We have seen a great revolution in technology develop before our very eyes in the past 20 years: the Internet. A form of technology once reserved for the military, government, and universities, the Internet now plays an important role in culture and in the lives of many people. The Internet now allows us to communicate with others around the world; it has fundamentally reshaped how people interact with their environment and with one another. Rarely has so much change occurred in so little time!
While the technology may be new, human nature is not (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Many of the same human impulses that have existed in the “real world” for millennia are also now present online. As with most such change, thought of propriety and ethics has lagged behind the technological developments. It is good, then, for us to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) and consider the profitability of the Internet: is it something worth using?
The Internet can be a source of great good. Christians can more easily communicate with one another, both on the level of the local church and the universal church. Prayer requests can be expedited, and more people than ever can be praying for those in need (James 5:16). The Internet also facilitates interaction among Christians through social media; spiritually minded websites and weblogs feature prominently in the encouragement and edification of many Christians. Through these and other online resources, we can now associate continually with other Christians, both near and far, just as the first Christians associated daily in Jerusalem (Acts 2:46). we can now associate continually with other Christians, both near and far, online.
Perhaps the greatest potential of the Internet is found in evangelism. Recent studies have shown that people are more comfortable accessing religious information online, and a large percentage of Internet users have done so. An individual or a congregation can host a website and harness social media like Facebook and Twitter to allow visitors to hear lessons, read spiritual material, and learn more about the church in their own homes without feeling like they are being “sold” a belief system. We would do well to harness this potential (Matthew 28:18-20)!
Unfortunately, there is also great opportunity for evil on the Internet. Ever since the Internet began gaining popularity, many promoters of sin–pornographers, gambling outfits, con men, and the like–have gone online to peddle their wares. The anonymity of the Internet and the ability to access it within one’s own home have led to the great popularity of such forms of sin. It is possible to avoid such sins online, and all effort should be made to do so. There is no room for sexually deviant behavior, covetousness, gambling, lying, and such things in the lives of Christians (Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:1-5)!
The Internet also has its ugly side. Many of the same tools that can be used for good can turn ugly: just as the truth can be promoted online, so can false teachings, and many have been promoted and spread far more effectively than in years past (2 Peter 2:1-22, etc.). The Internet reduces many barriers, allowing for communication with those with other belief systems: this allows us to teach the truth, but it also allows for greater influence by many who teach contrary to the truth revealed once for all (cf. Jude 1:3). The temptation to sin by the tongue online remains strong: Christians may stumble while discussing spiritual matters online, since it is too easy to forget that one is communicating with other people when one simply types on a computer (James 3:2-12).
In the end, the Internet is not intrinsically good or evil. The Internet is a tool which can be used for good or evil: the choice is given to those who use it. Let us, therefore, use the Internet as a tool for good, to promote the Kingdom, and thus honor and glorify God!