The Internet

by Greg Gay


In the ancient past, information traveled only as fast as people were able to travel from place to place. For example, 2 Sam. 18:18-33 is the story of how men ran from the place of battle to the place where David the King was waiting to give him the news his son Absalom had died.

And David sat between the two gates: and the watchman went up to the roof over the gate unto the wall, and lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold a man running alone (2 Sam 18:24).

This was a common way of sharing news. A person could run to report a verbal message, as in the case of the scripture just cited, or one could carry a written message as they traveled from place to place, as in the case of Bathsheba's husband Uriah, the Hittite, who carried a letter from King David to Joab, the commander of battle. If you recall, the letter he carried was Uriah's own death sentence (2 Sam. 11:14-15). Another written correspondence carried from place to place was the letter from the church at Jerusalem speaking against the false teachers who were claiming to be sent out by the church (Acts 15: 23-31). In Phil. 2:25 Paul mentions Epaphroditus as the "messenger" of the Philippians who had carried their gifts to him and was now returning with his letter. Paul says, "Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me" Phil. 2:30.

In the history of the United State there have been many advances in increasing the speed of travel and communication. One of the first books I was given as a boy was The First Overland Mail. It tells the story of how John Butterfield's horse and mule drawn stagecoaches set speed records in 1858 when they transported the US Mail from St. Louis to San Francisco in 23 days, 23 1/2 hours (127). While the railroad did exist then, it was only in the East. The West was starting to be populated, particularly in Salt Lake City by the Mormons and in California by the gold miners and there was a need for regular mail service.

The coast-to-coast connection for the railroad was completed in 1869 making stagecoach journeys unnecessary. Later advances in travel include automobiles, trucks, and airplanes. While these all have purposes of transporting people and goods they are also used to help speed up communication.

When the world of electricity came into existence communication was one of its applications. The advantage is obvious because a person does not have to travel with the message, the message can travel by itself. Other attempts to do this were not reliable-such as the beating of drums, smoke signals, or carrier pigeons. Each of these had severe limitations. With electricity came telegrams in 1844. This was later joined by the telephone in 1876 for which we have circled the globe with wire so we can talk. In the last few years the wireless telephone has been commercialized. Cellular phones have revolutionized speech communication today to a level never before imagined.

At one time a telephone was constructed like a piece of furniture that hung on a wall. In order to talk on it you had to stand and face it. Telephones have gone from being a luxury to a necessity in most homes in America and something we very much take for granted. Cellular phones are almost as common for many. Not too long ago we had Tye, Chris and Rachelle in our van going somewhere together. Between us, we had four cellular phones in the car. We would have had five, but Chris did not have his phone with him. We think little of this, but it is a stark contrast to travel in other countries where such is not the case.

Visual images have been commonly preserved through the years by drawings and paintings. As recently as the beginning of our country, the only things we have that give us the likeness of George Washington are artists' rendering of him. The Revolutionary War is only captured by paintings and drawings, but by the time of the Civil War in the mid 1800's photographs were possible. Remember the image of the person under the cape and the huge camera on a tripod while the people being photographed looked so uncomfortable? We have gone from that rudimentary process to digital cameras today that record an image that can easily be modified and duplicated.

Along the way the process was developed to film people and objects in motion and the movies were born, first silent, then later with sound. That developed into a very specialized, technical process, from which has come the simplified equipment today of video cameras. These too, are very, very common around the world.

So, what does all this have to do with the Internet? The Internet is not a new means of communicating and sharing information. The Internet takes common means of communication and entertainment and makes them accessible in a new way. Let me give you some examples:

Writing letters is not new. Letters have been written for thousands of years as we know. But now, it is possible to write, send, and receive letters to and from computers using the Internet. Not only possible, but also very easy.

Talking to someone on a telephone is not new. That technology has been around a long time. But now, it is possible to use the Internet to make phone calls and thereby bypass long distance charges for the most part. The software is available, the equipment is available. My brother-in-law Wyn Baker has and uses the equipment for this. Telephone companies don't like this, as you can imagine, and are continually fighting for new ways to increase their revenue from the Internet.

Listening to music is not new. The technology to listen to music has been around since Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph in 1877. But now, it is possible to use the Internet to listen to thousands of songs. The album Terry and Becky Baze, Rod Watson and I recorded a few years ago is available on David Risner's web site. Recording companies are working on allowing stores who sell music the right to create digital copies of their materials right in the store, possible eliminating the huge stocks of ready made tapes and CD's except for blanks waiting to be made into your purchase.

