I had never heard of Matt Netzer, the 44-year-old minister of RockPile Church in Marble Falls, Texas, who tragically died in an automobile accident last Friday, leaving behind a young family. On the list of high-profile evangelicals, most-read Christian bloggers, or bestselling theology writers, I can't say that I've ever come across Mr. Netzer's name.
Yet, with all due respect to those prominent, prestigious voices that seem to define modern evangelicalism and represent us to a watching world, I can't say that I have read much from them as profound, important, prudent and wise as the words Netzer spoke to his congregation just hours before his death.
The Christian Post quoted his thoughtful insights:
"Everyone wants to speak out on the riots, on Trump, on Biden, on race, on lockdowns and masks, on the elections, on conspiracies, on Democrats, on Republicans...everyone has a thought, a judgment, a post just itching to be made. Just like we did all 2020.
I know, I'm there with you, I've made and deleted about 1,000 statuses, and that's probably a good thing since I've also changed my mind about 1,000 times as my own emotions have fluctuated.
But really, the posts are made, and the needle doesn't move. In fact, it usually just leads to more fighting. Turns out, everyone having an instant platform has not been beneficial for the most part, I'd say the social media experiment has largely failed. Heck, social media may even be one of the biggest culprits for the anger and violence in our country.
I'm making a call to myself and to my own church to pray more and post less. I truly believe that social media, and all the noise it brings, is actually serving to hinder the only real thing that is going to change hearts and bring any kind of healing to our brokenness…so make sure you, at least, pray before you post."
I think Netzer's conclusion that social media is one of the biggest perpetrators in the tribalistic fragmenting and fracturing of our goodwill towards others is spot on. For all its possibilities, the polarization and radicalization taking place on these platforms is anything but inconspicuous. I actually just wrote myself a few days ago:
"While it's true that Washington's performance-politics drives unhealthy tribalism, it's our people's own growing addiction to social media that pits us against one another in a cesspool of nameless, faceless hatred."
Personally, I'm a believer that the best kind of Christian commentary is that which mimics, repeats, affirms, or is otherwise grounded in God's word. And that's precisely what Netzer did in this challenge to his congregation. A challenge, which has now because of his tragic death, become amplified outward to a much wider audience.
The Almighty was not confused when He counseled His children to be "quick to listen and slow to speak." Not only does it allow us to properly discern the context, variables, and perspectives of others that might otherwise be lost in the heat of the moment, it sets us apart from the impulsive, judgmental, hot-take culture that surrounds us. It makes us shine like stars in an impetuous universe, contrasting the light of grace with the darkness of online contempt.
Netzer didn't mean, nor should we infer, that Christian engagement on pressing cultural issues isn't warranted, or in any way absent from a mature Christian witness. His is not a call for less Christian commentary, but rather a more measured, reasoned, winsome kind that distinguishes itself from, and provides a useful alternative to, the vitriolic garbage offered by the world.
As someone who admittedly battles the urge to tweet, post, comment, and retort quicker than he should (I blame my parents for naming me after the Apostle Peter whose impulsive tongue has clearly rubbed off on me), I found Netzer's words to be intensely convicting and beneficial. I'm hopeful I'm not alone.
As an aside, this entire situation offers one more valuable lesson to believers who are paying attention. While you and I are hearing this solid teaching and biblical admonition because of the young minister's untimely death, his congregation would have heard it regardless. That's what happens in a local church.
There is no substitute for an active, vibrant, Scripture-loving, Christ-worshipping body of believers meeting the first day of each week to share the Apostles' teaching, fellowship, and a remembrance of the Lord's death and resurrection. If anything is going to check our wicked human nature – online or not – it's gathering regularly with fellow believers, encouraging and building one another up in the faith.
Whatever else we may say, this should serve as yet another reminder that we must not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing. To change the world, Christ gave us His church. His followers will be a part of it.
God bless the family and memory of Matt Netzer, and may his wise counsel be heard and heeded by those of us who worship the very Jesus he has now met face to face.