Are You a Fifth Amendment Christian?

Sometime ago one of our young people told me that he was a Fifth Amendment Christian and that this bothered him immensely. He didn’t use this particular phrase, but he did say that like many union officials recently, he refused to testify because this testimony would be embarrassing to him. This same young man continued to tell me that this reluctance to witness troubled him because it conflicted with a deep conviction that he should be both able and willing to give a definite witness of the fact that he was a Christian.

He also stated that although he felt compelled to be of some witness for Christ and His Kingdom, he could not picture himself standing on the corner singing and preaching little sermons to passersby. For this I can hardly blame him. I am convinced that standing on the corner and conducting street meetings is neither the most sincere form of witnessing nor the most effective tool God has given us for telling others of His influence in our own lives. It seems to me that the witness of a Christian conduct is a far more convincing (and often a thousand fold more difficult.) Just as Christ’s conduct is a guide and witness to each of us, so in a lesser degree, but yet very certainly, each of us can be a powerful witness to those who observe us.

As an example of just how much more powerful is the witnessing of a Christian conduct compared to mere verbal testimony, project yourself for a moment into the following situation: you are a farmer in a rural community and are informed that one of your neighboring farmers has suddenly been incapacitated due to illness and that his crops consequently are about to rot in the fields. Which course of action would prove the more effective witness, to visit the ill neighbor and with much wringing of hands urge him to pray for grace to accept this setback, or would it be a better witness to spend some time harvesting his crop or if this were not feasible, to ask others to help you with the harvesting of the ill neighbor’s crops?

Just one more example, isn’t it easier to gather with t few friends to sing a few hymns on the corner than to stir out of a cozy, comfortable chair on a blustery winter evening to help a neighbor push his car out of a snow drift? There is no question but both of these are witnessing, and we should never fail to take advantage of an opportunity to give fitting verbal witness, but the simple act of lending a hand to a neighbor in a predicament is doing “good unto all men” and is often of greater impact than much preaching and singing on the corner.

This concept is nothing new. The Samaritan who befriended the robbed stranger in Christ’s parable is cited as an example which we would do well to follow, while the Pharisees who make a public spectacle of their “witnessing” (long prayers, long robes, long faces) were pointed out as despicable examples of the sort of conduct we should emulate.

This does not mean that everyone who feels constrained to witness on the street is insincere and therefore a hypocrite, but it does give an indication of the greater value Christ placed on Christian conduct even above that of public street preaching and praying. Notice also how frequently we read phrases like “by their fruits ye shall know them” not “by singing” or “by their speech”.

This witnessing by our conduct continues every day of our lives whether we are aware of it or not, for almost everything we do is observed by others and our actions are either a positive or negative witness for or against the Christian community. As Christian young people, there are many areas of conduct each day that could serve as positive witnessing, but due to their frequency are often overlooked.

For example: a few minutes after the young people’s society has adjourned, a car speeds out of the church driveway spewing gravel in all directions. It reaches the street and with the squeal of tortured tires and the thunder of twin exhaust pipes it races away into the night. A fine Christian witness! The neighbors in the area must certainly be impressed with the high standards of Christian behavior taught in this church! In the same vein, what kind of witness are we when we cheat during an exam in school? Or engage in petty (and sometimes not so petty) vandalism in youthful exuberance after a victorious basketball game?

Okay, so you want to be a witness. That’s fine and an indication of a healthy Christian attitude, but let’s not lose sight of the trees for the forest. Only when our behavior is itself a witness will any other witnessing become meaningful.

Originally Published in:

Vol. 19 No. 8 December 1959