One way to describe the Christian’s life of discipleship is to take seriously Jesus’s words to his disciples in Acts 1:8. He said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In 2008, the General Conference changed the membership vows of the United Methodist Church, adding the word, “witness.”
Professing members are asked, “As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness?”
What does it mean to be a witness for Christ?
First, it means that you and I are not the saviors of the world. In the movie, “Rudy,” a Catholic priest tells the young student, “In all my years of ministry, I have learned two very important lessons. First, there is a God. Second, I’m not him.”
We should be mindful that there is a God, there is a savior, and we are not God. Our job is to point others to Christ and to help the world know God in Christ.
Second, being a witness means telling the truth as it is in Jesus. We should be talking with non-believers and unchurched people about what God has done in our lives.
As Ernest Nichol’s hymn says, “We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right, a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light. ... We’ve a savior to show to the nations, who the path of sorrow hath trod, that all of the world’s great peoples might come to the truth of God.”
When he wrote those words in 1896, he probably thought of America as a Christian nation and that we need to tell the story to people living in other countries. We now know that at least half of the people living in our own country are not practicing Christians.
Third, being a witness involves words. We need to talk with others about our faith. Many people are hesitant to say something about God, Jesus, church or faith because we may not be experts.
However, as someone with a Ph.D. in the history of Christianity, let me assure you that the genuine and loving words of a friend often carry more weight than a credentialed expert. When you say something like, “I’m no expert in theology, but God got me through my crisis, and I cannot live well without my church family,” that matters!
Fourth, being a witness also involves deeds of mercy. When you feed the hungry in Jesus’s name, when you visit those in prison, when you build a home for the homeless, or when you advocate for the rights of immigrants, you are witnessing for Christ. Our deeds of love confirm our words.
Too many non-Christians are suspicious of people who talk about Christ but never follow Christ’s commands.
I hope each United Methodist Christian asks herself or himself each day, “How can I witness for Christ today?