The Internet, Social Media, and Spiritual Growth
When it comes to theological and doctrinal differences within the church, there is a growing number of Christians who rely upon social media posts and pages to “bolster” their understanding and debate prowess concerning such issues as soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and textual criticism. In the “reformed” world there are a number of individuals who have been granted a voice in this digital age, and the growing concern of this pastor is how do I determine who is worthy of my time and attention for the good of the church and the gospel? Added to this, how do I lead my people to better determine this for themselves?
Recently, the debate over textual criticism within reformed circles has intensified. Lines in the sand are being drawn to the point that accusations are being hurled at faithful men on both sides of the issue. Social media groups are becoming “dumpster fires” of doctrinal rage, and this is being encouraged by men on both sides who are old enough to know better. With all of this in mind, I would like to aid you, the reader, in determining whether or not the social media content that is affecting your doctrinal and theological growth is worth your time.
When should we stop following the internet teacher? This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2Tim 3:16).”
When faced with any doctrinal study, question, or debate we must always begin and end with the inscripturated word of God. Most often when I have witnessed the decline of any debate it has been due to the fact that scripture has been put to the side for the sake of one’s pride in the argument. So then, when seeking to discern the value of any argument and the faithfulness of the one progressing any idea, go to the word of God.
I know that this seems basic and simple, but it is a reminder that we continually need to hear.
The Dead Guys
My grandfather, who has spent sixty years in ministry, has always said about the ministry of living pastors, preachers, and teachers, “time will tell.” The point that he is making is that we ultimately do not know how someone will finish their race until after they have crossed the finish line. In terms of men in public ministry, we can judge how great men of the faith in years past completed their race. Were they faithful to the end? Did they remain true to the word of God? Did they resist the temptations of conforming their teaching to the world?
Those men of the faith who finished well are men who have earned our attention. While they were imperfect and scripture ultimately is to be our guide, God has blessed the church throughout the ages with gifted men. If an internet popularizer is seeking to convince you of anything, first ask what did the saints of the past have to say about this issue. There is nothing new under the sun and there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. What we say and how we say it is extremely important (Gal 5:22-23).”
I grow weary of discussion boards and group pages where those in it are quick to cry foul anytime anyone suggests that the language being used in an argument is less than gracious. I, myself, have been accused of being the “tone police.” Yet, if we are to take the instruction of scripture concerning our behavior and communication seriously, then how we say something is of the utmost importance.
In keeping with this thought, asking the question of whether or not the behavior and tone of any preacher, teacher, or group is in keeping with the fruit of the Spirit will be a tremendous aid in your own discretion.
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)”
Ability to say “sorry”
The ability of any popularizer, teacher, or pastor to say sorry when faced with their own short-commings speaks volumes to whether or not their ministry has become a source of pride for them, and whether or not it is a ministry that should be followed by the people of God.
It has happened more times than I can count that a popular preacher or teacher, in effort to gain the attention and defense of those on his side, will write and say things that go directly against what our Lord requires of us as members of His kingdom. When confronted with this misstep and error of judgment, they refuse to apologize for behavior that is sinful. Regardless of whether or not their understanding of doctrine is sound, verbal “slapping” and tantrums are never becoming of a saint and must be quickly put away from us.
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift (Matthew 5:23-24).”
How am I being affected?
This singular question, if answered honestly, will save the saint of God from much hurt in this life and encourage our own spiritual growth. Is the person that I am giving my attention to and the way he is teaching, writing, and/or speaking affecting my ability to interact with other believers in a way that is like my Savior and in accordance with what He expects from me as His follower?
If you find that you are becoming polemic (war-like in argumentation) in your interaction with other believers regarding secondary doctrines of the faith as a result of your following any popular teacher, it is time to step back and evaluate both the one teaching and your own heart before God.
As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are called to be a people who, in meekness, gentleness, longsuffering, and faith pursue the truth of God’s word and live out the same. If what we are learning does not affect our lives practically it is worthless. If what we are learning affects us negatively in terms of our relationship with those purchased by the blood of the lamb, it is worse than worthless.
Will we all agree on everything? No. But let us be a people known for our discernment and ability to be gracious with other followers of the Lord Jesus Christ even as we stand up for the great doctrines of the faith.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).”
“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (James 3:13-17).”