Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Social Media and the Gospel

 I don't know how long you have to live to feel like everything has changed, but I can tell you that I  am there.   I  was saved in 1995 and way back then the internet was  just finding it's feet.  Cell phones  existed, but  required a credit check and a chunk of cash, and 'clouds' were these white puffy things in the sky.  There was no 'wi-fi', although there was 'hi-fi' (that's a joke, you're supposed to laugh).  Back then there were certain assumptions about how you conduct a ministry for the Lord Jesus Christ.
  An interesting phenomena has come to my attention in the last few years; internet ministries. I'm not talking about  where a church records a sermon and makes it available online, I'm talking about people whose entire ministry consists of making videos or commentary and publishing them on the internet via Youtube or  Facebook or some other entity.  In considering this, I  have tried not to have a knee-jerk reaction that 'everything new is bad'  and I have also tried not to  put undue honor on 'the old time ways' or 'the way we used to do it' as if that was some sort of standard.
  We live in a  world where  men invent things, and those things, by and large, can improve our lives.  For example, I use indoor plumbing and  have every intention to continue.   Some of this technology can even make us more able and effective ministers of the gospel. The Roman Empire built roads and those roads enabled the gospel to spread more quickly.  Someone  invented a printing press, and that enabled more people to have Bibles than before. Radio came on the scene and to this day  enables remote peoples to hear the  gospel.  Television ministries have taken  encouragement and edification to shut-ins.  Blogs and the internet have enabled people who have something to say to say it without having to seek permission or be part of the religious hierarchy.  Technology in and of itself is amoral, but I do have some concerns about the idea of an internet ministry as a stand-alone work, since it's apparent that  literally millions of Christians over the last two thousand years have led happy, successful,  fruitful Christian lives without ever once turning on a computer.
   The Bible says in 1 Cor 13, speaking of  the judgment seat of Christ that "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is ."  It's interesting that the issue isn't the quantity or size or the perceived success of the work; the issue is what sort it is.  Quality appears to trump quantity with God.  As we  use whatever tools technology puts at our disposal to  obey the Bible, we should be careful as to what sort of work we are doing.
  I'll use as an example a fictitious fellow named Joe.  Joe  buys a webcam, and sets up a Youtube account, and from the  privacy of his  mom's basement  records bible study videos which he then makes available for free, to the whole world.  He hasn't harmed anyone with this, and people can watch or not watch as they see fit.  After all, the Bible says 'Let all things be done to edifying" and "..notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached ; and I therein do rejoice , yea, and will rejoice ."  I would rather Joe make these videos than do nothing, but if all Joe does is make videos, he has missed the boat.
  God designed us to interact with real human beings, as opposed to thumbnail pictures with  goofy screen names.  God told us "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel" .  Obeying that command by necessity means you get out of your mom's basement, and you interact with the flesh and blood people in your town.  If you have  5,000 followers on Twitter and no one in your apartment building has heard the gospel, I would say that your ministry isn't of a very good 'sort'.
  Paul used the technology of letter writing to reprove, rebuke and exhort the churches he had started, but he says an interesting thing in 1 Thess 1. He says  "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.  And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:  So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.  For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad ; so that we need not to speak any thing.  For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;"  Paul preached to them the  gospel, but that gospel was  under girded by the day to day life he lived among them.  They knew he spoke the truth  by the life he lived in front of them.  I submit to you that anybody can switch on the webcam and  pretend to be super-spiritual for the duration of a web video.  It is an entirely  different sort of work to  try to live your life as an example to people who eventually will see you at your worst.
  In 1 Cor 11, Paul says "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged But when we are judged , we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.  Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat , tarry one for another.  And if any man hunger , let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come . "  As I said before, Paul wasn't afraid to use the technology at hand , but some things apparently can only be handled in person.
  One of the interesting observations I've made about online ministries is that commentators, some of whom hide behind  screen names and avatars are "contentious , and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath".  Anonymity  emboldens the scoffer, and  if you aren't careful, you can  get drawn into 'debates' , which according to Romans 1 is a work of the flesh.  You can lose your focus spin your wheels arguing with  the lost or the apostate, instead of speaking "sound speech, that cannot be condemned" to the world around you.  You can convince yourself that you are contending for "the faith once delivered to the saints", but the faith it speaks of was delivered face to face to people that could see your life and the example behind it. Arguing with stupid people on the internet is not a ministry nor is it the sort of thing you want to have to give account of since "every idle word that men shall speak , they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. "  There will always be one more idiot out there that  wants to vent and frankly, you don't have time to waste.
   I have a public ministry, and that  ministry serves as the foundation for every other way in which I minister.  I  taught a Sunday school class for many years, and the boldness and patience I learned in street work colored the class. I write quite a bit, but my writing would be of no power without real-life examples to draw from. I  teach the Bible, but most of my Bible  has been learned in messy  dealings with messy people.  Your primary  ministry should be one of looking men and women in their flesh and blood faces and dealing with them about their souls. Beyond that, you ought to have a ministry of encouraging and edifying real life flesh and blood believers to whom you can be an example.  Once you have all that in place, and have a good sort of work, I think it's certainly commendable to want to reach people the next street over or the next town over or the next country over and I see no scriptural prohibition against using every tool at your disposal to do so.  My advice to Joe is that he turn off the webcam, and walk outside. Engage people. Let them  laugh at you, and let them lie to you. Let them disappoint you. Let you disappoint yourself.  Let God mold you and shape you in the  way he has chosen, and when you finally do turn the web camera back on (if you do)  you will  have a ministry of a whole different sort.





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