June 23, 2017

James 3:1 in the Age of Social Media

By Chaplain Mike

At Christianity Today, the blogosphere blow-up over Rob Bell’s book prompted them to run a column today by John Dyer called, “Not Many of You Should Presume to Be Bloggers.” The title is taken from James 3:1, where James warns us, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

In other words, taking up a position of instructing others is not something to pursued lightly. There is responsibility and accountability attached to the role.

The background of James suggests that this verse may not just be speaking about “official” teaching positions in the church. The believers James addressed were going through trials of many kinds (1:3), particularly with regard to relations between rich and powerful people and the poorer folks in the community (2:1-7). One common consequence of living under pressure is an inability to control the tongue (ch.3). James therefore exhorts his brethren: “This you know, my beloved brethren But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (1:19-20) So, when James warns them to think before taking a “teaching” role in the congregation, he may be including the kind of passionate belief and opinion sharing that is common in congregations, particularly those undergoing “stress fractures.”

According to Psalm 34, the first and foremost component of a “good life” is control over the tongue: “Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” (Ps 34:12-13)

Dyer asks whether we have adequately considered and remembered this in the age of Facebook and Twitter, when we are not only encouraged but expected to share our thoughts, opinions, feelings, and observations constantly.

What few of us realize is that when we press those “Publish,” “Post,” “Comment,” and “Send” buttons, we are making the shift away from merely “believing” truth and stepping into the arena of publishing that belief. In doing so we are effectively assuming a position of leadership and teaching that prior to 2004 was not available to us.

James warned us, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1, NIV1984). James goes on to graphically portray the incredible power that our tongues have both to praise and to curse especially in the context of teaching. He then says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life.” (James 3:13). Solomon echoes similar wisdom, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent” (Prov. 17:28).

Yet Facebook and Twitter do not encourage this kind of self-restraint. In fact, they encourage an opposing value system. Social media relentlessly asks us to publish our personal opinions on anything and everything that happens. There is no time for reflection in prayer, no place for discussion with other flesh and blood image bearers, and no incentive to remain silent.

You must declare your position, and you must declare it now.

We convince ourselves that by answering the questions social media asks us we are standing for truth alongside the great leaders of the church, but slowly and subtly as we respond to the prompts of our phones rather than our Bibles we begin to worship the false gods of immediacy, distraction, and celebrity in the Temple of Lord Zuckerberg.

We here at Internet Monk obviously value the opportunities for communication and discussion that the Digital Age affords us. We wouldn’t be doing what we do if we thought a primary consequence was, “There is no time for reflection in prayer, no place for discussion with other flesh and blood image bearers, and no incentive to remain silent.”

Lent may be a good time to check ourselves in this regard.

Comments

  1. Your post gave me great pause.

    I think we ought take these topics seriously and not go about our posts ‘half cocked’. I have made that mistake in the past.

    I may have done it again with a very contoversial post on making the Bible into a “paper pope”.

    There is a great (IMO) accompanying audio for the post by my pastor is believes biblicism is a very big problem in our churches.

    Thanks for a great reminder!

  2. I like this very much.

    One of the things I really appreciate about the Internet Monk is its very thoughtful approach to blogging that is by and large not reactive. And recognizes the reactivity when it surfaces, revisiting and refining thoughts. So good on you.

    Don’t you find that there is a great deal of pressure to respond to an issue immediately or else it’s no longer “relevant” – i.e. not trending on Twitter. I sometimes feel silly when I express my opinion a week after the major hullaballoo, but I know I need the time to think things through.

    I also need the time to find out the context. One of the things about the Rob Bell controversy is that this was all said and done before anyone could read the book. I’m looking forward to reading some reviews of, you know, the actual book.

    Again, mostly want to say I appreciate what you do and how you do it. I’m glad y’all are bloggers.

    • I appreciate what you do and how you do it.

      Most definitely the HOW you do it…. that makes Imonk a special place (I’m sure there are others).

      Great post, Laura;
      GregR

  3. I stayed away from blogs until recently because of bad experience years ago with some ill advised comments about people close to me. I saw the power to hurt, even if the intent wasn’t there.

    I hope I can stay positive and encouraging with my blogging.

  4. scrapiron says:

    “Dyer asks whether we have adequately considered and remembered this in the age of Facebook and Twitter, when we are not only encouraged but expected to share our thoughts, opinions, feelings, and observations constantly.”

    On Facebook we are expected to share our opinions as “like” or “dislike” —nothing in between. We know why this happens–the purpose of the social media site is to gather information about us to sell to marketers and the digital “up/down” makes it easier to process this data. But it really dehumanizes us and serves to polarize us more than we already are.

  5. IMHO prior to 2004 people were spouting off at the mouth before thinking (including myself!).

    Now we just have the capability of reaching millions instead of just those within ear shot.

    It’s a sin problem not a social media one.

    Thank you for the soapbox. I’m getting down now *smile*

    • @rebekah: WELL said! really! that was an awesome and truly relevant observation.

      whether it’s through the clicking keys on a keyboard, or the loose tongue that speaks too soon or too harsh, or not soon enough, the same problem is still there! is is, as you said, ‘a sin problem not a social media one.’

      WOW! GREAT!!

  6. Steve Newell says:

    In Luther’s Small Catechism, Luther writes:

    The Eighth Commandment.

    Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

    What does this mean?–Answer.

    We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

  7. For the past few years I have tried to figure out whether or not to blog and if so about what. My main influence has been the IM community and several other well known sites. The problem I encounter is if I should just be an active participant in my favorite blog sites or create my own. After several failed attempts, mostly with the design and name, I finally settled in on one. But for the most part, even though blogging is no longer a nascent social outlet, I find myself in limbo as to what to blog about and if what I do is actually worth other people’s time reading. In fact that is an issue we all can think about…is what I read on various sites actually worth the daily time drain. For what I have finally narrowed my visitation down to, I can say “somewhat.”

    BTW: The posting on James 3:1 was an excellent primer on the hospitality, humility, and utility of social media

  8. I don’t know if I would say we are “expected” to share our observations via social media. That may be the intent behind those who started these systems, but we are not obligated to buy into that mentality. No is one forced to have a Facebook account, or to use any other form of social media. And even if one does utilize these tools of communication, we still have the power to resist the impulse to share every feeling or thought.

    I have a Facebook account, but I rarely update my status because I just don’t think people care about what I had for dinner, what I think about March Madness, etc. I try to keep in mind that a wide variety of people will be reading these messages, so I tend to keep my updates as inoffensive as possible. And even then I try to limit the information to things that are really important or at least in the general interest. There is enough drama in day-to-day life without creating additional drama on-line.

    As someone said above, it’s not a social media issue, it’s a sin issue.

    • No one here is putting the blame on social media, merely pointing out that when new ways of “speaking” arrive, we don’t always recognize the new temptations that accompany them.

  9. This post has given me pause as well. I don’t know about all of you but, I feel judgement when I don’t come down on one side or another on a certain issues immediately. I believe this goes along with the instant age we live in. It seems that as soon as someone publishes/thinks/ponders something they want to be immediately validated and if they are not then they instantly go for the jugular. It is actually frightening. Imonk has been important for me this past year because I have struggled greatly with the Christian faith; this has been a safe place. I think that is what is lacking with many on the blogosphere. There is no safety when you cross into their territory and attempt to converse and possibly disagree. I needed a safe place while I sorted all of these “issues” out and I have found Imonk to be that place along with some other stellar groups such as the mockingbird fellows. I know things get heated here at times but, I have never felt that C. Mike or Jeff have ever made anyone feel unwelcome even those that we all may strongly disagree with one way or the other. Also, for those of us that rarely write you make us feel welcome and safe as well.

