Monday, February 18, 2013

Beware Sound Bite Testimonials

"I'm clinging to Christ and trust in my doctors and nurses," the famous cancer patient professed.

In England, a teenaged girl spoke to the media about a series of operations that saved her life.  "It's just because of the prayers of people. Because all people – men, women, children – all of them have prayed for me," she rejoiced.  "And because of these prayers God has given me this new life … and this is a second life."

These sound like good testimonies of God's goodness and answer to prayer, right?  Except the first quote came from cancer patient Hugo Chavez, communist dictator of Venezuela, who's been undergoing treatment in Cuba.  And the second quote was from Pakistani terrorism victim Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl shot in the face last fall in an assassination attempt by the Taliban.  She's been released from her British hospital and can now return to her home country, where she's become something of a heroine.

Religious lingo and catch-phrases just trip off the tongue these days, and not just by us evangelicals.  People all over the world who claim some affinity with some sovereign deity can rejoice in that deity's name for the strength they receive through suffering and the healing they experience.  It's all part of the doctrine with which they've been educated, or to which they've haphazardly ascribed.

Actually, this is nothing new, as even in Biblical times, God was incessantly warning the Old Testament Israelites and the New Testament church about how tricky patterns in other religions can mimic our true faith.  And yes, our Biblical Gospel is our world's only true faith.

Now, let's get this straight:  as a proud American, I'm not intolerant of other faiths, nor do I hate people of other faiths.  I believe in freedom of religion.  Nevertheless, while I agree that everyone should be able to peaceably follow their religion of choice, I have been convinced by the Holy Spirit that Christ is the Son of God, and that it's only through Him that I have forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Heaven.  My faith is in a Person, not a system of theology.

I'm not sure when believing any thing is the best - or the only - truth became tantamount to vile bigotry, but I suspect it started to gain credence when lots of people who didn't want to embrace the best The Truth became vile and bigoted against those of us who do.

Be that as it may, isn't it still interesting to hear how the things we evangelicals say about our faith - particularly in the context of prayer and our health - can be the same things people of other faiths can say about theirs?  And while what looks like duplicity on the part of adherents of other faiths can't deny the efficacy of our own faith, or the reality of God's power to answer prayers in ways over which we marvel, might this be a good challenge for us to, oh, up the ante a bit?

After all, isn't it almost too easy to say "I'm clinging to Christ" or "God has given me a second chance thanks to the prayers of others?"  Hey - these are things a communist dictator and a teenaged Muslim girl felt completely comfortable saying!  And in terms of freedom of religion, who should deny them the right to such confidence, however erroneous it may be?  However, just as these phrases may mean nothing in terms of God's beneficence over their souls, might the same sound somewhat true when we utter them?  Not that Christ isn't the Person to Whom we should cling when we're battling cancer, or that we shouldn't be thankful for prayers other believers say on our behalf.  But we can go further, can't we?

We are to give testimony to the hope that we have inside of us.  In our soundbite world, it's tempting to elicit platitudes based on our faith and assume our audience understands the fuller implications of what we're saying.  But just as we really shouldn't tolerate sermons chock full of soundbites, is God satisfied when we offer soundbite testimonials of what He's done for us?

Not that we need to spout doctrinal proofs from evangelical Protestantism and Five-Point Calvinism each time we want to praise God for something.  Maybe, however, we could acknowledge Christ's lordship in our lives, for example, or acknowledge how your trusting in the Lord's sovereignty over your health.  Make it more about the relationship you share with Christ, and not just religious terminology.

After all, it's not essential that we develop deeper and more accurate ways of vocalizing our faith in public, since God looks at our heart, and He sees how genuinely we love, trust in, and serve Him.  Yet what we say about our faith is still important.  In Romans 10:9-10, the apostle Paul reminds us that "if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."

Don't get hung up on "with your mouth... you... are saved" part of that passage.  Take it in context with what Paul is saying.  There is a Biblical theme of God putting a "new song" inside of us, which is part of a pattern in which we sing praises to God and speak of His righteousness to the unsaved.  Strong's Exhaustive Concordance says the Greek word for mouth being used in this passage could be translated "as emanating from the heart."  Therefore, the "salvation" part of this passage refers more to our affirmation of Christ's salvific work in our life, not that we have to verbally confess our faith; otherwise, how would that work for a physically mute convert?

But since we're referencing the apostle Paul here, think about it for a moment:  How would you guess he'd respond to hearing a communist dictator invoking the precious name of Christ?

My guess is that he wouldn't use any of the platitudes we might. 
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