Issue #77 -------
October 15, 2003
We fought so long against small things
that we became small ourselves.
--- Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953)
One of the many religious periodicals to which I subscribe is Truth Magazine. This is a publication of the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ (in the past often referred to unkindly as the "anti" church) which is mailed out about twice a month. It has been around for a great many years, and used to be called Guardian of Truth. I have, on occasion, been "written up" within the pages of this journal for proclaiming views that differed from their own and for being perceived as a "deadly threat" to the faith and traditions of those within this faction of our heritage.
Nevertheless, I commend the editors and publishers for a high quality publication through the years and for consistently providing articles which challenge one to further study and reflection on the Word of God. Although I do not always agree with their views, I nevertheless love and support them as my brethren in Christ Jesus, and I only pray that we may all work toward the removal of barriers that separate the children of God. I know a great many of the brethren within these various Non-Institutional congregations, and I truly cherish their friendship and fellowship.
In the September 18, 2003 issue of Truth Magazine (on pages 22-23) there appeared an article (which was borrowed from the May 25, 2003 edition of the periodical The Informer) entitled "Testifying and Testimonials." The author is not a part of the Non-Institutional movement, but preaches for the Shelbyville Road Church of Christ in Indianapolis, Indiana (a congregation characterized by the editor of Truth Magazine as being "institutional"). The man who penned this article is Ben F. Vick, Jr., and he is the minister, and one of the elders, for this congregation. I do not know brother Vick personally, and thus have no reason to believe anything other than he is a sincere, devoted servant of God. I pray God will richly bless him in his service, and that many lives will be touched through his efforts to preach the Word.
Ben makes some good observations in his article, especially with regard to abuses connected with testimonials, but I must disagree with his major premise. In a word, brother Vick believes that testimonials -- where individuals testify before a group, telling of their conversion experience or of how Jesus has made a difference in their lives -- are sinful. He wrote, "Such testimonials should not even be once named among those who are members of the church of Christ. Let's get back to the Old Paths." Ben declares that such a practice, which is "a trend that is becoming prevalent in some churches claiming to follow Christ," is simply "ignorant members of the church of Christ wanting to get up and tell their experiences." Such is "to promote one's self," and "to exalt ourselves," and is a practice that "has been borrowed from such denominational groups as the Baptists, Pentecostals, and others," declares brother Vick. "Let us leave testimonials to the sectarian bodies that base their salvation on their feelings rather than the truth of God's word." "Christians will discard or reject any practice for which there is no authority," and, according to Ben, "we are not authorized to 'get up and testify' of our experiences." He concludes: "The testimony of the church member carries no more weight or authority than any sectarian's testimony." The lost of this world simply "do not need to hear someone's personal testimony" about how they were saved or what Jesus has done, or is doing, in their lives.
This is a perfect example, quite frankly, of how pure common sense is too frequently cast aside in favor of a legalistic and patternistic approach to biblical interpretation and application. "If it ain't in there, it ain't authorized! End of discussion!" Such a position is, of course, woefully inconsistent, for the proponents of this interpretative method embrace many things which are "not authorized" by their own standard. Ben and his fellow believers at Shelbyville Road most likely partake of the fruit of the vine from small, single-serving, disposable cups, a practice that the One Cup faction, using Ben's same standard for establishing authority, declares "a sinful innovation." The concept of "that which is expedient" is then typically thrown back and forth among patternists in a futile attempt to justify their own "unauthorized" practices, while at the same time condemning those of others. How our Father must grieve over His children at such times!
Psalm 107:2 -- "Let the redeemed of the Lord SAY SO."
There's my "authority," and it is more than sufficient. I am redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19), thus I shall share this blessed reality with whomever I can, whether they be lost or saved, whether it be with individuals or with groups, "for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20) or personally experienced regarding Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-4). We are redeemed .... and we Say So! How can we not? As Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, near the end of His public ministry, the multitudes became very emotional and expressive. "And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to Him, 'Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.' And He answered and said, 'I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!'" (Luke 19:39-40).
In Mark 5 we find the incident of a legion of demons being cast from a man and entering a herd of swine. This restored man sought to accompany Jesus, but the Lord had another task for him. "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you" (vs. 19). The man obeyed this directive. "He went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone marveled" (vs. 20). Luke 8:39 phrases it this way: "'Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you.' And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him." Yes, the redeemed of the Lord may indeed say so. Whether it be to one person or many, to a congregation or a city, to the lost or to our household, we declare His grace in our lives. We testify!
