Church in the Twitter Age
Can the Bible speak to a culture enmeshed in Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram?
Bex Lewis, an academic specialist in digital marketing in the UK, wrote an interesting piece on The Conversation, “How social media is changing the church.” Her portrayal of church is generally positive, involving the whole person, not just the weekend.
As well as becoming part of church practice, social media is taking church activities back out into the online world. Faith is a full-time activity and social media is part of our everyday lives, so it is not surprising that the two can overlap. For example, church members can use Twitter to share insights from the bible or stories of their lives within the organisation, but they can also bring their Christian viewpoint to discussions on local, national and international politics.
To understand Lewis’s article, we must first clarify what is meant by church. Accustomed with her country’s state church and the hierarchical nature of established churches, she may not be as familiar with independent Bible churches in America. She claims the Reformation marked a turning point from personal involvement to “a passive model where the congregation receives a presentation.” That may not be a fair characterization. Social media, she explains, gives parishioners more ways to feel involved and engage in two-way conversation. To avoid the either-or fallacy, one must recognize the need for both authority and involvement, leadership and participation.
Like any other new technological development in church history, be it microphones, flannelgraphs or camp meetings, social media is neutral. It can be used wisely or foolishly. Lewis gives some examples that sound good; they encourage personal involvement, making church a more embedded part of life instead of a Sunday performance. Some preachers keep Facebook pages to extend their outreach through the week instead of just one hour Sunday morning. Some tweet messages or scripture verses. Many Christian laypeople do, too. Pastors and church leaders can embrace the good, but should be wary of being led away from Biblical principles.
There’s very little about the Bible in Lewis’s article. The word of God must be the standard for the definition of the church and its mission. The Bible is flexible enough to reach Greeks and Jews and any other culture. Missionaries use social media now in remote corners of the world to speed up Bible translation to unreached tribes. There are many good things happening with social media, just like there were when microphones allowed more people to hear a sermon. I’m sure Paul would have welcomed a microphone in his missionary journeys, or a smartphone to keep in touch with Timothy and Luke. But we can envision some potential harms, such as the easier ability for gossipers to create factions and split a congregation. Posting sermons online helps shut-ins but may tempt others to stay home and watch, violating Hebrews 10:25.
The church is the body of Christ; the Bible is its standard; and its mission centers on preaching, teaching, and applying God’s word. A tool is a mindless object; its value depends how it is used. As long as new media support and enhance those unchangeable essentials, they can help make the job easier. No technology should be allowed, though, to pull the church away from its foundation, core beliefs and mission. Tell us what you think about social media: primarily good or bad?