facebook demonstrates the need for church discipline

The power of the social media phenomena is amply manifested by the fact that what once were merely proper names are now used as verbs, replacing such old-school phrases as “call me” with “facebook me,” although there is no small bit of confusion over whether the proper term for the 140-character version is “tweet me,” or “twit me,” or “Twitter me”, and, depending on the audience, any such variation carries the risk of earning a raised eyebrow or at the possibility of what has just been requested.

Social Media Outposts

Social Media Outposts (Photo credit: the tartanpodcast)

Similarly, should I decide to send you a text over the phone (even the “dumb” ones can do this), you would likely know immediately what I meant if I included abbreviations like “bff” or “idk” or “lol” or “jk”.

There is much to commend about social media, particularly the powerful manner in which information can be disseminated quickly to vast audiences. Try that with carrier pigeons or smoke signals…

There are, equally, dangers of being “social” via the Internet, among them the very real peculiarity of a human being maintaining hundreds of “friends” without ever emerging from his home and seeing any of them face to face, or, for that matter, wearing any garment but his pajamas.

Those benefits and costs have been explored elsewhere, as have questions related to how social media affects the church and individual followers of Christ. This is not, however, a screed about how believers should unplug from facebook because reacquainting with high school sweethearts leads to the destruction of marriages (though it might).

Instead, social media might pose a less direct threat to the holiness of individual Christians for another reason.

Facebook, in particular, appeals to our emotive side by offering the ability to instantly express our feelings about a friend’s particular post or photo by simply clicking the “Like” button. Given the watching eyes of hundreds of our closest “friends,” there is no small pressure to join the chorus of “Likes” and go even further by typing a few words — almost certainly words of approval — in the comment lines.

What, you ask, could be wrong here? Imagine the following, unfortunately familiar scenarios:

Scenario 1:  A married couple in the church presents the picture of spiritual health and vitality, between the two of them teaching and leading men and women in various ministries. Behind the scenes, their marriage fails, but they keep it to themselves and maintain the facade. Yet appearances cannot be maintained, and the truth comes out and the husband moves out, leaving the wife and children, who had depended on the husband’s provision, in hard conditions. It becomes apparent that the husband had no biblical grounds to divorce, and eventually re-marries shortly after the couple’s divorce is finalized.

You might astutely recognize that social media did not have a role in the couple’s marital problems. The difficulty arises when the husband posts photos of his second wedding ceremony on social media, which is seen by all the mutual friends he and the former wife had accumulated, many of which remained members of the church with the former wife. Those mutual friends post congratulatory comments, including such things as “You look so happy now!”

Church discipline, as well as the integrity of the church’s witness as God’s holy people, is undermined in such an event. Regardless whether he ended up re-marrying, the husband’s first order of business is being reconciled to the wife he abandoned and the church he betrayed. Repentance, contrition and forgiveness should characterize the aftermath of the separation and divorce, and where the husband does not initiate reconciliation, his church should take appropriate disciplinary action (Matthew 18).

Where there is no such reconciliation initiated by the offending husband, or discipline initiated by the church, social media provides too easy a forum for church members to affirm sinful behavior. In doing so, they neglect the image this presents to the wife and children remaining in fellowship, and leave the world to assume that they believe both the husband and wife are equally at fault, or that neither of them is at fault.

Scenario 2:  A female young adult posts photos of her and her fiance online that can leave viewers with no other reasonable conclusion but that the two of them are living together and occupying the same bed prior to marriage. Both of them profess to be Christian, as do the parents of the fiance. Comments posted under the photos are all fawning, including those of the fiance’s Christ-professing parents.

The lack of consistent church discipline, both in the church at large and in individual church, leaves believers with no guidance regarding how to identify immoral behavior and what to do when they see it. In Scenario 2, the professing believers who approve of the female’s photos are giving to the entire social media audience implicit approval of fornication.

Church discipline does not merely aim to reform a believer’s behavior and effect reconciliation with his church home, though it does that. It also seeks to preserve the witness of the church and protect it from legitimate accusations of “hypocrisy” which frequently come from the watching world.

How, for instance, can a local congregation express its devotion to biblical standards of marriage as between one man and one woman — over against the culture’s vigorous war against that standard — when its members simultaneously approve sinful divorce and pre-marriage fornication?

If you profess the name Jesus, believer, take care that you do not approve sin (Romans 1:32) in social media.

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