Internet Community Cannot Replace the Church

by | Jul 2, 2015

8583949219_f55657573e_zWhen we think of the Christian walk in the Western world, we often think of it in personal terms. Yet if we follow the logic of the New Testament, we are saved unto a body in Christ with whom we covenant. Part of this covenant is the mutual pursuit of holiness. While the temptation is always there to pull back rather than reveal my warts, I know this will not yield the fruit of repentance. In an age where we can use social media communication to give a slanted portrait of our lives, this covenant is especially relevant.

For that reason, I am often perturbed when I see vague social media posts asking for prayer in deliverance from sin. The reasons are many, yet namely; it seems to be a concealment of one’s sin from their local church body in order to avoid confrontation and vulnerability, all the while, cloaking it in a self-perceived nobility to quell the conscious.

Social media simply doesn’t allow one to press more firmly on the individual to reveal what is below the surface. Sin is rarely in isolation; the heart is quick to devise ways of concealing the grossness and depth of our sins. It is difficult enough for one to own up to the fullness of their sin between trusted confidants, let alone individuals with whom they have no meaningful relationship.

Let’s entertain the idea that someone is opening up within a Facebook group of strangers with the ongoing sin of pornography. They openly acknowledge it as sin, the desire for repentance, and so forth. Beyond the immediate consequence of a lack of accountability, they have sought consolation from those whom are not intended to shepherd over them. These same individuals who offer consolation are not in a position of authority, nor are they held to account for the well being of this individual’s soul.

In lieu of this, there is rarely a call to repentance – yet even if there is, there is simply no process to see this through. There will be no formal disciplinary action, further admonition, discipleship training on a healthy, biblical sexuality, and no impartial inspection. Most will offer trite words of encouragement speaking about the grace of God. Let me make this clear – my intent is not to say the grace of God is cheap; it is incredibly pricey. The grace offered by those whom cannot call one to true repentance, is cheap. They may point effectively to the cross for the forgiveness of sin, yet they do not effectively point to the need for personal holiness.

Additionally, there are other problematic inferences in seeking this kind of counsel. It cannot lead to more probing questions; i.e. how often, how long has this been going on, who knows of it (one’s spouse, church leadership), what kind of pornography it is (is it child porn? If so, legal repercussions must also take place), has this manifested itself in tangible ways (strip clubs, prostitution, infidelity, casual sex, rape; again, if so, legal repercussions must also follow for some circumstances).

If it is solely relegated to legal pornographic expressions, what other sins can be identified with it? What measures are they taking to guard their eyes and heart? What movies/television shows are they watching? What does their browser history look like? What are they reading? What are they listening to? There are countless other questions needing to be asked and dealt with appropriately in order to apply the healing salve of repentance and faith in Christ. Internet groups simply cannot offer this, thus, anonymity often wins the day.

The job of the church is not simply to perform Sunday services and potluck dinners. We gather as a community of believers in order to unify through a common covenant. We are to carry the burdens of one another in the bond of grace in order to represent a more full, purer picture of the call upon believers. Grace is not simply a means to avoid Hell; it radically transforms us into the image of Christ as we live the cruciform life.

On an individual basis, no person can thrive and find lasting repentance apart from this community. We are called to a body that will faithfully deliver the wounds of a true friend, proclaiming that those who make a practice of such deeds cannot inherit the kingdom of God – yet remind us all the while of the abundant hope found in the gospel of our Lord.  It is an incredibly difficult thing to ask of our brothers and sisters to “pierce” us and reveal sin – yet as we step out in faith with a broken and contrite heart, we will find He is pleased to continue that refining work in us.