But one we need to be working on.
First, Christians (of all people) need to quit whining and complaining about Facebook and Twitter, etc. This is like Christians complaining about books or newspapers or magazines — the stuff people write! I can’t stand it! Reading is just not good for me! I’m giving up books for Lent!
All the whining and complaining, and all the pious attempts at sounding holy about it, is actually complaining about people. It’s actually whining about people. They say things they should not. They write things they should not. They like things they should not. They share things they should not. They read things they should not. Have I missed anything?
But Jesus saw the multitudes and had compassion on them, as sheep without a shepherd. I think Jesus would have the same reaction to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Now of course Jesus did sometimes leave the crowds behind to rest, to pray, to teach His disciples, etc. So of course, my point is not to let the (internet) crowds invade and run your entire life. You have duties to God, your husband, your wife, your children, your boss, your teachers, your parents, your friends and neighbors. You must not neglect those duties. But sometimes, when Jesus’ mother and brothers showed up outside a crowded house where Jesus was teaching and healing, He didn’t drop everything and run out to see his family right away. Sometimes, Christian love and patience lingers a little longer in the comments of a Facebook post.
While we use the word virtual to describe much of what happens online, it simply is not the case that the people writing, commenting, liking, and sharing are fake or unreal (Ok, except for all the truly *fake* web bots prowling about seeking whom they may devour). For the most part, they are real people like you and me with loves and hurts and hopes and confusions and sin and wisdom all wound together in different combinations. They are real people, and therefore, the internet is an extension of real community. Notice that I said extension and not replacement. You cannot go to church on the internet, and this is because church requires physicality: people greeting one another with hand shakes and hugs, receiving bread and wine. You cannot be baptized over the internet. Nevertheless, live streaming services, recorded sermons, articles, and encouraging words sent to nursing homes and hospitals and sick beds and military outposts and mission fields all over the world instantaneously can be true and lovely and powerful extensions of Christian community and ministry.
Now it is absolutely true that learning to communicate with written words and images and emojis (!) is somewhat different than talking to another person face to face in the same room. But we really must not overplay this difference. God invented the written word. It was His idea. It is not an unfortunate byproduct of humanistic consumerism. Adam may have figured out written words shortly after creation; or perhaps by the time of Noah, God’s people were writing down the stories of God’s covenant faithfulness. But certainly by the time of Moses, God Himself established a precedent of written communication as good, holy, and sufficient. He did this when He wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone with His own finger and sent them down the mountain (twice!).
In other words, God sent the first email. God made the first blog post. God sent the first tweet. It was His idea. He said it was good. He wrote down words that could travel around the world, that would be read and heard by different people at different times in different places. He wrote down words which He intentionally determined would not be delivered face to face. And He insists that they are sufficient, good, and holy. In fact, while we certainly do long to see Jesus face to face, He said it was better for us that He go and send the Spirit. For now, it is better for us not to see Jesus face to face, and it is better that we hear and read His written words in the Bible. In this sense and for the time being, God’s social media is better for us. In fact, this is what Sola Scriptura is all about.
Not only that, but God insisted that His people imitate Him in this. In the law of Moses, God began requiring that all the most important things be written down. Divorces must be written down. Landmarks and boundaries must be written down. God required that Moses expand upon and explain the laws of God in the Book of the Covenant, which included or was combined with the entire Pentateuch. This pattern continued with the prophets who were instructed to write down their prophecies, to send them as letters, to deliver them to kings, to be preserved and remembered for generations. The nation was required to write down the words of God on the doorposts of their home and the gates of their cities. Paul and the other apostles set the same pattern for how they took the gospel to the ends of the earth and have continued to hand it down to us today through their written words. Pastors and teachers must embrace this calling to be men of the written Word and men of written words. All Christians should love and rejoice in the gift of written communication and social media.
The primary and fundamental difference with modern social media is speed. The actual business of writing words down and people in another place at another time reading them is nothing new. Archaeologists and historians run into this all the time. The work of exegesis and interpretation is nothing new. The difference is speed, and with speed comes volume. We can write and publish more words per minute than ever before, and therefore, we have access to many more words per minute than ever before. And with this opportunity (and blessing!) comes dangers and temptations. In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking. But notice that the sin can be on either end of the telegraph. We can sin in hasty writing, but we can also sin in hasty reading, interpreting, and exegeting. One of the ways we can sin is by not giving grace to the learning curve on either side of that equation, and another way we can sin is by not sharpening one another when people are misbehaving.
A rather straightforward rule of thumb is to treat your interactions with the real people on social media as real, human interactions. If you shouldn’t say it to their face then certainly don’t write it. If you’re trying to interpret something wonky, try to imagine them saying it. Sometimes picking up the phone, switching to email, or just setting up a coffee or lunch can help fill out the picture. On the other hand, remember our job is not to get along with everyone and be nice all the time. Neither of those are fruits of the Spirit. Love is patient, but love also confronts. Love covers a multitude of sins, and love tells the truth. Sometimes, working up the courage to say what needs to be said might begin with putting it in writing. It helps to think through your words carefully, to say it as best as you can, and then to follow up with clarifications or conversation. On the whole, Christians are far too concerned about not offending people and not being misunderstood than they are about the honor of Christ. Christians fear men far more than they fear God. So, remember, Jesus is sitting there with you as you’re looking at your phone, scrolling through Facebook, as you’re getting ready to send that email, that tweet, that private message. And the thing to realize is that often, He would confront a lot more sin than we do, He would be in many more internet skirmishes than we’d prefer to stomach, He’d have many more enemies than we do, and He wouldn’t really care.