Who doesn’t love a good meme? They are visual. They are pithy. They are effective at making a point with minimal space and effort. And let’s face it, they are ideal in today’s attention deficit disorder world of social media and character limits.
Unfortunately, they also seem to be taking over. Ministry Facebook pages are now littered with memes, and one has to wonder how much edifying and useful conversation these short thoughts actually generate.
For those of you who are a bit less well-traveled in the social media world, a meme is, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” Wikipedia offers a much longer description of the word and its origin, but for the purposes of this article, let us simply offer the reader a few examples of some of the popular memes floating around “Christian” social media circles these days.
Memes and cartoons may be a clever way to deliver short bursts of spiritual truth, but they must stop being our primary “Shares” on social media. A meme cannot deliver the gospel. Pictures of characters from cult-classic movies are not as compelling as a personal proclamation of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. Please, Christian, stop relying on these gimmicks for your primary means of gospel communication. By doing so, you are little better than the seeker-sensitive pastor with his trendy sermon series.
Yes, you read that correctly. This fascination with memes—especially as a means of attacking false teachers—is a mere gimmick. It is a bandwagon, and not only must we question your creativity and originality when you hop aboard, creating your own collection of 25 different Willy Wonka-themed memes, we must also begin to examine your actual quest for truth. Limiting our theological thinking to pictures of well-known movie characters with witty one-liners is hardly fitting for a Christian who desires to see the truth and authority of Scripture upheld in these days of hostility against the gospel.
If they aren’t taking a verse out of context, memes are reducing an apologetic argument down to a pithy, perhaps even witty, and perhaps even accurate, one-line dagger. We then paste these one-liners onto pictures from pop culture or flowery backdrops, post them on social media, and call it a day. We’ve engaged in Christian “ministry.” We’ve said our piece. Or have we?
Have we effectively done our Christian duty, or have we merely demonstrated our own tendencies to accommodate and look like the world in our reasoning and engagement? Further, in many instances, have we allowed our sarcasm and snarkiness to prevail rather than the firm and uncompromising grace to which we are called?
Is it a sin to post a meme? No, of course not. And the intent of this post is not to say that memes cannot be a means of delivering succinct truth. Let us return to this notion of gimmicks. Dear meme-obsessed Christian, memes are a gimmick—and they ultimately shortchange the truth. Test yourself sometime. Do you find yourself thinking in memes? Do you find yourself reading a book or listening to a sermon with a primary purpose of identifying a witty line to plug into your meme generator? Reader, we are called to so much more. We are called to study, treasure, teach, and proclaim the Word of God—all of it. We are called to engage our minds in the things of the Lord, and to use those same minds to serve Him well. Our meme-posting may not be sinful, but is it helpful? Is it edifying? Does it glorify Christ? Let all these things take priority.
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Everything works to some end in things natural and artificial; now, man being a rational creature, must propose some end to himself, and that should be, that he may lift up God in the world. He had better lose his life than the end of his living. The great truth asserted is that the end of every man’s living should be to glorify God. Glorifying God has respect to all the persons in the Trinity; it respects God the Father who gave us life; God the Son, who lost his life for us; and God the Holy Ghost, who produces a new life in us; we must bring glory to the whole Trinity. (Thomas Watson, “Man’s Chief End Is to Glorify God“)