Is this exalting ourselves, as brother Vick declares? Well, it can be. No one will deny that even a good thing can be abused and misused. Testimonials can be more about one's SELF than one's SAVIOR. It is not the testimonial that is the problem, however, but the heart of the one making it. After all, "some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife ... proclaiming Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives" (Philippians 1:15, 17). Yes, even a good thing can be twisted to serve selfish ambition. The solution, however, lies not in abolishing a particular practice, but in transforming the hearts of those who are abusing that practice.
Brother Vick wrote, "For a man to get up and testify of how God saved him is to promote one's self." To imply that godless motivation should be attributed to ALL who engage in a practice one does not personally approve is irresponsible. Further, to suggest that those who share their experience of being transformed by Christ Jesus are simply "ignorant members of the church of Christ" who only want to exalt themselves is unconscionable! And to declare that the inspired Scriptures nowhere "authorize" believers to share their conversion and transformation experiences with others, or that such sharing must be limited to certain specific formats, is to display a woeful ignorance of the principles of our Lord's teaching and their application in our daily lives. Is testifying to the reality of God's grace in our lives "borrowed from the Baptists"? Of course not. That's ridiculous! It is simply the evidencing of universal biblical principles and directives.
I have to wonder if Ben has, in the course of his years of preaching and teaching, ever shared with those assembled saints what Christ has done for him in his own life. Is his preaching and teaching completely devoid of any personal testimony as to practical benefit experienced? If I can't share with others what Jesus has done for me, how can I convincingly convey the assurance that He will do any more for them? My Jesus redeemed me, and I will say so to whomever, whenever, however He gives me opportunity to testify! And I do it not to exalt myself, but to exalt my Savior. Without Him I would be nothing. Thus, in all personal testimony the glory goes only to the Lord ... where it belongs!
Sharing what God has done in one's life can be a very emotionally and spiritually moving experience for others. It can touch the hearts of those who perhaps are lost and searching for some meaning to their own existence. One's own transformation at the hands of the Lord and His Holy Spirit who indwells us may be just what they themselves seek, and it may prove to be the catalyst the moves them to action. By way of illustration, a couple of weeks ago I was privileged to be the featured speaker for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the gymnasium of one of our local schools. Just before I spoke, and following some inspiring musical presentations by a Christian group, one of the teen girls gave a testimonial. She spoke very softly, and almost seemed a bit overwhelmed by being on stage; her voice trembled at times, and she was moved to tears on occasion. She certainly wasn't interested in promoting herself, but rather her Lord. She told of her parents' failed marriage and of her own abuse; she spoke of being cast aside by school mates and family. However, she found the grace and strength to persevere and to overcome through her relationship with Jesus Christ. As she spoke you could have heard a pin drop in that gymnasium. Hearts were being touched by the courage of this young girl to share with others what Jesus had done for her. Although the legalists would likely condemn her for this testimonial, I applauded her, for Jesus was being glorified and exalted in her life and by her testimony! I had gone there that evening to encourage those young people, and yet I left that gymnasium having been encouraged by them!
Thank God for those willing to share their hearts and lives with others. Praise God when redeemed men, women and young people are willing to rise up and Say So. And may God awaken and enlighten those who seek to hinder any of these precious believers from declaring the wondrous grace of their Father and the transforming power of His abiding Spirit in their lives. May our Lord give each of us courage and opportunity to share His story as it incorporates itself intimately into our stories. It is a story of LOVE ... and it is experienced every day in countless ways in our daily walk with Him. Share it with your fellow sheep in the flock, and declare it to those you come across who are lost or straying.
From a Reader in Utah:
Please add me to your Reflections list. I have been reading your web page and have been stirred to study deeper and more often. Thank you.
From a Reader in Oregon:
Just a note to let you know how much we enjoyed our brief visit and finally getting to meet you personally. We appreciate your desire and obvious ability to study from an unbiased and non-traditional motivated spirit, and your willingness to provide a greater understanding of God's Word to all of us. Those of us attempting to grow in God's Grace, rather than just defend the "status quo," are greatly encouraged by your work in the Lord. Keep it coming, brother!
From a Minister in Western Australia:
Hi Al, I'm just sending you a thanks for all the study and effort that you put into your writings. I find your material, as well as that by Freedom's Ring, Given O. Blakely, Buff Scott and the rest very helpful in answering questions that others can't. I do believe that I was created as a rational thinking being, and that my Saviour does not want me to check my brain at the door whenever I enter into a fellowship meeting. I look forward to more of your research. Thanks again. Your brother from the ends of the earth downunder.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Morning Al, This past weekend I started writing a devotional book. I would like to ask for your permission to use a quote from your Reflections #55 article The Purpose of the Lord's Supper in my book.
If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. I would also welcome
any questions or comments from the readers.
The Archives for past issues of Reflections is: