Your PERSONAL story of how The Story has impacted your is far more interesting and far more compelling …
You say you taught that divorce can only happen according to scripture when sexual compromise happens … until your daughter was getting beat up regularly … Tell me about that.
You say miracles ceased … until you saw it with your own eyes … Tell me about that.
You say that you went to a service where they used instruments and the people were joyful at times, solemn at times, and there was no great earthquake … Tell me about that.
Thank you for the help with my kids so I can work … Tell me why you started this ministry …
At least that’s how I see it … Don’t tell me about what happened 2,000 years ago unless you can tell me how it’s had an impact in your life …
Exactly. But we don’t do this in the Churches of Christ. Let me explain why.
Around 1974 or so, I was a student at David Lipscomb College attending chapel. I didn’t much like chapel because the time was usually taken up by a preacher trying to drum up a crowd for his “gospel meeting,” although sometimes they offered free food for college kids, and I could see the holiness in that.
The college had hired a young guy to help in the Administration, and he was given the chance to speak to the students. He was probably 20 years younger than the next youngest guy to have spoken that quarter, and so we hoped that this might be a more-interesting-than-usual chapel talk. And it was.
You see, he spent his time talking about the importance of “witnessing” for Jesus. I kid you not. He said that exact word in 1974 in chapel at Lipscomb. And the students’ ears all popped because we all drew in our breaths collectively in shock. I said to the friend I was sitting next to, “He’s in big trouble.” I was right.
The very next day, a visibly shaken young administrator stood before us all and apologized for having the audacity to say that we should “witness” for Jesus. He was mortified and nearly in tears. I can’t recall why he said it was wrong. Something about “the denominations,” I think.
I do remember saying to my friend, “So now we have to apologize for saying that God is alive and active in our lives.” I was none too happy with the powers that be. I mean, how could witnessing for Jesus be wrong?
Well, it’s about stories.
Story 1: The age of miracles ended around 100 AD. The Holy Spirit retired after having authored the New Testament. There is no direct operation of the Spirit on the heart of the Christian, because that would be Pentecostal.
Story 2: We care far more about the scriptures and the truth found in them than the Baptists do.
Combine those two narratives, and you interpret —
(Act 1:7-8 ESV) 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
— to say that the apostles were to testify as witnesses to the resurrection. We modern Christians have not seen the resurrected Jesus, and therefore we cannot be witnesses. We can only point people to the testimony of the apostles found in the New Testament. Therefore, the Baptists are wrong and show their lack of respect for the scriptures when they claim to “witness” for Jesus.
That’s the “logic.” And like many doctrinal errors, it’s almost true. I mean, it is true that we can’t testify to having seen the resurrected Jesus as the apostles did.
But consider —
(Act 20:18-21 ESV) And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Act 28:23 ESV) When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.
It’s not just the resurrection to which a Christian might testify. It’s also the Kingdom of God. And it’s repentance and faith in Jesus. And all Christians have experienced these things. We should each have something to say about what has happened in our lives.
(1Jo 5:10-11 ESV) 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
Who has the testimony of Jesus? “Whoever believes in the Son of God.” That’s who.
Who has experienced the new creation, eternal life in Jesus? Us. That’s who. (It’s very unlikely that John was saying in this late letter than everyone he was writing to had heard about the resurrection from a first-hand human witness.)
And so to declare that we can’t give testimony about Jesus because we weren’t there is to assert that Jesus broke one of his most important promises —
(Mat 28:19-20 ESV) 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If Jesus is with us — the end of the age, which certainly includes now — then we can testify as to what we’ve experienced first hand.
And this is all very obvious — unless you inhabit a story that says that God has been on vacation since 100 AD.
The three men I admire most,
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Have taken the last train to the coast,
The day the music died.
When Don McLean sang those words, he was likely thinking of the music scene in the early 1960s, but when I first heard the song in high school (1971), I thought he singing Church of Christ theology.
But I digress …
We don’t see God acting in our lives and in our churches because our story has no place for him. It’s about obeying rules, yes or no, plain and simple. And knowing the answers to the important questions, and we get them right and everyone else gets them wrong. We are people famous for our Bible knowledge. I mean, at least that was once true.
So here’s a step toward a cure. Have testimonies in church. Regularly. I might proceed along these lines —
* First, I would meet with the classes or small groups and ask people to tell me about their experiences with God. I’d try to create a safe place to share a vision of an angel or a word from God. I think these things still happen, and happen quite often, but are never spoken of in the Churches of Christ because we have a story that tempts us to laugh at such things. Therefore, few are willing to tell their story. And therefore few hear these stories. And therefore we feel justified in saying these things never happen — not since 100 AD.
* Second, I would impress on the congregation that God gives us these experiences to be shared. It’s just not right to receive a visitation from Jesus and not tell others about it. We are called to be witnesses of these things.
* Third, I’d ask members to let themselves be videotaped giving their testimonies. Why videotape? Because so many people struggle to speak comfortably before a crowd — even a crowd of friends. And to let the person testifying practice and fix mistakes. And because we have two services, and it’s a bit much to ask someone to share twice on one Sunday morning.
Standing before the congregation to give testimony might not be hard for your typical preacher or Bible class teacher, who’s used to speaking in front of others. But for many of our members, it’s terrifying.
Over time, I’d prefer that the members get comfortable giving testimony in person. I would. But that requires that the congregation affirm and encourage those members who give testimony. And the best way to make sure that happens is on tape.
* Fourth, I’d have testimonies regularly.
Now, this is a lot of trouble to put together, and most churches are understaffed. But to me, it’s a critical element of transforming a church’s story. We just have to learn to God as alive, active, and present — and no amount the scripture quoting will substitute for life experience.
And this one is just because …
They did not listen,
They did not know how,
Perhaps they’ll listen now.
They’re not listening,
They’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will.