This is something that has been emphasized to me for most of my life as a member of the Christian sub-culture. It is something that parents, preachers, teachers, mentors, family, and friends have said to me more times than I can count. It is something that I have said to myself more times than I can count. It is one of the standard tenets of my brand of American Christianity that is inculcated into our thinking with relentless zeal. As Christians, one of our main duties is to be a good testimony to unbelievers around us.
My purpose here is not to disagree with the preceding statement. In fact, I earnestly concur with it. There is no shortage of verses that clearly indicate that we are to shine as lights against the backdrop of darkness in the world around us. My purpose in these few paragraphs is instead to ask, "How are we to do this?" or more specifically, "What does a 'good testimony' really look like?" As always, what follows are simply my thoughts and opinions and are subject to disagreement and/or dialogue as you see fit. After all, I could be wrong.
Let me frame my comments around two primary theses:
1. To most Christians, a "good testimony" comprises two things--word-of-mouth Gospel sharing and Christian living.
2. Our traditional views of Christian living as the basis for a "good testimony" may need some refinement.
Concerning the first statement...
I believe these words to be true because that is how the concept of a "good testimony" has been presented to me for most of my 30 years. Beyond that, however, I think it is true because the Bible supports the idea. What tools do we have at our disposal to fulfill Christ's command to "make disciples of all nations"? We have our words and our actions, of course. We can verbally share the truths of the Gospel with the unsaved, and we can live our lives in such a way that unbelievers "see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) On this, I believe most Christians would agree.
How can we best put these two tools to our advantage in reaching the lost? Ah! That is where the Christian consensus is lost. Obviously, there are many prevailing theories out there about how to best present the gospel verbally to someone. For the time being, I am choosing to skirt those particular discussions. I want to focus on how we can present the Gospel non-verbally through our everyday lives. What is the best way to "be a good testimony?" That, my friend, is the question, and it leads us to the second of my opening propositions.
Concerning the second statement...
For starters, I should probably define what I mean by "traditional views of Christian living." I have to say, this is the point of discussion that was the catalyst for this post. Some recent conversations with fellow Christians prompted me to begin wondering. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that the traditional view of a "good testimony" revolves primarily around what we do or don't do as Christians. "We go to church 3 times a week." "We don't have wild parties at our house." "We wear (or don't wear) a certain style of clothing." In the minds of many, these things (and others like them) are a good testimony to the unsaved. That is what has been preached and practiced in many churches for many years.
I am not here to suggest that this preaching or the thinking behind it is wrong. I am not saying unequivocally that these things aren't a good testimony. I am simply wondering if the conventional wisdom is true that says unequivocally that they are a good testimony always and without exception . I wonder if some of our Christian badges of honor that we wear so proudly before an unbelieving world are really accomplishing the good that we think they are. Yes, the Bible refers to the world seeing our "good works" and glorifying God, but that verse seems to be predicated upon the unbelievers recognizing the works as "good." What if they don't see our "good works" as being particularly good? What happens to our good testimony then? We get frustrated because our unsaved friends and family don't accept Christ, and our unsaved friends and family get frustrated because we distance ourselves from them through all of our do's and don'ts. We appear to think and act as though we are better than them. Our "testi-mony" becomes more of a "testi-phony." I have had several opportunities in the last year or so to talk to unsaved friends and family, and that idea of "Christian elitism" appears to be a commonly-held opinion among them.
Let me mention two examples. Consistent church attendance is something that many Christians would include in their "Good Testimony Resume." This can, at times, be true. It may not always be true, however. Not every unbeliever looks at a Christian who attends services habitually and says, "Wow! I want what they have!" To them, it's just some religious thing that you do similar to the way Muslims pray or Catholics confess. It doesn't necessarily draw them to Christ. I am not suggesting that we stop attending church faithfully. I am suggesting that we open our eyes and realize that church attendance alone is not guaranteed to shine as a light to your unsaved neighbor. We need more than just that. I am also suggesting that you consider the possibility that there may be times when forgoing attendance at a service may actually provide you with a better opportunity to be a "good testimony" than stubbornly insisting that you have to be in your pew.
Here is a second example. Many Christians (including me) have refused to attend a family function, work party, or other social event because of the fact that certain "worldly" elements would be present (alcohol, rock music, dancing, smoking, etc...). Our refusal to attend demonstrates our devotion to our faith and shines brightly as a testimony to the lost--or so the traditional thinking goes. Now, I realize that this is a tricky example because there are any number of contingencies that create any number of possibilities as to what a Christian ought to do or not do. (Translation--there is no "cookie-cutter" answer.) I do think, however, that we might need to reevaluate the maxim that says, "Don't drink, smoke, or chew or run with those who do." The Pharisees in Jesus' day were very good at this, but the spiritual impact they had on their world was nothing we would want to emulate. I fear that many unbelievers view our lack of attendance (notice I did not say lack of participation) as nothing more than religious snobbery. Perhaps, instead of relying on not going at all to serve as a good testimony, we should consider the possibility of going for the purpose of being a good testimony. There are many ramifications of this, I know, but I don't think it hurts to at least consider it.
Those are just two examples of many that could be given. In conclusion, let me just say that I think it is a bit lazy and a bit naive to rely upon our separation from the world as our primary means of reaching it. We must use our words and our lives to preach the Gospel to every creature. Perhaps it is time we took stock of how we can best use our lives to shine as a glowing testimony for Christ. Remember, Jesus didn't pray that God would take us out of the world, but that God would keep and protect us while we are in it (John 17:15). Maybe all of us could stand to get a little more "in the world" and be a good testimony while we are there.