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Why it is important to share our testimonies of conversion

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It’s been reported that 75 percent of people fear public speaking more than death. I probably believed that the day I shared my testimony in my high school English class. I felt prompted by God to share my conversion story as my public speaking assignment and happily saw it bear fruit in the conversion of one of my classmates later that school year.

Conversion testimonies have long been a uniquely influential source of knowledge regarding salvation for evangelical Christians. Christian testimony has also been a keyway for the faith to be transmitted from one generation to the next. It simplifies through storytelling an experience—being born again—that is otherwise difficult to explain. Furthermore, it encourages believers in their faith, hearing about how God is at work saving people. It has also long been a staple of baptism and membership practices among the Mennonite Brethren, allowing the church to authenticate the faith of baptismal candidates and prospective members.

The modern history of conversion testimony begins with Augustine’s Confessions. Written in the late fourth century, it has been the benchmark for all other conversion accounts in Christian history, surpassed in importance only by the conversion of the apostle Paul. His famous account of hearing a voice say, “Take it and read it. Take it and read it,” leading to his spiritual rebirth, has influenced all subsequent biographical accounts.

Menno Simons’ story

Conversion testimony was a common feature of early Anabaptist writings, illustrated most effectively by the conversion story of Menno Simons. Coming to the personal conviction regarding the error of the doctrine of transubstantiation and the practice of infant baptism years earlier, Menno was living a hypocritical life—discharging his duties as a Catholic priest in the village of Witmarsum while lacking real faith. He was finally moved to action when authorities killed 300 zealous but deceived members of a sect known as Munsterites.

Realizing his failure to speak the truth and effectively shepherd sheep in his community, Menno describes his encounter with God as follows: “My heart trembled within me. I prayed to God with sighs and tears that he would give to me, a sorrowing sinner, the gift of his grace, create within me a clean heart and graciously through the merits of the crimson blood of Christ forgive my unclean walk and frivolous easy life.

The ongoing interest in conversion among the Anabaptists is clear from the focus it is given in the 1,157-page Martyr’s Mirror, which records the accounts of more than 4,000 martyred Anabaptists from the 16th century and often includes their conversion experience. While these conversion accounts are typically brief, they reinforce for Anabaptists the priority of publicly attesting to being born again and adhering to the true church as a part of faithful Christian witness.

Sharing boldly

Spoken and written conversion testimonies continue to be a primary method of outreach among evangelicals today. These more recent conversion accounts are too numerous to count, but there are some that stand out for their unique and enduring contribution to the evangelical understanding of conversion.

One such example is Chuck Colson’s autobiography, Born Again. Colson describes a visit with a friend in the middle of the Watergate scandal that would send Colson to prison. During that visit his friend describes his own conversion at a Billy Graham Madison Square Garden crusade in New York and gives Colson a copy of Mere Christianity.

Colson reads it during the following week of vacation and comes to realize his need for Christ: “And so early that Friday morning, while I sat alone staring at the sea I love, words I had not been certain I could understand or say fell naturally from my lips: ‘Lord Jesus, I believe in you. I accept you. Please come into my life. I commit it to You.’ With these few words . . . came a sureness of mind that matched the depth of feeling in my heart. There came something more—strength and serenity, a wonderful new assurance about life, a fresh perception of myself and the world around me.”

Colson’s new faith was immediately tested as he went to prison for his role in Watergate. Upon his release he continued to testify boldly for Christ and founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry with global reach.

Utilizing conversion testimony today can continue to bless the church in a number of ways.

First, conversion testimony gives glory to God and inspires worship. Every time I hear someone share their testimony during a baptism service or in a small group, I am amazed at how God faithfully draws people to himself. Each story shows the love and patience and mercy of God from a slightly different perspective and adds to our appreciation of God’s greatness.

Second, a well-prepared testimony preaches the gospel to all who listen. It is a witness of the good news in action, bringing change to people’s lives. This is why at Mountain View Church we encourage those being baptized to invite all their friends and families to come support them, even providing them with “I’m getting baptized!” invitation cards.

Third, the faith of believers who hear the testimony is strengthened. We all need to be reminded that the good news about Jesus Christ is, “the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Hearing how God’s power is at work in people’s lives today is vital to that strengthening.

Sharing my testimony in school all those years ago gave me new courage to share my faith with classmates, and it solidified my self-understanding as a set apart, follower of Jesus. Most importantly, it paved the way for an opportunity later that year to lead one of my school friends to faith in Jesus.  These are just some of the many blessings that can come from public testimony.  Here, then, are a few ways to encourage the continued use of conversion testimony today.

We can encourage people in our churches to know and share their own stories. To facilitate this, at Mountain View we use a simple, three-point outline for preparing baptism testimonies—my life before I met Christ, how I met Christ (why, what, when, where, how, with whom) and how my life has changed since I met Christ. We teach this outline to the whole church in various settings, encouraging people to write out a two-minute testimony.

We encourage our small groups that meet during the week for Bible study and prayer to make sharing testimonies a part of their worship. I’ve been blessed time and time again to hear how people come to faith in Christ, sometimes spectacularly, but more often by ordinary means – at their grandparents’ knee, at vacation Bible school, at summer camp.

Churches can continue (or start) the practice of including public conversion testimony as a part of water baptism. For the reasons already stated above, the individual sharing will be strengthened, the church will be blessed and our Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified.

Finally, let me encourage you to read Christian biography. I know you’re a reader; you made it to the end of this article, didn’t you? So, grab a classic book of Christian biography and read it. Start with one of the titles I have mentioned here or one that has been gathering dust on your shelf. You will be blessed.

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