By Mike Willis
In the September-October 1997 issue of Wineskins an article was published entitled “I Just Want To Testify” by Dan Dozier. The magazine Wineskins is published by those supportive of Rubel Shelly, Max Lu- cado, and the Nashville Jubilee, if that helps you to identify its doctrinal stance. This article by Dozier tells us about the practice of “testifying” in worship assemblies.
The word “testify” is a Bible term. The word is translated from the various cognates of ma/rtus: ma/rtur, marture/w, marturi/a, martu/rion, martu/romai. The basic meaning of the word group is conveyed by ma/ rtus: “a witness (one who avers, or can aver, what he himself has seen or heard or knows by any other means)” (Thayer 392). The word is used throughout the New Testament to relate what the witnesses of Christ saw and heard from him. They could testify about his miracles, his words, his death, his resurrection because they had seen and heard the things that transpired. The words of the New Testament are the testimonies of eyewitnesses and the inspired words of men who recorded what they had seen and heard or had personally investigated.
However, the modern practice of testifying is something quite different. Men who lived nearly two thousand years after Christ are not qualified to give testimony about anything Christ did. They have never seen him nor heard him speak. Can you imagine a lawyer calling someone to give testimony about whether or not a man committed a crime, but the “witness” was on another continent and was not even born when the crime occurred? Such a lawyer would be laughed out of court.
Yet, the modern practice in many churches has “witnesses” “testifying” in churches about “what Christ has done for me.” These witnesses cannot testify about seeing Christ, for they have never seen him. They have never heard him speak one word. They have never touched him. Hence, all that they can testify about is their own subjective experience, whatever its nature may be.
Our brother became convinced that such testimony services were good in the church he attends, not because he found book, chapter, and verse to teach that it was good, but because of an experience his local church had. He tells how six teenagers and two adults related their experiences on a mission in poverty stricken regions of Mexico and Nassau. As they related their touching experiences of washing a child, feeding the hungry, and clothing those who were ill-clad, our brother said he changed his mind about testimonies in worship. Scripture did not change his mind, but experience did.
As a matter of fact, our brother belittles those who want to find Scripture for such testimony services before they practice them. He wrote,
Most Churches of Christ have not practiced personal testi- monies. One reason has to do with the view held by many that the New Testament is a blueprint for every practice in worship. This view holds that there is a clear pattern of worship in the New Testament, and it is to be replicated exactly in every age. It doesn’t seem to matter that the New Testament does not give a standard order of what worship was to be for any church. The reasoning goes like this: If a worship practice was present in the primitive church, that act of worship merits repetition today. If the New Testament is silent on certain activities, they had best be left out of our worship today. If you follow the reasoning, the conclusion is that we should not do “testimonies” because we have no specific, unquestionable illustrations of such being done in an assembly of worship in the New Testament.
At least this view takes Scripture very seriously, and that should be applauded. However, to use the New Testament as a detailed description of worship that outlines every form and sequence of the service is a mistake. . . . How one congregation orders its worship making use of those various elements, is up to each congregation. That is why Christian worship services look different in different cultures, and yet each one may be thoroughly acceptable and honoring to God (Wineskins 3:5, 31).
Obviously, this person has rejected the “blueprint” of the New Testament as the answer to whether or not one should have testimonies in worship. Having rejected the Bible as a “blueprint,” what use is there to quote the Bible to such a person? If one found a direct statement that said, “Thou shalt not have testimonials in worship,” he could set that aside as a legalistic interpretation of the Bible, binding cultural items of worship on people of another culture, or just reply, “I know that is what the apostle thought, but I do not agree with him.”
If there is no fixed pattern for worship, there can be no unscriptural worship. Paul said, “. . . for where no law is, there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). Consequently, any kind of worship is just as scriptural as any other. The group that brings in a rock “Christian” band, does not partake of the Lord’s supper (or partakes of it using light bread and water), who prays in Mary’s name, who teaches tithing, and preaches from the Book of Mormon is just as scriptural as the church in Jerusalem that “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42), according to this logic. Without a divinely revealed pattern, there is no unscriptural worship.
What Is Wrong With Testifying?
The thing that is wrong with testifying is that it makes faith rest on uninspired words rather than inspired words. Brother Dozier shows that is true from his own article. He related an incident in which his daughter Amy had “testified” to a Japanese friend and concluded, “Yasuyo was interested in the teaching about God, but what touched her heart most were the personal testimonies my daughter and others shared with her. . . .The message of Christ is of primary importance, but it very well may be Amy’s personal testimony that someday helps lead Yasuyo to Jesus Christ.” Note that Amy’s personal testimony would carry more weight than the divinely revealed message of first century eyewitnesses!
Our faith does not rest on the fallible testimony of people such as Amy, but it rests upon the divinely revealed word of God. Paul wrote, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). The personal testimony of Amy or anyone else cannot produce saving faith! Our faith rests on the miracles that Jesus performed in the presence of eyewitnesses. John wrote, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30-31).
The Muslim who visits poverty stricken regions of Mexico and Nassau can produce the same kind of testimony as the children in his local church. Does their washing a filthy baby, clothing the ill-clad, and feeding the hungry prove that Muhammad is a prophet? If not, how can our children doing the same prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? A person giving his personal, subjective testimony about some religious “encounter” proves absolutely nothing about Jesus!
This issue focuses attention on the heart of what is wrong with some preaching among us. Gifted speakers are able to relate some emotionally moving human interest story that will move one to tears, relate another story that causes one to break out in laughter, and wrap up his “sermon” with a third story that makes one feel warm inside. However, such stories do not and cannot built faith. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. Churches that are fed a steady diet of preaching that has little or no Bible content are filled with men who, at the very best, have a weak faith!
We do not need to change our public assemblies to have “testifying.” We already have all the testimony we need to create and build faith — that is the inspired words of the first century witnesses. What can the words of a person born 2000 years later prove about what occurred in the first century? Rather, let us preach the testimony of the witnesses. One who will not hear the witnesses of the Bible is not of Christ. John wrote, “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).