Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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The Online Church: A Playground for Fools?

I have spent nearly three decades walking, learning, communing and teaching in the church of Jesus Christ.  I have worshiped in local churches and military chapels, small groups and stadiums.  I have spent most of that time in some sort of ministry, and met saints of incredible wisdom ... and yes, I have met a few fools.  A few, that is, until I took some of my ministry activities online.  It was then that I was exposed to how ninnies behave when they are unleashed.

Harsh?  Consider this unorthodox account of Jesus' anointing by a sinful woman, as interpreted by a fellow cyber-minister:
What do you make of Jesus not just allowing, but enjoying the woman at the symposium washing his feet in tears WITH HER HAIR? As First Century Palestinian practices go, that's much MORE intimate than sex ... And I daresay, neither of them were married to each other. The fact that the Gospel witnesses tell us about a woman allowed into a symposium means that she's a prostitute. She is there for the enjoyment of the men reclining at table. Any time "feet" are mentioned in the Hebrew scripture ... it is a euphemism for sexual organs. The fact that Jesus enjoys her very much more than sexual intimate acts is telling. Which is why the Pharisees are scandalized.
Now, I don't often use language like "fool" to describe my fellow sojourners.  My awareness of my own folly exhorts me to be patient and gracious with that of others, and I have certainly harbored and expressed my share of foolish opinions.  But this is just daft.

Of course, the inanity of the quote above renders it mostly harmless, because the fool has so clearly exposed her foolishness (which is often more subtle, and therefore more dangerous).  It does, however, demonstrate how the phenomenon of the Internet levels the playing field and gives fools a platform limited only by their chattiness and persistence.

The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about fools, not least of which is that they talk a lot:
The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin (10:14).
The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly (15:2). 
The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly (15:14).
I could go on in this vein.  Proverbs certainly does.  Suffice it to say that foolishness as expressed in Scripture isn't treated the same as mere ignorance.  Ignorance is natural ... we're born with it, spend our lives addressing it, and regardless of how long and hard we study to show ourselves approved, we will certainly die with a certain amount of it yet clinging to us.

The difference between the wise and the foolish is that the wise man recognizes his deficiency, but is able to speak with careful humility about what he has learned.  The fool, meanwhile, can't stop talking long enough about what he "knows" to figure out he's exposing his own emptiness.  The inherent problem with the socially networked, online church is that it doesn't distinguish well between the two.  Fools are given equal time with the wise, and wolves roam freely among the sheep.

Take social-networker Bryan for example.  After plugging his own web site, he goes on to summarize views thusly:
We all before the fall of the messengers were Orphan Angels and Jesus was the Prince (Arch Angel) our Father... This is the reference to the vine and the root in the bible as well as thousands of others. Ezekiel ... Wheel within the wheel... Greek wheel = Orphan...
To which Gregg responds in wisdom:
Bryan, I have one question for you...WHAT?
Over at Bryan's site, you learn you can participate in online courses, shop at the bookstore, and learn from Dr. Jerry Lee, "the Manifester Yada Alpha, being the first revelator of the Manifester Yada Message"!  Oh joy!

Lest you think I am a flat-earth fundamentalist on the matter, please recall that I myself am a vibrant participant in the online church community.  For better or worse, I am fully LinkedIn, Facebooked and Twittered.  I have considered the risks and I soldier on, contending for the faith within the medium provided to me.  But consider, what actually qualifies me to speak on these matters?  Clever arguments and clever marketing?

For all the glories of cyberspace, the church still needs trusted pastors and overseers to guard the sheep against the wolves. Or as the Apostle Paul would put it: "As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith."

The Internet is a fact of life.  It is a tremendous tool and opportunity for the spread of the gospel.  I would rather the wise be out there contending than to leave it to the Manifester Yada Alpha and his friends.  But have a care, beloved:  it is ungoverned space, a playground for fools.

3 comments:

  1. One filter occurred to me: Does the writer of whatever it is that one is tempted to view go every Lord's Day, sit in the company of ordinary saints - many of whom may not know what a blog is - and humbly listen to a minister of the gospel proclaim Christ's message to him? If not, maybe it's wise to tune him out.

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  2. The Word says that to the righteous all things are pure but to the wicked is nothing pure. I wonder about the cyber-minister above...

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  3. There seems to be a boldness online that doesn't exist in face-to-face conversation. I haven't done much with social networking, but just having a website that allows people to send me a message--this is an eye-opener. Lord, restore your Church in it's original order and power and let it grow to fullness. Amen.

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