Reading a book is not new. The ability to print a book has been around a long time. But now, it is possible to put the image of the printed book on the Internet where people who will never see the book in person can find it, read it's pages, and print it if they choose to.

Taking pictures is not new. The photography process has been around a long time. But now, the ability to put pictures on the Internet is possible. The pictures range from innocent photographs of people, places and things to horrible pornography.

Video cameras are not new. Many movies have been made through the years and many families have video cameras. But now, the ability to put videos on the net is available. Also the ability to connect a video camera to the Internet is possible. Thus, there can be a live camera placed just about anywhere. Examples include: a day care center so parents can check on their children. A wild bear area in the Alaskan wilderness. San Francisco's Bay Bridge for traffic updates. Individuals who have cameras in their home that are on all the time to entice voyeurs to access their website.

The playing of games is not new. There are thousands of games to play. But now, the ability to play games with people remotely is possible. A man at work plays Civil War battle reenactments with his brother and they E-mail their moves back and forth. There are Internet games that are interactive, where you sign on for live play with others around the world. The Wall Street Journal recently reported world Chess Champion Garry Kasparov is playing chess against the world, via the Internet (August 19, 1999).

Buying goods and services is not new. But now, the Internet has connections to millions of web sites that allow the purchase of goods and services. You want to buy a house? Home listings for many communities are on the Internet. You can go on near-virtual tours of houses for sale via the Internet where each room can be viewed from any corner or entrance. You want to buy a plane ticket? There are many travel services available. Want to buy a book? There are many links available offering millions of books. Want to tour a museum? There are many sites available that take you from room to room so you can see what is there. Want to participate in an auction to buy just about anything? There are many on the Internet. Want to buy groceries and have them delivered to your home? My boss' daughter uses that service in Portland. She has two small babies with another one on the way. It is much easier to access the web site of the local grocery distributor and select items to be delivered than to go to the grocery store. Plus, since she is purchasing directly from a warehouse the pricing is competitive. That service is expanding to many other areas soon.

You see, in many ways the Internet is not anything new. What is new is the ability to combine so many known means of communication and entertainment into one medium.

Originally the Internet grew out of an idea developed by the military so there could continue to be communications if there was widespread destruction in our country. The theory was that many computers linked via many phone lines which route around non-functioning lines would be better than if there were just a few large computers serving the communication needs everywhere.

To use the Internet requires a computer with a modem and a connection to a telephone line. Once you have an Internet service provider's software on your computer you are ready to go. The cost is negligible. In addition to equipment costs you pay for the right to use the service provider's software and for the telephone connection from your computer to an Internet server in your area. As long as the connection to the server is a local call, it costs nothing to access Internet sites all over the world.

Traffic on the World Wide Web had grown at an astronomical pace, with an estimated 121 Million Internet users around the world today, with the vast majority 79 million being in North America (CommerceNet) One prediction estimates there will be 545 million Internet user accounts by the year 2003.

I don't think it would be wise to say the Internet is another hula hoop. I believe it is here to stay and will only become more and more common in years to come.

Communication using the Internet

Several types of communication are available via the Internet. We will look at some that are very common.

The Internet allows one-to-one individual communication. Each person typing in the other's address can send mail via the computer at the touch of a few keys. Mail is then sent, much like sending a letter through the mail, only it is sent instantly and without the cost of postage. The only cost incurred is the cost of the phone service from your computer to the server computer that connects you to the web. When I sign on to AOL if anyone has sent me any messages there is a spoken message that says, "You've got mail."

Who can you send mail to? Anyone with an Internet address anywhere in the world. I've sent messages to people in Africa, Russia, and across the United States.

The Internet also allows instant communication through chat rooms where multiple individuals are on the Internet at the same time sharing a common site sending and receiving messages that appear on the screen instantly for all who share that site to see. Except for very special cases, I believe these to be dangerous and an absolute waste of time. I'll have more to say on this in a few minutes.

The Internet also allows the sharing of information through web pages, or home pages. This is where anyone with the funds to do so: person, company, organization, or government entity, can own their own site on a server computer and post information of their choice. Access to sites may be password protected for limited access, or not protected so anyone can access the posted information at any time.

All of this sounds innocent, so...

Why be concerned? Why should Christians examine the Internet?

