“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
I don’t often fall prey to sensationalized headlines, but every now and then one grabs me so hard I just can’t help myself. For instance , the other day I came across an article with this emblazoned headline, “Will Facebook replace the church?”. I mean, come on, who can resist reading that article?
It seems that Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, sees the great potential in social media, especially his social media to truly bring us all together. It will be a place that creates and sustains community, even more so than the institutions we have before us, including the church. And so the article wondered is Facebook would replace the church as it continue to reach out and create community.
First, let me say I want to commend Mr. Zuckerberg on a very astute observation. Whether he realizes it or not, he is supporting a very biblical world view. The Bible says we were created in the image of a Trinitarian God. Therefore, because God is eternally in community we as his creation always desire to live in community. Not only do we function better in community we cannot fully become who God wants us to be outside of a community.
Zuckerberg realizes it’s something we are missing today. We are missing being a part of community. He sees the crises of a people made to be in community, but lacking anything that truly brings people together. So I admire his effort.
But in all honesty, the answer to the headline is simply, no. No, social media, And we can lump Facebook, Instagram Snapchat, kik, you name it into the same category. But Facebook will not replace the church. And if it does, its surely a poor replacement. There’s no doubt social mdie is here to stay, and I like it. I use it. If you are reading this, its probably via social media. I’m a fan. But it simply cannot replace the church. The church offers true community.
First the church is the Body of Christ. That’s not just cool imagery. We are the body of Christ himself. I’m not sure we can take this point too seriously. It is a part of the bedrock of our understanding who we are.
Community is NOT the goal of the church. Nor is unity. I’ve heard this in my own denomination ad nauseum lately. We must be unified. Let’s not lose our unity. Even many of the ads made by the UMC center around community as we “Rethink” church. But no where in the Bible does it say the goal of the church is unity. Look at the Great Commission of Jesus given to the church at the end of the book of Matthew. We are to go and make disciples of Jesu Christ to the ends of the earth. Unity and community are beautiful things. Bu they are by products of our being the church, not the end result. When we accept the Lordship of Jesus, allow His Holy Spirit to infuse us, we go and make disciples. That’s unity. Unity in a purpose under Christ.
I mean, can you imagine a scenario where Jesus says at the End of time, begone you never knew me, you never visited the imprisoned, you didn’t feed the hungry you didn’t clothe the naked. Oh,but Jesus we were unified, we got along and we have community. Oh, says Jesus, in that case come on in. All I ever wanted was for you to get along. I want to be part of something more than a group that makes each other feel better.
The church realizes that community comes through accountability. Social media doesn’t hold us accountable to each other. Oh we argue and point out how someone else is wrong. But really, do we ever hold one another accountable? It holds up a mirror and calls you into a deeper relationship with Christ. It dares to tell you when you are not following Jesus. The church has a community that forces me to look at the sometimes ugly part of who I am, yet it loves me anyway.
The church knows that true community means loving and living with some really difficult people. I think one of the great thinks about Facebook is that I don’t have to follow everyone I am friends with. If your posts annoy me, heck if you annoy me, I am free to just not listen to you anymore. I dont’ have to see anything you write. I can, at the drop of a hat unfriend you.
But the church doesn’t work that way. We actually have to love those we don’t agree with. We see all of their faults and yet love and respect them anyway. And that’s Ok because they are doing the exact same thing to me. I don’t get to have a homogenized view of community within the church. We are a part of the Body of Christ, even when we don’t get along. I can’t unfriend the body of Christ without unfriending Jesus Himself.
Like I said, Social Media is a great tool. and it is. It can enhance community by bringing us together, providing a vehicle by which we can get closer. But it’s not real community, at last not how Jesus defines community. Real community is somehow more difficult, more problematic, grittier than what the world offers us. Yet in the midst of that it is also infinitely more beautiful as it helps me see the face of Jesus in others and helps inform me so that others might see Jesus in me. That’s community.
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><