In a recent small group Bible study meeting, our pastor was finishing up a series of sessions studying the Old Testament book of Jonah. In this final session, he wanted to distinguish between being a witness or being a proclaimer of Christian truth. His goal was to take pressure off Christians who sometimes are reluctant to share their faith because they might struggle with questions and objections. He likened the believer's role to that of being a witness in a court trial.
A witness in a court trial is called upon to testify to what she saw and heard. She is not expected to interpret what she saw and heard. or to speculate about what she did not witness. A Christian witness is called to testify to what she has been taught and has experienced. In my tradition, she is taught in a variety of ways the story of the Bible, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the teachings contained in Luther's Small Catechism. She experiences her faith through divine services, the sacraments, ethical and devotional living, and loving her neighbor.
I should mention, almost parenthetically, the role of an expert witness. In the trial court, this person has expertise to be able to critique the evidence of witness testimony and other evidence. There are also those who are highly trained in disciplines such as history and philosophy who can critique the claims of the Christian witness.
Then there is the proclaimer. In the court trial, this role is filled by the lawyers, who attempt to persuade the judge and/or jury that the weight of the witness testimony and other evidence supports the conclusion they desire. In the Christian faith, this role is filled by pastors and other preachers. Their training in the faith is deeper and wider than most Christian laypeople. They are trained and skilled to persuasively explain the faith.
Are you a witness or a proclaimer? The truth is that many of us are somewhere on the continuum between a simple witness and a full-blown proclaimer. We all fill a variety of roles, such as parent, child, employer, employee, student, property owner, neighbor, etc. These roles all make demands on us, and along with our interest in spiritual knowledge, will determine where we fit along the witness/proclaimer continuum. 1 Peter 3:15 of the Bible instructs believers to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason for their hope in Jesus. Their answer can legitimately be more in the style of a witness, or in the style of a proclaimer. We should each find our role and be willing to speak the truth in love.