WITNESSING: DUTY OR PRIVILEGE
Often times we wonder about our joy in proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. Too often we stand by with a ready bit of criticism about what we don't like, yet we are unwilling to change the situation ourselves.
One day a lady criticized Dwight L. Moody for his methods of Evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody's reply was "I agree with you. I don't like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?" The lady replied, "I don't do it." Moody retorted, "Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."
In today's reading from ROMANS 10:5-15, Paul declares the message of salvation: "If you believe with your heart, and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord you will be saved." Paul reminds the church how important it is that this message of hope be made available to everyone, because God's mercy is for all. Paul confidently states that "those who believe will not be disappointed." Whereas in the past that confidence came through obedience to the Law, now our confidence comes from the power of Christ's death and resurrection.
As Christians living in a narcissistic, materialistic world witnessing to others in the name of Christ often becomes more of a duty than a privilege. To often the image that we conjure up when we talk about witnessing is that of shoving a tract with the 4 Spiritual Laws down somebody's throat. And, in a way it's not surprizing. The Hare Krishna and Jehovah Witnesses just have a way of driving chills down our backs when we see them in the airports or walking up our driveways.
But, there are other obstacles that keep us from giving witness in word and in action that Jesus Christ is Lord. The obvious obstacles, namely giving an impression of being associated with some group of religious fanatics, are, in my opinion, only a cop-out for some of the more deep seated fears that we have with regards to giving testimony to Christ's work in our lives.
In our society, we work hard at being unique individuals... until it comes to religion. Then we try to blend in with society and not stick out like a sore thumb. I believe, that too often the Church is confused about it's role in society.
George Morrow of Morrow Computer Systems observed: An article in the Harvard Business Review, called "Market Myopia" talked about how some people didn't understand what business they were in. For example, the railroad people didn't realize they were in the transportation business; they thought they were in the railroad business. Had they realized they were in the transportation business they would have invested in the airplane. The telegraph people thought they were in the telegraph business instead of the communications business. In 1886 or so, they could have bought all the telephone patents for $40,000. So obviously these people didn't know what business they were in. I used to think these guys were really dumb because they didn't know what business they were in. Then Morrow asked himself, "What business am I in?" I have yet to hear an intelligent answer to that question, he says. I don't know what business I'm in."
I wonder if this is a question that the Church needs to ask itself from time to time. What business are we in?
The Church of Jesus Christ has been "set apart" as a holy people to be the agents of God's message of reconciliation. Rather than blending in, the Church is a community of faith that is set apart as an agent of God's love and grace.
Another hindrance to the Church's call to be a witness is our lack of a sense of responsibility for other people. Paul lays the responsibility for the salvation of others directly on the Church and its leaders. In v. 14 we read, 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent?
Jesus has sent each and every person who lays claim to his name. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." The Scriptures leave no room for doubt about the Church's responsibility to be God's agents of reconciliation.
Why is it then that witnessing or evangelism or carrying out the great commission seems to be a drag rather than a privilege for many Christians. I suggest that there are two possibilities: one that we are unwilling to put in the effort, and two, that we don't quite know how to do it.
In most instances I believe that we would be willing if we knew how. We may be afraid of making the same mistake as the character in this story. Scheduled to speak in Philadelphia at the Town Hall, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen decided to walk from his hotel even though he was unfamiliar with the city. Sure enough, he became lost and was forced to ask some boys to direct him to his destination. One of them asked Sheen, "What are you going to do there?" "I'm going to give a lecture," replied the Bishop. "About what?" "On how to get to heaven. Would you care to come along?" "Are you kidding?" said the boy, "you don't even know how to get to Town Hall!"
I wonder if the Church today lacks the confidence to get to its destination. What if I'm wrong? What if we don't have all the answers? What if they ask all those impossible questions about the "just and loving God"? What if they accuse the Church of being stuck in its tracks and full of hypocrits?
Paul makes it very clear that salvation involves two things: inward faith (believing with the heart) and outward confession (confessing with the mouth).
The privilege and responsibility of sharing Christ's life-giving love with others affects each and everyone of us who bear Christ's name. I guess the greatest challenge for most of us to overcome is the question, "Why would I wanna do that?" "If God loves me regardless, and if God will understand that I'm not a good speaker and feel vulnerable when I talk about my faith, why would God coerce me into being his witness?"
I think deep down we know the answer to the "why?" It has to do with our attitude towards Christ's work of reconciliation with God on our behalf. However, what I'm not so convinced about is that we have all the answers to the "how?"
How do we confess Jesus as Lord, so that others will be transformed by the reconciling love of God? How do we turn our sense of guilt and failure into an effective witness out of reverence and gratitude to the risen Christ? I believe that God gave the Church a creative mind to discover the multitude of opportunities to share our faith stories with others.
When we trust God as we open our hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit with an attitude of reverence and service to Christ, God will bless our witness, and "they will know that we are His disciples."
As we leave the House of God today let us go out into the world with the conviction that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Let us invite others into our life, that they may see the wonders of God's grace and love working through us.