One of the most powerful tools in the evangelical toolchest is that of testimony. The story of a life changed by Jesus and the transformative power of the gospel is something that never grows old. In every generation there are stories that resonate more than others and some that eventually gain worldwide notoriety. In my formative years, it was the story of Nicky Cruz in the Cross and the Switchblade, Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place and Tom Skinner in Up from Harlem that captivated my attention. These stories were so well known that they were available in a variety of formats from books to movies and in my case the Spire Comic book series. Who knows how many people will be in heaven one day as the direct result of understanding the power of God to change a life.
The history of the early church is one of a community transformed by the power of the gospel such that they impacted their entire society. Their story was one of martyrdom and a refusal to pay homage to the emperor as divine. In addition, the story of God coming in flesh to die so that they might live changed the very way that they lived. No longer would they only take care of their own poor and marginalized, but they began to take care of the poor and marginalized in the wider society. No doubt, it is these stories of boldness in the face of persecution and sacrifice for “the least of these” that helped Christianity to spread like wild fire and eventually become the official religion of the Roman Empire.
While there are still many stories that resonate with a wider world today of the power of the gospel to transform a life from Bethany Hamilton of shark bite fame to the quarterback Tim Tebow, this is unfortunately not the narrative that gets the most attention. Far too often, the story that gets the most attention is that of evangelical leaders trying to influence the political process by anointing “their candidate” or the entire Christian community being treated as simply one of several influential voting blocks in the Republican Party. If that is not the front page story of the day, then it often is the misguided pastor calling for the burning of the Koran or living in such lavish wealth that it makes a mockery of the very gospel story they proclaim.
This week, I have been reading the book I Am Second which is a powerful collection of life change stories that demonstrate an often overlooked principle of the means of the gospel to actually change lives. Built into the early church was the concept of Confession and Repentance. This concept was so powerful that it led to the confessional becoming a distinctive feature of the Roman Catholic Church. As a body of believers, we need a safe place to be able to tell our stories of failure and brokenness and to admit our desperate need of a savior. I am convinced that in the evangelical church today, this is often best accomplished in a small accountability group that more often than not is gender specific. When this is not a possibility, the friendship and listening ear of one committed Christian for another is the place that God often uses as the starting point for a new direction in someone’s life. This relationship of compassionate, grace filled accountability provides room for safe confrontation of the sin that exists in all of our lives and for repentance to become the norm.
As I look to the future, I long for a church whose public testimony is that of a body of people so committed to the gospel that we once again are known as those that care for the “least of these” not because we are more altruistic than those around us, but because we know deep in our core that we ourselves are the least of these that Jesus came to save. May God use the power of confession and repentance in our lives to draw us into a deeper relationship with him that ultimately results in new stories that change the very arc of narrative that the media chooses publish. What a world this would be if the church were known once again for martyrs in the face of persecution, a people who refused to bow to the “divinity” of our modern day capitalistic Caesars and who cared so much for the poor and marginalized that it transformed the very world that we live in. It is possible, but only if we start with a posture of confession and repentance and mutual accountability.