The Christian and Modern Communications Technology
by Ken Cooper (Bromborough)
Many older believers grew up at a time when communication with fellow believers, other than personal contact, would have been by letter or telephone. Distance made communication more difficult. When, for example, a person went overseas for missionary purposes, contact was extremely limited (and home visits were rare).
Such arrangements are unimaginable today. Modern communications technology has transformed life, especially for young people. It is often said “The world has become a smaller place”. Radio, television, mobile phones and computer technology have developed at an incredible pace over the last two decades. Technology now dominates working life, recreational activity and personal relationships.
The internet has become an essential part of the world’s communications infrastructure. Sadly, while the internet is not evil in itself, it has been used for evil purposes and in many ways it has become a tool for satanic activity. It is, of course, not alone in this regard.
It would be difficult to contest the argument that God can and will use some of these modern technologies for good. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these facilities. Correctly used they can make modern life much easier. They can be used as positive aids in some aspects of the Lord’s work. But they have also brought many difficulties and personal dilemmas for God’s people. Problems arising from the use and misuse of computer facilities and their derivatives have been more significant than at first imagined.
The use of some technology has led to a diminution in good manners. The number of people in society today who are incapable of entering into the normal activities of daily life without having a mobile phone to their ear or being engaged in texting is disconcerting. In working life and on public transport non-users of mobile phones have to endure other people’s conversations, often about total irrelevancies, conducted at high volume.
Regrettably many Christians have embraced such anti-social habits. Social occasions are disturbed by mobile phones. Assembly meetings are disturbed by mobile phones. The pattern seems to be that as soon as a meeting has ended the first action of some saints is to reach for their mobile phone or other electronic gadgets. Does this suggest that the ministry given was of little consequence and that disconnection from the world outside is something that cannot be endured for longer than an hour?
This is not simply the practice of young believers. Many older saints have also become slaves to their mobile phones. One wonders how we ever managed to cope with life without these gadgets.
Times of fellowship in the home are now frequently interrupted by a buzzing or vibrating sound. Meetings are increasingly disturbed by mobile phones issuing forth some inane jingle. We do not need Scripture to tell us that such behaviour betrays a lack of good manners.
Technology in Meetings
The increasing use of electronic gadgets in meetings is of concern. Technology may be helpful to assist those with a disability (e.g. hearing impairment) but one questions the necessity for the increasing use of Bibles in electronic format, I pads and mobile phones in meetings.
It would be unfair to criticise when technology is used positively (e.g. for note taking) but it is not absolutely essential. Use of technical equipment in meetings can be a distraction and causes offence to some (1 Cor. 8:9). The surreptitious use of technology to record ministry without permission is a further example of bad manners. It has been known for devices to be used to play games in meetings or for exchanging text messages. Those who have electronic equipment must ensure that it is used in an appropriate way.
The view of the author is that electronic gadgets are best not brought to meetings. Temptation to misuse them is thereby avoided. The use of a hard copy Bible is a positive act of testimony. Carrying a Bible distinguishes us from the world. Carrying a mobile phone or computer does not.
Christians and the Internet
In addition to its use in employment and recreational activities, there are five main areas in which modern electronic technology is used by believers today. These are:
- To support the study of Scripture.
- To record and distribute oral ministry.
- To create local assembly websites.
- In the propagation of the Gospel.
- On a personal basis through social networks.
In most of these activities the technology, if used judiciously and safely, can have a great value. However a number of words of caution are offered.
As far as the study of Scripture is concerned, the internet provides much helpful material. However it also carries an abundance of false teaching, blasphemous publications and anti-Christian propaganda. Bible students need to be very cautious about any material where the author is unknown or has not been personally recommended by respected fellow believers. Just because a thing has the word “Christian” attached this does not mean it is automatically appropriate to use.
As far as recorded ministry is concerned, there is a wealth of good teaching available from assembly based teachers. This can be very helpful to listen to when travelling or as a basis for study. However it is not always helpful, sometimes ministry is given to meet specific local needs, often the recording is of poor quality and in many cases the rules of etiquette have been ignored (e.g. where the explicit permission of the ministering brother to record and distribute the ministry has not been sought).
As far as assembly websites are concerned, these can be very helpful information points, evangelistic tools and the source of good teaching. However the aim should not be to have the most expansive website to promote a name. At times the content is injudicious, unnecessary for the world outside and would be better restricted under password control. It must be appreciated that these websites do not belong to any one person in the assembly and they must represent fairly the views and intentions of the whole assembly. Editorial policy is critical. No one individual should be allowed to decide arbitrarily upon the content of an assembly website. Assembly elders should closely control the content on assembly websites as part of their wider responsibilities to guard the flock. The value, security and integrity of many assembly websites could be called into question.
There is no doubt that the gospel can be spread via the internet. But it must be recognised that this is no substitute for local preaching and personal evangelism.
The second article will specifically address the use of social networks by Christians.
