If we are witnesses by virtue of the fact that we have accepted Christ, that has many implications–some of which are not all that comfortable. One of the more uncomfortable implications is that I am a witness all the time. That isn’t a real problem on those day when I am doing well, my faith is in the right place, I am surrounded by people who I get along with and I am not stressed–I think I remember one such day happening many years ago.
However, on the days when I am stressed, struggling with my perennial depression, trying to deal with five dozen issues in the church and worst of all, following someone on the highway who persists in driving well under the speed limit, it is very uncomfortable to be a witness. I would much prefer to be anything but a witness as I plot revenge filled futures for the driver in front of me. I would also prefer that that driver not know I am a believer as I pass him/her in a less than legal manner.
For me, the really uncomfortable thing about always being a witness is that I can’t always be a good witness. Practically and theologically, people outside the faith are using my life as an example of what a believer is and does. But practically and theologically, I am not a perfect Christian. I don’t know any perfect Christians but I am more concerned with my own imperfection than theirs, at least on my good days. On my bad days, it does sometimes help to see another Christian whose witness is worse than mine.
I have discovered that there is a good way and a bad way to deal with this uncomfortable state. The bad way is to ignore the reality that I am not a perfect witness. If I pretend that everything I do is acceptable God and a good witness, I don’t have to feel uncomfortable. If I just ignore the failures and sins and inconsistencies in my faith and my life, I can pretend that I am a good witness all the time. Unfortunately, the pretense wears thin and fails–while I can chose to ignore the sins and wrongs in my life, most of them are visible to those who see me and interact with me or drive slowly in front of me.
The ignoring route has been one of the favourite choices of the church over the years. The results of this approach have generally been negative: the faith as a whole and individual believers have been called hypocrites; our message has been ignored or ridiculed; people have been driven away from the faith by our witness. The approach persists, though, because it is easy and comfortable for the church and for believers–we don’t need to confront the sin that is always a part of our lives, even though we have been believers for many years.
We might always be witnesses but we are not always perfect–and therefore, we are not perfect witnesses. The situation is made worse by the fact that we generally can’t pick and choose when we will be a witness. We can and do often choose when we will be a verbal witness but we can’t really stop people from observing our behaviour and making assumptions about our faith and the Faith in general from what they see.
Any approach to witnessing that ignores our persistent and habitual failure to live up to our faith is doomed to fail. On our good days, we will be good witnesses to people and maybe even be used by God to bring people to the faith–but on our bad days, we will actually drive people away and bring disrespect on our faith. We are dealing with two powerful, unchanging realities: first, by virtue of our faith, we are witnesses whether we want to be or not and second, we are not perfect, no matter how much we pretend to be.
We need a better approach to the whole witnessing issue, one that deals effectively with these two realities. What we are doing isn’t working–we need only remind ourselves of the state of our faith in North America to see that our witness is not very effective these days.
So, how do we faithfully witness when we are less than perfect witnesses? We will look at that in the next post.
May the peace of God be with you.