Before Christians were called Christians, they were known as witnesses. In Acts 1:8 Jesus commanded His disciples to be His witnesses (martyrs) “to the ends of the earth.” The first church chose this term to be their self-identification for their early history. Every believer was a martyr, a witness, to the work of Jesus Christ.
That’s a powerful way to identify what it means to be a Christian. A witness is someone who bears testimony to what they know. They hold knowledge — intellectual and experiential — that they both protect from error and proclaim to the world. Christians are still called to be witnesses today. How can we speak up for the truth that we know?
It takes some courage
Being a witness always requires sacrifice. In service of our calling, we open ourselves to scrutiny and mockery. So we need courage. Jesus told His disciples they would be witnesses beyond Jerusalem when they received power from the Holy Spirit. What is that power? Boldness and courage (Acts 4:13, 29, 31; 28:20–31).
Too often we only speak about the value of courage as a psychological antidote to fear. Instead we must emphasize its proactive nature to speak the truth despite fear. Courage is not intended to make you feel better, but to act and speak better. If you choose to live as a disciple of Jesus today, then you will need courage.
First, we need courage because life is hard.
Tragedy is written into every human story. Not a single one of us will escape it. You will experience hardships that will test your mettle. People will shock you with their capacity for cruelty. Be sure of this: speaking truth will be most challenging when life is most difficult. Courage is necessary to remain a faithful witness despite the hardships of life. Cynicism will always be ready to creep into your heart.
Second, we need courage because we live in a time when the church is being marginalized.
There was a point in American history — Christendom — when the majority of our population was Christian and the church enjoyed a great deal of cultural influence. This is no longer true.
We cannot expect a positive response from the wider culture when we advocate for Christian values. The culture doesn’t hold the same values anymore. In fact, mocking Christian beliefs has become a virtue in our culture. As the church’s marginalization becomes greater, believers will need more and more courage to speak and live out biblical convictions.
Third, we need courage because we live in a contentious time.
Life in 21st century America often feels like a swirling chaos of debates around most issues: race, immigration, gender/sexuality, abortion and euthanasia. Thoughtful conversation about these issues is becoming extremely difficult as political correctness has taken over. Not only does the church experience less cultural influence, but also our culture is becoming more hostile. Our cultural climate doesn’t allow for dissenting voices that include a biblical viewpoint. As a Christian, speaking the truth in this context is hard, but it must be done.
Disarming the lies
Tyrannies are empires of lies. They are disarmed only by people who tell the truth. German pastor Martin Niemöller realized this fact too late. Though he was initially enthusiastic about the rise of the Third Reich, he said this after the war:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Telling the truth is not about being aggressive or proving that you’re “right.” No, in our day speaking the truth means bravely going against the dominant cultural narratives that are destroying lives. Telling the truth means defending the gospel, human life, biblical doctrine and the most vulnerable members of society.
In our culture, there’s a bad but often true stereotype of the “angry evangelical.” I know that many of us are intimidated from speaking up on issues because of that stereotype. However speaking courageously means answering with honesty and boldness; it does not mean anger or harshness. Truth can be hard but it doesn’t need to be harsh. As Ed Stetzer advocated in “Christians in the Age of Outrage,” the answer is for more Christ-followers to simply speak up and show the difference.
So when you are confronted with issues of gender and sexual confusion, stand upon biblical truth. When God’s creation of man and woman are assaulted, you can answer: “I have genuine compassion for those with gender dysphoria. Any time a person suffers, it is a tragedy. But I don’t think medically transitioning to another gender will help. In fact I think those procedures further the harm. I believe the best hope for them is to help them discover who God created them to be and to be healed in relationship with Him.”
If someone challenges an unborn child’s right to life for the sake of women’s rights, stand for the defenseless. You can say, “We can provide better care for all women than abortion. Crisis pregnancy centers, charities for single moms and churches are far better options for helping the mother and the child. Moreover, science is increasingly supporting the position that terminating a pregnancy is a moral wrong. If you are interested, I’d be happy to help you find some resources.”
If someone claims that the God of Christianity is unloving and judgmental (even pointing to unloving and judgmental Christians), speak of what you know. “God is more loving and gracious than we can fathom. Yes, He calls us to turn from sin because He knows that sin hurts us, hurts our relationships and separates us from Him and His good purposes. He’s that protective and loving that He wants to save us from all that pain.”
Whether it is the gospel, a social issue or something else, speak with courage. Unapologetically stand upon the truth. Discover your boldness from Jesus and from the authority of God’s Word.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an outstanding example of courageously speaking the truth. As I mentioned above, the Nazi party was a tyranny of lies. Much of the German church capitulated to the Nazis. Unlike Niemöller, Bonhoeffer bravely stood at the forefront of the resistance within Germany from the very beginning. He understood his calling, and as Eric Metaxas summarized about Bonhoeffer, “Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”
A dose of wisdom
Keep in mind that speaking boldly without wisdom can be reckless rather than courageous. Wisdom is equally necessary for speaking the truth and being a witness. Consider what it means to speak with wisdom.
First, know when not to speak.
The world doesn’t need your hot take on every single issue. Improve the effectiveness of your speech by limiting the frequency of your statements. Speak up or answer only when necessary. Yet when you are called to answer, speak truthfully.
Second, seek to understand before you critique.
In short, do not pontificate where you are ignorant. When you are confronted with an issue that reveals your lack of knowledge, hold your opinion until you do the appropriate research. Our social media culture — which demands immediate responses — makes this kind of thoughtful consideration difficult.
Moreover, refuse to repeat the sound bites of the media — any media. Seek out the data and the authorities that will give you comprehension of the matter. Then form your own response. Our society already has too many warriors armed with nothing but Wikipedia and a Twitter profile. Stand out by responding with wisdom.
One more point on understanding before critiquing: When you are having a conversation with someone, ask many questions. Discover that person’s position rather than assuming you know what they think. Figure out why they hold that position. They will see you care a lot more about having a true discussion instead of just winning an argument.
Finally, practice intellectual humility. But do not hide behind it.
Remember that you don’t know it all. You could be wrong. Your data could be incorrect. However do not hide behind intellectual humility when you defend the truth.
Intellectual humility doesn’t mean holding loosely to your convictions. Intellectual humility means your ego isn’t tied up in your convictions. Therefore when you might be shown wrong, you can gladly change your stance. When you might be shown right, you aren’t basking in your own glory.
We admire those with courage to do the right thing. Be a hero by humbly, boldly speaking the truth. You will inspire others and help those who are too intimidated to speak. After all, heroes are always ordinary men and women who simply step up to the challenge.
Copyright 2019 Aaron Shamp. All rights reserved.