Friday, October 28, 2016

Testimony as Idol

One of the subtlest roadblocks to a progressing maturity in Christ is an initial testimony.

And by testimony, I mean testimony as I have witnessed it practiced by the evangelical community.

That testimony goes to great lengths to build the case for how bad an individual was before Christ, and how the initial salvation in Christ saved them from all that. I call this the “Bad-A” testimony (you know what the “A” stands for).

The lead-in to salvation during these testimonies usually takes up 90% of the presentation, with the brief remainder dedicated to the freedom experienced in Christ. All in all, the general take-away is, “I’m not the Bad-A I used to be, praise God!”

This is unfortunate, since, with so much emphasis on the rascal we used to be, we can lose the listeners whose struggles are not remotely like our own, and who thus sit and listen to these testimonies as nothing other than really fascinating stories.

Or, there’s someone who does relate--all too well--so that they say to themselves, 

“Yeah, that dude was really messed up, but he doesn’t come near to where I’m messing up! Glad that worked for him.”

So there’s the first risk in testimony: too much baggage in front and not enough unpacking of Christ Himself and the specifics of what a post-conversion life looks like.

The second potential problem with testimony as I’ve witnessed it is that I've heard individuals give the same exact testimony year after year after year. Whether it is a positive testimony about how meeting their future spouse was a  God thing,” or a cutting edge testimony about life in the gutter 25 years ago, the testimony never changes, and is, in fact, their only testimony.

And repeating that same front-loaded attestation, especially to a youth group where the same student may hear it more than once, could cause a student to idolize the personal sharing to the point that they want a dramatic testimony too. 

I have heard of students who embellish their conversion accounts for this very reason. I call it the Curse of the Bad-A Testimony.

To the person who is still giving a play-by-play of their first testimony as their only testimony, to an audience of mostly saved Christians, I would ask, 

“What has God done lately?”  

The third danger in testimony is that the continual slapping of ourselves on our Christ-saved backs for that one big initial victory may blind us to sin that remains.

Sometimes people think that since they have been freed of a major sin in their life, they are off the hook for what in comparison may seem to be smaller, inconsequential sin. They cut themselves some slack because they feel as though they’ve practically attained Sainthood for no longer being homeless, a drug addict, or an adulterer!

Yet resting on the laurels of a first, albeit tremendous victory in Christ, is not God’s will.

I believe that the current state of testimony borders on idolatry: the recounting of an experience has become bigger and more important than Christ Himself, and thus, an idol.

That's not to say that testimony itself is a bad thing. Everyone has a testimony. Hopefully more than one, and hopefully one that isn’t limited to the 1980’s. 

But it's not a one-time portrayal. 

And the before isn't more important than the after. 

And whether current or more dated, whatever we are imparting needs to be handled and conveyed with humility and sensitivity to the particular audience at hand. We do not just whip out our same-old testimony like a worn out deck of cards before poker.

Yes, we must never forget what Christ did for us in initially rescuing us from the fiery furnace of dysfunction. Yes, we must give Him credit and praise for our salvation.

But when we are dying to self every day, there is salvation, and thus, "testimony." 

When we are victorious over sin every day, there is rescue, and thus, "testimony." 

We can still discuss how we were initially saved, but on a more selective, need-to-know basis (perhaps one-on-one), divulging only the personal details relevant to the person we are sharing with. 

But we mustn’t stop there. The person listening must come away with the truth that Christ is still at work in our lives today, and that what He did back then was just the tip of the iceberg. 

They must see the follow-through, the staying power—the today of Christ. But we must see it first.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2a

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