Every time a means of communication or entertainment may possibly become part of our lives I believe we must look at it closely to see if it is to be embraced, avoided, or somewhere in between as the Lord's people. After all, we don't want to be surprised by something that is wrong.

Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices (2 Cor 2:11).

Since there is really nothing new in what I have talked about, many would think, what is the big deal, the Internet just allows you to do a lot of things that have been done before. But, with that, I believe there are some dangers we need to consider.

Dangers of the Internet:

It is highly addictive.

The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery reports "Internet addiction is described as an impulse control disorder which does not involve use of an intoxicating drug and is very similar to pathological gambling."

The Illinois Institute further says:

Signs of Internet addiction include the following:

1. Preoccupation with the Internet. (Thoughts about previous on-line activity or anticipation of the next on-line session.)

2. Use of the Internet in increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction.

3. Repeated, unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use.

4. Feelings of restlessness, moodiness, depression, or irritability when attempting to cut down use of the Internet.

5. On-line longer than originally intended.

6. Jeopardized or risked loss of significant relationships, job, educational or career opportunities because of Internet use.

7. Lies to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet.

8. Use of the Internet as a way to escape from problems or to relieve a dysphoric mood. (e.g., feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, depression.)

What makes the Internet so Addictive?

The Center for On-line Addiction says:

The Internet itself is a term which represents different types of functions that are accessible on-line. Generally speaking, Internet Addicts tend to form an emotional attachment to the on-line friends and activities they create inside their computer screens. They enjoy those aspects of the Internet which allowed them to meet, socialize, and exchange ideas with new people through highly interactive Internet applications (such as chatting, playing on-line games, or being involved with several newsgroups). These virtual communities create a vehicle to escape from reality and seek out a means to fulfill an unmet emotional and psychological need.

On the Internet, you can conceal your real name, age, occupation, appearance, and your physical responses to anyone or anything you encounter on-line. Internet users, especially those who are lonely and insecure in real-life situations, take that freedom and quickly pour out their strongest feelings, darkest secrets, and deepest desires. This leads to the illusion of intimacy, but when reality underscores the severe limitations of relying on a faceless community for the love and caring that can only come from actual people, Internet addicts experience very real disappointment and pain."

If I spend all my time chatting on the Internet does God care?

Chatting on the Internet is where computers are connected in such a way that messages are delivered instantly back and forth to each other. It is a real-time on-going written dialogue between two or more individuals. It is different from sending mail via the Internet in that the messages are continuously displayed on the screen. It is much like being on the phone with a conference call where many people at once can contribute to the conversation only the participants in a chat are sitting at their computers typing on their keyboards. Participants also have the option to go to a private room where just two people have a private chat instantly back and forth with each other.

Talking leads to touching

In the book, "Too Close Too Soon," the way men and women develop relationships is illustrated. A chart from page 22 follows which gives the Comparison of the level of Commitment and the progression tendencies for men and women in a relationship. Notice from the order, women become emotionally attached after the social phase. Once a woman feels like she knows a man and can trust him the relationship then proceeds into physical areas. At a certain point when people have talked many times and shared hour after hour with another person they are going to want to progress to the next stage of the relationship. That means touching. Where are men in this chart? They were ready for touching after the social phase. So, men would start pressuring the woman in the chats that they need to meet. Why? So they can touch. That is why we hear of children and teens running away from home to meet someone they have been chatting with on the Internet. It is a tragedy when a child or a teen runs away from home, but not just children are doing this.

A few years ago at 64th. St. we had a lady from the Southern part of the state attend worship with a man who was not her husband. She had left her husband of over 20 years and moved north to be with the man she had been chatting with on the Internet for a long time. One thing that scared me to death is this, she was not ashamed of what she was doing. She came to church without shame with her Internet lover. I know of several in the church who have left their spouse for someone they met over the Internet. Brethren, chatting on the Internet is very dangerous and I seriously question whether or not any married Christian should have anything to do with it. I'll talk about unmarried Christians in just a moment.

Perhaps you, like me know of married people whose marriage is gradually being torn apart because of the Internet. Perhaps you, like me know people in the church who are talking to people all over the world while their family is being destroyed. They are true to the chart, after much talking, they have to meet so they can touch. This is very frightening to me!

Remember, this is an illusion of intimacy. Therefore, anyone trying to talk to such individuals to help them will be met with many excuses, but no shame. This becomes a "strong delusion that they should believe a lie" (2 Thess. 2:11).

