The Antithesis and Witnessing (4)

This article was written by Prof. Herman Hanko and was originally published in the October, 2008 issue of the Beacon Lights.

I have been at some pains to say that the most powerful, God-blessed and divinely approved witnessing for the Christian is the witness of a life of obedience to the will of Christ.

I insisted on the fact that the key to Christian witnessing is I Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” Peter is talking about good works as a witness. Good works are implied in that absolutely necessary prerequisite for giving a defense of our hope: sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.

Good works are also implied in the fact that people ask us a reason for our hope. They will not ask if they do not see something different—that is, see good works, in us.

But good works are also specifically mentioned in Jesus’ remarks about letting our light shine before men (Matt. 5:14-16); good works are mentioned in the Heidelberg Catechism as being necessary for the Christian to do so that “by [our] godly conversation (life-style), others may be gained to Christ” (HC 32/86).

Not, in the first place, is speech important; one’s life is the crucial thing.

Because genuine (not frothy, sentimental, outward) good works are the stream that flows from doctrine, the prerequisite of witnessing is a firm and correct knowledge of the truth of Scripture. People make a serious mistake when they complain from the pew that preaching is too doctrinal and not practical. The cry is heard so often that it makes ministers uncomfortable. I am not saying that faithful ministers are never practical in their preaching. Surely, we all agree that a minister ought to be careful to show God’s people just how the truths of Scripture apply to concrete situations in life. But to show how truth applies to life means, it seems clear, that one has to talk about the truth and preach the truth.

This is quite sobering. I am convinced that the church of Ephesus received from the Lord such a sharp warning about the imminence of the demise of the church that had lost its first love, because in Ephesus could no longer be found a love for the truth (Rev. 2:1-7). That love for the truth was Ephesus’ first love.

The Lord makes clear that Ephesus was strong in fighting heresy and standing for the truth revealed to them by Christ. They even censured heretics and excommunicated them when these heretics did not repent. But the trouble was that the people had no love for the truth.

When Paul wrote a letter to the church in Thessalonica, he warned them about the Anti-christ and described in one of Scripture’s clearest teachings about Anti-christ that those who followed this man of sin would be punished terribly by a strong delusion so that they believe the lie and are damned (II Thess. 2:1-12). But this dreadful punishment is sent on them because “they received not the love of the truth” (verse 10).

A head full of cold and abstract knowledge of the truth will not do for witnessing. Knowledge of the truth must be present in a witness—of course; but more is needed. He must love the truth. That is something more.

Witnessing is less than the foam on top of a glass of coca-cola if it is only a friendly hand sake and a white-toothed smile accompanied by some reference to Jesus as one’s personal Savior, when it all is a gloss over an ignorance of Scripture and the truth revealed in it. And witnessing means nothing and is fundamentally impossible when it covers a shameless disregard for the truth.

If I do not love my wife passionately and exclusively, I am not going to defend her good name when it is attacked. If I do not love the church of Christ of which I am a part, I will not come to the defense of the denomination and congregation when it is slandered. I love my wife because she is what she is. I love God because he is what he is. I love the truth because the truth is God. And a defense of what we love is, after all, what witnessing is all about.

We gain such a knowledge of and love for the truth in church on Sunday when the minister preaches, in catechism class when the shepherd of the flock instructs the lambs and young sheep, when we spend time at home reading books that tell us of the truth, and when we spend part of the day in devotions. How can one know the truth and love it, without these spiritual exercises? I say it again: How can anyone witness when he is remiss and unfaithful in these basic things?

So, if we love the truth we are faithful to the truth—as a man is faithful to his wife because he loves her;—and because we are faithful to God because we love him. Faithfulness to God is faithfulness to his truth. That is the way it is. One cannot change that no matter how one tries. Preparation for witnessing is not a special class on how to meet and talk to others; it is rather a class in Reformed doctrine.

Is this so difficult to understand? It ought not to be. The antithesis means, among many other things, that we stand for the truth over against the lie. “Let your light so shine among men…, Jesus says. The truth is that light! The lie of this world is darkness. We even speak of the light of the truth and the darkness of the lie. Let us then take that seriously.

