"Testimony occurs in particular settings — a courtroom or
a church — where a community expects to hear the truth spoken."

— Thomas Hoyt, Jr.

In testimony, people speak truthfully about what they have experienced and seen, offering it to the community for the edification of all. The practice of testimony requires that there be witnesses to testify and others to receive and evaluate their testimony. It is a deeply shared practice - one that is possible only in a community that recognizes that falsehood is strong, but that yearns nonetheless to know what is true and good.

What is Testimony?
Testimony is basic to community, and happens in every vital Christian community where words of freedom are spoken and heard. In Acts 2, Peter's testimony in Jerusalem defined the early church as an open, inclusive community. What part of corporate worship do you experience as testimony, i.e., people building up the faith community by telling what they've experienced and seen?

In North American society, advertising shapes most of our public discourse. How can people without economic and political power be heard when commercial gain drives the speech of advertising?

Testimony from Marginal living
Storytellers in the brush arbors kept alive the heritage of African slaves throughout their years of oppression in a strange new land. In the same manner, African American preachers reinterpreted stories of the Hebrew slavery and liberation in light of their own people's needs and experiences. What therapy does hearing and giving testimony offer to oppressed communities?

Preaching as Testimony
Preaching is a witness intended to evoke other forms of witness. Preaching is the activity of the whole church and not of the preacher alone. What challenge does this present to the preacher? What grace does it offer? How is the testimony of a preacher distinct from the other 'testifiers'? How do preacher and people work together to practice testimony? How does the call and response pattern common in African American worship support the preacher in giving testimony? If this is not the pattern in your own community, by what other means do the people support the preacher in giving testimony?

Testimony in Song
To know the real life and history of a people, study the testimony it makes in its songs. What tuneful testimony did Miriam make in Exodus 15:21? What testimony does the hymn "Amazing Grace" make? When have you been better able to sing your testimony than speak it? How do songs help people make sense of their lives? What songs point disenfranchised people to a time when their needs will be met?

Testimony Beyond Words
Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mohandas Gandhi all testified with their bodies, their actions, their lives. The New Testament word for witness is martyr. How does the witness of martyrs - famous or not - inspire you to greater witness? When have you seen a quiet act of compassion speak powerfully of God's presence? In what ways do the church's rituals offer nonverbal testimony to the story of Jesus' life and death and continuing power in our lives?

Telling the Truth
Christian testimony has two dimensions: telling the truth to God about our lives, and bearing witness to others about God's redemptive activity in the world. How are these two dimensions of testimony related to each other? How do groups like Alcoholic Anonymous draw upon the healing power of both dimensions of truth-telling?

In Central America, Archbishop Oscar Romero urged truth-telling that risked lives. What risks are inherent in giving unpopular testimony? How can people support one another in bearing witness and speaking the truth? How can we draw strength and inspiration from "the great cloud of witnesses" who have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1)?

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I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind — just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you.

— 1 Corinthians 1:4-6

Then I said, "Ah Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all whom I send you, and shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth."

— Jeremiah 1:6-9

© 2006-2011 The Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith