But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned…But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all… Galatians 2:11,14
Seems there is a lot of disagreement among Christians these days. Have you noticed? There are probably a lot of reasons for it…emotional, political, even spiritual. But, for our purposes here today, those reasons are not what matters. Those are for another post on another day. I want to talk here about how we manage that disagreement, especially in this day of social media. When a Christian leader does something or says something that we disagree with, how do we handle that? What should be our priorities?
From Rick Warren to Rob Bell to John Piper to Mark Driscoll to Tony Campolo to Franklin Graham, we are in a season (dare I say, an era?) of Christian thought leaders who do or say something with which you or I may disagree. Strongly. And when that happens, the world (represented first and foremost by the media) sits back and observes how we handle that disagreement. And then they (the media) report what they see and hear in our responses to one another. Given how our very testimony to a watching world hangs on how we handle these relationships and these responses (which, by the way, is precisely why Jesus prayed for our “oneness” in John 17…”so that the world might know…”) it seems to me we must be extremely prayerful and careful to use a process which honors the Lord, i.e., a process endorsed by scripture.
In the early church, Peter (aka Cephas) behaved wrongly, showing some racial prejudice on his part. Paul found it necessary to confront that wrong behavior. They did not live in the same city. They did not pastor the same church. Admittedly, they did not have social media either. But even if they had, I am relatively certain Paul would not have taken to social media and begun ranting and raging about Peter rather than talking to Peter. Scripture tells us something critical about the process Paul used: I opposed him to his face.
I hope you do not read that as some kind of macho challenge that Paul noted as some sort of proof of his manhood. That is not his point at all. Rather, his point is simply that, when a confrontation is warranted, scripture is replete with this single insistence regarding our process: go to the brother. Any other process is wrong, is damaging to that brother, is damaging to your testimony, and is damaging to the kingdom. When we take to our blog platform or to Facebook or to a news conference and begin ranting about a brother/sister rather than going to that brother/sister, we have gotten it wrong. I can blog about ideologies and lifestyles and theology all day long without naming names and be perfectly within a scriptural framework. But as soon as I name a name and begin talking about a person rather than talking to that person, I am doing damage…to them and to me.
There is a word for it: gossip. Social media has ushered in unprecedented opportunity for gossip. It has never been easier, never been more encouraged, never been more enabled, and never been more quickly spread than with social media. Tearing someone down when they are not present is gossip, and it is wrong every time we do it. And there are plenty of excuses we give for doing it. Here are a few of them:
1. It’s the truth, so it’s OK. No, it is not OK. There are lots of ways to speak the truth, but only one of them is scriptural…speaking the truth in love. And Paul’s words to the Ephesian church (“Let no unwholesome talk come from your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up…” Ephesians 4:29) say nothing at all about “unless, of course, what you are saying is all true.”
2. I’m not saying anything I wouldn’t say to his/her face. That, of course, is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you are NOT saying it to his face. You are blogging about it or talking to the press about it or tweeting it to the public.
3. I owe it to the world to warn everyone about him/her. Then argue against what he/she did or what he/she said without naming names. You may not get as many hits on your blog. After all, it won’t be nearly as controversial as calling him/her out. But it will be scriptural.
Look back over our social media feeds for the last year or two. You will not have to look far to see examples of this brand of gossip. We have messed this up quite a bit, friends. But we can turn it around. The church can get this right. You and I can start that turnaround. Right here! Right now! We can change our culture and make this kind of communication unacceptable. As leaders in the church, we can set a better example.
Are you with me?