The trouble is not so much that we do not know these ABCs of life; the trouble is that we do not want to take the time to learn the truth. It seems to us to demand effort that lies beyond our energies, and the knowledge of the truth seems to require a concentration on boring things when life’s pleasures are all out there with our buddies beckoning with enticing words to come and have some fun once. There is little sense in talking about witnessing when such an attitude of indifference to truth clamps its icy fingers around our throats.

The questions we ought to be asking ourselves before we become overly eager to witness are these: Do I know the heritage of the Reformed faith? Am I acquainted with the distinctives of Protestant Reformed doctrine? Can I defend the truth of sovereign grace against Arminianism in all its forms? Creationism against the deadly lie of evolutionism? Do I love that truth? That is, am I willing to give up everything I have for the sake of the truth?—as countless martyrs have done before me? Does that truth mean so much to me that I will die for it? Love of the truth is love for God, is it not? If I love him, I want to be faithful to him in all my life.

Then, and then only are we ready to become witnesses.

The Antithesis and Witnessing (3)

This article was written by Prof. Herman Hanko and was originally published in the August, 2008 issue of the Beacon Lights.

The key to understanding what Christian witnessing is all about is Peter’s words in I Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” It is the key also to understanding the relation between Christian witnessing and the antithesis.

The text does not promote “door-to-door evangelism.” Nor does it find real Christian witnessing in arbitrarily approaching people with questions concerning their salvation, or their personal relation to Christ. The text takes an entirely different approach and gives us a viewpoint to witnessing that we frequently forget.

We must always be ready for a defense of our hope when others ask us for an explanation of it. The text talks about an explanation or a defense of our hope. Ah, there we have the key to it all.

We are really talking about the antithesis. It was in an earlier article that I mentioned the fact that the antithesis is really the life of one who is a stranger in the world and, therefore, a pilgrim. Even from the viewpoint of our natural life here in God’s creation, we always prefer home. We enjoy traveling, for there is always a certain allurement about foreign countries and exotic places on the globe, and to learn how other people live is always interesting even to the most jaded of travelers. But the fact remains that, as people are wont to say, “There’s no place like home.” Indeed, the longer one stays abroad, the more desirable home seems; and the nearer he comes to the date scheduled for his return, the more eager he becomes to start homeward. That kind of eagerness is increased greatly if the citizens in the country in which the stranger lives are hostile.

So it is with the Christian pilgrim. The Bible calls that longing to go home “hope.” He hopes for the day he will be home. There is, after all, no place like home. The “hope” to be home becomes more evident in his life. He may even pack his bags three or four days early; or, at least, begin to pack them. The Christian who hopes for the day he will be home will show this hope in his life. It will be impossible to hide. Others will say to him, “You are eager to go home, aren’t you;” and he will have to admit it.

That hope that becomes evident in a Christian’s life is what is called an antithetical life. The world about him becomes increasingly drab and dull; he understands more clearly that the “pleasures” of the world are not pleasant at all and cannot make a person happy and content. The accumulation of many possessions are a drag for a pilgrim who is on a journey—at best; and they tie him down so that he cannot travel at all, should they become too dear to him. In other words, he says “No” to sin and “Yes” to God. And that is what the antithesis is all about.

But the more he lives out of hope, the more odd he becomes. To those with whom he comes into contact he seems extremely strange, somewhat titched in the head, unaware of reality and one who does bizarre things. The worldly people find it impossible to comprehend such conduct. He is not “out for money.” Partying on weekends is all that many live for, but here is someone who longs for weekends so that he can go to church. To others drunkenness (along with its hangovers) is “fun” and we all are having a good time drinking our beers and becoming increasingly idiots who gradually sink into a stupor; but this guy over here drinks milk or pop, and that is about all, except maybe coffee. He stays married to his wife. He spends thousands of dollars on Christian education for his children when he could go on expensive vacations. He doesn’t sit hours in front of the TV inviting the devil and the world’s whores into his living room and mind. And you should see what he reads: dry, dull, incomprehensible books on things people talked about 500 years ago, but which no one reads today.

