I refer to, such movements as Campus Crusade, Youth For Christ; Explo ’72, Key ’73 and its companion program, Evangelism Thrust. In fact, so much is this emphasized that it is gradually becoming a substitute for the preaching of the gospel. 

This discussion has been carried on within the churches. There has been, for example, a discussion recently carried on in The Banner and The Outlook on the subject of Confrontation Witness in which one writer went so far as to say: “Confrontation witness is the very essence of the Christian life.” This is, however, only one example of many such discussions which are being carried on. 

On the assumption that Scripture indeed calls us to be witnesses in the world, the discussion has also been carried on within our own Churches. And the question naturally arises: How can we be such witnesses? 

That this is indeed our calling is plain from such passages as Isaiah 43:10, 12: “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.” 

It is also true that we are not always as faithful in our calling as we ought to be. Nevertheless, I am afraid that we are sometimes tempted to follow the methods of modern evangelism. Against this we must be on our guard. 

The Character of Christian Witnessing 

Before we actually enter into a discussion of our specific calling to be witnesses, we must understand clearly what Christian witnessing is. There might be some who are impatient with this discussion. I have heard it said, e.g., that we spend so much time in discussing the theological questions involved that we never get around to the actual task of witnessing. Whether there is truth to this assertion or not, the fact is that unless we understand clearly Scripture’s teaching on this subject, we shall go badly astray. This is evident, on the one hand, from the fact that much of today’s witnessing proceeds from a humanistic and man-centered viewpoint. The subject revolves around what man must do, what man accomplishes, how man responds, etc. There are any number of expressions which bear this out. In connection with witnessing, one hears, e.g.; such expressions as: “confronting others with the challenge to accept Christ”; “zeroing in on one’s prospect”; “techniques for soul winning”; “pushing for a decision”; “confronting America with Christ”; “sharing Christ with all men”; “winning the world for Christ.” I consider all such expressions as completely Arminian and thoroughly anti-Scriptural both in their wording and in the theology which they imply. Such witnessing is not the calling of the Christian and is directly contrary to the Word of God. 

It is of utmost importance that over against all this humanistic emphasis we be theological also in the matter of witnessing. We must begin with God, proceed throughout from the viewpoint of God and His purpose, and end with God alone. Only then will we fulfill our calling. 

On the other hand, we must get straight what is the relation between preaching and witnessing. It is possible, I presume, to get bogged down in this discussion. Here, too, the complaint is often made that we have put so much emphasis on the preaching of the gospel that we have, in effect, denied the Christian’s calling to witness. I do not believe this objection is true, but there it is; the complaint is often made. 

But this subject is important, too, because the general direction witnessing takes today makes of witnessing a substitute for the preaching. Not only are all Christians called evangelists, but by this terminology the distinction between the official preaching of the Word by an ordained ministry and the Christian witnessing of believers is blurred and erased. In fact, so common is this becoming that there are trends even to discard the preaching altogether in favor of evangelism and personal witnessing. This danger is to be found in the A.A.C.S. Movement (The Association for the Advancement of Christian Studies) with its emphasis on separate Christian organizations. It is characteristic of modern day evangelistic programs. And it is increasingly the emphasis of Key ’73 programs. I have, for example, before me a list of recommendations to make Key ’73 evangelistic programs effective in a congregation. In connection with the sermon, they include: Invitation from the pulpit to invite unsaved neighbors and friends to I worship service. Sermons on how to witness. Short sermon for children in addition to regular sermon. Opportunity for personal testimonies or personal commitment. In connection with congregational involvement, the recommendations include: allow more people more voice in the services to society. More involvement for small children. Place in our service for more expressions of joy and gladness. More openness of faith and not such a formal setting for church service. More congregational involvement during service. We have also reported before in our magazine how some are advocating a complete dismemberment of the present church structure and worship service so that personal witnessing may be more effective. 

And so we must also discuss the relation between preaching and witnessing. 

If we were to formulate a definition of Christian witnessing, we might do so along the following lines: “Witnessing is the calling of the Church of Christ to testify through her members of the riches of the Word of God to those with whom these members come into contact, believing that God will use that Word according to His own purpose in Christ.”

There are several elements of importance implied in this definition. In the fast place, we must be clear on the point that God is the only One Who can witness. We mean by this especially two things. On the one hand, God is the only One Who can witness of Himself. He alone can speak of Himself and make Himself known in all the riches of His own divine being and in all the works which He has determined to do. But, on the other hand, even when God calls us to be His witnesses, God Himself witnesses through us. He gives us the spiritual ability to know the truth; He gives us the words we must speak. He presents the opportunity and occasion for witness. And He alone can make that witness bear the fruit which He has intended. 

In the second place, God’s witness of Himself is recorded in the Holy Scriptures. He has caused the testimony of Himself to be infallibly set down by holy men in His Word. Here then is the standard of all truth and the only content of our witnessing as well. It is clear therefore that, when we witness, we witness of God. This is surely what the passage which we quoted above from Isaiah 43 means when it says: “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord . . .” 

In the third place, this witness has been entrusted to the Church. There is a rather significant passage in Luke 24:48 in this connection. We read there and in the foregoing verses: “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” There are some interesting features about this text. It is true, of course, that this passage refers particularly to the fact that the preaching of the gospel was committed to the apostles, and, through them, to the New Testament Church. But the truths set forth in this passage are applicable also to this matter of witnessing. 

In the first place, it is stressed in the text that the apostles’ ability to understand the Scriptures was dependent entirely upon the fact that the Lord opened their understanding. Without this work of grace it was impossible for them, and it remains impossible for us to know the truth of the Word of God. Secondly, the apostles are, with the understanding of the Scriptures given to them, made witnesses of all the Scriptures say. They were, of course, personal witnesses of the events of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. But they are called to be witnesses, that is, to testify of these things in their future work. And the point is driven home, therefore, that for the people of God to be witnesses of God and Christ, it is necessary that they possess spiritual understanding of the Scriptures—understanding of such a kind that it gives them, through the Word of God, personal acquaintance with Christ Himself. 

Thus the calling of the Church to witness is a calling given to the Church as a whole, but also is the particular calling of each individual member who stands in the office of believers.

And this brings us to the second question of the relation between witnessing and the preaching. 

It is important to maintain this distinction, especially when the lines between the two are being more and more blurred in our day; and when, in fact, preaching is being abandoned in favor of witnessing. 

The distinction is principally between the preaching which is the official proclamation of ordained officebearers by which God calls His elect people out of darkness into light; and witnessing which is the testifying of each member of the church of the inheritance which he possesses in Christ. 

There is the closest possible relation between the two. 

First of all, preaching is the spiritual power of witnessing. It is through the preaching that the people of God are enabled to be witnesses of God in the world. Separated from the preaching, true witnessing is impossible. Secondly, preaching and witnessing complement each other. The content of preaching and witnessing is the same. Believers preach through the instituted offices in the church, while they witness in the office of believers. Both are the work of God which He performs within the Church. Thirdly, witnessing serves the Church and the truth of God. Witnessing may and can bring to the Church of Christ. Our Heidelberg Catechism speaks of this in Lord’s Day XXXII when it explains that the necessity to do good works is, in part, to be found in the fact that “by our godly conversation, others may be gained to Christ.” Nevertheless, even in this connection, the important thing is that God’s name is given constant testimony in the world. 

(to be continued)