by Steve Wild.
On Sunday 21st September 1760 John Wesley was in Cornwall at the Gwennap Pit. He doesn’t give the number of people attending but says, “it was the largest congregation of all,” and as he had been there probably ten times before there must have been quite a crowd. He goes on, “It rained all the time I was preaching,” so the crowd was made of stronger stuff in those days!
The day concluded with a lovefeast although perhaps there were less people at this, such gatherings usually had “a little plain cake and water” together with singing and testimony. Wesley goes on to say “James Roberts, a tinner of St Ives, related how God had dealt with his soul.” There follows a very full account of this testimony which must have deeply impressed our founder on this Cornish visit.
Last month we saw the death of the exemplar evangelist Dr Billy Graham, he like Wesley had a very rare gift in communicating the heart of the gospel to ordinary people. The Sunday following his death I asked my congregations how many of them had heard Billy Graham live and how had that affected their lives? In the three congregations there were several people who had heard him and committed their lives to Christ as a result. My services seemed to take on a different tone as some of these folk shared their story, the organist at one church waved his copy of the Billy Graham Music Book from the Earls Court Mission in the 1960s – which he still uses!
It was moving to hear folk talk of their encounter with God, some of them at the Harringay Arena in 1954… just before I was born!
There is a power in testimony which my congregations warmed to, there was a vibrancy and energy that came across and I was touched at the simplicity of the stories and the faithful lives that backed them.
In the marvellous story of Jesus healing a man born blind in John’s gospel chapter 9, the Pharisees investigate the healing and the man gives testimony, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” In the dilemma in this story he states the fact that he is not an authority, but he is a witness. We are called to be witnesses the first letter of Peter says “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We are not all called to be evangelists but are all called to be witnesses.
In Luke’s gospel we have another healing story. In chapter 8 a demon possessed man is cured and he wants to stay with Jesus but our Lord says, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Conversion involves a responsibility to share faith.
I love the connexional “Talking of God” faith sharing course which helps individuals and congregations to talk about their faith journey. We do this best like my congregations on Sunday, by being authentic and unpracticed but stating a genuine life experience.
Personal testimony has to be honest, one lady on Sunday said to me, “It hasn’t all been easy.” Of course it hasn’t for she like all Christians has had her share of tough moments. All our stories are unique and it’s easy to be put off sharing because we feel our story is too “ordinary.” Years ago as a prison chaplain I had many requests to speak at churches and they almost all wanted me to bring a converted prisoner with me “to give testimony” and I would refuse. The new converts needed to make massive adjustments in following Christ so they were not a prize to be shown off; it is true that radical life transformation stories are heartwarming and faith building but they are not entertainment.
In the world church there is an openness to testimony through the Holy Spirit which I have witnessed as it flows naturally and interestingly – this is where the church is strong and growing. Perhaps it is something in our British way which holds us back from testifying what God means to us, but I believe that through testimony we can discover the helpfulness of the work of Christ in our and other people’s lives. This will be to the enrichment of our life and the whole church as we fulfill the call of God to be witnesses.