The biblical message is paradoxically encroached by reaping the hardship of sin while being confronted by immeasurable grace upon grace. Paul put it simply by proclaiming in Romans chapter 5 verse 20, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (ESV).
This is a firm reminder for Christian people as we attempt to navigate social media. With the prominence and availability of the Internet, our culture has become saturated with sin in the form of instantaneous gratification: overnight delivery, free pornography, Click & Collect groceries, online dating, and the ensuing prevalence of the one-night stand phenomenon.
These are all matters of convenience, some far more harmless than others, and they are all normalised in contemporary society.
The Church We Have Become
In response to these phenomena, the church has made an effort to combat the changing norms. Sermons are littered with illustrations of patience, living in a minimalist lifestyle, abstinence, and marriage. All of these attempts have emanated from a concerted effort to stave the instantaneous gratification we are surrounded with.
My own experience of church has done a mediocre job of calling out one of these issues, pornography. I feel a lot of us can relate to this experience. We see the addiction, the backsliding, marriages in tatters, and pulpits defiled. The church is no stranger to the depth of the pornography-induced rabbit hole.
In response, a plethora of books have been written with the intention to encourage–mostly–young men to stave the lust for the flesh and to cling to sexual purity.
Yet some have felt the church as not done enough to combat this culture. Before too soon, the discussion shifted from sexual purity to emotional purity, and courtship. In many evangelical circles, this appears to have culminated, though not exclusively, in Joshua Harris’, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Eric & Lesley Ludy’s, When God Writes Your Love Story, and more recently, Heather Paulsen’s, Emotional Purity: An Affair of the Heart.
As expected from the aforementioned literature and coupled with our sinful natures, we have become relationally stifled. Living in a consumerist culture, we equally timid in our approach to dating and yet sexually liberated behind closed doors as we are flanked on all sides by a sexualised culture.
Dating is no longer simple. Churches are flooded with immaturity as we equate vulnerability and appropriate emotional intimacy with sin whilst we simultaneously attempt to perfect ourselves in the expectation our first relationship will be our only relationship.
This is not exclusively the case, but Christian cliques can arguably be some of the most barren grounds for a healthy & mature relationship in our millennial generation. In response, new norms have crept into our congregations.
Online Dating – Another Rung on the Ladder
Where pornography attempts to fulfil our lustful cravings, online dating likewise serves to fill our infatuation-induced desire for emotional intimacy. Online dating serves to create an environment where we paint ourselves in an Instagram-picturesque fashion in an attempt to be desirable.
In return, we swipe through others’ staged profiles, making snap decisions on our dating preferences without knowing each other. When we swipe left, we close the door to the possibility of relationship. Yet when we swipe right, we not only leave ourselves vulnerable to rejection, we also leave ourselves to ponder what could be if that attraction is requited.
Where we would normally do this in the context of church community in a thought-out manner through conversation and context, we are now consuming ‘matches’ on a whim, when we please, out of a desire for intimacy.
For a moment, I must digress and humbly acknowledge this is not exclusively the case. I personally have friends in church who have had appropriate and beautiful experiences of online dating. Yet these are the exceptions, not the norm.
I can only speak from the totality of my own journey of exploring online dating. At times, I would find myself immersed too easily not only in my own self-image but equally drawn to swiping through profiles out of boredom and as a source of comfort. Given this, this is nowhere near, nor intended, as a comprehensive take on the online dating phenomenon.
All the more, I feel it better to call it out for what it is before we, as the church, slip too far into normality.
Online dating is the hero the church deserves for the very climate we have created around dating through our youth groups, our preaching, and our lifestyle books. The purpose of this article is far too ambitious for the permitted word count. Yet, in light of the purpose of the kingdom and community, I feel Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians chapter 6 verse 12-13 ringing true,
“You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also” (ESV).
In the wider context, Paul was challenging his audience to reciprocate the affection he has for the church. They had been bound up in their false teachings and affections, whilst Paul had undergone spiritual, emotional, and physical toil for the sake of the church. Paul’s words ring true also for us.
We are bound up in our emotional affections and search for intimacy. In our church cultures, we are now not only confronted by a consumerist sexual culture, but now a consumerist emotional culture as well. As a consequence, we lose sight of Paul’s warning and encouragement in Romans chapter 6 verse 23,
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (ESV).
Singleness, relationships, marriage are all incredibly messy, beautiful, and uncomfortable. My attempt here is not to speak lightly of the complexities of either the purpose of relationship or the contemporary challenge of singleness in a digital church.
Rather, my hope is that we would neither lose sight of the weight of sin as our churches seek relevance in an alien culture, nor that we would lose hope in all circumstances, regardless of where we find ourselves as individuals and communities.
Hailing from North Auckland, Blake Gardiner sounds American, looks Swedish, but grew up in Laos. As an introvert, Blake lives life on the edge by socialising. When he isn’t putting his life at such risk, he enjoys reading theology and debating whether Interstellar is truly the greatest movie of all time.