Writings by Cole Huffman

Social Media Manners

In a gathering of pastors recently, the social media manners of church folk came up. Were we noticing self-professed Christians losing all orientation to peace and self-restraint when they get behind a keyboard? Shouldn’t we expect more from followers of Jesus?

With the exception of the incarnation of the Son of God, everything human will sooner or later reveal its corruption. Social media is very human. It’s wonderful and terrible at the same time. 

Perhaps you’ve seen that commercial where a guy is revving his muscle car at a red light, goading the commuter beside him to drag race: You want to go, bro? I don’t want to use social media to have a go at anyone, and I hope I’m not self-righteous about that lack of intensity. I keep a low profile online, mainly because I don’t fully trust myself online.

All Christians are called to be peaceable and practice humility. Do you know the story of Diogenes the Cynic? He walked the sunny streets of ancient Athens, lantern in hand, looking for an honest man. He did that because he considered human virtue impossible to find (hence: “the Cynic”). I feel like that sometimes in social media feeds.

Alan Jacobs calls social media “chiefly a cesspool” of assorted vanities, particularly when it involves political personalities, social controversies, and doctrinal disputes. To Christians who go online to argue, scold, and shame others, Jacobs offers these words from the fourteenth century Cloud of Unknowing: “The Devil chooses to deceive some people in the following way. He will marvelously inflame their brains with the desire to uphold God’s law and destroy sin in everyone else . . . They tell them of the faults they see, claiming to be impelled to do so by the fire of charity and the love of God in their hearts; but in truth they are lying, for it is by the fire of hell surging in their brains and their imaginations.”

The Cloud of Unknowing author would get hosed on Twitter for saying that (and for being a mystic). But James said essentially the same thing in Holy Scripture: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (Jas. 3:6). 

If you have an unhealthy interest in offering correction to others, social media is not good for your soul. If you’re easily stirred up by what Paul called “ignorant controversies” (2 Tim. 2:23), guard your soul. You may think you’re being valiant for truth, but your gentleness is not evident to all (Phil. 4:5) if it’s not evident in social media spaces also. 

Relational health is already such a fragile thing. One pastor told me about going home after church and finding a social media post critical of his sermon that morning, posted by a member of the worship band. He thought they were a team.

It’s not that no one is above correction. The healthiest Christians I know will tell you how they’ve benefitted from it. But the kind of trolling that always checks to see whose feet are shod with the gospel of their tribe and whose have stepped into a pile of perceived liberalism comes up from below. James also said peacemakers sowing in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (Jas. 3:18). 

In the World War I movie 1917, the British must get stand-down orders to the commander of a large advance force, lest he send those troops into a German ambush. One of the soldiers assigned to make the perilous delivery is warned: “Make sure there are witnesses [when you give the general’s orders to that colonel]. Some men just want the fight.” Jared Wilson writes about this:

“Why? Because regardless of the superior command to stand down, regardless of the cost, regardless of the impossible odds and the foolhardy death that would ensue, there is a zeal for battle in some that overrides all sense. When you feel built for war, when you long for the rush of conflict, not warring feels like cowardice, uselessness, pointlessness . . . We live in crucial times for the church, especially in the West. There are skirmishes a’plenty, opportunities every day to go to war with our neighbors, with our brethren, with every Twitter rando with an itchy keyboard finger. We are called to wage relentless war on our sin (Heb. 4:12) and the spiritual powers of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). But not every invitation to battle with flesh and blood ought to be accepted. And rarely should such invitations be given. Those in Christian ministry ought to especially take this to heart. Fighting is sometimes necessary. Liking to fight is not. In fact, it is forbidden.”

May I make a modest appeal to the Body of Christ? If you’re not a person of peace and self-restraint on social media but have an itchy keyboard finger, drawn to controversy because you convince yourself you must oppose error but cannot do it civilly—would you consider logging off for a while? Take a walk. Volunteer somewhere. Visit a shut-in. Prepare a meal for a neighbor. Pray. Consider the benefits of a spiritual discipline of silence for a season. 

It’ll be good for your soul.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 6:28 AM
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