Witnessing in Athens

Jerry is beginning his third year of college. He grew up in the church, learned his catechism well, and did pretty good in high school. Despite his non­chalant appearance, he is often troubled by the many new situations he is now faced with in the University. The University atmosphere is altogether different from the church/home atmosphere that he was raised in. It is not always the social atmosphere that is foreign, many of the students are very friendly. It is in the class room where Jerry feels the strongest alienation. Those professors who are intent on destroying the church find that distorting the Bible to make it look foolish is a very effective way to make students flee from the Bible. “The Bible is a myth. The Apostle Paul got his ideas from Aristotle. Don’t accept anything as true. Believe in yourself.” These brazen attacks which some professors confidently make against the Bible, Church, and home fill Jerry with anger and confusion. “But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?” (Psalm 50:16) Jerry wanted to stand up to defend his faith but he was afraid and ashamed.

The words of the professors were bad enough but the smiles and nods of agreement that came from stu­dents sitting around Jerry made him sick. He could not believe how rapidly the professor convinced these students that before true knowledge can be found, they ought to purge their minds of the “religious superstition” taught by their parents. “How,” Jerry thought, “can a witness of faith be heard in a place where human knowledge reigns?” Students who sur­vive the lecture are again taunted by other students who leave messages on the study corrals saying that God is only a fabrication to escape reality.

A college campus like this is clearly enemy territo­ry for the believer. It is a place where “The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted” (Psalm 12:8). Jerry feels very alone but is thankful that the enemy is at least clearly defined and not dis­guised. He also knew that God was with him and he must not try to disguise himself or hide from the enemy.

A new semester is here and Jerry anxiously heads to his new classes. He can hardly wait to find out what they will be like, but the conflict he anticipates with the final exam for Latin somewhat spoils his excite­ment. According to the time-table, the Latin exam has been scheduled for Sunday at 1:30. The rules state that if you have a religious conflict with the exam schedule you have until the second week of class to talk with your instructor about it. This situation occurred last semester with speech class and the instructor was a bit annoyed about setting up another time for his exam. He could not figure out why Jerry was the only one out of the whole class who had a problem with taking the exam on Sunday. “Well,” Jerry thought, “things could be worse. At least the school makes it possible for me to take the exam at a different time. I just hope the Latin instructor doesn’t fuss too much.”

Jerry sat down in the class room and soon the instructor came in. He was a young guy, probably a classics major, and full of energy. He was dressed like an average student: T-shirt, bleached pants with holes, and hiking boots. Despite his appearance, he was a surprisingly good teacher, determined to make Latin scholars out of all his students. He even sug­gested that anyone who was planning to sluff off to just leave the class. Throughout the course of the lec­ture, Jerry noticed that he had a big tattoo on his arm and wondered what it said. He was not looking for­ward to telling this guy about his conflict with the exam but before long the class was over. Jerry took his time and waited for most of the students to leave before confronting the instructor. When he walked up to him he could see that the tattoo said “DIE FAST. “Oh boy,” Jerry thought. “Is that the answer he will give to me?” But now it was too late to change his mind about telling the instructor.

“Hi Jerry, how can I help you?”

“Well ah, I just wanted to tell you that I won’t be able to take the final exam at the time scheduled.”

“The final exam? What’s the problem?”

“Well it is for religious reasons.”

“Oh … Ok, I guess I can arrange something. Remind me again before the exams.”

“Ok, thanks.”

Jerry hurried out of the room wondering what the instructor thought of him. At least he had not given in to the school system that was trying to blot out the church, but he wished he would have been a little more bold. “Sunday is the Lord’s Day and I cannot take the exam on a day devoted to the Almighty God” he imagined himself saying. That would have been much better. Jerry thought that his timid testimony only made it look like the church was giving its last flicker of light before dying so he prayed that God would strengthen him in his witnessing.

The next day a guy from Latin class caught up with Jerry in the hall after class and said “I don’t like it either that exams are scheduled for Sunday. I was surprised to hear you tell the instructor that you could not take it on Sunday. I did not feel like making a ruckus but after you talked with him, I also asked him if I could be excused from taking the exam.” That made Jerry feel much better. His prayer had been answered and his feeble actions did not go unnoticed. No longer did he feel ashamed and helpless among the wickedness surround him. God would strengthen him.

Now Jerry began looking for opportunities to wit­ness instead of trying to avoid situations that would reveal his faith. His philosophy group was working on a group assignment and the work under investigation was not very clear. Jerry said that the passage would probably be more clear if they could read the original Latin. “Clearer?”, a girl in the group said. “My parents used to tell me about the good old days when Mass was done in Latin. They always thought it was so much more sacred and meaningful but I could not see how a language that no one understood could be meaningful.” Well that was not what Jerry had in mind. She went on to say that the church was nothing but a bunch of hypocrites. After she came to college and had taken a “philosophy of religion” course, she quit going to church. Jerry really did not know what to say. He agreed that Latin services did not make much sense and that there certainly was a lot of hypocrisy in the nominal church. But he went on to point out that Jesus himself warned the church about hypocrisy and corruption. Corruption is to be expected. He also told her that the true church with its foundation on the Word is not found in buildings and denominations but instead is the unity of believers in Christ. She seemed to be interested and surprised at what Jerry was say­ing. “No one in the church I used to go to would have stood up for his beliefs like that” she thought. The other two group members had stopped their discus­sion and were listening to Jerry but they did not say anything.

Gradually Jerry began to realize how blessed he was to belong to the church he did. “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). He began to see how dark and gloomy the lives of the students on campus were. He prayed to God for strength and zeal to become a powerful witness.

May God work in the hearts of the young people of our churches and fill us with zeal. Let us also strengthen one another in the Word that we might work as faithful servants. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)