And so it goes. The child of God is an odd character. I was still going to college but working for the Grand Rapids Park Department with a fellow church member when such a simple thing as praying before we ate our lunch at noon elicited questions from our co-workers: What are you doing? Why do you do that?

These are the things that people notice. These are the things that are important to Scripture. Jesus defines letting our light shine before men as doing good works (Matt. 5:16) and not as accosting people in a hurry to get to work and inquiring about their salvation. Others are, in God’s good pleasure, turned to Christ by the witness of our good works. That is, good works become the occasion for witnessing. The order is important: good works; then witnessing.

The man who goes door-to-door to hand out tracts and then goes home to his second “wife,” because he divorced his first one does harm to the gospel, not good. The man who corners busy people to discuss salvation with them while disinterested in going to church or studying the Scriptures is a fake. The man who has religion on the tip of his tongue, but is a grasping, grabbing miser is worse than a fool. The man who makes a lot of noise about religion, but will not live the quiet, overlooked, dedicated life of humble service to God in the place God has placed him is useless in the kingdom.

I recall that many years ago a man came to see my father, quite agitated. He claimed that he had been persecuted for Christ’s sake because he had been fired from his job on a GM assembly line for witnessing. A bit of additional questioning brought out the fact that the man had been neglecting his work to go up and down the assembly line to talk to others about Jesus. He was told rather emphatically that such conduct was not witnessing, but sinning against the fifth commandment; and that his witness was to be faithful, hard and diligent work in his place on GM’s assembly line.

There are many in the last day who will tell the Lord, “Lord, Lord, did we not distribute tracts in thy name, and speak of our religion with every one we met?” But the Lord scathingly says to them, “I never knew you. Go away.”

When our “life-style” attracts the attention of others so that our good works become the occasion of our witness, such witnessing has the added advantage of witnessing to those whom God sets on our path.

We do not do missionary work in a willy-nilly way. We do not throw the names of fifty cities in a hat and then, blindfolded, pull one slip out to see where we are going to do missionary work. We make it a matter of principle to go where the Lord directs us by some obvious and unmistakable way. Many years ago when I was on the Domestic Mission Committee a request came to the committee from a man whose name I have forgotten. He asked the committee and our churches through the committee to take over the work of caring for churches he had established in Jamaica. The committee, inexperienced in that kind of mission work, leering of assuming responsibility for such an undertaking, and not convinced that our churches had the resources for Jamaican missions, tried desperately to decline the request. I no longer remember the chain of circumstances, but it soon became obvious to the committee and to Synod that we could not get out of the responsibility of doing the work even when we wanted to do so. That began many years of commitment to Jamaica. The Lord set Jamaica on our path. We could not get around it.

Something like this must happen also in Christian witnessing. God knows which people in this world ought to hear the witness of a Christian, for God has his own purpose in each case when the calling to witness is forced upon us.

The Antithesis and Witnessing (2)

This article was written by Prof. Herman Hanko and was originally published in the July, 2008 issue of the Beacon Lights.

I said in my last article that the witnessing of a child of God, whether young or old, has contained in it the same power that the preaching of the gospel has. By that I mean that Christian witnessing is also used by God to gain others to Christ (Heidelberg Catechism, 32/86) and to harden unbelievers in their sin and rejection of Christ.

It is biblical teaching (Romans 10:13-15) and solid Protestant Reformed doctrine that only preaching by the church through a minister called can save. I do not deny that. The point that needs to be made is this: True Christian witnessing is related organically to the preaching. That word “organically” always causes problems, but here I mean by it that Christian witnessing gets all its life and power from the preaching.

