By Jeff Mingee
A digital world is home to digital jerks. Perhaps you’ve come across a few. You may have accidentally roused that sleeping dragon when you hit “post” on what you thought was a harmless article. And now you feel the heat of their digital fury. Do you fight back or log-off?
While some people are merely jerks by personality type, others have more sinister desires. They’ve set their eyes, and set their Google alerts, to attack the cause of Christ and the people of Christ. This opposition is not new to the digital world.
After highlighting the need for church leaders to be well-versed in the Scriptures, Paul reveals the contextual climate in which they would shepherd the flock. To young Titus, he writes, “There are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10), and he warns that “they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11). Paul further explains, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons’ (Titus 1:12) and then refers to them as “defiled and unbelieving” (Titus 1:15). Paul concludes with a blistering indictment:
They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1:16)
As you read Paul’s description of Crete you may be tempted to think, “that sounds a lot like Twitter.” And you’re not wrong. The inhabitants of physical Crete seem eerily similar to some in our digital platforms. So how do you deal with digital Cretans? Remember these three principles:
1. Discern Your Role
The apostle Paul urged Timothy with these sobering words: “They must be silenced” (Titus 1:11). Timothy did not have the option of turning a blind eye to the misleading members of the circumcision party who were disrupting the flock he oversaw. He could not simply log-off or unfollow or block future posts. He had to engage.
But Paul also carefully positioned Titus’ task in the context of his role as an elder. “They must be silenced” was the task of the one of whom Paul had just described this way:
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)
Christian, God has not made you the elder of the entire digital world. He has not charged you with contending with every online post that hints at heresy. There may be some posts with which you need to engage in a public forum, but probably not many. Paul did not expect Titus to deal with the problems in Corinth but in Crete. Surely he found that those problems were more than enough.
2. Refuse the Fool
Later in this letter, Paul commands Titus to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9). Foolishness is rarely wise to engage, whether it’s in the church or online. Doing so can derail Christian leaders and undo Christian witness.
Solomon wrote, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” (Proverbs 26:4). I don’t think Solomon knew about subtweets, but he was on to something.
When you see that foolish and controversial post and you feel your fingers move towards the keyboard or your thumbs begin to circle in preparatory attack mode, stop. Hear Paul say to you, “Avoid foolish controversies” (Titus 3:9). Refuse the fool.
3. Stand for Truth
Titus had to discern when he was to rebuke those who contradicted sound doctrine and when he should avoid foolish controversies. He had to decide which situations were his to engage and which were his to walk away from. Christian, you will have to do the same.
In avoiding foolish controversies online we don’t want to simply abandon the digital platform to heresies. The internet really does need more gospel. And who will take it there if not Christians who stand for truth?
Providing a satisfying answer to the question of how to discern these moments is beyond the scope of this article. However, as we engage a digital world with truth, we will confront digital fools and be met by the opposition of digital Cretans. And we must engage them in such a way that reflects what Paul said to young Titus:
In your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)