In the Church – particularly Evangelicalism – the word testimony refers almost exclusively to a person coming to faith in Christ. A person’s testimony is their story of salvation. It is very personal and reflects how they were lost and then found.
I struggled with this definition of testimony growing up because my testimony was not flashy, it was not the story used to compel others to come to faith in Christ.
No, mine is the story of a child born into a family of committed Christians, where I was dedicated by my parents to God, before their church community, at three weeks old.
Mine is the story of a child who could not separate the love of God from love of parent and thus God was and is as real as those parents.
My story hit a climax at the age of three when sitting on yellow Little Tikes plastic chairs, my Sunday school teacher told us that Jesus wanted to be our friend and live in our hearts forever. Although I prayed along with my teacher and all the other children asking Jesus to come into my heart to be my friend forever, I knew, at the age of three, that he already was.
The next climax was at the age of eight when I was baptized by my dad through immersion in front of our congregation on a Baptism Sunday. Again, I knew this was an important step in my journey, it was my public declaration of faith as my faith tradition likes to call it, but I knew it was just obedience, something that was a long time coming.
My story continued. I suppose the way that Samuel, John the Baptist, and Jesus are all described could be attributed to me:
And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with people.1 Samuel 2:26
And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.Luke 1:80
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.Luke 2:52
And she continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and people. She became strong in spirit.
Something I realized throughout this time is that my story is my story. It is just as important and vital to the fabric of the story of God’s people as someone who did drugs, slept around, and drank every night before finally being brought to her knees in repentance. It is just as true as someone who lived a moderate life, was a good spouse, parent, and friend but rejected God until her dying breath.
The apostles all have different stories. Peter’s testimony is one of impetuousness. John’s is one of slow consideration. Paul’s is one of being called out of murder and hate. All of their testimonies built the Church. We would have a different story if one of theirs was missing.
And the Church today would have a different story if one of ours was missing.
Testimony comes from the Greek word μαρτυρια (marturia), which means testimony, reputation, and witness. This is where we get the English word martyr. Martyrs, like Stephen who is given the title of the First Martyr of the Church (read Acts 6:8-7:60) was a witness for the reality of Christ. Martyrs are people who do not shirk from their testimony – as I so often do – but instead live their testimony outwardly for all to see. They know, however, that this outward testimony is not about them.
One of the differences between modern Evangelicalism and the traditional Church view of testimony is that in Evangelicalism, testimony is all about me. It is my story, who I was before God came along and who I am now. The traditional Church view of testimony, as seen in the account of Stephen in Acts 6:8-7:60, is about who God is and what God is doing.
Peter, Stephen, Phillip, Paul and others, when giving a testimony, when they are being a witness, they tell the story of God from before time began. How God called Abraham and established His Covenant, raised up the Patriarchs, led the Israelites out of Egypt, gave the Mosaic Covenant to deal with their sins, and led them into the Promised Land. They tell of the sins they committed over hundred of years, even though God raised up judges, prophets, priests, and kings to show the people how to follow God.
And then they witness to how God sent Jesus, God incarnate, to walk among us, to call us back into right relationship, into right worship. How this fully God-fully man lived a perfect and blameless life just to be put to death for the sins of the world. But as we know, the story doesn’t end their. He rose and was exalted at the right hand of the Father, sending His Holy Spirit to indwell in us forever.
Not one part of this traditional view of testimony is about an individual person (other than Jesus). This traditional view of testimony is about the wonders, love, and perfection of God. Even when Paul tells of his testimony, he admits to be the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), but only to emphasize the power and love of Christ.
Somewhere along the line, instead of just admitting we are sinners in order to emphasize the power and love of Christ, that became our story. The testimonies we want to hear at church on a Sunday morning, or at a Wednesday night revival, or a podcast interview are the ones who spend the whole time admitting they were sinners and how they were sinners. Detailing their drug use and sexual exploits.
But if we really hear these stories, they seem to just glorify sin. And this is why I – and many others who have the same story as I do – often feel that our stories are inadequate.
Peter, John, Phillip, and Paul never had to feel that their testimonies were inadequate because they knew their stories were not about them.
I encourage you to look at your testimony and how you bear witness for Christ, both through your words, every day interactions with others, and your faith journey. Who is emphasized: you or Christ?
I believe the best testimony we can give is that of what God did, does, and will do. The only way to know this is by having a clear understanding of Scripture. Read Stephen’s testimony in Acts 6:8-7:80. Read what Peter tells the crowd on Pentecost in Acts 2:5-41. Read of Phillip’s interaction with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. These are the testimonies of the Church, how we are to bear witness of the power of God.
Witness, testify, and tell of the wonders of God.
All Scripture used on Oregon Christian Girl comes from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Unless otherwise noted.