Swearing In (a PINK Tuesday post)

Have you ever noticed that most churches look an awful lot like a courtroom?

You’ve got the “judge’s seat” in the middle, where the altar & the cross are (because God tells us that HE IS JUDGE and will return again to judge the living and the dead). We’ve even got a “witness stand,” complete with microphone, so that the testimony can be heard by the gallery – the onlookers (the audience).

When I think about what happens inside this room – this courtroom – I have to ask the burning question…

WHERE ARE THE WITNESSES?

During a church service, we might answer that the Pastor is a witness – after all, we must value what he or she has to say because we pin a microphone on them, right?! And the readers who come forward to share the Text, they are witnesses, too. We might say that our Sunday School teachers are witnesses as well, and our nursery staff, too, because their testimony reaches into young lives as they faithfully serve in these ministries.

In church it seems that the witnesses who use this “witness stand” are the few who have been trained to do this, and yet Jesus told His disciples (who were unschooled, untrained men) “YOU are my witnesses!”

He didn’t say:

“You are the gallery. All of the action will take place up here, with a few carefully screened, carefully selected and properly indoctrinated witnesses – but that’s THEIR JOB. You just sit there and LISTEN. Don’t distract the witnesses. Take it all in. Talk about it over lunch if you like. What you DO with what they SAY is… your concern. You’re the GALLERY after all.”

No, Jesus said to His followers in Acts 1:8 that:

“YOU will be my witnesses WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES.”

Thomas hadn’t been there to see Jesus OR to receive the spirit-breath that Jesus offered to the disciples in the upper room that night. He hadn’t been an eyewitness on the scene and he doubted – just as those same believing disciples had doubted when the women ran in on Easter morning, saying that Christ’s body was gone and that He was no longer dead.

Peter and the other disciples, later in the book of Acts, insist that:

“We are witnesses to these things (about Christ), AND SO IS the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

These disciples were first-hand witnesses of the resurrected Jesus, and ultimately, so was Thomas. But Jesus says we’re blessed when, even though we haven’t seen Him with our own eyes, we still believe!

We give Thomas a bad rap because his testimony wasn’t full of faith at a time when his HEART wasn’t full of the SPIRIT OF GOD – is that FAIR? Not only had the disciples in the room that night SEEN JESUS with their own eyes, but they had also RECEIVED the SPIRIT of God through Jesus! Did those disciples really believe because of what they had seen with their EYES, or was it because Jesus offered them a glimpse of the Spirit’s own testimony when He breathed Spirit-life into them? Thomas came to believe by SIGHT, but Jesus says we are blessed when we believe by the SPIRIT of God, living inside of us.

I John chapter 5 says “it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit IS the truth.” “God’s testimony is greater than man’s.” This same text says that “anyone who believes has THIS TESTIMONY in his HEART.”

This is what Jesus means when He says in Acts 1: “When the Holy Spirit comes in power, YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES!”

So, whether we believe by SIGHT or by SPIRIT, whether by first hand knowledge of Christ resurrected or by the Holy Spirit’s first hand knowledge of Christ resurrected (which becomes YOURS when that Spirit takes up residence in YOU), WE ARE HIS WITNESSES, and our testimony is needed!

What does it mean to be a witness for Jesus today? In a courtroom, what the witness says out loud is considered “testimony”. Churchianity often simplifies this to mean the telling of your conversion story (your before & after Christ story) or the telling of the Gospel message – both which are sometimes call witnessing. But just as in a courtroom, it’s really more three-dimensional than that.

There are DIFFERENT KINDS of WITNESSES

Witnesses of FACT / LAY Witnesses

These are people who have first-hand knowledge of what has happened, and not just first-hand knowledge, but knowledge gained through the senses. These people have SEEN, HEARD, SMELLED or TOUCHED the situation (think Thomas, with his fingers touching the holes from the nails on Jesus’ body). This is the most common type of witness – someone who watched certain events happen and now re-tells the story for the benefit of others. As in law lingo, the word lay is used to indicate those who aren’t “trained” or “schooled”. The disciples were lay witnesses – unlike those in the next category.

