As far as I know, my wife Monica and I are friends with everyone at Telkwa CRC who is on Facebook. We are also friends with my mom (who just recently signed up to see what it’s all about) and Monica’s mom. Then there are several of our current and past colleagues as well as acquaintances we have made through our children at school whom we have befriended online.
I’m curious how widespread Facebook’s influence is in redefining friendship. Several years ago, we would not necessarily have thought of everyone in our online friends list as friends – some are relatives, some are colleagues, some are acquaintances. That doesn’t mean we don’t like them; it’s just that all these people are now lumped into a single category: “Friends.”
Rev. Peter H. Holtvlüwer, pastor of Spring Creek Canadian Reformed Church in Tintern ON, views this with alarm in his article I read last week. I appreciate his concern of the potential inappropriateness of considering someone in authority over us as a friend, an equal. And his observation is true that having hundreds of friends really does rob the word friendship of its value: A long list of friends may speak more of our selfish tendencies than the authenticity of our relationships with the people in our list of friends. (I mentioned this a year ago, too.)
On the other hand, I wonder if in one way, Facebook is actually redeeming our concept of friendship. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve seen the theme of friendship with God and with one another crop up quite often (most recently here and here). Jesus says to His 1st century and 21st century disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command… I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” When we are in Christ, we are friends with Jesus! It stands to reason, then, that if we are friends with Jesus, we are also friends with each other, regardless of how else we relate with one another.
To put it another way, I am my parents’ son, and the Bible teaches that I am to honour my father and mother. But they are also my brother and sister in Christ, are they not? Thinking of them as such does not negate the command to honour them, but it does remind them and me of how we are equals in a bigger sense – sinners equally in need of and receiving God’s grace!
Facebook friendships can remind us that before we see each other as parents, children, employers, employees, teachers, students, leaders or followers, we are sisters and brothers – and I’d like to add friends – in Christ. Who and what we are in Christ is what defines us first.
One last comment: I commend to you the section in Rev. Holtvlüwer’s article on “The Real You” as it’s a good reminder of how real friends relate – whether online or irl.