Christians and the use of social networking tools
This second article specifically addresses the use of internet based social networks.
Millions of people are using social networking sites today. Many Christians also use these facilities. Some see these networks as our future mission field while others view them as positive arrangements for promoting fellowship between the Lord’s people. In contrast, others view them as an enormous waste of time, or as having a sinister edge which promotes unnecessary gossip and unhelpful discussion among believers.
The view of the author is that internet based social networks are best avoided. But in reality, such is their widespread use by believers; it is unlikely this trend will be reversed. Believers should consider the following in their use of social networking sites:
- Used by individuals they exist essentially to promote self, to draw attention to self and endorse the “me” culture in which we live. This seems to be directly contradictory to the meek and lowly spirit that should mark every Christian (Col. 3:12).
- They pose a threat to personal privacy. At a superficial level basic personal information on these sites can show our interests and how we spend our time. Lives are put on public display. The sites, despite security and access restrictions, display personal information to the world. The lack of privacy may arise because of the inadequacy of the account manager but breaches of security are commonplace on many computer sites. The security safeguards are not sufficiently adequate to prevent unsavoury content being added to a believer’s account even if only for a short period. Personal information added in innocence can be manipulated and misused. It can be used selectively, edited unscrupulously and taken out of context.
- Any use of the internet potentially exposes us to unsavoury people and content. Safety precautions and privacy safeguards are no guarantee of confidentiality. Social media sites considerably exacerbate the problem. It is a fact for example that there are 83 million people on Facebook with bogus identities with undoubted sinister motives.
- Social media networks are addictive and have become a “god” to many. They consume an inordinate amount of time on matters which in other circumstances would not gain a second thought or on matters that can be damaging to self and others.
- They have been used to promote division among the Lord’s people. They have been used by believers to express disquiet about circumstances in their own assembly. Facebook for example has been used to undermine the decisions of local elders. At times discussions about certain topics have compromised local autonomy.
- They can be and have been the source of gossip, bullying, malicious action, open slander and abuse by God’s people against fellow believers.
- The content, despite the good intentions of the participant, can be easily misunderstood and, used selectively, can damage an individual’s testimony.
- They can be and have been used to promote the pursuit of inappropriate relationships.
- They can damage family relationships and be a basis for children openly disobeying parents.
- Use of these facilities promotes a worldly lifestyle. Some may challenge this statement but a brief perusal of the Facebook entries of some believers indicates that they have moved far closer to the things that are condemned in Scripture. Put simply, these social media sites are allowing the inroads of the world. Old things that should have passed away are still very much in the minds of God’s people. There are of course many other ways in which the world can make inroads into our lives but the content of some personal social media accounts gives rise to great concern as to what some believers are taken up with.
Some will argue that many of the concerns raised manifest themselves irrespective of electronic social media networks. Many of these criticisms could be equally levelled against other forms of social interaction. Many of the problems suggested can also be associated with longer established media. All this is true.
There is a danger of hypocrisy and Pharisaic attitude. For example, there is no doubt that those who condemn the possession of a television while actively participating in internet use are guilty of hypocrisy. The basic difference however is that there has been a step change through the use of internet and social networking sites. The audience is potentially worldwide, any damage done is often irretrievable and the ability to control or contain a local problem has been lost. The increased concern relates to one of scale and the extent to which damage can be done.
It is the view of the author that, notwithstanding the good intentions and right motives of many users of social networking sites (such as Facebook and its like); they should be avoided by believers if at all possible. We are called to “love not the world” (1 John 2:15) and to “be…separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). Social networking sites are fundamentally worldly and draw us into unnecessary contact with worldly things and people.
Many readers may protest against this view. The plea is that any believer who chooses to use sites such as Facebook should consider their actions carefully. Too often it is a step taken in haste without full consideration of the relevant issues. Sometimes it has led to untold damage in the lives of God’s people.
Use of the internet is almost (but not completely) unavoidable by today’s younger generation. Use of social networking sites is avoidable. Whichever we use there is a need for wisdom, discretion and dignity. Great caution is required. The scriptures which govern our speech apply equally to what we write to the internet. Consider the following verses:
Eph. 5:4 refers to “foolish talking”. How much of that is prevalent on social networks?
Col. 4:6 says “let your speech be always with grace”. How much has this been lost through the low standards that prevail on social networks?
Jas. 4:11 says “speak not evil one of another”. There is evidence to suggest that this command is ignored in some social electronic exchanges, both explicitly and implicitly.
2 Cor. 12:20 speaks of “debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults” which could describe many of the exchanges on social networks.
There is a danger of naivety among believers in relation to the potential problems that social network usage can give rise to.
The use of social networking sites, justified on the grounds of being used as an evangelistic tool, when patently they are not accomplishing that goal, is something to be wary of.
The question must be asked whether social networking sites have any positive value for the believer. Are the potential problems fully appreciated? In light of the concerns above there can be little doubt that the spiritual life of many would be enhanced by abandoning social networking sites.