When Memes Become Our Theology

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Social media and memes.  They seem to be made for each other.  If you’re looking for laughs, they often give great comic relief, particularly in this difficult time we are facing.  

But as I’ve seen many of the memes that regularly get posted and shared, I felt compelled to share a few thoughts.  This is the main one:

“Never get your theology from memes.”

Typically memes are short, to the point statements that, on the surface, may seem to encapsulate a current issue, and they claim to shed some grander truth about the issue at hand. 

There’s an old saying though that stated “inquiring minds want to know...” But there’s a deeper truth, that Jesus reminded us of, and that we should consider particularly when memes are involved:

“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” John 7:24

With this in mind, let’s look at just one meme that is making its way around social media this week.  Last week a pastor in Florida was arrested because he chose to assemble his congregation, in spite of precautionary health advisories by the local governing authorities. Without arguing the merits of the case, that he will be mounting with the help of  Liberty Counsel, I’d like to share some thoughts from the Bible, versus the Constitution.

The meme I recently saw would seem to correlate the “assembling” that occurs at Walmart, where people are buying food and supplies, with the “assembling” at church.  It said of Walmart, "We can gather here" but of the church it said "But we can't responsibly gather here."  I would suggest though that conflating these two examples is like comparing apples with planets (versus oranges).

Walmart and such establishments are physical buildings that house physical products that we must all have to function physically.  Without securing these products, at some point we will die physically.

But the building in this meme, while depicting a church, is not THE church.  Rather, it’s just a building.  The Bible, from where our theology should flow, is very clear that we should “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” But the church is not a place or a building, rather it is the body of believers in Christ, locally as well as all over the world.  Assembling can occur in many different manners and sizes.  This has been the case since the book of Acts, when the first assembly of believers began.  And to this day, believers in nations all over the world, are sometime forced to meet even secretly, in their homes, for fear of death or persecution.  

But there’s another aspect to this meme that I believe flows from the spirit that is implanted within the DNA of most Americans.  It is the spirit that asserts our rights above all else, and the attitude of ”no one is ever going to deprive me as an American of my rights.” But is this the “right” attitude to have about rights, if you and I are followers of Jesus?  Are we first Americans, or is our citizenship a heavenly one, that should shape and guide all of our responses?

To answer that question we should look to the one we claim to follow:  Jesus.  His example, and the examples of the “founding fathers” of our faith, the 12 Apostles, reveal a very different attitude about rights than the one that Americans consistently demonstrate, including my own.  

We demand.  They gave up.
We complain.  They gave thanks.
We gripe.  They praised God.
We protest.  They accepted.
We resist.  They submitted.
We live.  They died.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that there is not a place for organizations like Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, and others, to pursue justice in our courts.  I know the men who lead these organizations, and they are good men, and followers of Jesus.  From a purely American Constitutional standpoint I’m sure that Liberty Counsel will represent their client well and will insure the pastor’s constitutional rights are followed.

But there is a difference between an organization appealing to an earthly judge, to enforce the laws of the land, and appealing to The Supreme Judge of the universe to protect and sustain us.  The Apostle Paul was beaten many, many times, and once he actually asserted his Roman citizenship to avoid an unjust beating.  But besides Paul’s limited example, we see Jesus, and the twelve apostles consistently and repeatedly giving up their rights, submitting to an evil governmental system, and in every instance, except for the Apostle John, they all were executed for their faith.

Americans are big on rights, demanding everything enumerated in the Bill of Rights and more. But true Christianity is about giving up one’s rights. And it’s also about loving our neighbors. When we irresponsibly gather in large groups, we place others, including our neighbors, at risk.

It seems this is an opportunity for the church to humble itself, pray, confess, and serve, not rise up, gripe, complain, and demand.

So I’m less concerned personally about demanding rights, that we can voluntarily relinquish as our spiritual forefathers did, than I am about the church not suffering a black eye as we attempt to be the light in this present darkness.

My point is we are missing the big point of what is going on, in my view, if we simply focus on demanding a “right.”  What if we responded like Daniel when his government demanded that he stop praying to God and that he could only offer prayers to the king?  Daniel simply went home, without griping and complaining, he opened his window, and knelt in humility to God and began to pray. No building. No congregation. Just Daniel and God.

Let’s be like Daniel in the midst of the greatest crisis of most of our lifetimes.  Let’s be like the Apostles, who submitted themselves to a cruel and evil system, that ultimately took their lives.  And let’s be like Jesus, who we are told:

“He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” ??1 Peter? ?2:23?

And then let’s follow Solomon in doing what he suggested His people should do when they found themselves in the midst of a calamity:

“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” ??2 Chronicles? ?7:14?

Mark West



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