by Scott Greening
A frantic morning of getting the family ready for church results in you sliding into your traditional seat toward the back of the auditorium just as the worship service starts. Sitting down, you hear the pastor instruct the congregation to pull out their mobile electronic devices and participate in the worship service by tweeting using the subject #1stbapchurch. The pastor continues to explain that instead of the usual PowerPoint display of song lyrics and message points, the church will be broadcasting the live Twitter feed of peoples’ participation in the worship experience via their mobile devices. Reaching for your phone, you do not know what to think of this new development but determine to give it a try.
This hypothetical situation is becoming the reality in churches across the country. Time magazine reported on this growing phenomenon earlier this year with an article titled “Twittering in Church, with the Pastor’s O.K.” John Voelz blogged his experience of a “Twitter Sunday” at his Westwinds Church in June 2008. While these churches may be cool, the question remains, Are they Biblical? Should GARBC churches embrace Twitter worship?
On his blog, Josh Harris presented his take on tweeting during worship. His post argued against using Twitter during church. John Piper also argued against tweeting during church, posting his thoughts on his Desiring God website. Both of these men have contributed thoughtful rationales for not tweeting during worship, but they do not address using Twitter as a sanctioned and promoted part of corporate worship. In this post I will seek to develop a Biblical response to the appropriateness of Twitter as a welcome part of the worship experience.
It is my position that Twitter worship is not appropriate behavior for the gathered body of believers. While this topic is not addressed directly in Scripture, church polity principles apply to the question of Twitter worship.
Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian church found in 1 Corinthians 14 regarding proper church behavior contains principles that argue against Twitter worship. The first principle is that everything in the church is to be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). One of the disadvantages of real-time Twitter feeds is that there is no way to monitor, edit, and disallow inappropriate tweets. These tweets can be removed after the fact, but not before being broadcast to an observing congregation. A good-natured tweet stating “#1stbapchurch rocks!” probably does not help generate the reverence sought when a group of believers worships together in the presence of the holy God. A more egregious tweet might contain vulgarity or sinful language. These tweets might come from an interloping unbeliever or a malicious church member. Regardless, there is great danger of Twitter worship becoming indecent and disorderly.
Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian church regarding only one person speaking in tongues at a time (1 Corinthians 14:26, 27) also provides application that argues against Twitter worship. Paul communicates in verse 26 that everything in the church worship service needs to be done “for building up.” The Corinthian church evidently had a problem in which people came ready to participate but not ready to build each other up. They manifested pride and took glory away from God by worshiping in a way that exalted self.
Firsthand accounts of Twitter worship admit that some of what ends up being displayed in the Twitter feed includes comments about the clothing of platform personnel, instrumentation, and whether an individual is on time or not for church. These comments may not be sinful, but they are not for the building up of others. However, these comments may be sinful if the motive is for attention rather than building up one another.
Paul’s instruction that only one person speak at a time also argues against Twitter. Real-time Twitter feeds broadcast to groups of people are scattered dialogues: individuals may begin communicating with one another, multiple topics may be discussed at once, unrelated comments will be shared. This does not match up with Paul’s admonition to have only one speaker at a time. Paul was concerned that visiting unbelievers observing a multiplicity of voices would conclude that the believers were out of their minds. Should we not also be concerned with what Twitter worship communicates about our reverence for God and personal sanity to unbelievers?
After considering these Biblical principles arguing against Twitter worship, I conclude with a philosophical one. C. S. Lewis argued in The Abolition of Man that our value statements are becoming subjective statements about our internal feelings toward things rather than objective statement about the inherent praiseworthiness of objects. Lewis used the illustration of describing a waterfall as sublime. He argued that describing the waterfall as sublime says nothing about the waterfall but speaks about how an individual responds to the waterfall. I fear that experimental, experiential worship forms such as Twitter worship foster this type of self-focused, subjective worship. In my opinion, these types of worship experiences will ultimately result in the “experience of worship” being of greater importance than the God Whom we worship. Feelings do play a part in our Christian walk and in our worship, but we must always remember that our primary goal in corporate worship is to describe, declare, and proclaim the objective glories of our God.
Twitter is a valuable tool for churches but should not be used as a component of corporate worship. Encourage your church members to Twitter before and after church services. Encourage them to tweet spiritual micro-blogs. However, you must encourage them to keep the corporate worship time a sacred time free from Twitter and any other activity that does not build up the body of Christ.
Share your thoughts with me below or tweet me @chicagoscott!