A coworker of mine reads the Bible constantly. She tells everyone that to be a true disciple of Jesus, we must all “witness” to our faith in Christ. I wonder what that means and what is really expected of me?
Most people assume that the English word “martyr” means someone who suffers. But that word has its roots in a Greek word that means “witness.” A witness is one who testifies to the truth of an assertion, a fact or an occurrence. Witnesses are also called upon to testify on behalf of a person.
This sense of the word “witness” is found frequently in the Acts of the Apostles where the disciples are called upon for testimony as to the facts of the teaching, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus (i.e. Acts 1:8, 22; 5:32).
An additional sense of the word seems to be more frequently cited as applicable to contemporary Christian life. It is of this sense that the author of the Acts of the Apostles writes, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
From these and similar passages, it does seem that “witnessing” is an obligation of all the disciples of Christ. However, there is an additional section that should be considered.
One of the central teachings of Saint Paul is found in his Second Letter to the Corinthians where it is written, “There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone.” (II Cor. 12:4-6) Therefore, it is extremely important to understand the concept of witnessing for the Lord in the context of the inspired teaching of Paul.
While is clear is that we are to witness our faith in Christ, how that is accomplished is a matter of personal discernment. Who is to say that a parent’s loving care for children is a less authentic witness than that of the street preacher or mission worker? Who is to say that the disciplined prayerful life of a contemplative Religious is more or less significant than that of a teacher or someone who works with the poor?
It is always important to understand Gospel demands in the context of the entire message of the New Testament. It is in this spirit that the New Testament acknowledges the great “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) that the Spirit continues to inspire within the Church.
It is also true that our “witnessing” is inevitable. If people know that we are Catholic, we are thereby capable of being good or bad witnesses. When we live the Gospel, we give credible witness to Christ and the Church. When we fail to live it, we are still providing a witness, but it is a bad one. Very often people judge the credibility of the Church or even Christ by the actions of Catholics they meet each day.
It is inescapable that we are witnesses to Christ. Our task is to be good witnesses.
Father Bober photo by Dena Koenig Photography