Over the past while, there has been several conflicts in the Christian sector of the internet. To name the main ones in my news feeds, there would be Don Miller not attending church, World Vision’s decision to hire Christians who are in homosexual marriages, their reversal of this decision, and the Noah movie. If I were to go back further in time, there would be countless other instances of firery debates.
I have come to loathe the internet. Well, not the internet (hello Facebook, Pinterest, and of course, blogs!), more the lack of respect and filters and decorum in the comments sections. I avoided adding my voice to the conversations, knowing that it was likely I would be attacked, rather than heard.
I understand that “hate” is more often than not the subject of comments on any website, however what kills me is the way Christians respond. I know so many who try to live in a Christ-like way, working against the established Christian stereotypes, but these past few weeks the causes of these stereotypes has been thrown back in my face.
Galatians 6:1 explains that it is our duty to gently and humbly correct our fellow believers to help them back onto the right path. If we want to be known for acting in Christ’s love, attacking our brothers and sisters, with whom we have no established, personal relationship, is NOT the way to do it! Some of these issues have answers that I see as black and white, however others may see it differently than I do. That does not give me grounds to dissect and rip apart their opinions. I would be naive to think that by confronting them through impersonal, angry written words in a comments section, that I am going to make them see things my way. I would be wrong to withdraw support from a child that I committed to give food, an education, and prayers for, because of my differing beliefs.
My response to a note I received after sharing on this briefly at church:
“Personally, I feel the need to speak and write about my convictions through the platform of my blog, which naturally may become counter-cultural, yet I write without the expectation of “convincing.” Obviously if it were to change someone’s mind about Christ, that would be a huge blessing, though the goal I write with is to get people asking questions. A huge hope I have, especially for the youth and young adults of the North American church is to not let matters of faith and lifestyle become things we just do because it’s expected or what we’re taught, but because it is truth that we have learned, understand, and been convicted about. Important practices and standards are let go too easily without personal reasoning and a solid foundation. I think through that journey we find community and relationships and biblical accountability.”
As members of the body of Christ, we are called to hold our brothers and sisters accountable to the Word. However, Scripture also gives us a context to work within.
Matthew 18:15-17* lays everything out quite clearly.
v15 (NLT): “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” This implies personal conflict, with someone you have an established relationship with. Begin by praying, and aligning your heart with the Lord’s, so that your motivation is not having your hurt feelings justified, and being right, but helping a brother to keep in step with Jesus’ teachings. Once this is done, our first step should be attempting to resolve the conflict in private. This helps avoid gossip and slander, which can do nothing but escalate the issue with feelings of hurt and betrayal. This personal, private confrontation is not possible over an online forum. Though the people Jesus was addressing did not have the internet, I feel this principle can translate directly through cultural differences. If this approach shows the offender where they have gone wrong and brings reconciliation, congratulations!
v16 (NLT): “But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.” When we go to someone we trust (someone who knows us well), one of the first things they may do is lend discernment and perspective. When we reevaluate, is the offender going against God’s Word? Is this truly an issue of helping a brother see their sin, or are we offended and simply trying to be right? Perhaps you have not fully analyzed the issue and God’s words about it. If those you have involved agree with you, there is more weight behind your words when confronting the offender again. Having these witness also holds you accountable to speak with love and grace, rather than out of hurt, pride or anger. When we pull in people who agree with us online, it doesn’t accomplish any of this. Comments escalate beyond debates, becoming gangs of people fighting to be heard and to be right, while attacking those they disagree with.
v17 (NLT): “If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 * explains that we should be careful around those who confess to be believers and yet live a sinful lifestyle, not even associating with them. Later (2 Corinthians 2:5-8), Paul explains that once the sinner within their church was punished by opposition, there was a time where forgiveness, comfort, and affirmation of love is important (sounds similar to the method my parents used in discipline when I was a child). How did Jesus treat the corrupt tax collectors? Luke 5 describes the calling of Levi, a hated tax collector, to become one of Jesus’ twelve closest friends, the Disciples. He also honoured Zacchaeus, a tax collector, by dining in his home, much to the dismay of the people.
In conclusion, we can use Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 1:12.
We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness (honesty) and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.
When we choose confrontation over the internet, we are able to hide. Our identities are lost, or rewritten. Christians as a whole are often seen as harsh, yet we are called to speak and live as Jesus did-with convictions, but with love. Let us use the internet as a tool to revolutionize the Christian stereotype, rather than adding to it.
What are your words saying?
*Thank you to Mary Fairchild (What Does The Bible Say About Church Discipline, christianity.about.com) for identifying the passages I couldn’t remember the references for.