Is Facebook “the new church”? With its 2 billion monthly users rivaling the size of global Christianity, its cofounder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, thinks so. In a recent speech, the god of social media claimed that his technological behemoth offers “purpose” and “community” as church membership sinks.
The claim is bogus, of course. As pastor Skye Jethani responded on Twitter, “Facebook gives us the impression of community without all the drawbacks of actual human interaction.”
“. . . churches are messy,” Peter Ormerod reacted in an op-ed piece. “They are not organised by any algorithm or tailored to the individual end user.”
Of greater concern than Zuckerberg’s misguided boast are the subtle ways we Christians buy into it. Technology tempts us to think we can escape the body. Facebook-as-church is counterfeit, the latest form of the ancient gnostic heresy that denied Christ had come in the flesh, that bodies are insignificant. Jethani understands what is really at stake: “The downside of social media & tech is that it dis-incarnates us & ultimately cannot satisfy our deepest longings for human connection.” The issue, then, is incarnation.
The church can’t deny the body because “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Messiah says, “A body You have prepared for me” (Hebrews 10:5). Why a body? As God’s image-bearers, humans are rational, emotional, and spiritual creatures, yet all wrapped up in a body awkward, defenseless, and, yes, messy — but whereby we relate and thrive. And it was good. But sin!
Incarnation is central to Christian faith because, as Hebrews explains, by “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ,” we are sanctified body, soul, and spirit (10:10). But incarnation goes further still. Looking for the best metaphor to describe the redeemed church, Paul’s selection is incarnational. Church is no disembodied aggregate of convenient bits of tech but a local, visible, and tangible community: “One body in Christ . . . the body of Christ” (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:27). The church incarnates our Lord’s incarnation.
Facebook is a tool, but it can also be a temptation. Being the church requires that we are present with and for each other, as grace and truth mingle within the limitation and vulnerability that shared incarnation assumes. Being the body may be messy, but it is also gloriously and meaningfully real.