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Apr13FriSharing the hope we have in Christ is central to our faith. April 13, 2018 by Colonel Lee Graves
We've just celebrated Easter, a time when we rejoice in what Christ has done for us. I am reminded of a practice in the Army that seems to be increasingly left out—the testimony period, once a much-anticipated part of the Sunday evening service. Some were short: “Saved and satisfied.” You could expect someone to quote a favourite Bible verse or a stanza from the song book, often the beloved line: “When I first commenced my warfare many said I’d run away; But they all have been deceived, in the fight I am today” (SASB 856). But the real gems were the accounts of what the Lord had done in the testifier’s life that week—perhaps an encounter where they were able to share their faith, or how they had experienced God’s promises.
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The format of the testimony period varied. Sometimes it was planned ahead, with a few people, such as the newly enrolled, asked to share. Other times it was the “popcorn” or “snowball” style— often dreaded, because you never knew when you might be called upon to stand up and testify.
But sharing the hope we have in Christ is central to our faith. We should “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Have our services become so neat and tidy that the testimony period has lost its place? Has it been all but squeezed out? Have our services become so sanitized and scripted that there’s no room for the Holy Spirit to speak spontaneously through his people? “For it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:20).
The testimony period is one of the hallmarks of our worship services, and part of our practical training. If we are accustomed to sharing our faith indoors, we will be more likely to share it outdoors.
Let us not forget the example of the early church, and the power of testimonies. Peter, the untrained yet inspired speaker after Pentecost? Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit? Paul, once Saul? Salvationists were once known to be ready, in season and out of season, to share that word of witness noted in our song book: “I want to tell you what the Lord has done, what the Lord has done for me” (SASB 852). Are Salvationists ready today?
You might expect that the chief secretary would look to our orders and regulations for guidance on this subject. For corps officers, it reads: “Testimony should have an important place in meetings. The officer should encourage voluntary testimony in addition to testimony by invitation. New converts should be urged to testify. Such testimonies will often help strengthen the resolve of the convert and at the same time encourage and inspire others.”
For soldiers, “the victorious life demands open and courageous confession before other people about one’s wish to live as a Christian. Because it has always been the conviction of The Salvation Army that those who have experienced the salvation of Christ are called to be witnesses for him, right from the moment of his conversion the convert should be prepared to witness by his word of testimony.” I encourage soldiers to read the rest of the relevant sections in Chosen to be a Soldier under the headings “Witnessing and Working” and “Public Speaking.”
If we are not doing so already, can we consider giving the testimony period more prominence in our worship services? Personal witness is of high importance. “For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:12).
Colonel Lee Graves is chief secretary of the Canada and Bermuda Territory.