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Christian Witness Takes Many Forms

Column by the Rev. Scott Paradise

Episcopal Chaplain

My column of Feb. 7 ["Students Should Awaken To the Dangers Of Our Modern Industrial Society"] drew fire from a Christian who criticized me for not mentioning Jesus Christ. My critic was correct. My column sketched the lethal dimensions of the present global crisis and urged MIT students to waken to them and plan their lives so as to grapple with them. But I never mentioned Christ.

My critic stands in a time-honored tradition dating from the Day of Pentecost of those who witness to Christ by speaking of him explicitly, proclaiming him as the Messiah and Lord, and calling on all to accept him and believe in him. Indeed, my critic stands among those who imagine that the only way to witness to the truth of Christ is to do so explicitly in this way.

This view is too narrow. There are other kinds of Christian witness. Christians can witness to their Lord equally, though differently, by trying to speak out about the concerns of Christ without referring to Him by name. This involves first of all, by study and an act of imagination, to discern the mind of Christ. It involves trying to understand the values which underlie Jesus' teachings. Love, justice, compassion, honesty, and non-violence come immediately to mind. And then it involves trying to relate these values to the current situation. In other words, this form of witness does not speak about Christ as much as speak for Christ in the present day.

Of course Christians will not always agree about what the mind of Christ is on a particular issue. Last year some Christians supported the Gulf War and others did not. Today some Christians are pro-life and others pro-choice. One clue: Jesus spent his ministry defending the sick, the poor, the oppressed, as well as in conflict with the political and religious leaders of his time who then, as now, tended to represent the interests of the wealthy and powerful. It seems more than likely, therefore, that to reflect the mind of Christ today is to take the side of the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. It also seems more than likely that this will bring us into conflict with the wealthy and powerful today.

On the other hand, Christians witnessing in this way will often find allies among non-Christians who share the values of Christ but do not acknowledge him. Witnessing for Christ in this way is more direct than speaking explicitly about Christ and then alluding to the concerns of Christ only by inference.

Those who act as Christ would have acted, doing justice, ministering to the sick, visiting the prisoners, feeding the hungry, and sheltering the homeless also witness for Christ even though they say nothing at all. Quakers are known for this kind of witness. Christians sometimes wish that they would interpret their ministry as being consistent with the mind of Christ. "If only they would preach what they practice!" we say.