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FACEBOOK THE “NEW CHURCH”?
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, World Magazine ran an article recently on Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. It says he believes his social platform will join one billion people in meaningful communities, according to an interview he gave with CNN Tech recently. In fact, he went so far as to say that Facebook very well might be the “new church”.
He also talks about how, in this virtual community, he believes that social media and free speech form an awkward symbolic relationship. He told CNN, “Free speech should be able to get as close to offensive as long as it’s not hate speech or over the line.”
Unfortunately, when people at the top of the communication chain get to define hate speech and determine what constitutes a hate group, virtual or real, Christians tend to get pegged as offenders.
DR. REEDER: Historically, free speech, of course, is one of those six affirmations of freedom in the first Bill of Rights and it’s been given a latitude that, basically, any speech is to be acceptable in the sense of, if you’re free to give it, it may be distasteful, it may be inappropriate, it may be hurtful, or it may be all of those things.
However, the fact is that some of our greatest ideas, when they were first uttered, were hurtful to a segment of people but they needed to be put out there in order to have appropriate discussions in terms of what is valid and what is true. You have to have a free debate of ideas in a free society.
WHO DETERMINES WHAT IS HATE SPEECH?
Once you’ve determined that hate speech is no longer free speech, well, who determines what is hate speech? Up until now, the limitations have been the law — any speech that violates the law or is promoting the violation of the law is speech that you are then accountable for and that can be punished. However, free speech that’s simply hurtful, or coarse, or inappropriate or any of that, we have determined that society can bring pressure to bear that you don’t talk like that, but we do not curb free speech because the free exchange of ideas in a free society is so important.
What he is proposing is that there would be this marvelous “new church” — and the reason he calls this a new church is because his particular perspective on the church is that the church is a place where people develop community and relationship — and community and relationship requires speech but we can’t have hateful speech in this new community. Well, who’s going to determine what is hateful? Well, the head of this new church and whoever that is with Facebook will be the ones that determine whether it’s appropriate or not.
WHAT IS CHURCH?
By the way, whenever we see an inadequate view of the church in the world, we need to realize two things. First, man, in his sinfulness, will never get the church right until God’s saving grace gets into his heart and his life and he sees what the actual mission and the purpose of the church is to be.
Secondly, whenever we see such a shallow view of the church, we need to realize that’s there because of the way we do church and the way people see us doing church and that’s why they have a shallow view of church.
It’s clear that Mark Zuckerberg sees the church as a philanthropic, communal society. Now, does the church do good, philanthropic things? Yes. Is one of the great marks of the church our love for the Lord and our love for one another in that we develop community? Well, there’s a reason that the church is called the “family of God”. There’s a community relationship and, more than that, a family relationship that takes place within the church.
However, that’s not what the church is. The church is actually the people of God — a people who were not a people who have become the people of God because of the saving work of Jesus Christ in our heart and in our life. And He has drawn us to Himself and He has drawn us together in and for the purpose of knowing Him, loving Him and serving Him.
Now, in that, we develop our relationships that are productive, that are encouraging, that are honoring to the Lord and honoring to each other but that is built on the dynamic of the church’s mission, which is to declare the glory of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
ZUCKERBERG JOINS THE LINE OF LATEST “CHURCH REPLACERS”
Therefore, his view of what the church actually is — that something such as a digital platform could actually be the church — it is a declaration that we’re not doing church very well for people to get that idea about the church, itself. Individuals have started organizations that have grown up in our society, become quite the fad and quite the attraction, and it’s not long before they have become “the new church” and “The church is dead, therefore, let’s put aside the church as this banal and antiquated organization that has no place in contemporary society. In fact, we have replaced it with this organization.” And, of course, Mr. Zuckerberg proposes Facebook is the latest in a long list of organizations that will replace the church and bury the church into its grave of antiquity.
It’s really interesting how everyone keeps burying the church for millennia now and, interestingly, there’s Jesus and He stands there with the church alive, and glorious and growing throughout the world while these organizations actually are the organizations that end up getting buried and become irrelevant in society over a period of time as their newness and their faddishness fades away but the church continues.
Therefore, we hear the words of our Savior: “I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” so, if the church can withstand the assaults of the adversary, Satan — if that is true — believe me, Jesus and the church will be able to sustain its existence gloriously and dynamically, even in the face of Facebook.
DANGERS OF SOCIAL COMMUNITY
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, if you look at these communities that come up on social media, one of the common denominators a lack of accountability. We see people saying things and doing things and posting pictures on social media that they would never consider doing in person. Obviously, that is a danger, but is that sort of man’s default mode — that he wants to have this platform in which he can communicate without accountability?
DR. REEDER: Yeah, we want the transparency of others with no commitment of intimacy of ourselves. For instance, the whole industry of pornography: I want the benefits of intimacy, but I do not want to take the steps of relational transparency so people become objects for one’s gratification.
Well, that’s true on a digital platform as well. When you get into a relationship and a group of people start talking, there is a dynamic that begins to take place of the weightiness of various individuals in the conversation and that’s not true on a digital platform. On a digital platform, there is no dynamic of the personhood that is present; there is only the manipulation of words and there is a leveling of individuals that is not based upon equality, but it is based upon banality.
USE MEDIA TOOLS, BUT REALIZE LIMITS
Of course, I do not think that the digital world should be avoided. The reformers used pamphleteering, the reformers used the new printing press, and then came the radio, and then comes television and then comes all of these things. All of these means of communication should be seized and used, but they need to be used within the parameters of their actual effectiveness in life and we need to be able to make those evaluations.
As one writer said years ago, “Christianity is a religion that has a ‘cold message.’” In other words, it requires thoughtfulness. Most media mechanisms require a “hot message” like sloganeering and bumper stickers. Christian theology just doesn’t fit on bumper stickers. It requires communication that is consistently thoughtful and reflective.
Preaching of the word will never be replaced by tweeting. The church will always be the place where we assemble face-to-face with each other — we will see each other, talk with each other, communicate with each other. That’s why the Scripture says we are the ‘ecclesia’, the assembled ones, the called together ones. “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves as is the habit of some.”
COMING UP TOMORROW: DOES THE CHURCH NEED TO GET MORE “THICK”?
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, your closing comments today are a good segway into what I want to talk about tomorrow, an article by John Stonestreet out of Breakpoint. “Are our churches truly leaving a mark on people?” He goes to a comment by New York Times columnist David Brooks talking about the thickness, saying, “What’s the difference between a job and a vocation? It is a thick institution,” Brooks writes. And John Stonestreet goes on to say, “Perhaps we need more thickness in the church.”
DR. REEDER: That’s an interesting comment. We’ve said it using other metaphors, but I believe the comment by this well-known columnist, David Brooks, deserves some treatment and I believe they’re actually onto something.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News, who has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and whose work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.