Few inventions in technology have so thoroughly transformed life as quickly as the Internet. From a government project in the 1960s to a communication platform for a small but growing coterie of fans in the 1990s, the Internet now commands the interest of billions around the world. Most people now have access to the Internet available at all times through computers or smartphones; we are able to access all sorts of information and communicate with all kinds of people around the world at any moment. The Internet might well usher in the greatest transformation of communication and learning since the development of writing.
For a long time many Christians approached the Internet with great ambivalence and concern. While Christians ought to have many concerns about how the Internet is used, most recognize how essential the Internet has become to modern life and communication. Within this century the yellow pages has become a relic of the past; a local church without a website or some social media presence might as well no longer exist, for who would be able to find out information about its presence and assembly times? Even if a person felt compelled to attempt to avoid using the Internet, their information and many of the processes they rely upon for life and services still do. The question is no longer regarding whether Christians will use the Internet; we now must grapple with how the Christian can use the Internet so as to glorify God in Christ.
Above all things we must recognize the Internet as a tool, a means by which information can be accessed and shared. It has become fashionable to blame the Internet for a host of social ills; while the Internet may facilitate, normalize, or provide easy access to sinful pursuits, all of the underlying desires and temptations existed long before the Internet was created (1 John 2:15-17). Far too often the Internet proves to be a mirror into the soul of those who use it; the ugliness, as well as the beauty, of the Internet simply reflects the ugliness and beauty present in humanity (James 1:23-25). The Internet, therefore, will be for us what we make of it: we decide whether to use the Internet for good or ill and profit or waste. We can learn to master our use of the Internet, or we can be tempted into allowing time on the Internet to become our master (cf. James 1:13-15).
Christians can use the Internet for many good purposes. Christians do well to promote and distribute the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection through websites and social media (Matthew 28:18-20). Christians can associate through social media networks, encouraging one another through spiritual messages and the maintenance of friendships around the country and the world, and able to effectively pray and support others in times of distress and difficulty (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:11-16). Christians can develop private forums in which they can ask spiritual questions of each other, grapple with difficult subjects constructively, and argue out various positions on doctrinal issues, with iron sharpening iron (cf. Proverbs 27:17).
Christians must be on guard against the use of the Internet for evil purposes. For decades pornography has driven the technological development of the Internet, a not insubstantial percentage of Internet traffic is devoted to it; we must diligently strive to avoid such dehumanization of sexuality and encourage each other to do the same (Matthew 5:28, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). If you can think of a vice or a sin, there are groups of people on the Internet who freely practice it and promote it; likewise, the Internet is saturated with false teachers promoting false doctrines, and we must diligently test the spirits to see what is true and false, hold firm to the good, and resist the evil (Romans 12:9, 1 Timothy 4:1-4, 1 John 4:1). It does not take long for us to learn to avoid reading the comments section on any prominent article, for in them we find all sorts of contentiousness, ugliness, and evil spouted forth with great vitriol (Ephesians 4:29, 31).
The Christian must learn discernment if he or she will effectively use the Internet. Anyone with a few dollars can now post a website and disseminate any information, or disinformation, they desire. In past times it proved difficult to access information; these days we are overwhelmed with information, and it now proves difficult to sort out good information from bad, the profitable from the frivolous. Major political and economic forces have learned how to utilize the Internet to influence people’s minds, hearts, and wallets, and often purposely mischaracterize and distort truth in order to advance their agenda. Christians must prove wise as serpents and innocent as doves in such matters (cf. Matthew 10:16): we must learn discernment and not spread disinformation or allow ourselves to be swept away by the propaganda machine of the people with whom we agree, and we must strive to speak truth according to the ways of God in Christ, seeking to honestly set forth what God has made known versus the opinions and doctrines of men.
The Christian must exercise self-control and discipline on the Internet (cf. 1 Peter 4:7). We must avoid the temptation to gratify lusts, to spend all our money, and to dedicate most of our time to the Internet. We can easily find ourselves distracted by the Internet for hours at a time. We may find it difficult to get substantive work done, or maintain or cultivate real life relationships, all because we have spent too much time on the Internet. For their physical and spiritual health Christians ought to establish some discipline in terms of their Internet use and know when to step away to refresh themselves, dedicate themselves to the work and study of God’s purposes, and interact with fellow Christians and members of their community (1 Corinthians 6:12, Galatians 6:10, 2 Timothy 2:15).
Within a short time the world has become dependent on the Internet. As Christians we must find ways to use the Internet to glorify God in Christ and to build one another up in Christ; we must strive to avoid temptations to sin, develop the ability to express ourselves according to righteousness, and develop self-control and self-discipline in our use of the Internet. May we strive to glorify God in Christ in all we do, online and offline!
Ethan R. Longhenry