Social Media Church?

Social Media Church?A look at Social Media Church by Giles:

When Jesus spoke on the Emmaus Road, hearts were troubled. When the disciples recognised Jesus they immediately returned to Jerusalem to share what they’d heard. When Philip explained scripture to the Ethiopian Eunuch, he responded, was baptised and returned to his home to share with his family of faith there.

I’m a newcomer to Twitter, but have been delighted by the fellowship and community to be found there. The Christians on Twitter remind me of medieval pilgrims, crossing and re-crossing Europe and the Middle East as they travelled between their homes, Jerusalem and the Holy sites in between. Twitter acts as a crossroads for those journeying in faith, where messages are passed, warnings about the road ahead, burdens and encouragement shared. There are stories told, prayer, fellowship and worship shared, but Church? I’m not yet sure. There have been some great examples of shared liturgy, such as Compline, shared over Twitter, but my feeling at present is that Church is expressed primarily by the local physical community within which we share the sacraments. To counter this view, there are blogs which identify where the Spirit has worked remotely, and indeed this is true. But is it normative, or exceptional?

Our choice of Followers allows for self-selection of a like-minded group within which we can present ourselves as we might like to appear. This has been covered elsewhere, but it’s important, because there is something visceral about living within the local family of the Church, where our flaws are harder to hide and we’re more likely to be taught, stretched, perspectives broadened, horizons widened (Insert preferred metaphor here) and otherwise grow as Christians.

If active use of social media has a key role for me, it’s that it encourages communication which asserts that being a Christian is normative. It allows Christians to express themselves and engage with the world in real time. That I can follow my MP and challenge or rebut their activities has allowed me to become politically engaged like never before. Further, using social media prevents one dimensional parodies of Christianity being disseminated. Discriminatory generalisations can be challenged and people held to account, whoever they may be.

But this is a double edged sword. Christianity’s internal divisions van hamper its ability to communicate the gospel of salvation by grace through Christ crucified. But better communication between Christians can only aid this rapprochement.

People say that Jesus would have been a blogger. I’m not sure about that, because the stories we are told are about him spending time with people.  This is, I think, a fundamental aspect to building the Kingdom and pastoral care. However, the Gospel writers, in the way they collected, collated and shared stories about Jesus, were very much the bloggers of their age. And isn’t that what Christian bloggers do? Share stories of Christ at work in the world, bring the Kingdom?

Look at Paul. Definitely a blogger. Twitter offers a community of fellow travellers on our shared journey of faith, but doesn’t (yet) provide the groundedness of a local fellowship. If we look at Paul’s letters around the Mediterranean, we can consider him the earliest Christian blogger, with his letters being shared around between geographically specific communities. But at each locality they met together to share the sacraments. Messages and letters fed into the growing life of the local church.

So, coming back to sacrament, I can’t escape that prayer ‘when two or three are gathered together in my name’ and the Eucharist are celebrated have a special purpose which is not fully realised apart from physical proximity. I am not suggesting that a link cannot occur at a distance, but that it cannot fully replace physical presence. You cannot baptise over the internet.

However, in writing this I recognise that my experience is limited and partial; that the Spirit can work to grow the Kingdom of God in manifold ways; and that ultimately it doesn’t matter what you and I think about the specifics, so long as we are working together to build the Kingdom, using whatever tools come to hand. I am certain that the communities built up over social media teach, encourage and energise people to speak to their local physical communities, and this alone is sufficient justification. Is it Church? For me, not yet. For others? That appears to be their experience. The Anglican triad of Scripture, Reason and Experience don’t yet appear to give uncritical endorsement, but I’ve too little of the latter in this area to judge. Is social media a good thing for the Church? Yes. Is it growing the Church? I think so. Is it, or can it become Church? Maybe, or maybe something else, but I believe the Kingdom is growing by and through it, and that is sufficient for me.

Giles Twitter bio describes him as “NHS Physicist, husband, father to Ben and Toby, Community Centre Trustee, CofE Trainee Reader, Iona Community Associate, wannabe Bass Player and photographer”, and can be found here on Twitter. He blogs at gidamoblog.wordpress.com.

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