The Trappings of Testimony

by Kristen Rikansrud

As many of you may already know, our leadership began this year with a dedication to fostering a culture of empathy among the members of LIFE Worship Arts. One of the primary methods of achieving this has been the continued emphasis on sharing our testimonies with the entire team. While it may be easy to recognize the need for each individual to develop empathy towards his or her fellow saints, many of us can struggle to understand that each individual is biblically mandated (yes, I said mandated) to share his or her testimony willingly, humbly and joyfully (Col.3:16, Matt. 28:19-22, Acts 1:8, Heb. 3:13, among many others).

I believe this lack of understanding stems primarily from a subtle, yet dogmatically pervasive trend in our current Christian culture to apply a somewhat improper definition the term testimony. While I’m not trying to get bogged down in semantics, I do believe a tackling of this misconception is vital to the overall health and spiritual well-being of our team (and larger body, as a whole). 

The modern (religious) definition of testimony is “a public recounting of a religious conversion or experience.” The archaic (and I believe more biblical) definition is: from Latin testimonium, from testis ‘a witness’. 

Consider Jesus’ final statement in Acts 1:8 – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” We are to be witnesses of and testify to the power of Christ in our lives. Our testimony is not just relegated to an account of our conversion or coming to Christ, rather, it ought to encompass every way in which Christ has led us in decision-making, comforted us through tough times, instructed us in His commandments, reprimanded or chastised us in specific areas, allowed us to suffer, answered specific prayers, worked in the lives of those dear to us, etc. The situation in which we are called to share should dictate which of these we recount in that moment. Each one of us is uniquely designed to love and know and experience God in a way only we can, and because of this we cannot have a full picture of God without hearing and experiencing Him through the lens of our fellow believers.  

In the production world, this is called a POV – point of view. Every author, director, producer, when presented a story or movie idea has to make a decision. From whose perspective is this story being told? Which character is going to be the narrative? Consider how many times a story has you feeling a particular emotion or holding a certain opinion…only to experience a change of heart or mind when new information (almost always from another person’s point of view) is revealed. It is no different in our Christian walk and sanctification process. God has chosen to make Himself known and experienced not in isolation, but in community. He Himself is communal – three in one – and cannot be fully known outside of relational context. Each individual point of view reveals facets of truth which, when viewed in totality, show the substratum of truth – leading to a deeper and more intimate knowledge of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16). Understanding that knowing God is the primary objective is paramount. We must remember that our testimony is only one perspective of the overarching story, which is God’s.

I’m sure we all know certain individuals who are all too happy to (over)share their story and how difficult their trials have been, how much they have had to persevere, and how their ministry is so wonderful, and so on and so forth.  This of course, is self-glorifying, far from edifying and is a misuse of testimony.  

However, as Martin Luther astutely observed: “Human nature is like a drunk peasant. Lift him into the saddle on one side, over he topples on the other side.”

The other side, it seems, can be guised as false humility, downright fear and shame, or even a common and troubling trend in our modern church culture to diminish those stories we feel are inferior because they do not have some over-glorified flair of drama or amazing conversion “experience”. From my perspective as a mother, it would be an incredible answer to my prayers and further testimony of God’s faithfulness to hear my children share that they have walked in relationship with the Lord from an early age – that they always knew Him and could rely on Him in their times of need or desperation. It does not negate or diminish the value of their testimony or the efficacy of God’s work in their lives; quite the opposite: such a testimony has the power to encourage and strengthen the faith of another believer to hear that God works in and through the lives of EVERY individual, no matter their background, heritage, spiritual beginning, etc. 

Both extremes of this horse have their root in PRIDE – the notion that it is our story to share or withhold, that it is not for the sole purpose of glorifying God that we live and breathe and have our being, that every circumstance in our life has not been allowed but to bring Him all glory and honor and praise! Shame on us. By becoming entangled in these snares, we are stunting the growth of the saints with whom we have been led into community and are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:22) 

Graham A. Cole sums it up well in his book He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, “Doing theology is an ecclesiastical practice or it runs the risk of idiosyncrasy.”

As such, we should all be very willing and eager participants in this aspect of doing theology. It is not for us to determine the value (or lack thereof) of the way God has chosen to work in our lives. Instead, we should be faithful stewards of the lessons and wisdom God has poured into us through our unique situations and life circumstances. We do this by sharing them with our brothers and sisters in Christ, that their relationship with the Lord may be enriched and expanded through a variety of perspectives, and by listening with teachable minds and hearts to their testimonies, that our relationship with the Lord may grow deeper.

The work the Lord has accomplished in the lives of the brothers and sisters in our midst and across the globe ought to infiltrate our paradigm, inform our theology, infuse our worship and inspire our unity as a body. The circumstances and nuances will vary, but the Lord Himself is constant; He is that He is and cannot be other than that He is.

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