Dating on the Internet

The Internet makes it possible for married men to spend hour after hour getting to know women they are not married to and married women to spend hour after hour getting to know men they are not married to. When that happens out in the open we call it "wrong." But when it is on the Internet we call it a "chat." That is not a chat-that is a date. Let me tell you, I think there is a grave danger here, a very grave danger. I don't believe a Christian has any business chatting with people they don't know. Period.

Many "chatters" will say, "I know these people, I chat with them all the time, they are my friends." To which I reply, No, these people are not your friends. You are keeping them from reality just as they are keeping you from reality. This is an escape from reality and an illusion of intimacy. To such I say, you have no business with a modem in your computer and should discontinue anything to do with the Internet. We need to recognize these people have serious problems with denying reality and they need psychological help. If these people would put the same efforts into their spouse and their children and in serving their congregation the church would be much better off.

Don't be deceived into thinking "I'll chat with these people then I'll be able to counsel them, or I'll be able to study with them, or I'll be able to convert them via this medium. I believe that is very, very dangerous and very unlikely to happen. There is an appropriate amount of time a man may visit with a woman who is not his wife and a woman may visit with a man who is not her husband. Beyond that, we should be uncomfortable. If any married woman among us went to a corner of this building and visited with a man for a couple of hours we would look to see who she is visiting with to make sure it is appropriate. If she were visiting with her father or one of her physical brothers, we would think nothing about it. If she were visiting with her husband, we would think nothing about it. But, if she were to spend that much time with just about anyone else we would think it strange and not appropriate. There had better be a very special reason for that conversation.

As a preacher of the gospel and as someone who works with troubled relationships it is not uncommon for a woman to want to talk with me at our gatherings for an extended period of time. I try to make sure I always remain in sight of the group and protect my relationship with my wife by sharing with her exactly what the conversation involved. In private, I won't see a woman alone in a troubled relationship situation or in a study situation. It would not be appropriate because of the appearance of evil.

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thes 5:21-22).

Our young people, single men and women who know each other, do join in a chat room in a password protected site where you have to have the exact address to access the site. I believe this can be compared to our young kids standing around visiting after church. As long as the group stays together, I believe this can be OK as long as nothing inappropriate is said and as long as everyone stays in the group. The minute two people of the opposite sex leave the group, that is like a date and the same safeguards apply. If someone unknown has joined the group no one, not even of the same sex, should go to a private room with them. No reasonable young person would leave the group of kids they know and get in the car of a stranger and drive off for a night on the town. Why? Because we know our mother's advice is valid, "Don't talk to strangers." The same advice applies on the Internet. If you are going to chat, stay in the group of the people you know and don't talk to strangers. How do we meet and get to know people? In a very safe, controlled environment. The Internet removes those controls and Satan is waiting to take advantage of us.

Sadly, I have heard of some of our young people being taken advantage of by strangers because they had an illusion of intimacy that had been fostered by the Internet.

Are there any Chat's that are OK? Perhaps. G.V. Ayer's Mother's family has a private chat group just for family members. That can be OK in my opinion because they have a knowledge of who they are talking too and the circle is very limited as to who can be a part of the group. Past that, I would be very careful.

All must examine whether or not such chatting is a good use of our time. Television networks are concerned because viewership is declining due to the Internet. If a person has usually spent a lot of time watching TV and now spends that time on the Internet there has just been an exchange of one time-wasting medium for another in my opinion. However, constant Internet use is worse to me than television especially if the computer is in another room because it means a family member has withdrawn from the family. Because of that, I believe even watching television together is much preferred to the separation that may be caused by using the Internet.

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Eph 5:15-16)

Married people who spend untold hours chatting on the Internet end up defrauding their spouse because of the time and emotional commitment that is given to others. That leads to a loss of intimacy in the marriage condemned by the following passage:

The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency (1 Cor 7:4-5).

Those who have left

I mentioned one lady I know who left her husband for her Internet lover. That is not the only one I know of. I know of at least two other ladies who have left their spouses as well as some young people who have been ensnared by someone they met over the Internet. I know of individuals who have lost their spouse to someone they met over the Internet and then turned around and found a new spouse on the Internet.

Can Internet chats between strangers lead to romantic involvement? We know the answer to that is yes. Can Internet chats between strangers which lead to romantic involvement make successful marriages? Let me answer this very carefully. If the couple depends on the Internet relationship to be the basis of their relationship and carry them through life, I don't believe the relationship will be successful. Here is why. If 1 out of 2 marriages ended in divorce before the popularity of the Internet when people got to know each other mostly on a face to face basis the odds of a relationship being successful based on an Internet romance are roughly the same as finding a good biscuit at the bottom of the slop bucket. While it is statistically possible, I believe it will be very, very rare.

