Tweeted back and forth: Surviving a distracted and divided age

“We live in a time divided” is so true that it is downright boring to write. Theories abound as to how we got here; what is indisputable is that we are here. It can certainly feel like the temperature of virtually all conversation and debate, however insignificant, is set to burning.

And worst of all, the previous paragraph doesn’t just describe the world – it describes many churches. Rather than shine in contrast to the perpetual scandal machine, many of us are too busy conforming to the pattern of this age (Romans 12:2).

How, then, can believers forge meaningful unity in a fractured time? It seems unlikely that we’re going to tweet out of the way. So what is the way forward?

whiplash

As author Yuval Levin observed in A time to buildthe function of institutions in modern life has largely shifted from formative at performative — from growth habitats to platforms for self-expression. Step into a secular university, for example, and you might come out more pampered than shaped. But this performative dynamic is not limited to colleges; it also infects local churches.

Long gone are the days of the American faithful looking to their pastors first (or maybe even the second or third) to help you navigate a difficult cultural landscape. These days, it’s the experts — whether on cable news, talk radio, or social media — whose voices are the most formative. On one level, this is understandable. Pastors are not omnicompetent. They are not experts on everything, or even on most things. So when it comes to current events, Christians should (in a sense) wait less of their pastors.

Nevertheless, the general trend is troubling. When the church simply becomes another arena in which to perform – whether via “leadership” or simply keeping up appearances – rather than a family in which to form, it ceased to occupy the center of gravity. of his life. No wonder priorities get out of orbit. No wonder people ask their pastors to affirm and publicly echo their strong opinions on debatable issues. I have heard countless stories of someone leaving their church because of their politics. What I haven’t heard yet is someone quitting their political life because of their church.

One of the reasons why churches are losing the battle forming hearts is because Christians who visit, join and show up for worship Sunday after Sunday are being battered by the storms of digital discourse. They hobble, exhausted, distracted and confused.

More thrown

This is precisely why congregational unity is so essential. Unity is not a spongy feeling or an optional addition to the Christian life; it is something that Jesus prayed for, bled and died for (John 17:22). Just consider the logic of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4. The ascended King Jesus gave the gift of pastors to equip church members for ministry (verses 8-12). As such ministry to build the body (verse 13), the resulting unity to disassemble anything that threatens it (verse 14). In other words, ministry generates unity, and unity generates stability. Thus, the purpose of unity is clear: “that we should no longer be children, tossed about by the waves, and carried away by every wind of doctrine, by human craftiness, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (verse 14). .

Living in turbulent times? Work for unity. It will have a stabilizing effect.

But how, concretely, do we do this in the local church? How do you keep from being pushed around by the raging rapids of modern media? Here are two suggestions.

1. Dust off your documents

A good statement of faith, used correctly, is a goldmine for church unity. Same thing with a membership alliance. These documents should not gather dust in a filing drawer or be confined to a website. They should be used, as they carry unity forging potential. Why? They provide a common core, allowing churches to keep the essentials central and helping to regulate the temperature of our debates. The million dollar question then becomes whether our statement of faith speaks on a given topic. Yes, clearly? So we will too. Yes, kind of ? So we could. Not at all? Then we probably won’t

In my opinion, a good statement of faith is neither so complete that an unruly Christian could not join the church, nor simple that there is little the church really stands for. But we refuse to be divided on things we never agreed to agree on.

As a church planter, I have had to think about developing materials that will establish biblical safeguards – while recognizing that not all doctrines are equally important or clear. In a recent membership class, someone asked why we don’t post a clearer position on the end times. It’s a good question. I briefly explained the idea of theological sorting – there are first rank doctrines we must agree on to be Christians, second rank doctrines we must agree on to be members of the same church, and third rank doctrines on which we can actually disagree and still be members of the same church.

Although various gospel-proclaiming churches classify second- and third-class doctrines somewhat differently, the classification system itself is a useful tool. By codifying only certain doctrines (statement of faith) and promises (covenant), a church crystallizes what members to have to agree on – and where there is room to disagree. This engenders confidence in the essentials and freedom in everything else. This is not to say that a pastor should avoid questionable topics in his preaching – as he unfolds “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), many such topics will arise. It is simply to say that a church cannot bind the conscience of members on matters where (the church has agreed, as evidenced by its documents) God has not clearly spoken.

“It’s counter-intuitive but true: one way to preserve sound doctrine is to leave plenty of room for Christian freedom.”

It’s counter-intuitive but true: one way to preserve sound doctrine is to leave plenty of room for Christian freedom. Otherwise, churches can easily succumb to legalism by demanding agreement on third-tier issues. But by lowering the fences on debatable matters, we raise the barriers on non-debatable matters. Or to change the metaphor, by lowering our collective voice on issues where Scripture is unclear – say, a specific policy proposal – we can raise our voice on issues where it is. This is why freedom of conscience is so critical in a time of outrage. Like Mark Dever observed, leaving room for disagreement (on many issues other than gospel clarity) is, in part, what keeps the gospel clear. When we lack a clear understanding of Christian freedom and space for conscience, we will be tempted to stick to the gospel more than there is – that is, a agreement on a wider variety of issues.

Don’t underestimate the practical value of church records. They are your friends; integrate them into the life of your church. Corporately confess parts of your Statement of Faith on Sundays. Repeat the covenant promises when you call a membership meeting or celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Cite documents in sermon apps. By doing so, you will forge unity around what has been agreed and avoid division around what is not.

2. Get a board

Another way to foster church unity, not to mention sanity, is to trade the Twitter timeline for a table. I mean literally. How many hours a week do you typically spend browsing social media? (Statistically, that’s probably more than you think.) In comparison, how much time do you spend chatting with other church members during meals? (Statistically, it might be less than you think.) If the first number dwarfs the second, consider it a check engine light for your soul. Proximity doesn’t always breed unity, but distance certainly won’t. It’s just harder to resent someone when you ask them to pass the salt.

“Christian, you are spiritually responsible for your church members, not strangers on the internet.”

Christian, you are spiritually responsible for your church members, not strangers on the internet. Still, who gets your best energy these days – members or strangers? Likewise, if you are a pastor, remember that on the last day you will give an account to God not for your disciples, but for your flock (Hebrews 13:17). Who is calling for your best energy these days – the followers or the herd?

To borrow language later in Ephesians 4, we are called to “put off” whatever diminishes our joy in God and His children, and “put on” whatever increases it (verses 22-24; see also 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20). If something generates suspicion or coldness towards other believers – especially other members – then set it aside. Maybe that means turn it off. Pray that your heart will be more animated by the faces in your member directory than by the faces in your News Feed.

No replacement

Technology and para-ecclesiastical ministries are gifts, but they do not replace the local church. Anchor your identity there, friend, for only in the communion of saints will you find ballast in the midst of storms. In a world of endless options, the church makes our commitments clear. In a world of enormous complexity, the church simplifies our duties. In a world of growing division, the church makes our unity sweet.

They are my people, and I am theirs.

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