More and more I hear of members of the church speaking about “witnessing” and less frequently do I hear about members of the church speaking about teaching the gospel of Christ. While the term “witness” is a biblical one and while many people speak of “witnessing” within the denominational world, perhaps we should wonder if the way the Bible uses the term and the way the denominations use the term coincide. Are we as Christians allowing the denominational world to change our ways or are we as Christians seeking to change the ways of denominations? It appears that in this terminology we have allowed denominationalism to take control.
As I look at all the different ways in which the word witness is used in the scriptures, I don’t find a single solitary instance in which it is used in the same way that most religious people use the word today. We see that the apostles were eyewitnesses of the resurrection and so was the apostle Paul (Acts 1:22; 4:33; 22:15). The Holy Spirit was a witness to the Jews that the Gentiles were to receive the gospel message (Acts 15:8). God gave witness to the apostles and prophets through miraculous signs and wonders that what they said and taught was true (Hebrews 2:4). John writes that the record that God gave of His Son, Jesus, is the witness that is in us, if we believe that record (1 John 5:9,10). However, we never read of an apostle, prophet, or inspired teacher within the New Testament telling Christians to go out and “witness” for Christ. “Preach the gospel”–Yes. “Witness”–No. Where does this concept come from?
When a member of a denomination stands up and “witnesses” they usually tell of all the “great things” God has done for them in their life. Perhaps they will speak about how God saved them from drugs. Perhaps they will speak about how God helped them get over a financial crisis. Perhaps they will speak about how God helped them become a good father or mother. The witnessing is always “how God personally helped me.” The focus of these “testimonies” is upon the individual’s personal experience. From this, those who are listening to the speaker are supposed to conclude that God will work some kind of personal experience for them as well and that they are supposed to come to believe in God based upon this “testimony.” Notice, however, that the faith that is generated by these “testimonies” does not come from God’s word, but from someone’s personal, subjective experience. Herein lies the danger; the Bible says “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Those who stand up and give personal “testimonies” and “witness” for God are doing the world no favor. They are not preaching the word of God–they are preaching their own subjective, emotional experiences. They are causing people to believe something other than the word of God, and that is NOT biblical faith.
Perhaps someone might say, “Well, the Holy Spirit is really the one who is witnessing.” No doubt, this is what many believe today who participate in this kind of thing. However, the Holy Spirit is not the author of confusion according to 1 Corinthians 14:33 and the Holy Spirit wrote Romans 10:17. Now is the Holy Spirit going to say that faith comes by hearing the word at one point in time and then turn around and say that faith comes by doing something OTHER than hearing the word at another point in time? For someone to say such would be indicting the Holy Spirit of a lie. Either faith comes by hearing the word of God or it does not. Either the Holy Spirit told the truth when He said that faith comes by hearing the word of God or these people who are “witnessing” today are lying. I will stick with Paul, “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).
Why would Christians get caught up in such foolishness? Do they no longer believe that faith comes by hearing the word of God? Do they believe that their simple personal stories are more important than the story of the cross? Do they believe that God’s saving power lies within their own personal experience as opposed to the resurrection of the Son of God? Let us, as Christians, put away such speech from our vocabulary. Let’s believe what the Bible has to say about how faith comes and resolve to preach God’s word instead of exalting our own personal experience above the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16). Let us resolve not to know anything save Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Let’s resolve to speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11).