Can I Get A Witness?

Our small group recently started working through the series Gospel In Life, by Tim Keller. The study has been well received to this point. However, last week our group hit a bit of a theological speed bump as we moved through the 5th section of the series titled “Witness – An Alternate City”. The biblical text in support of the section was from Acts 2:42-47. I will include the NIV version below to save you some time looking it up.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved

Keller always favors viewing the purpose of the church through the context of community. So, I was not surprised he chose a text such as this to exemplify his picture of a biblical witness. Our group simply had a hard time fleshing out the application of the text in our modern culture.

Witnessing is a word that has developed somewhat of a bad reputation over the last few decades. Concurrently, there has been a shift towards an individualistic public / private division in personal faith. In the name of tolerance, we’ve seen a cultural attempt to remove private faith out of the public arena. The prevailing attitude is “believe what you like, just don’t bother me with those beliefs”. This approach has left conventional interpretations of witnessing on the wrong side of the cultural fence. How does the modern day Christian heed the call of the great commission while facing such a caustic audience?

Keller is seeking to remind us that we may have taken the bait in assuming our witness is about forums or pronouncements of ideology. When we peruse the bible looking for examples of an effective witness, we rarely see proclamations, ultimatums or lines drawn in the sand. Instead, the witness of the collective church looks more like a party!

The second chapter of acts reveals some very interesting things about the early church and implies a very different view of what it means to be an effective witness than many of us would assume. The early church described in Acts is exemplifying the command of Christ found in John 13:34-35; “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Somehow the modern church has distorted the call to love one another into something that resembles more like a call to forgo letting our kids play football on Sunday so that everyone will know we are a Christian. The obvious problem is our non-believing friends are conditioned to respectfully ignore our self-righteous platitudes and postulates. Our faith is viewed as our own, not theirs, and is excused as a private faith, not objective truth.

Keller, along with other modern thinkers like Francis Shaeffer, have strived to wake up the church with a reminder of our original purpose. We are to be an alternate city; A collection of imperfect people loving each other imperfectly, but with grace, compassion and forgiveness. It is as though our light must first shine inward before we learn to illuminate the world.

So, my small group is still struggling to know what that looks like in practice. I tried to remind them of the many times over the past 5 years our small group has resembled the church described in Acts and how our actions reflected an alternate city to the non-believers in our small community. We have served the poor, enjoyed fellowship together, shared meals together, prayed together and worked together. These activities are atypical in our culture and embody a dim reflection of how things are supposed to be and how things will once again return when Christ comes to restore His creation.

As we live out the gospel in our lives together, we gain confidence in our hope and faith in God’s original purpose for His creation. That confidence appears brighter than any artificial light to those who don’t share that same hope. Only then are we really prepared to bear witness to the hope we have in Jesus to those who recognize it in our lives. Our witness is a byproduct of our love for one another, not a premeditated positional ideology that falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
1 Peter 3:14-16

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