Witnessing is an essential element of the Christian message. Jesus Christ came into this world to bear witness to the truth (Jn 18,37). When His earthly ministry came to an end and he had to return to the Father, he charged his Church through the Apostles, to be his witnesses. The Second Vatican Council, when speaking about the Church as the people of God says, “The Holy People of God share also in Christ’s prophetic office. It spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give honour to his name” (Lumen Gentium no 12). It is therefore the whole Church, as the people of God that has the mission of witnessing to Christ in the world.
The witness of the Church is carried out primarily by her proclamation of the Gospel of Christ so that men and women of all ages may get to know what love God has shown to the world in Christ. This witnessing is also multifaceted since “Christ redemptive work while of itself is directed towards the salvation of men, involves also the renewal of temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring to men the message men the message and grace of Christ but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal sphere with the Spirit of the Gospel” (Apostolican Actuositatem no 5). In order to do this, “The Church” according to Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, “relies on the living witness of her children in the world, in the professions, in politics and in public institutions.”
Meaning of Witness
According to Encarta Dictionaries, a witness is “somebody who gives evidence after seeing or hearing something; somebody who signs a document to show that it, or another signature, is genuine; somebody who publicly states his/her strong religious beliefs; a public statement of strong personal Christian beliefs.” Juridically, “a witness is one who testifies in a case or gives evidence before a judicial tribunal. Proof by witnesses is admitted in all cases and by all judiciary system, according to the direction of the judge and rules established by law.” In the court of Law, where the rule of law is taken serious, and the person who giving the evidence, has to do under oath, this is a common practice.
The Christian concept of witness goes beyond the mere juridical aspect of witness. It refers to one who gives evidence based on personal and immediate knowledge of Christ. As rightly underscores by John Hardon, the Christian concept of witness adds to the popular notion of a religious experience to which a believer testifies by his life, words, and actions, and thus gives inspirations and example to others by testimony, either because others are not favourably disposed or because they are openly hostile to the message of faith being proposed.
The Nigerian Church and Witnessing
According to Raymond Anoliefo in “Church and Politics: Setting the State Right,” “it would amount to being unfair to history for one to claim that the Nigerian Church has not been sensitive to the socio-economic situation in the country. On the contrary the Church in Nigeria together and in union with the universal Church has been contributing her quota to the restoration of order in the Nigeria society.
The Church through her organ of Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), continues to see to it that justice and peace reign in the society. At the 2007 elections, JDPC printed and circulated banners and stickers encouraging Nigerians to vote and shun violence and all nefarious activities that jeopardize peace. In places ravaged by war, hunger, disease and famine, the Church is seen giving a helping hand to victims.
In the promotion of sound education the Church is in the fore-front with her establishment of schools at different levels. These Church’s educational institutions produce quality graduates to serve the nation. This according to Tony Kanu in “The church and politics today: cooperation and autonomy,” is about the greatest contribution of the Church to development, because the greatest engine to growth and development of any economy is human capital development.
The Church as the moral conscience of the society is totally not lacking in bringing into the public arena the revealed truth of Christ. Thus, I always admonishes politician who their offices not for the development and welfare of the common good, but as a medium of oppressive machinery, moral bankruptcy and personal aggrandizement, to desist. According to Jude Uwalaka, in “The Church as Conscience of a Nation” the Church sets standards and preaches the essence of sound morality. Through the light which comes to her from the gospel she continues to provide the principles for the correct organization of social life. The virtues of honesty, integrity, hard work, modesty, humility are all beacons of morality preached by the Church. There are indeed no limits to the many ways in which the Nigerian Church bear witness to Christ redemptive work.
ConclusionWhile it is true that the Nigerian Church has borne witness to Christ’s redemptive work in the fifty years of the country’s nationhood, a lot more still remain to be done given the strength of the Church particularly in the area of preferential option for the poor. She has to take sides with the poor and oppressed, finding ways of accommodating them in her education and health institutions that sometimes may not benefit poor. It is her responsibility to speak the truth to the high and mighty of Nigeria. It is against this backdrop that George Ehusani in The Prophetic Church opines that “In the midst of a people held under siege by an abusive, exploitative, fraudulent, insensitive, callous, and greedy elite. The salvation which the Church proclaims should be a dynamic engagement in the process of seeing, judging and acting, armed with the Gospel of Christ.” It is not enough says Cardinal Roy to recall principles, state intentions, point to crying injustices and utter prophetic denunciation; it will lack real weight unless accompanied by effective action. Amidst other areas of the national life, social justice provides ample space for the Church to fulfill the injunction of Christ to be His witness in the Nigeria of today