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Romans 14 and Social Media Takedowns (and Masks and Vaccines)

August 25, 2021

A disturbing trend is taking over many Christians on social media. When I was in a network marketing company, we used to revel in trying to “school” those who objected to our business. We used to laugh and celebrate by “putting people in their place” who dared to disagree with us. Verbal domination was the key. Unfortunately, social media has made this the default mode of discourse. Recently, a Christian acquaintance positively posted an article about having no more compassion towards people who disagreed with her. Another man implied he doubted the true faith of people who had some different views of current events. Followers of Christ need to commit to doing better. We must obey God on the internet as we would on the job.

What makes the current trend more disturbing, is that Christians are roasting each other over issues not directly taught in Scripture. We treat disagreement of other people’s convictions concerning biblical (or extra-biblical) non-essentials as if they were denying the crucifixion, resurrection, or the Trinity. Please consider something with me.

First, Scripture provides us certainty regarding the truths directly revealed in it, or those things necessarily implied by it. We see Abraham was “fully persuaded” regarding the Word of God (Rom. 4:21). The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write his gospel so that Theophilus (and we with him) could have certainty regarding the faith (Lk. 1:1-4). We can know the hope to which we are called, and the riches of God’s inheritance for us (Eph 1:18). We can know the truth that sets us free (Jn. 8:32). We can have certainty regarding Scripture because it is information given to us by God, who is omniscient (Ps. 147:5, 1 Jn. 3:20, Hb. 4:13). The things told to us in Scripture are given by our God who knows all, and who cannot lie (Num. 23:19, Tit. 1:1, Hb. 6:18). 

Second, we must recognize that things not revealed by God, who knows all things and cannot lie, must be held tentatively. Human beings are finite. We don’t know everything. We don’t have all the information. Scientific conclusions sway and change because new information can change hypotheses. When we are dealing with these types of issues, we have to recognize the fallibility of man. This means, we cannot treat these types of issues as if people are denying the deity of Christ because they disagree with us. We must have more humility and grace. 

In addition, Scripture teaches us that there are issues about which people can have varying convictions. These are not essential truths. In light of that, Paul tells us to not receive people just to argue about their convictions on these things (Rom. 14:1). Further, we are to “let everyone be fully convinced in their own mind,” (Rom. 14:5). We are warned to not judge (condemn, pass judgment, criticize) those who are not our servants but belong to God (Rom. 14:4, 13). Our goal in these issues is to not stumble, or cause to fall, our brothers and sisters (Rom. 14:13). 

Now we come to the issues of masks and vaccines. How much more should what has been said above apply to issues like these? Do we have all the possible data on these issues to say we know our conclusion on these things to the same level of authority as revealed Scripture? Could new data change the paradigm? Let’s think about the data here for a bit. Where are we getting our data? Are the people writing the articles looking at the entire picture? Is it even possible for them to know the entire picture? Are we aware how easy it is to create a picture by the partial use of statistics? In fact, there is a book by Darrell Huff entitled, How to Lie with Statistics. Now add to this people’s political motives that could skew their ability to properly see the data. Add to this the current mess that is the news media. When it comes to what have been considered the most certain scientific paradigms, we have seen changes based on new discoveries (think the revolution of the physics of Einstein over against the physics of Newton). How much more then should this apply to these issues?

Does this mean there is not a truth concerning these issues? No it does not. Vaccines either work or they do not. But what this means is, given the current situation, how much more grace are we to have towards people who disagree with us? In Romans 14, Paul even says that those who eat only vegetables are weak (vs. 2). He was persuaded that he could eat meat (vs. 14). There were “right” answers concerning these non-essential issues. Yet Paul, carried along by the Spirit, tells us, “let people be fully convinced in their own mind.” Don’t receive people that disagree on these things just to argue with them. Be more focused on the kingdom of God and “righteousness, peace, and joy,” (Rom. 14:17). 

We should also briefly discuss the way we are called to dispute in general. We are told by our God to give our answers with meekness and fear, or gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15). We are to correct our opponents with meekness, or gentleness (2 Tim. 2:25). And of course, we are supposed to bless those who curse us and not return reviling for reviling (Rom. 12:14, 17, 1 Pet. 2:23). 

Yet, because we tend to spend so much time on social media, we have adopted the network marketing method of hammering those who dare to disagree with us. We are not reviling our enemy for reviling us, we are blasting our brothers and sisters in Christ who dare to have a different opinion than us about very difficult subjects. Concerning these subjects we are all trying to draw conclusions with limited and changing information, in a postmodern context where people’s political power agendas are more important than facts. We are trying to draw conclusions with limited data, as finite people, in a day where we are much more likely to read a one sentence meme, or a thirty second video, than a 20 page article, or, God forbid, a book. 

What this means is, we should be much more concerned if we, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, are disagreeing in a way that honors God regarding these issues. I think we need to be a little less concerned with whether or not they have the exact same conviction, and more concerned with obedience to Christ. When was the last time we challenged someone over their sinful handling of a subject instead of just arguing with their conclusion? In the end, perhaps we need to spend much more time reading, thinking through, and praying through, Romans 14 and applying it to the 21st century. And perhaps we could do that more than we read our friends’ facebook and twitter accounts.

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