The public sharing of our faith–or testimony–has always been a challenge for Christians. This was a significant element for the ancient Jewish community and for the Early Church as well. However, although the testimony usually plays a significant role in some cultures such as the Latin-American society or most countries in Africa, keeping faith public in North America is not as easy as it seems.
I strongly believe that sharing their faith responsibly is the main challenge that believers have in North America since churches first need to overcome the rampant individualism found in the American society. In this paper, I will follow Bishop Thomas Hoyt Jr.’s understanding of sharing the faith publicly, which is what happens when “people speak truthfully about what they have experienced and seen, offering it to the community for the edification of all.” (Hoyt, p. 90)
The main problem of keeping faith private is that only a few close people will know about the things God is doing in the lives of believers. This is definitely a challenge for the North-American Christians. When God does works in us, He also expects Christians to share our experiences with our neighbors, friends, family, etc. Further, if Christians do not share their testimony, how will others know what Christian life is about? Since being a Christian is a process, sharing a testimony is also a process. As God deserves praise and worship, believers should always be thankful for the redemptive work of Jesus. Christians should respond to God’s grace both privately and publicly. It is in that moment when testimony becomes one of the best tools to spread the Gospel to world responsibly. And this is because the sharing of faith is not an optional practice inside Christianity, but something that we have commanded, according to Mark’s gospel, “Go ye into the all world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15, ASV) When we keep our faith public not only are we obeying the Scriptures, but we are spreading the Good News. And even more important, we are offering an acceptable sacrifice to God. In Francis A. Schaeffer’s book True Spirituality, he affirms that “God has always intended that Christians should be the evidence, the demonstration of Christ’s victory on the cross.” (Schaeffer, p. 71) That is, we are living examples of what God has done in our lives, and others will notice it through different ways – our actions and our words, for instance (Cf. 1 Pet. 2:4). In this sense, Schaeffer also states, “Christians are called upon to be a demonstration at our point of history that the supernatural, the normally unseen world, does exist; and, beyond that, that God exists. They are to do this individually and corporately, each generation of Christians to their own generation.” (Schaeffer, p. 72) Thus, when people speak to others about a specific experience in their lives, the listeners also experience God’s grace in a powerful manner, probably noticing that God’s favor is resting upon them. This can make the other people more interested in knowing God better. It is in this point that the American approach about keeping faith private usually fails. For example, we find missionaries preaching the word to others, but at the same time, some of them do not practice what they preach.
A very significant example about sharing our faith publicly and responsibly is the Samaritan woman’s story. She did not manipulate her neighbors; she simply shared. John’s Gospel informs us, “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed on him because of the word of the woman, who testified, “He told me all things that ever I did. So when the Samaritans came unto him, they besought him to abide with them: and he abode there two days.” (John 4:39-40, ASV) In this story, God used the woman’s testimony to spread the Good News to others, and many Samaritans believed in Jesus and his ministry. So, observation will be always a vital point of testimony since people usually add new elements of interpretation to the original event in order that people who are listening to our testimony can better understand what we want to say. The more good things we observe in other Christians, the more we appreciate God’s work in others. It is for this reason I think that the importance of observing (and later sharing) will let us grow as believers. The way, for example, the Spaniards conquered the Americas five hundred years ago and established the Catholic religion is not the best policy to share Gospel.
Another example of testimony, this one emphasizing the importance of learning from past experience, is found in Joshua. In this example, Rahab said to the spies sent by Joshua into Jericho:
I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the people of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you.
The question that arises in this story is how the people of Jericho knew about these stories. The text does not identify the source of the story but Rahab considered the Red Sea story to be real and all the facts described have happened. The way Rahab heard all these stories was through the testimony of one or more persons who spread the news as a way of testifying to what God had done with the Israelites. People from Israel thought that the Red Sea episode could not be ignored since it was not a good thing that the future generations could fall into oblivion regarding these miraculous happenings. Although Rahab was not a Hebrew woman, she learned a personal lesson from this testimony and then feared God. She did not want to die in the same way the two kings of the Amorites did. For this reason, Rahab, the prostitute, saved the lives of these two Israelite spies. Later in the Bible, Rahab appeared again in the genealogy of Christ. It is important to note that everything began with a testimony that someone told about the wonders that God had done (Cf. Psalm 105:5).
Once we understand the importance of testimony in Christian life, we will also comprehend what being a disciple is about. Testimony and discipleship are logically related to each other. Juan Carlos Ortiz wrote it in this way, “Discipleship is not a communication of knowledge or information. It is a communication of life. That’s why Jesus said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63). Discipleship is more than getting to know what the teacher knows. It is getting to be what he is.” (Ortiz, p. 105). And though keeping our faith public in North America is a hard challenge to overcome, spreading the gospel and telling what God has done for us is invaluable. Testimony is an ongoing process of continuous learning. As Christians, we are learning about God’s grace and mercy every day. There is always something to learn and to share so that we must not forget that Christian testimony is one of the best ways God speaks to people.
Notes & References
Thomas Hoyt Jr., “Testimony,” in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for A Searching People, ed., Dorothy C. Bass (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012), 90.)