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).

The Antithesis and Witnessing (1)

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

I have been asked to write a few articles on the antithesis, following the article of Rev. Eriks, who introduced the subject. I have chosen to write this article on the importance of the antithesis for Christian witnessing. That the people of God, including young people, are called to be witnesses goes without saying. Scripture is clear on this and points to our witnessing as being an important part of the life of the child of God. That witnessing is a part of the antithesis is something to which we have not given much thought and an idea we might, as a matter of fact, find surprising.

I appeal in my defense of this topic to I Peter 3:15, a text which also is a strong hook on which I intend to hang most of what I say. The text reads: “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.”

That this text is rooted in the antithesis is proved by two separate points. The first is that Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes this letter to those whom he calls “strangers” in 1:1 and as “pilgrims and strangers” in 2:11. Now a pilgrim and stranger is one who is forced to live in a foreign land for a while, because his home is in another place. He has no understanding of the language of the land in which he sojourns; the customs of that people are foreign to him; no one knows him and he knows no one; he is a foreigner.

The life of a spiritual stranger in the world is the antithesis in the life of a child of God. He lives in heaven where his home is. He speaks a heavenly language and lives according to the “customs” of those who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. He is on a journey towards his home, a home that John Bunyan, in his “Pilgrim’s Progress,” called “The Celestial City,” but is also our Father’s house of many mansions (John 14:2). The pilgrim sings “This world is not my home; I’m only passing through.” Or, perhaps, “I am a stranger here, dependent on Thy grace, a pilgrim, as my fathers were, with no abiding place.”

I Peter 3:15 is a rule of the kingdom of heaven for the way in which Christians ought to witness. They are witnessing, therefore, as a part of their antithetical life in the world.

The second clue in the text that Peter is talking about the antithesis when he lays down this fundamental rule for witnessing is the first line in the text: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” In spite of the startling character of the admonition, Peter presents that admonition as the only way in which it is possible for one to witness and abide by the rule of witnessing that Peter lays down here. Without going into detail on the meaning of this surprising admonition, it is clear that Peter cannot mean that we must make God holy in our hearts, for God is holy in himself; and, worse, we are wicked. But Peter does mean that the holiness of God must become manifest in all our lives, if we are to witness to Christ. We are to listen to Peter’s admonition in 1:15: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (“conversation” meaning “all one’s activities”).

Thus witnessing has to do with the antithesis because an antithetical life is a holy life. If, therefore, Peter says that we must be holy in order to witness, witnessing is an important part of an antithetical life. That seems clear enough. A sinful man does not live an antithetical life; but a sinful man cannot witness either.

One more point needs to be made before I actually get at this matter of witnessing. That point is this: an antithetical life does not only include one’s manner of life (one’s “life-style,” if you wish); it includes also the confession of the truth that we love as Christian young people, and as Protestant Reformed young people. God has created an antithesis between the truth and the lie.

The devil promotes the lie, and if one would look about him in the world today, a world full of lies, one would almost conclude that the devil has won. The lie is preached and taught in 99% of the world’s churches and in 99% of the schools. The lie is sometimes blatant and sometimes subtle; but it is always the lie. The truth on the other hand is found in Scripture and in Scripture alone. We can discover no other source of truth than the Holy Bible, God’s inspired word of truth.

It is interesting and something never to forget that the holiness that witnessing demands is a holiness that arises out of a knowledge and love for the truth. What a man believes has everything in the world to do with how he lives. If he believes in evolutionism, a mother’s fetus is a blob of tissue that can be destroyed without compunction. If a man believes that God has not given man a code of conduct in the ten commandments, homosexuality is a perfectly legitimate alternate life-style.

A Christian witness is, therefore, far more than the sometimes frantic activity of going around, cornering people and asking them if they are saved, or if they have received Christ into their hearts. It is far more than handing out tracts of one sort or another with bland and hopelessly watered-down advertisements of one’s church.

While one must indeed witness to all the truth, in a nutshell the truth is simply this: “In all this sin-driven and vile world where God is denied and Christ is mocked, we shout as loud as we can for all to hear that God is the sovereign of the creation and Christ is King! And we serve the Lord Christ!”

That is witnessing.

One more point has to be made about witnessing before we look at I Peter 3:15.

I refer to the fact that Scripture makes clear that our witnessing has a certain divine power about it that is similar to and even identical with the preaching of the gospel. This is clear from Matthew 5:16 where Jesus says to citizens of the kingdom of heaven: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Peter says the same thing in I Peter 2:12: “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Both these texts emphatically assert that God uses our good works to save others. It seems to me to be clear that when one to whom we witness glorifies God, he is saved and acknowledges God as the God of his salvation. The Heidelberg Catechism supports this interpretation when it gives as one of the reasons for doing good works that “by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ” (Lord’s Day 32, Q&A 86).

We must, however, continue our discussion of this subject in the next issue of Beacon Lights.