We are walking here on thin ice, and we must be careful—not because the truth itself is thin ice and therefore dangerous; but because this relation between preaching and witnessing can be so easily misunderstood. The preaching of the gospel in church on Sunday in the congregation is not intended to train the members of the church to be witnesses in their lives. It is not a high-powered recruiting of witnesses, sort of like a speech intended to persuade young people to join the army—as many churches today considered it to be with their evening “evangelistic services.” It is not a “pep rally” to get people excited about witnessing. It is not a training camp for witnessing where recruits learn the tactics of witnessing. Let’s at least be clear on that!

The church that gathers on the Lord’s Day is the assembly of believers and their seed. God’s chosen people are summoned on the Lord’s Day as the “beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ.” They are there primarily and even most importantly, to worship. They worship by praising God for their salvation.

So church worship becomes many things. It becomes the means God uses to instruct his people in the truth; to feed them with heavenly bread, to equip them for their responsibilities in their homes and families, in their life in society, in their responsibilities in the church, etc. It is God’s means to give them spiritual strength for their difficult pilgrim’s journey through life: to comfort them in sorrow, to help them bear their afflictions quietly and in godly trust in God’s goodness, and to take up their cross and follow Christ. All kinds of things happen in church on Sunday, but they happen to God’s people, the church, the body of Christ.

When God’s people are fed with the word and strengthened in worship, they carry that word in their hearts as they return to the things that occupy their time in the world. They become, therefore, “witnesses.”

There is something spontaneous about this. I mean, there is something unconscious about this. They do not, as a general rule, leave church and say to themselves and others: “We must now be witnesses, so let us go forth and witness to what we have just heard.” It is not quite like that. They rather say, “We are God’s covenant people who are saved by the miracle of sovereign grace and given blessings the value of which cannot be estimated.  We are called to be faithful as God’s covenant people to him—as if we are his bride who are now committed to faithfulness to him who has made us his wife. Let us then get on with our work in the shop, our calling in our families, our studies in school, our life in the world as those who belong to Christ.”

The preaching makes God’s people live an antithetical life. When God’s people live an antithetical life they are witnessing. They are witnessing in the most powerful way one can witness.

There is yet another way in which witnessing is connected to the preaching.

If God is pleased to use the witness of his children to “turn others to Christ,” we then must include in our witness a strong admonition that they must now attend worship services in the church we attend. We must not do what Billy Graham used to do in his “revival” meetings. When people came forward and said they believed in Jesus, he told them that they should now go to church, although it didn’t make any difference to what church they went. This admonition to them to come to our church is necessary and important. For they must come to a place where the gospel is preached, without which gospel they cannot live.

So, you see how God works. Preaching is the “life-blood” of witnessing, and witnessing has as its goal, to being those who are turned to Christ to the preaching.

The preaching itself must be antithetical if it is to be the source and power of Christian witnessing. The preaching must be antithetical by doing two things: it must sharply condemn all that is the lie, and it must sharply, clearly and emphatically explain the truth. In that kind of antithetical preaching there will be much that points God’s people to live an antithetical, that is, a holy life in the world, and there will be much that warns against the deadly sins of the world. So antithetical preaching creates antithetical witnesses who testify in their whole life of the need to live an antithetical life.

Or, to put it in the words of I Peter 3:15 (see the first article I wrote), the preaching will make it possible for us to “sanctify the Lord God” in our hearts. And to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts is the only possible way to “be ready always to give any answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”

Christian witnessing. It all begins in church on Sunday morning. Don’t sleep in church! Don’t live in your own private world of pleasure and fun while in church. Don’t stifle yawns to cover your boredom. Worship! That’s what you are there for. And, we must add that, for the Bible does: “Don’t be a hearer of the Word, but not a doer. Then you deceive yourself (into thinking you have faith when all you have is a counterfeit faith worth nothing) (James 1:22).

If you do what Christ tells you to do, you are a witness—whether you think about it or not; whether you are conscious of doing it or not; it all is so natural, so much a part of life, so wholly as it ought to be that when the Lord summons you home and tells you: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for…you were my faithful witness in the world,” you will say, “When did we see you an hungered, and ye gave me meat…?” But Christ will say, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:34-40).