Unsworn Testimony

For most of the United States, if not the English-speaking world, the word testimony brings certain images to mind.  People think of someone giving testimony in a trial or before an investigating body of some sort.  Certainly, most have had the opportunity to witness someone giving sworn testimony on television.  Police dramas, courtroom television and public broadcasts or Congressional Hearings have given everyone the opportunity to see someone take an oath and give sworn testimony.

Sworn testimony is important to society and the legal system.  Having someone testify under oath is a way to encourage truthfulness and allow prosecution of people who lie during a legal proceeding. Most court cases depend on the sincerity and clarity of the sworn testimony presented during a trail.

There is another form of testimony that has nothing to do with the legal system.  Yet, it may be the most important testimony one can be asked to give.  It is the testimony concerning one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, it seems many who have a testimony do not know it and many who need one have no idea what a Christian testimony is.

This situation came to this writer’s attention through his home church.  As a bible church, it was not, and still is not,  concerned with building membership.  It was more concerned with teaching the Word of God and encouraging the congregation to study His word, serve the church, the community, each other and the Lord.  However, as the church grew ever more people wanted to feel more a part of the church.  They wanted to be members,  not just attenders.

The church had a membership process.  It just was not often used.  The process included an interview with a membership committee.  During the interview, the people petitioning for membership were briefed on the church’s doctrinal statement and constitution. As the number of people seeking membership grew, problems developed with the interview process.

One was fairly easily solved.  The church doctrine and constitution were not terribly complex, but explaining them to a handful of people at a time was time consuming.  Also, there were occasional problems when petitioners realized their personal beliefs did not align completely with the church position.

A more difficult problem was the requirement for a prospective member to give his or her testimony during a membership interview.  Church leaders wanted to be certain people asking to become members understood and could communicate their relationship with Christ. The church quickly discovered many people did not have an understanding of  Christian testimony.

A common response to the question concerning a petitioner’s testimony was, “What do you mean?”  When told the committee wanted to know how they came to know Christ and how God had worked in their lives several common themes emerged.

Some prospective members would say they had attended church all their life and that was their testimony.  Another response was that the petitioner held a letter of membership in another church that he or she could transfer to the church.  Some would refer to their baptism as an infant or child. Few understood the committee was asking them to tell the story of how they came to believe and how God had worked in their lives.

The number of people who did not understand the concept of a Christian testimony was a concern.  To address the testimony and doctrine issue, the church developed a series of classes to help congregants understand the both from the church’s point of view.

Someone who understands the concept of a Christian testimony may find it hard to believe that a churched person would not understand it.  Unfortunately, many, if not most, churches are filled with social Christians or others who attend for various reasons not clearly focused on spiritual growth. It is easy to see how these people, even if the reasons for attending church became more focused, would have trouble with giving their testimony.

The purpose of this essay is not to embarrass or condemn people who do not have or do not know they have a testimony.  Nor is it the purpose of this piece to suggest one should develop  a testimony simply to join a church.  One’s testimony is not the equivalent of a spiritual resume’ or memoir.  It is the basis for one’s relationship with God.  It is the story of how one came to know God, and how God has worked in one’s life.  It is much more important than a story a petitioner is asked to tell a group of church leaders before membership is granted.

The problem discovered at this writer’s church was not that people seeking membership were not believers.  The problem was not that they did not have a testimony.  The problem was they did not know they had a testimony.  They had attended churches or read the bible without realizing that they were building a relationship with God.  They were not recognizing how God was working in their lives.

A Christian’s testimony is the story he or she calls upon when God seems distant.  It is the story a Christian calls upon when he or she is going through trying times.  It is one a Christian can tell another to help that person understand what having a relationship with God means.  It is a story that continues to grow as one grows in his or her Christian walk. It is the most important story many of us will ever tell to another.

Do you know your story?  If asked, could you give your testimony to a seeker or the leaders at the church?  If not, this may be a good time to stop and write it down.

© S. E Jackson – 2012

About S. Eric Jackson

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