Sanctified by the Word of God and Prayer
Recent online discussions and debates, with arguments ensuing and escalating in the comments – and eruptions of harsh and inflammatory rhetoric on various social media feeds, often fueled by misinformation, false assumptions, misleading accusations, and ad hominem attacks – might lead one to suppose that the internet in general, and social media in particular, is no place for a pastor. It is a legitimate concern to recognize that the laity (both within and outside of the church) are sometimes confused, discouraged, and frustrated by some of the banter and battles of pastors and theologians within that public arena. As with e-mail, but on a potentially wider scale, it is far too easy to fire off a passionate post or reply prematurely, without taking the time for reflection and a careful weighing of words, and without considering how it might be perceived and interpreted.
In the early days of the Lutheran Service Book project, for which the various committees and working groups made extensive use of e-mail, one of my dear fathers in Christ took me aside and gently cautioned me to wait before replying in the midst of sometimes heated conversations. He advised me to leave any e-mail drafts to sit overnight before sending them, and then to consider in the light of a new day how they were likely to come across. Along with that, he kindly offered that, if I ever needed to vent a bit and blow off steam on a topic, I was free to call him and do so over the phone with him, rather than allowing those strong emotions to infiltrate and color my e-mails. I owe that friend a real debt of gratitude, as his advice afforded me a chance to grow and mature in my communications, in a way that has been beneficial to me in the years ever since.
Technology has continued to accelerate throughout my lifetime, and no doubt that will persist; and with that, it has also accelerated communication in ways we would never have imagined not so long ago. That’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of this digital age. It simply is what it is, and we’re not going to put that genie back into the lamp. As with any of God’s good gifts – for this, too, is an aspect of His good creation and His generous outpouring of daily bread – we should neither idolize nor demonize what He provides, but receive it in faith and with thanksgiving, put it to use within our own proper calling and stations to the glory of His Name and for the good of our neighbors, and sanctify it in our lives by the Word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:4-5).
In the case of online conversations and social media exchanges, let us allow the technology to amplify the confession of our dear Lord’s Holy Name, His Word, and the Christian faith, and to magnify the love and joy and peace of our relationships with one another. We need not spurn or disavow what has become a significant part of our present life in the world. Rather, let it be to us a reminder that, as the Lord creates, does, and gives all things by and with His Word, so has He given us the ability to speak and write and communicate with words, with the potential for both good and evil. So, then, by the prayer and confession of His Word, let all our words be holy.