Witness or Reputation?

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:17) As Christians we are concerned about our witness. We want our deeds to demonstrate to those around us the reality of God and His kingdom values. Recent news about the moral failing of a major evangelical leader has made me think that perhaps we sometimes confuse witness with reputation. Love of reputation is a snare. The desire to be a witness of God, however, is good. Even though our own mission statement talks about being a witness, I realize now that being a witness isn’t as important as actually living out the Gospel.

Being a witness doesn’t legitimize the Gospel, or ourselves for that matter. This is where a fine line between wanting to be a good witness and craving reputation exists. Early Christians were accused of many things, including being cannibals because they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. In the eyes of some, they weren’t being good witnesses (“Honey, don’t let the kids play with those Christians, they eat people.”). There are, of course, many positive accounts of Christian witness in history. The point is that how we look to others is often tainted by their own views and prejudices. Additionally, the mandates of the Gospel are often at odds with the values of the culture around us, and consequently, can be unattractive to unbelievers; giving up wealth to serve others, for example.

Saint Francis and his little band of followers, in choosing poverty, were seen by the upper class, from where many of them came, as ungrateful and dishonoring their families. To some of the poor, they were seen as drawing attention away from the plight of the real poor. Supposedly, John Wesley, while riding his horse one day, became alarmed as he realized that he hadn’t been persecuted for the Gospel for a while, which indicated to him that he was perhaps losing his zeal for God. He pulled over the side of the road and knelt down in a ditch to pray and repent for his spiritual condition. Apparently, his prayers were so fervent that a bystander on the other side of the ditch heard it, and becoming irritated by this holy roller, threw a stone at him. Wesley raised his voice in thanksgiving that all was well with his soul, as evidenced by this persecution.

Loving reputation, even in the name of wanting to be a good witness, will keep us from honestly confessing our sins and weaknesses. We’ll be worried that it will hurt our witness. I think it’s better to just commit ourselves to living out the Gospel, regardless of the consequences, and let the Holy Spirit take care of the witness.