BY JAN PAULSEN
n Scripture witnesses are persons who have seen or have come to know something and are under legal obligation to speak about it (e.g., Lev. 5:1; John 3:32). In witnessing, they describe their experience with the phenomenon about which they feel qualified to speak. If a situation arises in which the witnesses should speak and they choose to keep silent, they are automatically witnessing to the lie.
Since it is unavoidable for us to see or to come to know a variety of things and persons, it would be correct to suggest that human existence, to some extent, could be defined in terms of witnessing. We are constantly witnessing to something or about something. Witnessing appears to be inescapable. The way we live speaks not only about us but particularly about the foundation upon which we are building our characters. We witness either to the truth or to the lie. On this issue there is no neutral zone (cf. Isa. 43:9, 10).
Called to be Witnesses
Given the reality that none of us can help witnessing in some way (negatively or positively), God says to us, "Be my witnesses." We are not slaves of unpredictable forces over which we have nothing to say or do. God has given us the freedom to choose in whose favor we want to witness. He longs for us to witness on His behalf. It is natural for the human heart to witness to the lie through a life of sin and rebellion. But in order to be a witness for the truth of God, we have to say yes to His call, and allow him to appoint us as His witnesses. Jesus appeared to Paul and said to him: "I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you" (Acts 26:16). This was not simply the experience of Paul. Every Adventist believer has been elected and called by God to be a witness for Him.
The Scripture goes so far as to state that there is no other real power about whom we should witness: "Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other rock; I know not one" (Isa. 44:8). To witness through our words and lives to anything else but God is to witness to the ephemeral, to nothingness. God, who is all-wise, illustrates the point by almost sarcastically suggesting that He searched to see whether there was anybody else worthy of our witness and concluded, "I know not one!" Our greatest privilege is to witness for the only and true God, who revealed Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
The biblical call to witness for the truth is not only a privilege granted to us through God's election and call but an appeal to participate in one of God's primary tasks on behalf of His creatures. It belongs to the nature of God to reveal Himself to His creatures, and that revelation is in fact an act of witnessing about Himself. The divine self-witness was patently clear in the ministry of Jesus. In fact, we can call Him the Witness, "the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14). In His person the message and the witnessing are one. His witnessing is unassailable because "the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me" (John 5:36). According to Jesus, witnessing and mission are inseparable.
But the Father is also a witness. Jesus said, "The Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me" (John 5:37). This took place during His baptism, when the Father publicly declared Jesus to be "my Son" (Matt. 3:17; cf. John 1:32-34). The Holy Spirit is also a witness. Promising the disciples that He would send them another Counselor, Jesus said to them, "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, . . . he will testify about me" (John 15:26). One of the central roles of the Trinity in the revelation and development of the plan of salvation is that of witnessing to us about the plan and its reliability. When God calls us to be witnesses for Him, He is in fact inviting us to be incorporated into His own mission. Witnessing for the Lord is indeed a magnificent privilege and honor granted to each one of us through God's grace.
Witnessing to the Truth
We have suggested that witnessing is inevitable. We are constantly witnessing through our lives to our values and to what we consider to be particularly important to us and to our families. Ultimately, we witness to our commitment to God or to any other power that is central in our lives. But in the Bible, Christian witnessing is done on behalf of Jesus Christ. The Father and the Holy Spirit witness concerning Jesus. Jesus made the claim that He was the Son of God, and the Father supported Him by witnessing on His behalf. The Spirit was given to the church to witness about Jesus by pointing to Him as the only means of salvation. Christian witnessing is by definition Christ-centered.
The church is not called to witness about its power, about its institutions, about the value of its organization, or about its success. It should not testify about itself, but about what Jesus has done for all of us. Church leaders as well as members should never testify about themselves and their meager accomplishments, but about the One who made those accomplishments possible and is always willing to use them to His glory. In worship we should not witness about our buildings, the wonderful choirs, the capable pastor, or the excellent plans for church growth that we have. We are called to witness about Jesus! Witnessing about Him will contribute to the submission of our selfishness to God and to the fulfillment of the mission that He has entrusted to us. I call every church member at any level of church organization to witness about Jesus and the truth as it is in Him.
The witnessing of the church officially began with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. Shortly before His ascension Jesus said to the disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). After telling the disciples that the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, would testify about Him, Jesus said to the disciples, "And you also must testify" (John 15:27). It is an indispensable element of God's plan of salvation that we join Him in testifying about Jesus.
What was it that the apostolic church specifically testified concerning Jesus? It testified that Jesus died on the cross, that God raised Him from the dead and "exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:31, 32; cf. 2:32, 33). This is the truth as it is revealed in Jesus. In a world in which secularism and spiritualism are rampant, we are called to witness to the reality of the death, resurrection, ascension, and mediation of Christ on behalf of a sinful human race.
Peter said that Jesus "commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42). This is a surprising thought. Even when we proclaim the final judgment, we are witnessing about Jesus as the judge of the world. We do not witness about coming damnation and destruction, but about a righteous, holy, and loving judge. In the following passage Peter adds, "All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).
That is good news! That is what we are to witness about. We must embrace the testimony that the Father gave about the Son, and share it with others: "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:11). This is the truth! There is no other place or person through whom or in whom we can find life.
Unity in Witnessing
We must proclaim with power what God through Christ has done and is doing for us and in us. It is our God-given responsibility to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom "as a testimony to all nations" (Matt. 24:14). In the realization of that mission, the church must present a united front. One of the disturbing situations in a court of law is to see witnesses telling contradictory versions of the same event or incident. They lose their credibility, and the defense is seriously weakened. When the witnesses seriously disagree about the message they are supposed to testify about, the message itself is discredited, and people will ask, "Where is the truth?"
As the church continues to grow, one of the challenges we will face is to remain united in our witnessing to the truth as it is in Jesus. Unity of belief is indispensable in order to have an effective and persuasive unity in witnessing. It is saddening when a few individuals significantly alter aspects of the message given to us and create means parallel to the organized church to promote their personal message. The global witnessing of the church has been and will continue to be under the guidance of the One who called us to witness to Him at the close of the cosmic conflict. Let church members grow in the knowledge of our Christ-centered message, and let them be equipped to testify about it in every region of the world.
The church does not testify only to those outside of it; it also testifies to the new generations that are flowering within the church itself. I challenge parents to give to their children a clear testimony of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, in words and actions characterized by Christian love. We must pass on to the new generations the undefiled truth that God in His love entrusted to us. In such witnessing, parents are indispensable. I also challenge pastors and administrators and lay preachers to witness from the pulpits of our churches around the world to the truth of the message entrusted to us. Let us speak to our churches with one voice; let us avoid the dissonance of error; let church members hear the truth as it is in Jesus. I encourage them to proclaim the distinctively biblical and Adventist truths that are of special relevance for these last days. Let us not be silent about them, because they will protect us from last-day deceptions.
Finally, I challenge Adventist teachers around the world, who have been entrusted by the Lord and His church to work together with Him in shaping the minds of our students into the likeness of the Savior. Let the classroom be a place in which we give a united witness to the truth and its significance to our students. Let no one witness to his or her own private truth, but to the truth that God has given to the church to proclaim. Let us not dissect the truth in our schools to the point that it loses its beauty and attractiveness through doubt. Let it rather flourish there as you prayerfully examine it with the students and make it relevant for them.
We look forward to the moment when our witnessing on this sinful planet will come to an end. Then we will have eternity to witness to unfallen beings about God's wonderful work of salvation for us through His Son. Witnessing will never come to an end.
Jan Paulsen is the president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, with headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.