Over the past 5–7 years, the internet has been ablaze with reaction to scandalous news, sensational stories and societal injustices. In those moments when the desensitization—that we all experience as culture pulls us away from heavenly mindedness–wears off, my heart starts to—once again—experience something of what the Apostle Paul experienced when “his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols” (Acts 17:16). However, I frequently hesitate to write about social issues online for a number of reasons—one of which I wish to address in this post.
I have noticed something of a disturbing pattern regarding Christians who do speak out against social sin online. They almost all get blasted by other professing Christians in the comment section of Facebook or in passive-aggressive, hyper-generalized Tweets. Sometimes it comes from those who want to appear as gracious and charitable before a watching world and a listening church; sometimes, from those who want to be seen as being faithful and truth-loving before a watching world and a listening church; and sometimes, from those who want to be viewed as wise and careful before a watching world and a listening church. Hopefully it is not occurring out of a desire to avoid persecution—though, sadly, sometimes I fear that it does. Whatever the reason, this disturbing trend almost always includes—together with a quickness to sharply rebuke fellow believers for labeling sin and for speaking about it online—an unwillingness to publicly rebuke those whose notorious wickedness runs rampant on the internet and in the world.
The Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, the Savior and the Apostles would all fall foul of the ecclesiastical social media gestapo’s first and great commandment: “Thou shalt openly rebuke Thy brother, but thou shalt never openly rebuke Thy unbelieving neighbor.” How then should we respond? What do the Scriptures teach us about how a Christian is to respond to news about notorious individuals, societal injustices and scandalous sin? I would venture to say that Scripture is vastly more multi-variegated on this issue than many of us wish to admit. Consider the following biblical courses of action:
1. Say nothing. The Lord never commands us to speak out on every issue at every opportunity. There is need for great wisdom here. When we don’t have all the facts, when someone is better equipped or when someone has already spoken out on an issue, we may not need to say anything. In fact, it may be the wisest course of action for us not to speak to certain issues or to feel compelled to critique other believers who have spoken differently that we would have on a public matter.
Additionally, the Scriptures tell us not to answer a fool according to his folly lest we be like him (Prov. 26:4) and not to correct a Scoffer (Prov. 9:7,8; 15:12). Jesus refused to answer those who were only wishing to contend but would not be taught (Matt. 21:27). Sometimes (and, I tend to think, often) silence is the wisest course of action with regard to trending social media debates.
2. Openly and Privately Rebuke. There is a place for openly rebuking the unbelieving world. For instance, John the Baptist called Herod out for sleeping with his brother’s wife. This ultimately cost John his life. The Proverbs tell us that we are to be “wise rebukers” (Prov. 25:12). We will not help men and women see their need for the Savior if we are afraid of speaking out regarding socially acceptable sin. Be very slow to rebuke other believers who are calling out sin as what it is—wrath-deserving, cosmic rebellion against the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It may be that they simply have more faith and courage than you.
That being said, there is a place for openly rebuking the church—as well as privately rebuking. Jesus often corrected His own disciples when they spoke or acted in unbelief. At times He seems to have done it in private and at times in public. However, He always did so with gentleness and kindness. In fact, we are told that we are to restore a brother or sister who is ensnared in a particular sin with a gentle spirit (Gal. 6:1). The Lord everywhere charges us to do so. The sort of social media correcting that I have seen appears more like an attempt to embarrass and silence rather than help restore a brother or sister who may be sinfully judging others without holding forth the Gospel. It may often be better to privately email a brother or sister who has written something judgmental, disturbing or inappropriate and tell them about your concerns with a gentle tone and words.
3. Pray for Believers and Unbelievers. It is far too easy to simply shoot sharp rebukes back on Twitter or Facebook than it is to get down on your knees and pray for a brother or sister who you truly believe is in sin (1 John 5:16). Most of us, if we were honest with ourselves, are far more apt to confront than to pray for someone. The more we go to the throne of grace for believers and unbelievers, the more hope of change. We do, after all, have a God in heaven who is all powerful and has promised to hear when we cry out to Him. We need to ask Him to make us a people of prayer more than a people of publicity.
4. Hold Forth the Hope of the Gospel. Whatever course of action we take we must always bring forth the Gospel. When the Apostle Paul said, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” he wasn’t using hyperbole. He truly wanted to bring the truth about what Jesus accomplished in His sacrificial death on the cross to bear in each and every situation. When we decide that we should be speaking out publicly against sin or a social injustice, we must remember to bring in the hope of the Gospel. If we believe that we should correct a brother or sister for being too harsh, we must bring in the hope of the Gospel. If we rebuke a brother or sister for sinfully rebuking a brother or sister we should bring in the hope of the Gospel. Sin is sin and the cross is the remedy for it wherever it manifests itself–in the world or in the church. We never want to set ourselves up as vocal prophets of correction or action without holding forth the Savior.
We have all failed in many ways in falling off on the side of compromise for the sake of acceptance with the world or on the other side of rebuking the world and church of sin without a gentle and humble spirit. The Gospel is the remedy for us. We need to see the sin that dwells in our our hearts and lives and flee to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. We must take the log out of our own eye prior to being able to help our brother take the speck out of his eye. When we seek the wisdom that is from above–that is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruit—we will be more apt to avoid speaking out hastily to every issue that the news and social media makes the next big issue, we will be slow to rebuke our brothers and sisters who believe that they should be speaking out, we will not show partiality to the wicked over the righteous and we will be quick to seek to help restore our brothers and sisters with the truth of the Gospel when we believe that they have sinned in their public comments.