Witnessing

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Earlier articles on this website critical of modern evangelism nowhere suggest that we don’t have a task to witness. Br Retief, for example, said “sharing the gospel is undoubtedly part of the believer’s everyday life”. That’s not the same as the Biblical term ‘evangelism’ which the Bible uses for the “official preaching of God’s Word”. Nor is witnessing the same as “modern evangelism” which is the idea that “every believer is seen as some kind of missionary who must proclaim the gospel”. [i] Witnessing is distinct from both these. So, what is witnessing?

Under the title Your Ecumenical Task Dr K Schilder once delivered a speech in which he called his hearers, as Christians, to witness boldly to the world around them. This call is as relevant, as difficult and as urgent today as it was then and, since Schilder had quite a bit to say about it, allow me to quote liberally from his pearls of wisdom.

I fear that, when we consider this call and the Scriptural examples of our forefathers, our witnessing to those around us leaves much to be desired. Mine does and, I have observed, I’m no orphan in this regard. Too often we lack the boldness, the frankness and the conviction to dare to be ourselves as Christians. We realize that, as members of Christ’s church, we are different from the great majority of people around us. And, of course, we should be different: holy, dedicated to the Lord. What we should not be, however, is ashamed of being different, of being Christ confessors in all avenues of our lives. Our timidity, our reluctance to speak and act different to the world there where our holiness demands difference is a denial of Christ. Moreover, our restraint at such a time shows no real love towards our neighbour since, whilst it may arise out of a desire not to wish to offend him, does nothing for his eternal well-being.

Witnessing by our actions. “Saying grace” – painting by Norman Rockwell.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we are not sufficiently aware of the importance of the lives of each individual one of us. We know that we are Christ’s co-workers. But co-workers in what? We agree with Kuyper that there is not a square inch of this earth of which Christ does not say: “It is Mine”. And we know that therefore God’s commandments must be obeyed by everyone on earth. We have also learnt that we are not strangers on earth. That God has given the earth to us as our work terrain. Yet when we consider our small numbers and the host of unbelievers in amongst whom we have been placed and note that we are the ones who are different, that we are the odd ones out, we tend to smother the differences instead of sharpening them, to be quiet when we should speak out. In short, we do not sufficiently dare to witness that our lives are dedicated to the Lord.

Why is such witnessing so important? Schilder reminds us that God’s purpose in creating the universe was for His self-glorification. Man, the crown on the creation, was given the mandate to glorify God in his handiwork. He was primarily image-bearer of God, a servant son who as prophet, priest and king received the cultural mandate to cultivate the ground, to replenish the earth and have dominion over it, and to do all this to the glory of God the Creator.

But Satan, who had unsuccessfully tried to appropriate God’s glory for himself in heaven, and been excluded as a result, now tried to steal it on earth and so destroy God’s purpose of self-glorification on earth. And we know the result: man rebelled and denied his relationship to the Father, becoming an ally of God’s enemy, the devil.

Had God left things as they stood, we all would be doomed to hell, to absolute hopelessness, eternal misery, complete and utter alienation from God. It would also have meant that Satan would have successfully achieved his purpose.

God therefore set the antithesis, separating the church from the world, saving the one and leaving the other to its just condemnation. He promised the second Adam, Christ the anointed One, who not only is our substitute to bear the wrath of God for us, but also to be our replacement to fulfill the cultural mandate given to our first father.

As the anointed One, Christ obeyed the will of God perfectly, witnessing of God through His words and actions. He gave His life as a sacrifice to God for man, spoke God’s Word to those about Him and now rules creation.

As partakers of Christ’s anointing we, too, says Lord’s Day 12, follow Christ in living to the glory of God. We do that by confessing God’s name, by presenting ourselves a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him, and by fighting against sin and the devil.

There is an inescapable relationship between these three roles of the Christian listed in Lord’s Day 12 and witnessing. For to confess God’s name is to witness of Him to others, to present ourselves a living sacrifice of thankfulness is to witness of that thankfulness also to others, and to fight against sin and the devil is to witness of Christ’s lordship over all of life and therefore of the need for all to submit to His commandments.

Such witnessing is not easy. In fact it is, says Schilder, the most difficult thing there is, because it means coming with the Word, which to the Jews is a stumble-block and to the Greeks is foolishness. It is foolishness to the world around us. That Word will always be opposed by the Satan, the father of lies.

Thus the antithesis, which God set between the church and the world in paradise, manifests itself there where God’s children boldly dare to be themselves as Christians, faithfully fulfilling their threefold office of prophet, priest and king.

This threefold office, the crux of our cultural mandate, manifests itself in our witnessing and forces the antithesis. For God’s Word is a two-edged sword. It will cause either acceptance or rejection. And that rejection, when it is continually confronted by what God requires in His Word, and by activities done in faithfulness to that Word, will become stronger and may well result in physical violence.

Consider just some examples from Scriptures. Enoch walked with God. He saw the wickedness around him and admonished the people consistently. They responded by trying to kill him. But God took this faithful witness directly to heaven so that he would not see death.

Consider also Noah, who in a world of millions of godless, wicked people was the only one found faithful. For 120 years he was ridiculed and laughed to scorn as, in faithfulness to God’s command, he built a mammoth ship on dry land. Yet his admonitions and his faithful obedience to God’s will honoured God and were a continuous warning of the judgement to come.

