I have been thinking about what authentic Christian witness looks like for a while now, especially when we take the following two ingredients into consideration: energetic churches and individuals more inclined to introversion.
On the one hand, this might sound like a silly question because everybody knows what authentic means, right? It means being honest and candid, not posturing or faking. However, being an effective witness means different things to different people. For the more energetic churches, “witness” constitutes being bold, forthright, and sometimes confrontative. I think many people would agree Jesus evidenced boldness, absolutely. The Bible is sprinkled with verses about being “bold as a lion” and the like, and specifically concerning being a witness. Peter and John had boldness when speaking the word of God. Paul had “boldness of speech.” Deacons are supposed to have “great boldness in the faith.” And in general, Christians are supposed to “speak God’s word with boldness.”
But doesn’t God give different gifts to all of us? So while I definitely value those people who fearlessly “just swallow their pride and chat someone on the street up about the love of Jesus,” or “being unashamed of the gospel, go boldly into the highways and byways,” I wonder, is that the only form of authentic witness? To be bold and active and visible and direct … to be radical?
I am not saying we don’t need to hear it from time to time, but it seems that the “witness” mentioned in so many North American churches is generally linked with boldness, and that boldness is largely connected with being daring, nervy, and audacious. That’s what heroes of the faith were, right? They were unafraid, and brave, even. Isn’t that the connotation? Additionally, our North American culture does, more than many others, nearly worship those traits. Bold is loud and assertive; being brave is willing to risk some pride and be prepared to get in someone’s face.
If you are like me, more quiet and introspective, what are we to do?
I think maybe some of us wonder what role reticence plays in being a witness—or restraint, for that matter. After all, meekness includes those things. It also includes other traits, like being gentle, tender, moderate, temperate, soft, and even delicate. As I write these words I am reminded of the lovely verse in James 3:17, which speaks of heavenly wisdom. When I read the verse from a couple of favorite Bible versions, I can’t help but wonder how boldness came to seek out the meek! The Bible does personify wisdom as a woman and meekness seems to pour out from the following:
Good News Translation
The wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy.
Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits…
The wisdom that originates from above sets the pace in innocence; it loves peace; it is always appropriate (polite); persuaded about that which is good; filled with compassion…
I get that we as a family of Christians are not supposed to “hide our lamps under a bushel”; however, I wonder if there is a variety of ways to shine.
I wonder if in modern Christian circles “witness” is tied to boldness because the concept of “witness” itself has been limited? “Witnessing,” when discussed in church—as it seems to me, anyway—is often about going out on the streets to the poor area of town, or at the very least, letting your coworkers know you are an “on-fire” and “sold-out” Christian. Is it possible that being a witness can cover all the human capacity of expression—in life or occupation?
What do you think of the following ideas on what a witness could mean? For the Christian philosopher, being a witness might be in clarifying what economic justice means—and then maybe some politician could read about it and implement it into municipal government. For a social worker, witnessing might be demonstrating absolute solidarity and trustworthiness to their psychiatric patients, or gentle compassion to the relapsed substance abuser. For the poet, witnessing might be composing those delicately worded creations that bring peace to the heart of the suffering or sorrowful. For someone working in the liberal arts, it might be injecting into his or her writing just what—dare I say—“authentic” community would resemble. I am most curious what some others of us out there think. More ideas, anyone?
Ultimately, those of us who are less externally expressive do very much want to be a witness. And we can do it authentically, too—by being true to our personality types! As I have been thinking about this topic, my hope has been empowered by Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he talks about the obvious importance of diversity with the physical body as metaphor. Paul tells us [from The Message]
I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? … What we have is one body with many parts … Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? … The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. …Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.
The whole metaphor is cool, but the last sentence, to me anyway, instructs about what authenticity means: “Only as you accept your part of that body does your ‘part’ mean anything.” For me, this takes away the requirement to witness just like the more bodacious of my sisters and brothers. I have to truly accept my gifting for it to “mean anything.” Isn’t that relieving? It’s even empowering—in a quiet kind of way. So since we are all parts of that larger body, what other ways might meekness be introduced? Thoughts?