An inspiring, insightful quotation by a Christian author comes to your attention. Impressed by the quote, you consider posting it on social media. Think before you post! Why? Because posting a quote endorses its author. Though it may be scriptural, helpful and inspiring, no quotation exists independently of its source. J.M. Davies used to say “fellowship with a man is fellowship with his doctrine”. In other words, you cannot divorce an author or preacher from his beliefs. Nor can you simply ‘post’, ‘share’ or ‘like’ an author’s quote without to some degree endorsing him or her.
Is this a scriptural line of reasoning? Consider 2 John v10-11: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” Granted, in context, the teaching being denied is no minor issue. It is “the teaching of Christ”– that He is “Jesus Christ come in flesh”. The general principle is clear however; to greet or receive a false teacher is to support him. To encourage is to endorse. Then there’s 1 Tim 5:22: “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins.” Hasty identification with a man who later proves unfit for service, makes those who rashly identified themselves with him partakers of his sin.1
How should we apply this principle in the social media age? Before you press ‘send’ or hit ‘like’, think about the consequences. If you, let’s say, recommend a good book by an author who in another one of his books has, for example, denied the inspiration of scripture or the truth of penal substitution, you have to some degree endorsed a false teacher. Impressed by your endorsement, a young person may buy that author’s other books or listen to him online, and potentially fall into error. This issue is of utmost import in the internet age where access to books, sermons and articles by every conceivable preacher is at everyone’s fingertips.
This is a tricky issue to get right and admittedly it is very easy to be inconsistent and unbalanced. The purpose of this article is not to enforce a legalistic policy that does not hold water. There are occasions when, perhaps with a caveat included, it might be helpful to quote this or that unconventional author to make a particular point in a particular context. Paul quoted a pagan author to make a point in his message on Mars Hill (Acts 17:28). We all sing hymns written by ‘clergymen’ and read from Bibles edited and translated by the same. We speak highly of Luther, Tyndale, Whitefield, Spurgeon and JC Ryle without feeling we are endorsing all they believed or promoting their ecclesiastical associations, though care is needed even when referencing the Reformers lest their Calvinism and amillennialism be imbibed!
Evidence is now in that a decade or more of the ‘posting’ and ‘liking’ of ‘great quotes’ and books from the contemporary generation of evangelical and charismatic leaders on social media has its definite down side. This shouldn’t surprise us. When a young person regularly sees trustworthy Christians recommending the sayings and writings of the likes of John Piper or Beth Moore for example, why wouldn’t they start exploring their books and sermons, or going to their events? In several cases this has led to a weakening of convictions about the cessation of sign gifts, about the biblical roles of men and women in teaching, and about separation from the wider evangelical movement. Misleading ideas and practices such as “Christian hedonism” and “lectio divina” have gained traction because of such endorsements.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some great quotes out there. And when you see one it’s only natural to want to pass it on, to post it, and to share it. You may personally be sound in the faith, be widely read and ‘well taught’, and have the discernment and wisdom of years to sift the wheat from the chaff. But, please, think before you post. Think of the effect your endorsement might have on others. And as we seek to negotiate the minefield of resources at our fingertips, may the Lord help us to be balanced and consistent – and may He preserve us from wandering down by-path meadow ourselves.
Michael J. Penfold
1. 1 Cor 10:21, Eph 5:11 and Rev 18:4 all teach the same basic principle.