Jean’s Gospel: Church As Faithful Witness
Church as Faithful Witness
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” (John 15:26-16:4)
To keep His disciples from falling away after His departure, Jesus told them about two specific things to expect. First, He and the Father will send to them the Helper, the Spirit of truth, to bear witness about Jesus. The Helper will work in and through the disciples who also will bear witness about Jesus.
Second, Jesus forewarned the disciples that just as the world had rejected His testimony, “we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony” (John 3:11), the world also will reject their testimony: “They will put you out of the synagogues.” However, this rejection should not distress them, but comfort them. Rather than seeing rejection as a sign of their failure or error, the disciples should see rejection as a sign they are being faithful and truthful witnesses of Christ and His kingdom. As Jesus previously said: “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:20)
“And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:27)
Jesus established the credibility of His witnesses for all time. First, Jesus said “because you have been with me from the beginning.” In his first epistle, John elaborates on their credibility: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1) The disciples were eye witnesses to the words and deeds of Jesus, especially His resurrection, which qualified them as credible witnesses.
The second fact which established the credibility of the disciples to testify about Christ was their Divine inspiration: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13) The credibility of the apostles’ testimony is present in both their oral proclamation, for example, Peter at Pentecost, and also in their writings contained in the New Testament.
Therefore, when Jesus says “because you have been with me from the beginning,” Jesus presents His apostles as unique witnesses who the Church and all Christian preachers must follow without contradiction. Throughout most of Church history, Christians have affirmed the unique testimony of the apostles in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one … apostolic Church….” This confession acknowledges that true Christian doctrine for all time is built on the unique testimony of the apostles. The unity, holiness and catholicity of the Church depend on the apostolic witness.
“They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” (John 16:2)
Jesus forewarned the disciples that the world’s reaction to their testimony about Him and His kingdom will be rejection. They will not be greeted with friendship or acceptance by the world. To the contrary, their preaching about a crucified Savior, who was raised from the dead and is presiding over a spiritual kingdom at the right hand of God the Father almighty, will be despised and mocked by the world, and they will be hated, banned, persecuted and killed.
So Jesus consoled the disciples with the promise of the Helper and told them their preaching will not be in vain: “And you also will bear witness”. The disciples will bear witness about Him; the Holy Spirit will convict the world (John 16:8-11); His kingdom will spread throughout the world; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Through the apostles and all preachers following in their footsteps, the Gospel will work itself into the world like a pinch of leaven, which is effective to leaven an entire batch of dough (Matt 13:33).
On the other hand, Jesus also taught the disciples that the majority of people will reject their testimony. It will not be Christians who put others out of the synagogues, but the majority (i.e., the unbelievers) who will ban the Christians. They will even do so in the false belief that they are offering service to God. Therefore, the disciples should not be dismayed by their rejection. The faithfulness of the disciples and the truthfulness of their testimony will not and cannot be judged according to human measures of success. The only thing which should concern Christian preaching is truthful apostolic testimony.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:1-5)
Where is the apostolic Church today? Is our testimony apostolic?
Pastors in some churches can lose their position for holding to apostolic teaching.
Other pastors attempt to join the Church to another husband with their groveling before human rulers.
Denominations today have put apostolic teaching to a vote, where a majority has voted changes away from apostolic doctrine for the entire denomination.
Churches have bent, modified or wholesale removed apostolic teaching from their pulpits to appeal to the greater culture. Instead locating the power of the Spirit in the apostolic witness, some churches look for the Spirit’s movement through corporate marketing methods and/or entertainment.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ ” (Rom 1:16-17)
Let us repent of the cultural influences which have infiltrated our churches and our minds. The power of the Gospel is in the same place it has always been from the beginning: in Christ and the testimony of the apostles passed down to us in God’s Holy Word. In this Gospel, our Father grants us forgiveness, life and salvation for the sake of His Son, who gave His life for us. Jesus said: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3:8) May our churches steadfastly proclaim God’s Word and Gospel in purity, and let the Spirit of truth work salvation where and in whom it pleases Him. Amen.