Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Discipleship in a Facebook World (Part III)

Real VS Imitation
Decaf Isn't Coffee and Cyber-Church isn't the Church

I read recently of an Emerging Church that went out of business primarily by the use of Facebook. This church apparently chose to do all of its intimate encounters and ministry online using Facebook. In time all of the prayer requests, pertinent information, and even gathering as a body took place on line. The built in Instant Messaging tool was utilized as a means of “discipling” individuals. One former member was quoted as saying, “It was so exciting. The Facebook app on your phone allowed you to carry the church in your pocket and contribute through PayPal.”

It seems that the next transition of this cyber-church was to exclusivity. Facebook is a filter and can be used as a gateway or gatekeeper as to who gets “in” and who is “excluded.” Three things developed as a result: 
  • So called “undesirables” were excluded from any and all participation
  • The Instant Message tool became an avenue for gossip
  • Those who were “mentors” never met or interacted with “new believers” 

According to the report this church disbanded within four years. The fact that Facebook is electronic and digital prevented their people from personally interacting with each other. People who were scattered across the country were deprived of the dynamics that take place in face to face encounters. The medium (Facebook as a social network) actually distorted the message of the Gospel. God never intended the church to be carried in your pocket and to be attended through the means of an app or a social net-work.

Stop and think about it for a moment. Disciples cannot be made nor developed online. Any small number of exceptions simply proves this rule. Merely meeting on line means that one cannot take place in the following activities: 
  • Discipline of sinning “members”
  • Participation in the Lord’s Supper
  • Mentoring context with interpersonal relationships
  • Inability to greet one another with hugs handshakes or holy kisses
  • Inability to minister spiritual gifts in a dynamic setting
  • Pastoral visits 

Of course these are only a few of the multitude of things missing or unavailable in a cyber-congregation or meeting through a social-network. The New Testament church is a living organism with a living and vital relationship to her “head.” The New Testament church is not a “virtual” imitation suspended in cyber-space. Discipleship must take place both face to face and under the authority of the local church.

There was a time when the question was asked, “Does your church have a website?” Today the question is, “Does your church have a Facebook page?” Facebook carries a certain “status.” It also emanates a certain expectation due to its sheer membership of approximately 650 million members.

When the Apostle Paul – oops – I mean the unknown writer of the epistle to the Hebrews dictated these words, 

…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near,” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV) 

he did not imagine "meeting together" to be in an imitation, de-caffeinated, “virtual” cyber-space filtered social network. Do you?

What can we learn from this part of this series? First, the discipleship that happens; if it happens at all is sporadic with little or no accountability. Second, there is neither risk nor requirement to be transparent. One can simply de-friend anyone who may attempt to instill some accountability or demand transparency. Third, there is no real requirement or opportunity for sacrifice in a virtual world. Fourth, gathering in chat rooms, apps, or IM’s is not a legitimate gathering of the body.

Utilizing Facebook as a means of “doing church” or discipleship seems to me to be similar to drinking a cold cup of instant decaffeinated coffee. It just happens to be that “real” is not only better, but it is essential to real coffee drinkers. I know that sentence is open to argument; however, I do not believe that “real” when it comes to the church of Jesus Christ is any less real or essential to the command to make disciples.

To be continued…


welcome to my world of poetry said...

I am none to pleased with FaceBook as they are changing their rules and regulations like changing one's clothes. When it involves Christian issues then that is more upsetting.


Tyrean Martinson said...

Thank you for an in depth look at facebook and discipleship. I think that facebook users can use their posts to encourage others, and possibly plant seeds, but it definitely isn't a replacement for real life ministry, and real church life.

Josh Litton said...

Interesting oops comment about Paul's authorship of Hebrews. And, by the way, helpful breakdown of things lost through exclusive online church.

But to the point, I consider Hebrews 2.3 to be a significant consideration against Pauline authorship: "It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard...." I find it difficult to think of Paul as one who would make the second claim, that it was attested to him by those who heard. I think this seems to contradict everything he said on the subject in Galatians.

But this is a discussion which has gone on for quite a long time. I'll not claim we can solve it here! I'm not trying to start a debate, just offering my thought on an interesting subject. Definitely a third order issue, just so long as we agree Hebrews is inspired, no matter who wrote it!

Petra said...

"actually distorted the message of the Gospel." It distorts much more than that. Great series!

Anonymous said...

Baptism would present a problem too. Ughh..what a mess.