  10. Hmmm … maybe I need to be a little more careful about the “snark level” of my Twitter posts?

  11. By my hitting ‘comment’ here at IM, I don’t feel as though I have effectively assumed a position of leadership. I have never posted on another site, not spending much time on the computer, but I don’t feel overly burdened about being a leader of men here because I consider this a conversation amongst peers. That is not to say that I approach it without restraint, as though there were no one I might unduly influence or cause to stumble but this site enjoins a very bright, godly, or ungodly 😉 as the case may be, group of strong minded thinkers. Chaplain Mike, Jeff and other bloggers, I suppose you sustain a heavier burden of responsibility since you set the agenda and are generally responsible for the tenor of the conversation. Finally, while I don’t take myself too seriously, I do take each word quite seriously; spoken, written or otherwise. We are now, and later will be, accountable.

  12. True words. The immediacy of electronic communication makes it easy to forget to be slow to anger. Temptation can be the subtlest of things sometimes; at other times, it overruns us. Our local newspaper just shut down its online reader blogs because of the prevalence of personal attacks, racism, etc.

    I’m reminded of Psalm 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Interesting to me that the psalmist places the words of our mouths first in this verse. Maybe he knew a thing or two about our human tendencies.

    I always appreciate this site because it has a minimum of sniping and a lot of thoughtful, constructive and uplifting conversation.

  13. I think it is OK to express strong opinions with passion, even online. However, after an early email mistake where I said way too much and got in trouble, I made a rule for myself: I do not send emails or posts that I am not happy for the whole world to see with my name attached. This always gives me a moment of pause before I hit the “post comment” button.

    Darrell Young, Alberta

    • Good advice, DSY. I found out the same thing in the late 90s when people got connected with e-mail. I’m usually on several boards and committees, with town, church and other volunteer stuff, and it got too easy to “conduct business” electronically. Also easy to react strongly to sombody’s opinion, hit “send” and regret it later. Facebook and blogging have expanded the problem, but some of us (I hope) have learned a lesson.

      I agree that it’s OK to express strong opinions with passion (in fact, it’s highly encouraged!), but we’d better be proud of what we say, address the issue not the person, and not just take pot-shots to regret later.

  14. WOW!! Very amazing and humble post. I think we ALL could “pause” and do the same! God bless!

  15. Hello iMonk and her counterparts and attendees!

    Never fear I a not hear to let the shots fly.

    I am hear to let you know that I have re-opened the doors on that place you love to hate; The Narrow Way (www.narrowseventhirteen.blogspot.com)

    Its not how it once was.

    Mike – I hope you are well & being used of the Lord to further His kingdom.

    In love,

    Matthew Johnston

    • Good to hear from you, Matthew. Drop me a note and update me on what’s happening with you, please.

    • Hey, Matthew, it’s been a long time since I have seen a post from you. Welcome back from wherever you may have been!

    • Really glad to have you back, Matthew. I’ve been checking up on you from time to time on your family blog, and am pretty excited about what’s going on. Even though… well… your seminary isn’t where I might find myself at… (but you already knew that).

      Best wishes anyway and a hearty prayer that you’ll glorify God! Good on ya, mate.

    • yeahhhhhhhhhm vegemite sandwiches all around, Matt is back…..I’ll be washing mine down with Fosters, how do ya’ll eat that stuff ????

      GregR

  16. And yet the SBC, my peeps, have little or no issue with making anyone a Sunday School teacher. Oh, we talked a good show about making sure that only those gifted and called to such a role need apply, and even we provided scripted materials for them to keep them within the doctrinal boundaries, but in a pinch, any warm body would do.

    I do agree however that social media and blogging in general puts even lower standards on who can say what. It definitely makes discernment a key surfing skill.

  17. In the past, Chaplain Mike has encouraged me to comment more here. I have half typed a lot of replies, as I find many of the posts fascinating and worthy of comment. But after I have written paragraphs of my perspective and opinion, I largely discover that it isn’t all that unique or necessary. Ultimately, someone else has usually made my general point already, just in his own words, and my words aren’t any more valuable than his.

  18. Randy Thompson says:

    Let’s give a shout out for listening!