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Ontario Technoblog

Ontario Emperor technology blog.

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Location: Ontario, California, United States

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Technology and Theology

Technology pops up in the most interesting contexts. Below I have reproduced an excerpt from a document issued by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod entitled "Public Rebuke of Public Sin: Considerations in Light of the Large Catechism Explanation of the Eighth Commandment." However, modern technology (as well as modern societal practices) results in the following question: what exactly is public today, and what is private?

In his commentary on the Eighth Commandment in the Large Catechism Luther spoke within the context of a relatively small community where people lived in close proximity to each other and routinely knew each other’s business. And in most cases, the community was identical to the local congregation....

The situation of the twenty-first century is very different. People in western societies in our day jealously guard their private lives. Much less of life is public now than it was in the sixteenth century, and most often members of a community know very little about each other. Therefore, any rebuke for sin, public or private, tends to be seen as an invasion of a person’s privacy. Even in LCMS congregations, we may hear that sin is a matter between God and the sinner only. Accordingly, the idea that an individual’s sin affects others in the community seems to have become increasingly foreign to many. The general failure to consider rebuke for any specific sin has led to the near obliteration of the distinction between public and private sin. In fact, we rarely need to consider this distinction because we seldom rebuke sin either publicly or privately. The end result is that most personal conduct tends to be regarded today as somehow private, a matter of concern only to the individual and to be judged only by God and his or her own conscience. The paradox of modernity is that the realm of the private has encroached even upon what is clearly public.

Modern communications media have also compounded the problem of what is public. Although we have enlarged the circle of what is considered private, we also have the ability instantly to make public whatever we wish through print, and especially through electronic media. E-mail lists, Internet chat rooms, and Web sites create possibilities for spreading reports that could not have been fathomed by Luther....

No deliberation at the local level is needed, when anyone can send an e-mail or post a rebuke on their Web site in response to a real or perceived sin. This situation creates some profound difficulties—not the least of which is that there is nothing in Scripture or the Confessions that justifies a public rebuke made unilaterally in the absence of conversation with others who are aware of the public sin (cf. Acts 18:24–26)....

Not only is it possible, but it is likely that a public rebuke will receive a wider audience than the public sin that elicited it. In other words, the rebuke has the side effect of publicizing the sin more widely, of making it known to an audience that had no prior knowledge of it. We must recognize that the number of people directly affected by a public sin might be limited. Although all members of the Synod are accountable to each other, in most cases it will only be necessary to deal with public sin at the local level. Publicity beyond that level may serve to scandalize more than to instruct. This observation should lead to a careful consideration of the audience for a public rebuke. It is neither necessary nor beneficial to involve all members of the Synod in every case of public sin. Those who would undertake a rebuke should take great care, therefore, in choosing their medium of communication and in determining their audience.

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