Alias Christianity, Part I

With the increase of iPhone holders, Facebook users, video-game players, Instagram posters, Snapchat senders, Spotify listeners, text-message writers, and hashtag creators, the word “friendship” has dwindled in the last 30 years to a means of “accept” or “decline.” The common relationship reeks of letters on a screen and the amount of likes on a photo instead of two people trusting each other and looking into each other’s eyes. Paul said to the church in Rome: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I fear that the world, its technologies, and all that there is to discover in the cyber, app-abundant world, is transforming our current generation. I fear that we have strayed from the heart of the apostles and their obsession with Christ by consuming our lives with technology instead of consuming our hearts and minds with Christ.

I have several aliases that I will describe to you. We’ve all seen the movies where the FBI finds a man who has 10 passports, all with different names. The aliases I will describe are similar; they’re falsified lifestyles to give others an impression of a life that isn’t there—consider it a fake ID. It’s usually a way to present ourselves to others with the exact measure we choose, likely withholding negative subdivisions in our lifestyle— interchanging parts of our personality and character we wish for others not to see. There are several aliases commonly prescribed to in normality.

The first is the Idealistic Alias. This useful tool tends to masquerade as an angel of light, appealing to both the world and the disciple, but especially to me. The Idealistic Alias goes by many names, but most people refer to it as Facebook. The “Facebook status” is one of many ways of letting everyone know I’m still spiritual and still devoted to God, while my pictures show the side of me I want the world to see, with just the right lighting. I’ll spend 10 minutes thinking of a status to get 30 likes, because that’s what tells me my friends all approve of the way I think; it feeds my confidence and boosts my ego. I also have the ability to “accept” or “decline” a friend. I have 1,100 friends that all get to see my life, what status I choose to write, what relationship I’m in, what I do or don’t talk about, the classes I take in college, the jobs I get after college. A marriage proposal is even more special now because 2,000 people get to see step-by-step photos of the intimate moment someone shared with their future spouse. What’s more, I have a constant information feed occurring in the security and accessibility of my own pocket on my iPhone, and on my Macbook in my backpack, my computer at work, my iPad on the coffee tab

le, and all of my friend’s pockets in case I miss something. I’m learning about people’s lives that I may have only met once, or I have no idea who he is or where he comes from, but we have 50 mutual friends, so it’s okay for me to be involved in his life (I speak facetiously, of course).

Second, there’s the Cell Phone Alias. With this alias, I get to share conversations with people that I would never have with them in person. I get to call them my friend because we text a lot. I get to express emotions behind the security of my screen that I don’t have the vulnerability to express face-to-face. I’m able to use characters like “!” and “:)” to express the pseudo-emotion that I’m enjoying my conversation with them—that I’m excited or happy. These conversations can happen in the midst of brokenness and despair. Nowadays, men can even flirt with girls simply by using this emoji or that smiley face. Behind the confidence that our cell-phone screen provides, a man can stir a woman’s heart and manipulate her thoughts just by a simple word progression, without ever having to look her in the eye! Likewise, men become less manly. Instead of asking a girl to dinner face-to-face, sending a text will work just as well; it helps with the pain and humanity of rejection and it waters down the intimacy of any real relationship. Our culture teaches us to create the alias we want others to perceive, but to hold in what’s truly in our hearts. Using words with our mouths might be more human than we’re willing to give, so we often resort to texting on our phones and messaging on you name what interface. I can invest in a relationship all the way in New York or Africa or India or China and live my whole life not knowing my next-door neighbor’s first name, all because my cell phone connects me to the Internet. It gives me limitless possibilities and networks. In the same way, I feel invested in every area of the world enough to keep my mouth shut in my class lectures, and to shrink back at work, and to let the thousands of people in my own city remain pass-byers, people I will never need to meet because it never crosses my mind that I should meet them. How does this affect our approach to God? When all we know is the relationships we build over our technology, using an alias, we may not know how to build our relationship with God. We can’t text him. We can’t Snapchat him. He won’t like our post on Instagram. He knows far more than the “About Me” section that our Facebook provides, or our list of job competencies that LinkedIn shows. God already knows the inner workings of our hearts and he knows more than our iPhone is capable of reproducing. Approaching God like we’re approaching our relationships—from a distance, behind a screen, with the smallest attention span— is unacceptable. Approaching God under any sort of alias won’t work because God knows the real you, no matter what fake ID you hand him.

