I’ll get back to my series, “I Don’t Want To Be That Guy Who’s Pegged As Anti-Church, But…” in a day or two.
Be patient with my detour, but there’s been a bit of a buzz in the realm of social media regarding church discipline. I’ve been dwelling on it much. For the most part, I’ve experienced church discipline in local church gatherings. In other words, corrective measures have been applied to “members” of individual churches. The leadership within specific gatherings will discipline a member for a verity of reasons. Generally speaking, if one becomes a member of a church, he or she willingly submits to the leadership and their corrective authority. Of course this branches off into a myriad of other considerations, but I want to focus on a single aspect. That being the veritable obliteration of the local church in social media.
In a world of high visibility, particularly within social media circles, the lines between local gatherings and local “authority” are blurred. Authors, bloggers, and even pastors are throwing their works out into the realm of the public and universal church. We are asked to “like” pages on Facebook, “follow” people on twitter, and even “join” others circles on Google+. The tribes formed in social media are vastly concentric. Our memberships become multitudinous. I’ve seen some say that church discipline should not happen openly in social media formats. I have to wonder about the truth of that sentiment.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul the Apostle writes;
“I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.”
There are two things happening here besides the egregious sin of this particular form of sexual immorality. First, Paul is addressing what would appear to be a local fellowship, and secondly exposing this man and the situation to all churches everywhere during that time, and in fact all churches throughout history everywhere. Everyone knows about this guy! This letter was the form of social media for that time, and remains one unto this day. It was a critical time in the history of the Christian church, for the church’s membership had spread and relatively short documents were produced and distributed amongst all the churches.
I’d propose that because of the immense connectivity of cross-fellowships, the overabundance of invitations to partake in other’s works, and the intensely public nature of social media, that we need to reconsider how church discipline is done within this context. If leaders, authors, pastors, missionaries, or even social media gurus invite you to become part of their online fellowship, or seek to become part of yours, then they and you are willingly resigning yourselves to open and public discipline. “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Galatians 6:3
Paul also says,
“Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.” 2 Corinthians 2:5-11
The classic church discipline passages such as Matthew 18:15-20, James 5:19,20, and 1 Timothy 5:19-21 are, by the very nature of the church’s participation in social media, expanded, adjusted, and encompassing a broader audience. Again, let me posit that if the church or any of its members crosses over into other’s fellowships by invitation or willing participation, then all parties are open to each other’s discipline. A few questions:
1. Would you agree that if church fellowships participate in each others online social activities that they submit to each other’s open and public discipline?
2. Can we really say in this age that church discipline should not happen within social media formats?
3. What suggestions would you make for the practice of church discipline online?