And so the list could go on. People who refused to deny their Saviour, persecuted even unto death because they boldly dared to uphold the name of their Saviour and resist sin and Satan. Such standing up for the truth spurs reaction. It forces the antithesis to become manifest. Yet the work of these faithful witnesses was done in love towards God and their neighbours.

Such witnessing has value for eternity. In the first place because such love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and as such a glorifying of God and an assurance of life eternal for the person expressing that love. In the second place it has value for the hearer because by standing up for the truth you are seeking that person’s salvation, his eternal life.

Thus witnessing is an act of love which places the hearers or observers at the crossroads each time again. They can respond positively to your witnessing, in which case the road to eternal life is opened to them, or they can respond negatively, in which case they stare hell in the face.

Such witnessing is a God-given mandate. Not only do we learn this from the examples of faithful witnesses mentioned earlier, but there are several specific texts relating to it. In Matthew 5:13 we read: “You are the salt of the earth”. And in verse 14:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

And in Philippians 2:15 we read: “…be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…”

Here you see the antithesis again. We are to be blameless; the world is crooked and perverse. In the midst of this wickedness, we are to hold fast the word of life. Greijdanus translates this “holding fast” into “naar voren houden”, holding it forth so that others can see it.

From various passages in Scriptures, it is evident that witnessing is to be done through both words and works. Through words because 1 Thessalonians 1:8 says: “The Word of the Lord sounded forth from you.” In Matthew 10:32 Christ says: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men…”. And in 1 Peter 2:9 we are commanded to “…declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.”  But no less through deeds. Philippians 2:15 says: “Be blameless in the midst of a perverse generation”. Matthew 5:16 says: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works…”. John 13:35 says: “By this people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We confess the importance of our lifestyle in witnessing in Lord’s Day 32 where, as a fruit of thankfulness, it is said that “by your godly walk our neighbour also may be won for Christ”. The emphasis on words and deeds is summed up beautifully in Lord’s Day 12 in our threefold office of prophet, priest and king. As prophet we witness with our words, as priest and king with our deeds.

Such witnessing does not demand special gifts, such as a fluent speaking ability or a special job. It does demand faith and faithfulness. Schilder said, in Christ and Culture. “A Christian labourer who dares to be himself as a Christian is again a piece of health in an unhistoric, business-like-Americanised world; he is worth more in subdued force than a whole college of science that has not seen God”.

Daring to be yourself as Christian. Yes, do we dare? Or are we afraid of forcing the antithesis? Our sins in this regard lie not so much in what we do as in what we won’t do. And the stimulants for us to speak up are endless: blasphemy, slander, boasts about unjust tax evasion, disrespect for those in authority, rebellion – you name it. Such witnessing is not easy. Indeed, Schilder, in Your Ecumenical Task, calls it “the most difficult thing there is, because it means coming not with stories, nor with pictures, or haloes or heroes, but with the Word of God”. Witnessing is “speaking pointedly about the carefully disclosed consequences from what God has told us for today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. And do you think that is a cosy affair? You’d better not,” says Schilder; “it will cost you your life; pawns are tolerated in a chessboard counter-offensive; but sounding trumpets … are smashed up in anger.”

Nevertheless such faithful witnessing, the quiet, level-headed passing on of the contents of Scripture is, adds Schilder, our ecumenical task, our primary mandate. Where should we witness? There where God has placed us: on the job, in the home, within the church, at a meeting, in the factory – wherever we find ourself in our daily walk of life. “Never run away from your place,” says Schilder, “do not hanker after a place different from where God has placed you.”

It will be evident from everything I’ve said that witnessing in an individual task. We cannot palm it off on a group set up for evangelism or for political and social action. The call is there for each of us personally, individually, there where God has placed us.

We must continually keep in mind the great purposes for which God has placed us on earth. First, that in our whole walk of life we live to the glory of God. That means being holy, dedicated to the Lord and showing this in everything we do. Second, that by boldly witnessing in our walk of life we show ourselves to be on the side of Christ in the great antithesis God set in paradise.

By boldly witnessing we are Christ’s co-workers and as such play an important role in promoting the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the reason history is being prolonged, says Schilder in What is Heaven, is so that through the antithesis, through the fluctuating tensions of the process, the arena for Christ and the antichrist is being prepared. And through it all God is pursuing His greatest piece of art – namely, the triumph of the last one of his elect over the world. 

Thus, faithful witnessing is a thankful act of love towards God and our neighbour, but is no less a judgement on those who ignore or oppose this witnessing. While history continues there will remain two camps: the camp of the world and the camp of the church. Our task is to keep the camp of the church pure and to attract those from the world to it. Whilst history continues, those of the world have the opportunity to repent. That is why witnessing has such tremendous eschatological value. It is a matter of eternal life or of eternal death.

On the other hand, our norms for witnessing should be governed not by methods we deem best but by faithful adherence to the clear norms of Scripture.

May God help us to overcome our weaknesses herein and grant us the boldness to confess Him in our whole walk of life. For herein, also, we may show ourselves to be co-workers of Christ in promoting God’s glory and the coming of His kingdom.

[i] Johannes Retief, More on Evangelism – Defence of the Truth

K Schilder’s Your Ecumenical Task was translated from Dutch and published by the Free Reformed Publishing Committee, Launceston, 1975. It was republished in Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church by Rudolf van Reest, pp. 445ff.