08 June 2021

Your testimony.

TESTIMONY 'tɛst.ə.moʊ.ni noun. Formal evidence or proof of the existence or appearance of something. (Particularly a statement provided in court.)
2. A public statement, or retelling, of a religious conversion or experience.
[Testify 'tɛs.tə.faɪ verb, witness 'wɪt.nəs noun, verb.]

In the scriptures a testimony or witness refers to, duh, something you personally saw. Something you could make a formal statement about before a judge. Something that was a big, big deal if you presented a false testimony; one of the 10 commandments forbids it.

For the ancient Christians, when they talked about one’s testimony, they meant what we personally saw of Jesus.

1 John 1.1-4 NIV
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

John saw Jesus, learned what he taught, watched what he did, and shared what he knew. That’s his testimony. It could hold up in court. It was kinda meant to, because ancient Christians were hauled into court and had to explain themselves, and that’s exactly what their testimonies did.

Acts 26.1 NIV
Then [King Agrippa Herod 3] said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense…

Paul presented a testimony twice in Acts: Once in temple before a mob, Ac 22 and once on trial before his king. Ac 26 It’s largely the same story—it’s about how Paul used to persecute Christians, but then Jesus personally appeared to him and flipped him. Ac 9.1-22 The point of this story is Paul obviously had a God-experience, because there’s no other reasonable explanation for such a radical change. Yeah, skeptics might insist there has to be another, better explanation; or they’ll just insist he’s nuts, as did Porcius Festus at his trial. Ac 26.24-26 But it’s not about presenting a believable story; it’s about telling the truth as best we can, and if people refuse to believe it, that’s on them.

Anyway that’s what testify, witness, and testimony refer to throughout the scriptures: People saw God do stuff. People have proof God did stuff: A signifiant historical change, a transformed life, miracles, hope, and good fruit.

And if you had a God-experience, you saw something. You’re a witness. You have a testimony. You have something you can share with others. You’re meant to, ’cause sometimes people need or want to know about God, and you saw stuff. Great! Now share what you saw.

The non-supernatural definition of “testimony.”

I grew up in a church which didn’t define this word this way. By testimony they meant one’s conversion story. How’d you become Christian? Share that story.

Plenty of churches define “testimony” this way. So much so, the proper definition tends to confuse ’em a little. I mean, they know it; it’s the same definition we use in government. Legislators have witnesses come to their hearing, or lawyers and judges put witnesses on the stand, and these witnesses share what they know; in particular what they saw. They might share a story about their background or education or how they got to where they are now—or how they got to the point where they saw what they’re gonna testify about—but that’s not really the main point of the testimony, is it? We don’t care that a witness on the stand had a rough childhood and that’s how he fell into a life of crime; we need to hear how his friend got shot.

Anyway, it’s hard for them to grasp the fact that a conversion story and a testimony are not always the same thing. They were raised to believe it is the same thing. When people in their church “give a testimony,” they talk about how their life sucked before Christ, and after they turned to Jesus he made everything all better. No more alcohol, no more pills, no more risky sex; they’re making good money and have a stable family life and Jesus makes ’em feel way better than mushrooms ever did. That’s been their experience with “testimonies” all their lives.

Where’d this absent-God definition of “testimony” come from? Cessationists. If you don’t believe God does miracles any more, you don’t have any God-experiences to share. You have no testimonies. But you gotta have something to share with others… so they share their conversion stories, and call ’em testimonies.

After all, aren’t Paul’s two testimonies both conversion stories? Nevermind the fact his conversion story has a significant God-experience at its core, what with Jesus showing up and blinding him, then sending his apostle Ananias to cure Paul. Skip the parts where Jesus appears and miracles happen; the point, they insist, is Paul went from being an angry, argumentative Pharisee to an angry, argumentative Christian. Share that part of your story.

What if you do have a God-experience as part of your conversion story? Well, speaking from my experience in those churches… they don’t wanna hear it. Somebody in their leadership will quietly take you aside after you give any such testimony, and suggest you shouldn’t tell that part of the story anymore. Because they’re not so sure it was a God-experience, because they’re entirely sure God doesn’t do such things anymore. But for some reason Satan still does, and they worry your miracle stories, even if they do give glory to God, are somehow part of some devilish plan to sow doubt and confusion and continuationism. Best you keep them out of your testimony. Spay it.

I know; it’s profoundly stupid reasoning. If a miracle helped lead you to Jesus, yet only Satan does miracles anymore, it’d mean Satan helped you become Christian. What the what? “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Mk 3.23 But as y’might’ve noticed, we’re not dealing with rational Christians here; we’re dealing with people who blaspheme the Holy Spirit. So go ahead and listen to their “friendly warnings,” but feel free to ignore their faithless advice. You just keep telling the truth.

If your conversion story has nothing miraculous in it, that’s okay. Mine doesn’t. And if people wanna hear that story, I’ll tell it. It’s interesting. But if they want my testimony, it means they wanna hear about my God-experiences. They wanna know what I’ve seen God do. They’re looking for proof God is real, and still interacts with our universe, and may potentially interact with them. While my conversion story certainly states there’s a living Jesus whom I chose to turn to and choose to follow, it proves nothing; anybody can choose to follow any guru, and every religion has successful-sounding conversion stories. (’Cause any religion, including false ones, will bring order to a chaotic life.) But people are looking for proof Jesus is alive and well and victorious and reigns in his church. For these people, we’ve gotta give ’em testimonies of what we’ve seen him do.

Non-supernatural “testimonies” try to share what people have seen Jesus do… as best they can, considering they’re not allowed (or won’t allow themselves) to share authentic miracle stories. In people’s conversion stories, they’ll talk about how Jesus cured ’em of addictions, or made them not want to sin anymore, or got them out of a rough life and into a better one. They’ll talk about good fruit. Hey, good fruit’s a good thing! It’s evidence the Holy Spirit is in ’em and working on them. It’s not as miraculous as a story about healing or prophecy or Spirit baptism, but it’s better than nothing at all.

But the reason these conversion stories try so very hard to sound miraculous… is because the person telling the story knows they should be miraculous. Because that’s what people need to hear. It’s what they’re looking for most: Proof that God changes lives, and might change theirs. Proof that God is here, and gives a rip about them. Proof. So these witnesses are doing the best they can to meet that need; I gotta give ’em credit for that.

But I still say we gotta throw off the cessationist shackles and just plain share what we saw God do. So whether your conversion takes place in your story or not: What’d you see him do? Who’d he speak to? Who’d he cure? What’d he provide? What’d he say would happen, and then it happened? How many “coincidences” happened at once, so much so that it’s clear these can’t just be coincidence? How’d he fix things?

Plus a reminder that if he does such things for us, he can do ’em for anyone. Hey people, you want your own God-experiences? Stop procrastinating and start following God. Watch him do stuff.

(And if you don’t have any God-experiences of your own to share, likely you oughta stop procrastinating and start following God.)