Are we living the way Jesus called us to live, or are we conforming to the patterns of this world? I know that the world upsells Facebook and networking and cell-phone plans and “unlimited talk and text.” I know today’s generation, everywhere you look, is a Facebook user. We don’t even ask people if they have a Facebook anymore, we just ask them what their name is and look them up, knowing they are already on Facebook. I will speak audaciously and say that I don’t think Paul would have spent hours a day being up-to-date on the latest dating couples, Facebook statuses, and photo uploads while he silently coexists with 3,000 students at school who may not know the gospel. Peter, who was crucified upside down, wouldn’t have scrolled through Instagram on his iPhone for the hour leading up to being asleep each night. Bartholomew, who was unwilling to denounce the deity of Christ, and was then flayed before being crucified, would have been appalled at the amount of time we spend using all forms of social media. There are seven billion people in the world that we’ve been charged to spread the gospel to. How much courage does it take to send a text message to someone? None. But to open our mouths and look people in the eye; this is what sets us apart from the ocean of people with their head down at their screens. And this is the kind of confidence we need to have when approaching God as disciples. We refer to iPhones, Droids and the like as “Smartphones” while all the rest are “Dumbphones.” The Dumbphones weren’t dumb 10 years ago. They were an amazing invention that everyone wanted a part of. Will our perception of the current Smartphone be considered a Dumbphone in 10 years? Will we never be satisfied? However, I do think Paul and Peter and many of the first century disciples would have seized this opportunity given us. They would likely have used social media and cell-phone convenience to advance the gospel monumentally. Surely Paul would have preferred a computer screen and a keyboard when writing his many letters to the churches. Of course Luke would have loved having an iPad to record his research in writing Acts. What about the crowds listening to Jesus? Having a tablet would have given them all their own devices for recording the gospel, every time Jesus opened his mouth! Or consider Paul’s listeners in Acts; they could have used their Bible App to see if what Paul said was true. The technology itself isn’t a negative thing. The problem arises in the amount we use these tools and in the way we use them.

If Jesus were to return now and analyze the usage of your cell-phones, what would his response be? A tell tale sign of an unhealthy addiction in our lives is whether or not we can comfortably give it up without thinking twice. Can we “joyfully accept the confiscation of [our] property” like the disciples in Hebrews 10:34? Would our reaction to downgrading from an iPhone be joy? What about deleting Instagram? Maybe even just stop using Facebook? What if someone took all of these things from us by force? Would we be angry or upset? Here we sit, reading our Bible, discovering history of men and women who were tortured and murdered because they wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus. We read about Jesus as the very Son of God we worship and then we shut our books (or close our Bible apps) and carry on. Later that day, we pat ourselves on the back if we open our mouth once to one person. Jesus didn’t have mediocre Christianity in mind when he called us to reach the nations. He didn’t envision a million Christians spending their whole lives consumed in a computer screen. He imagined bold men and women living radically, obsessing about Him and having the undying desire to always have the gospel on their lips and in their hearts. Let’s rethink the way we spend our time, and let’s live radically. The reason so many people died for their faith in the early church was because they wouldn’t stop speaking about Jesus. Let’s revisit the culture of early Christianity that is so different than the world and let’s learn to speak to people again, not only by way of text-message or Facebook or Twitter, but by looking them in the eye, face-to-face. Let’s be radical and set apart. Let’s use the advances in technology that we have today to make advances in the gospel! Let’s transform our minds so that we are different than the world. Let’s be obsessed and addicted to pursuing the gospel, not consumed and ailed by more and more notifications.

For a related series, listen to the lessons by Steve Brand & Douglas Jacoby, Escape!