Witness to Jesus Christ

By Steve Manskar

In my previous post I argued that United Methodist congregations need to adopt a rule of life that shapes how they form mission-shaped disciples. I recommend the General Rule of Discipleship

To witness to Jesus Christ in the world and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This simple rule is rooted in the General Rules of The United Methodist Church, it presents a Christ-centered balanced discipleship, and it is easily learned and memorized by members of the congregation.

In the next series of posts I will "unpack" the General Rule of Discipleship. The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Disciples Making Disciples: A Guide for Covenant Discipleship Groups and Class Leaders, to be published by Discipleship Resources in July:

A witness has personal knowledge and experience of a person, place, thing, or event and is prepared to give evidence. Christians are witnesses to Jesus Christ because they know him, experience his love, and testify to what he is up to in their lives, in the church, and in the world.

Witnesses are sometimes welcomed. Their testimony is received as good news that brings joy and liberation. They are celebrated and honored as truth-tellers. Other times witnesses are received with indifference. Their testimony is ignored. People pay it little or no attention. They are seen as curiosities or light entertainment, but not taken seriously. At times witnessing to Jesus Christ and his gospel of God’s coming reign is not welcome. It is questioned and rejected. At times it will bring violence and persecution upon the witness.

Jesus’ knew his disciples would face fear and opposition. That is why he appeared to them saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21-22). In this encounter with the risen Christ the disciples are commissioned to go into the world as witnesses to him and his good news for the world. He equips them with his peace, which is his presence alongside them. He also gives them the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide them along the way.

John Wesley knew very well the blessings and challenges of living as a witness to Jesus Christ in the world. On April 2, 1739, the day he first preached outdoors he recorded in his journal

At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people. The Scripture on which I spoke was this (is it possible anyone should be ignorant that it is fulfilled in every true minister of Christ?): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).

His preaching was received as good news by some while many listened with indifferent curiosity. On the other hand, it was not uncommon for his audience to throw stones and garbage at Wesley, and other Methodist preachers, while witnessing to Christ and salvation by grace through faith.

Witnessing to Jesus Christ in the world requires baptism by water and the Spirit. It is possible only when you are part of the community centered in the life and mission of Jesus, equipped and empowered by his Holy Spirit. To live as his witnesses in the world requires us to participate in a congregation devoted to doing all in its power to increase our faith, confirm our hope in Christ, and to perfect us in love.

Witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world are formed, equipped, and supported best in small groups with other witnesses. The early Methodist class and band meetings are excellent examples of such groups. Blockages to grace are removed when Christians meet weekly to watch over one another in love, to pray for one another, to sing hymns of praise to our Lord, to give an account of what they have done to witness to Jesus Christ in the world. Christians learn how to stop resisting Christ’s grace when they meet weekly in his name for mutual accountability and support for living as his witnesses in the world. As trust grows among them, their faith in Christ increases. They grow closer to Christ as they grow closer to one another.