Puritan Advice for Christians on Social Media

You may easily be sure that most quarrels online tends to the ruin of the Church, and the hindrance of the gospel, and the injury of the common interest of Christianity. You know ungodly divisions are greatly condemned in the scriptures, and that they are usually the result of pride, uncharitableness, and temper, and that the Devil is best pleased with it because he gains the most by it.

If arguments cause any divisions, be sure to look first to the interest of common truth and good, and to the exercise of love: and do not become passionate contenders for any party in the division, or censure those to do not enter the fight, but join rather with the moderate and the peacemakers than with the contenders and dividers.

I understand that those who want to draw you into a combative fervor will tell you that their cause is the cause of God, and that you will betray him if you are not zealous in it. They will tell you that it is your sinfulness that makes you selfishly desire moderation and peace. They will also condemn you by saying you are hypocrites, that you are lukewarm, and that you agree with error. And they are right, if it is indeed the cause of God, but upon great experience, I must tell you, that of the zealous contenders online that claim the cause of God and truth, there are very few that know what they are talking about.

Some of them claim the cause of God, when their cause is the spoiled spawn of a proud and ignorant mind. Some of them are impassioned before they have even had time to give it any serious thought. Others are lead astray by some person or tribe that fascinates their minds. Many are blinded by their carnal interests, and many of them, in mere pride, think highly of an opinion because they believe they know more than ordinary men do. Finally, many of them are simply looking for likes and retweets.

As far as my judgment has been able to reach, the people that have stood for restraint have been the most sensible, and have had the best understanding of the controversies that are under debate among good Christians. Those that castigate them as lukewarm or corrupted have been people that have had the least judgement, and are usually full of proud and foul mistakes in the points in question.

In all this, I do not deny that every truth of God is to be highly valued and that those that plead for neutrality, when the essential doctrines of the faith are being disputed, are false-hearted hypocrites. However, some truths must be silenced for a time, (though not denied) when contending for them is untimely and tends to the injury of the Church. Take heed what you do online when God’s honor, and men’s souls, and the Church’s peace are are at stake.

-Richard Baxter (edited and updated for today’s reader)

Social Media Fools

Whoever utters slander is a fool. – Proverbs 10:12

If you want to see every one of God’s standards for communication violated, spend a few minutes on Twitter. All you have to do is read what people are posting about the trending topics. Sometimes the topics themselves are violations of God’s word.

The verse above is devastating to the way many people use social media, and this includes many professing Christians. Left and right, users fill social media with posts that try to damage another’s reputation, and I am not including all the times where the truth is properly spoken about a public figure, even if it is negative.

Think about it, every meme we share that is directed at a person, even if it contains 80% truth and 20% misleading characterization is an example of slander. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the temptation. I have had to delete tweets I have regretted, and there still may be some in my feed that shouldn’t be there.

It is so easy to succumb to the temptation. There is so much noise on social media that the only way to be heard is to be bombastic by spouting half-truths that raise controversy. We sometimes justify it by saying we are simply trying to get the conversation started, but, according to Proverbs, we are acting like fools.

Attempts at humor can also fall into the category of slander. It usually happens like this. Someone we have never heard of before literally says something ridiculous, and the funniest comeback comes to mind. You know it will make people laugh and probably get shares and likes. The only problem is that it communicates something derogatory about the person which may or may not be true. If we even stop to think about it long enough, it is here that the justifications start to kick in. “Everyone is already doing it,” or “they will know I am being funny,” but these do not exempt us from the guilt of damaging someone’s reputation, even if they have already begun to damage it themselves.

When we are not the ones to post the misrepresentation, we participate when we share it and like it. It shows up in the feeds of our followers because we have given it a thumbs up, after all, it made us laugh and pointed out just how stupid someone is, and the world needs to know.

Someone might say, “the opposition is always making up stories and smearing people who hold godly views; it is no big deal if we respond in like manner, this is how our culture communicates. It is a propaganda war and we need to participate in order to have a voice.” The biblical response to that is, if we have to make alliances with evil to promote the kingdom of God, we have already lost.

Why do I bring this up? It is simply to remind us that we need to guard our hearts in what we communicate. The scripture was not joking when it said: When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent (Proverbs 10:19).

We should take this to heart because we have all fallen short. We should carefully consider our words. However, it should not always cause us to remain silent, after all, this is an article full of words which were posted on social media, but it would not hurt us to be more mindful in what we post online. It may just help keep us from imitating the company of fools.

And when we miss the mark, the good news is that, in Jesus, there is forgiveness even for fools like me.

-D. Eaton