Witness vs. Teaching

"Christians around the world certainly vary in their devotional lives and adherence to different doctrines, but there is an almost universal recognition that the highest form of Christian witness is service: healing the sick, helping the poor, welcoming the marginalized, educating the young. That service is how Christianity won admirers and converts in its early years. Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours wrote the 16th-century Spanish saint and mystic Teresa of Avila. In today’s world, the appeal of service is even more powerful – both inside and outside the church – because people mistrust religious institutions, which are seen, too often with good reason, as self-protective organizations whose leaders demand that their followers do as they say, not as they do. Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses Pope Paul V1 wrote in 1975." David Gibson

If there is any matters where the disconnection between those inside and outside the church is so large as titles and hierarchy I do not know what it is. It boggles my mind why clergy and laity alike in the church continue to use titles and reference status when the culture at large view the church as an institution with deep, deep institution. I watch colleagues approach the desk at hospitals, wearing collar and Cross, declaring “I am Rev. and I need to know where (name) is” in a tone that speaks of a different era. The look on the hospital staff faces tells the whole story. What I see is “who do you think you are?” Especially with all the sins of the worldwide church all too familiar.

My experience talking to people from the broader culture (and it helps to talk to people outside the church) is they tend to take their measure of Christians based 100% on how they live their life. It does not seem to matter whether one is conservative or liberal, traditional or very contemporary, the other listens and watches how the Christian lives their life, treats others around them, and especially how they care for those who are lost and hurting. If the perception is favorable the relationship begins, openness is offered and trust emerges. If the perception is unfavorable it will not matter how sound the words or the theology being presented or the degrees the person has earned, the skepticism will be high. Under those circumstances the response will be “name, rank and serial number” and nothing else.

I prefer to offer myself to others without titles, I don’t even mention what I do, and I let people figure that out themselves. I find humility is the best posture to take when meeting new people, they have more to teach me than I have to teach them. I have told Kim and Lucy that I want no titles or degrees on my headstone, I simply want my name and dates. If Christianity is to thrive in the 21st century it will be based on the way real Christians lived their lives, not on the symbols, titles or status of those who claim the name of Christ. Jesus does not seem to have carried himself with such self-importance, introducing himself without titles or status, only offering his actions and words as a witness. It was that witness that made the impact we still feel today.