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Bearing Witness in Christian Education

"If you're going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk." How many times have we heard that sentiment repeated? It isn't elegant, but we all know it's true. Our words and actions have to match up; and if they don't, our actions (or inactions) trump our words.

The gospels note numerous occasions on which Jesus clearly bore witness to God for the benefit of his disciples or others. Sometimes they got it, (as in Acts 1) and sometimes they didn't (as in John 5). As the Acts 1 passage states, Jesus left his disciples to carry the banner (or the cross) and to bear witness to the ends of the earth. That commission is still ours to keep.

Bearing witness certainly includes faith sharing or proclamation. Were it not for 2000 years of faithful witnesses, none of us would claim the name of Christian. Yet witness is more than that. The words must lead to action — to acts of mercy and to acts of justice — or they are empty words, and no one else can carry the cross that is meant for you. That's where it gets a little harder.

Acts of mercy are those extensions of ourselves for the sake of others, typically to relieve suffering, to offer assistance, to pick up the burden, and to show compassion. Acts of justice take an act of mercy even further, for they address the deep-rooted, systemic attitudes, policies, laws, and behaviors that imprison people in unjust situations, such as habitual poverty or hunger. The United Methodist Church has a long history of social justice, compassion, and outreach. John Wesley extolled the virtues of social holiness — putting faith into action for the benefit of the least and lost, which offers a blessing to giver and receiver alike. As teachers and leaders in Christian education and faith formation, our mandate is clear. We must bear witness in word and deed to the God of grace, mercy, and justice and teach our children, youth, and adults to do the same with courage.

How do we do this? By learning to articulate our faith story and the biblical story beyond our moment of conversion; by addressing our fears of "the other"; by confronting our notions and patterns of power and authority; by being ready and open to learn, which may not take place until we are at a point of risk and discomfort; and by demonstrating radical hospitality.


Diana L. Hynson is retired from Discipleship Ministries. This article first appeared in Christian Education Week, 2008; edited, 2011.

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