What does it mean to be a Christian witness? Sadly there are some faulty understandings of what this means, and believers can go to various extremes here. We often have quite a distorted view of what it means to be a Christian witness in a secular society.
Trying to define something like Christian music might be one way to introduce this issue of Christian witness. Just what exactly is Christian music? Is it Christian music when:
-a Christian sings Amazing Grace?
-a non-Christian sings Amazing Grace?
-a Christian plays an instrumental version of Amazing Grace?
-a Christian sings a non-Christian song?
Hopefully you get my drift. I for one do not think a Christian singer has to sing a Christian song or quote the Bible every single time to be called a Christian singer and a Christian witness. In the same way, a Christian barber, a Christian baseball player, or a Christian engineer need not mention Jesus in every breath to be a good Christian witness in his or her profession.
Christian witness of course involves words, but it also involves our very life. The way we live will back up – or not back up – our Christian words. So both are important. But let me discuss more this idea that a Christian should in every utterance share his faith or quote a text like John 3:16.
Christians are of course evangelistic – or we are supposed to be. We are commanded to tell the whole world about Jesus and his work on the cross to reconcile us to God. All that is a given, and far too many believers never share their faith or never take an opportunity to publicly proclaim Jesus.
That is a real shame, and Jesus has strong words about that, as for example in Luke 9:26: “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
However, there can be another error that believers fall into: the idea that every time they open their mouth they must talk about Jesus or must quote a Bible verse. The simple rule of thumb here is this: we should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and be open to sharing when and where possible.
But care must be taken about sharing one’s faith, especially for example when one is being paid to do a job. If you get a new job, start witnessing, and immediately get fired, and then repeat this scenario over and over again, guess what? You are being a bad witness then, not a good one.
You are damaging your witness, not enhancing it. Doing a good job for your employer is part of having a solid Christian witness and testimony. Being good, dedicated and diligent at any profession is also being a good witness. Being a great baseball player as a Christian or a good used car salesman is all a part of the Christian witness.
One need not open one’s mouth every minute to be a good Christian. Sure, if an opportunity arises while buying petrol or getting groceries, then go for it. But one need not feel guilty if one does not share the gospel 24/7. Sometimes a kind smile to a wearied check-out girl can be a real blessing and witness.
Learning the language of Babylon
But let me finish here by talking about those of us on the frontlines, who deal with the secular public and the secular media on a regular basis. Must we talk about Jesus every time we speak into a microphone or address an audience? I think not.
The truth is, to deal with the secular world and the secular media, we need to build bridges. We need to speak their language and find some common ground where possible. The Apostle Paul did exactly this. When dealing with the pagans in Athens for example he quoted pagan poets and philosophers in order to reach them. He did not begin by quoting Scripture.
Christian apologetics operates this way today as well. We seek to reach the lost in any way possible, and prepare them for the gospel message. When they are ready, then we can use Scripture much more freely. But when engaging in a moral or social issue with the media, one should seek to be well versed on the topic and deal with the arguments as they come.
Thus when I discuss something like homosexuality with the secular MSM I can cite studies showing the health risks, and can speak of the right of children to have a mother and a father, and so on. I need not quote a Bible verse all the time.
In fact I have done around 1000 media interviews over the years, expressing biblical truth in non-biblical language. Had I felt the need to quote scripture every time, I would likely have had only a handful of interviews, then been banned for good. So we need a bit of wisdom here, and not just be armchair critics of those seeking to be a public voice for biblical values.
I raise all this because last night Fred Nile did a great job defending biblical truth and values as he was outnumbered, outgunned and attacked on the appalling ABC show, Q&A. I discuss his performance here: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/06/18/we-pay-for-this-abc-bias-and-bigotry/
Yet I actually had other Christians attack Fred, saying he let the side down and he just should have quoted Scripture! These armchair critics think they know it all, yet they have never faced what Fred or I have been through hundreds of times. The simple truth is, had he just thrown Scripture around he would not have even been invited on to the show.
The same with me. The reason the media knows they can approach me is because I am informed on the topics, I am articulate, I present the social science evidence as best I can, and I do not Bible-bash. Sure, if and when opportunities arise, I am more than happy to share Scripture.
Of course if the topic is on the Bible or religion, then this is where you are free to do so. But if a media outlet asks for your thoughts on, say, human cloning or Assisted Reproductive Technologies, you will get nowhere – and not be invited back – if you just start throwing John 3:16 at them.
The simple truth is, every time we open our mouth need not be an evangelistic opportunity. Let’s get real here. If I am stopped by someone and asked which way to the zoo, I am helping that person by providing accurate directions, not by preaching to them a sermon.
If the opportunity arises for more conversation, and a chance to share the gospel, then fine. But we can simply answer questions or offer help without feeling guilty about not always tossing in biblical references. As to the Q&A show, Fred was asked on to share on some issues pertaining to homosexuality and marriage.
He was not invited on to preach a sermon or give a Bible exposition. He nonetheless expressed biblical truth all night. He was being wise as a servant and harmless as a dove as Jesus commanded. He did a terrific job, and his rather arrogant and self-righteous critics really need to ease up here.
Indeed, those who want to criticise Fred or me on this should really keep quiet until they have done as much public defending of the faith as he and I have done thanks. These armchair critics are a dime a dozen, and they have likely never been on the frontlines in public as some of us have, yet they are all so happy to judge us and cast stones.
And bear in mind that all this has absolutely nothing to do with being ashamed of the gospel of course. As mentioned, it is about being wise and discerning as to how best to share biblical truth, and how best to be a Christian witness at all times and in all places.
Sometimes the most appropriate thing to do is share the gospel, quote the Word, and press in for an evangelistic decision. But sometimes that is not as appropriate, especially for those who have a very public ministry and deal with the secular media all the time.
And this works in other areas as well. Critics have also dumped on the Canberra Declaration since it is not loaded with Scripture and evangelistic material. But that is not the purpose of it. As an author of this document, we wanted to appeal to the wider community on the importance of three things: the life issues, marriage and family, and freedom of speech.
By writing it as we did, it has widespread support from all sorts of people, including plenty of non-Christians, with nearly 60,000 people signing on to it. That is just what we wanted. We were not being bad Christians for proceeding this way, nor were we ashamed of Scripture. We just had a different calling in regard to that document. You can see it here: www.canberradeclaration.org.au/
So we need a bit of godly wisdom in all this. While we should always be prepared to share our faith and biblical texts, not all opportunities are best suited for this. As I say, had I done this three decades ago with the secular media folk, they would have given me the flick a long time ago.
But I have had countless chances to share biblical truth in non-biblical language because I have sought to be careful and wise here. Sometimes I end up sharing the gospel with those journalists anyway. But even if they did not get a John 3:16 out of me every time, they certainly knew where I stood, and often came back for more.
So let us be careful when we consider just what exactly Christian ministry is. Those who argue that it is only about lifestyle and never about words are simply wrong, and I address that error here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/12/15/if-necessary-use-words/
But those who think we must forever be quoting Scripture and pressing for a conversion every time we meet someone may be erring in the other direction, although I applaud those who are zealous to share their faith. It depends on the context, the situation and the opportunity. Let us pray for discernment and Holy Ghost wisdom in all this.