Expert Witnesses

An Expert Witness is a specialist – someone who is educated in a certain area and testifies with respect to this area only. An expert’s experience and training positions him or her to be able to explain what has happened in light of their special knowledge, but it also prepares them to share details of what has happened ELSEWHERE in similar situations. This person can tell us what SHOULD have happened, what COULD have happened and what MAY HAPPEN in the future, in regard to their area of expertise.

In court, expert witnesses are paid for their testimony and it is commonly understood that using the right or wrong expert is often the difference between winning or losing a case. In church world, our “experts” are often the paid people, aren’t they? Those who are schooled in theology or apologetics; those who have words to explain things that some of us lay witnesses have SENSED or EXPERIENCED but often struggle to put into words.

Character Witnesses

Character witnesses are those who know the victim or know the defendant or other people involved in the case. These people usually were not present when the action took place, but they know the personality and character of those involved and can often paint a faithful picture of who a person is for others.

The need is GREAT in our world today for people who can paint a faithful picture of the character and personality of Jesus. These are the ones whose lives mirror the image of God and whose words and actions reflect the life of the Spirit that is housed inside of them. When we allow God to develop the fruit of His Spirit in our lives, we are walking, talking character witnesses of the resurrected Christ! There is nothing we can do to make this happen other than to be OPEN to the creative work of God in our lives.

Now, providing that you are a credible witness – competent to give evidence and worthy of belief – your statement as a witness can:

  • Make up for gaps in evidence
  • Add credibility to the story being re-told
  • Refute evidence of the opposing party
  • Support factual conclusions
  • Explain complex factual issues.

Be warned… being a witness is sometimes dangerous.

There are people (and powers) out there who do not want your testimony to be heard. It may be just what is needed to put them behind bars (why do you think it’s necessary to have witness protection programs?)!

In its original context, the word MARTYR meant witness. The process of bearing witness wasn’t intended to lead to death, although ancient writers like Josephus say that witnesses were routinely tortured in order to insure the disclosure of truth. During the early Christian centuries, though, the meaning of martyr was extended to include believers who were called to witness for their faith and consequently endured suffering and even death.

God doesn’t promise safety, but HIS Witness Protection Program isn’t something that is done TO YOU but done IN YOU – by placing His Spirit / His Counsel / your “Lawyer” inside of you, where no one can touch, harm or destroy His connection and support.

Ultimately, Jesus’ role was as a witness, too – a witness to the plan of a loving Father who sought to rescue and draw His children close to His heart, placing them under His protection by His ridiculously liberal Grace. With Jesus as our role model, we are in good company when we suffer for our testimony in the courtroom of the world.

Our testimony is needed in order for the whole picture to be seen clearly by the jury and the gallery of the world outside our church walls.

All of the details must be laid out for the case to be made, and every day you bear witness in the case of What’s Acceptable to the World v. Truth.

Whether you believe by SIGHT (like Thomas did) or by the Spirit of God whose testimony LIVES within the faithful, “YOU are my witnesses!” Jesus says! And not only inside our church sanctuaries, but OUT THERE! To the ends of the earth!

It is time for our stories to be told SO THAT others may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing they too may have life in His Name.

It’s time to make it official. It’s time for the Swearing In of the Witnesses.

(Let me switch roles to clerk/baliff.)

“Will all witnesses who are to give testimony in these proceedings please stand?

Place your left hand on your Bible and raise your right hand, signifying your willingness to complete the oath.

You and each of you do swear by Almighty God, the searcher of all hearts, that the evidence you are about to give this world shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, without omission, so help you God.”

So help you the faithful witness of Jesus Christ.

So help you the powerful Holy Spirit of the God Who lives inside of YOU.

Cameroon volunteers swearing in, 2006
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