Monday, December 10, 2012

Facebook is the new parish hall. . .

American blogger, Mary De Turris Poust, put it this way: "Facebook is the new parish hall."  She is not the first to suggest that social media have replaced the fellowship of the parish hall.  She is not the last of those who tell us that the meeting place of the masses is now Facebook.  No one can deny that this phenomenon has created its own culture, language, and means of connection.  What is debatable is whether or not these social media can actually replace the meeting places, conversations, and face to face connections that were once the domain of the parish hall.

If Facebook IS the replacement for the parish hall, it is not a direct counterpart.  How long can we continue to believe the idea that physical presence is optional for connection, interaction, and relationship?  How long can we hide behind our electronic profiles that may or may not be accurate descriptions of our reality?  It is one thing to have an image of yourself which is not objectively true -- we all do.  We also have people who know us and hold us accountable (unless we are truly unfortunate).  It is quite another when we can live anonymously or hiding behind an image which no one can question since they know us only by that profile we have created.

The problem here is not that we are telling lies to others or living in a false world with a fake identity.  The problem here is that we are lying to ourselves and that we grow content with and even to believe the lies we tell about who we are, how we look, and what we like.  The whole nature of koinonia (Biblical fellowship) is that it is built upon truth, the hard truth of confession and forgiveness.  The blessing of our fellowship in baptism is that the masks are taken off and we see ourselves and each other through the lens of the unchanging reality of God and His Word.  It is not enough for this honesty to be personal and vertical -- it must also be communal and horizontal.  How we are toward God is how we are toward one another and who God has declared us to be by grace is also how we relate as Christian people.

I do not doubt that it has become truth to us -- that Facebook is the new parish hall.  Though I do not like it, I know that our perception is the reality that shapes us most of all.  If that be the case, the Church will have to learn how to use this media to unmask us, to lay us bare as sinners under the wrath of God, so that, by grace, we may rejoice in becoming the saints whom God has declared righteous in Christ and made new in baptism to bear the good fruit that lasts.  We will have to learn how to exploit whatever strengths there are in social media while exposing their weakness and lies so that we are kept from deception or distraction from the true reality of Christ.

As difficult as this bodes for the network of connections that are the fruit of Biblical koinonia, what troubles me most is the prospect of living a lie with such success that there is no one to touch my hand, to look me in the eye, and to speak to me the full counsel of God's Word.  In other words, key to our community is confession and absolution both as individuals before the representative of God (Pastor) and the confessing and absolving we do before one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you are reading my words here, you may get a sense of who I am but you do not know me.  If you comment I may gain a bit of sense of who you are but I do not know you.  Our connection is real but it is too shallow and empty to replace the bonds of fellowship that are formed at the font, fostered in our fellowship around the Word and Table of the Lord, and furthered by the honest conversation of confession and forgiveness.  Lets be real.... really!


Rich Kauzlarich said...

Pr. Peters: Thank you again for an excellent posting. We really need to understand what Christian fellowship and community mean under the cross first -- then decide whether social media have a complementary role.

David Gray said...

I will say that online resources and interaction can be a very helpful supplement, particularly for those in rural areas with relatively few local confessional Christians. It is sort of like an IV, you wouldn't want to live on it in place of proper food and drink but it can help when there is a need.