In one of my earlier posts I wrote a little about fundamentalist colleges, and I mentioned that reading the student handbooks almost rekindled my PTSD. I talked a little about the rules, but I want to write about the idea of a “testimony” today. For a start, I’ll quote from the Bob Jones University Student Handbook:
Male and female students should guard their testimonies; they are not to be alone together in a classroom, rehearsal studio or other room.
And now from the Pensacola Christian College Handbook:
PCC provides a great atmosphere for meeting new people and developing long-lasting godly relationships. We encourage students to foster these relationships with Christ at the center. These guidelines are designed to guard purity and maintain a spotless Christian testimony on and off campus.
So, to “help” students keep their “testimonies” “guarded” and “spotless”, a great number of rules are developed and enforced. It reminds me a little of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day (and today) who also developed rules and regulations in order to make sure people did not break the law of God. To illustrate, “Keep the Sabbath Holy… do no work” was a law of God, but what was “work”? Was it lighting a fire? Is it flipping a light switch? Turning on a car engine? So, just in case those things were in fact “work”, they banned them all. It was a hedge keeping people from breaking the law. And Jesus hated it!
Yet we see the same thing in the colleges mentioned above. And not only the colleges, but in many different Christian institutions. I’ve heard many sermons about keeping away from the appearance of evil, and not associating with poor company, and every time I hear these kinds of sermons, I think about Jesus. Who did he associate with? Whores, drunkards, tax collectors, law breakers, the poor, children! Moreover, he attended parties and drank (horrors!) alcohol. Why didn’t he worry about his testimony? Maybe because he didn’t care, and it wasn’t important to him. I don’t think he cared what people thought of him, actually.
I think the idea of “testimony” is just a way to judge others. I’ve had run-ins with these kind of judgers, and they’re not pleasant. Once, I was preparing to serve overseas as a full-time missionary, and one of the “bigwigs” of the mission visited our base. After he’d gone, a friend and I were both told how this man felt we were both too overweight, and that this wasn’t a good testimony. I wish I’d let that be a warning about attitudes instead of simply accepting that he was right. Interestingly, the purveyors (Mr. and Mrs. X) of that news had once taken us to a church to speak, and in the parking lot we saw a man smoking. Mr. X said “Well, he’s obviously not a Christian” I was dumbfounded, turned to him and asked “How do you know that? He might be the most caring man in the world but fighting a smoking addiction”. I received no answer. (My views have changed a little since then. Maybe the guy wasn’t even fighting the addiction. Maybe it was the least of his problems. Maybe it wasn’t a problem for him at all).
Later, several years later, when returning from my first (and only) term abroad, burnt-out and depressed (diagnosed a few weeks later as clinical depression), another missionary from the same organization but different country, took me to a friend’s house for a weekend (it was supposed to be a weekend of relaxing), and once there, told me that my attitude was a very poor testimony. I remember bursting into tears and telling her I was going back home. She didn’t want to take me back, but I told her I’d take a taxi if I had to, but I was leaving, and that was that. I was so distraught, I sobbed all the way home… and most of the night. Why do people do these things to others? How does anyone know what is really going on inside another? Oh, and this woman was a nurse!
That incident put the seal on my return to the missionary life. I was already feeling like an abject failure, and now, courtesy of this woman, decided I should just cut loose from it all. Looking back, she did me a favor. I realized I needed help and got it. And I changed my life plan.
I don’t believe that the Jesus of the New Testament wants us to go around following a multitude of laws and regulations. Heck, Jesus himself would be kicked out of the two colleges mentioned above! I think that human beings are still so insecure that they need rules and regulations so that they can say they are good Christians. To me, that’s exactly what Jesus was fighting against.
I believe a true “testimony” is who you are, NOT what you do. Period.