Remember, when a couple believe they know each other because of Internet chats, they have an illusion of intimacy. If their relationship is to succeed, it would only be because they discard the value of anything done on-line on the Internet and start over as strangers, because that is what they are. Their on-line time sets up a fantasy world environment where the delusion created by the Internet is often so strong that a person refuses to believe they don't know this person well. If the couple is willing to start over and begin a face to face, carefully controlled courtship, they may end up having a successful relationship.

The Internet's darker side:

Pornography:

Pornography is not new, but thanks to the Internet it has a new means of distribution. No longer are dirty pictures confined to magazines behind the counter at the convenience store where the covers are covered so as not to offend. Now, such filth is in your face, literally, and easily. I have heard the top requests for information on Internet search engines are sexually related.

Pornography on the Internet can be pictures or live camera action. I was asked to answer the question, Is looking at pornography on the Internet fornication? While I don't believe looking at Internet pornography constitutes fornication I do believe it is sinful.

There are several sins that describe viewing pornography, whether or not on the Internet.

One is Lasciviousness.

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness (Gal 5:19). Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness (Eph 4:19). For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: (1 Pet 4:3).

Vines describes the word Lasciviousness as: "Excess, licentiousness, absence of restraint, indecency, wantonness." He also says "the prominent idea is shameless conduct" (page 310)

Such would also be condemned as a "worldly lust:"

Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:12).

The reasons why pornography in any form is wrong include:

God intends there to be a privately shared ownership of bodies between spouses.

The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife (1 Cor 7:4).

I believe part of what this verse means is a man's body not only belongs to him it also belongs to his wife, and a wife's body not only belongs to her it also belongs to her husband. There are hardly any exceptions to this. One of the few that comes to mind would be when we are being treated by a physician.

Proverbs 5:15-23 proves our standard of satisfaction in all areas of physical intimacy is supposed to be our spouse. Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers' with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love. And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings. His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray (Prov 5:15-23).

Viewing pornography in any form sets up a different standard of satisfaction from what God intends. In fact, pornography becomes the Devil's tool because the person seeks satisfaction with an insatiable thirst for more that will not be quenched. By contrast, God's standard is complete satisfaction with the person to whom we have vowed to be married for life.

So, pornography is not for single people because God wants them to save their bodies and their minds for the one they will marry. Pornography is not for married people, because our spouse is to be our standard of satisfaction in intimacy.

Some guidelines:

I recommend the following guidelines for Internet use for God's people.

For married people, stay out of Chat rooms. Period. Just leave them alone. If you and your family want to have one, do so, but be very careful even there.

For unmarried people, Stay away from Chat Rooms unless they only involve people you know. Even then be very careful. Do not chat with strangers.

If you are married be as careful on the Internet with the opposite sex as you should be if you were seeing the person face to face with your spouse beside you.

If you are not married be as careful on the Internet with the opposite sex as you should be if you were seeing the person face to face with your mother beside you.

Don't seek privacy when you access the Internet. Don't use your computer when others in the family are not up and around.

Don't stay on the Internet when everyone else has gone to bed.

Position the computer monitor where it can be seen by anyone who might happen to walk by. I would encourage families who have the Internet to have their computer in the same room where the family spends the most time. Usually that would be the kitchen area or the family room area. I think it would be most appropriate to have the computer that is used for the Internet in the same room with the TV, so that everyone is together and everyone can easily see what everyone is doing. I think husbands and wives and parents are playing with fire to do otherwise.

Use one of the services that offer family friendly protection against profanity, sexual content, violence, or race related issues. There are many of these available. A service like this would be a good idea for everyone, but absolutely essential if you have children. These services are available at a small fee and they are a protection for everyone in the family. Bro. Brian Boek wrote me of the benefit, "What I like the most is, it doesn't allow you to go somewhere accidentally where you might be tempted to explore more than you should. Also if sites do come up, you can set your own preferences and/or submit a request to the Internet Service Provider and they will review the site.

Finally, like many other things in life, I think the Internet can be what we want it to be in our lives. It can be a blessing or a curse.

I would hope with Joshua of old we would cry, "As for me and my house we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).

Let's not put our relationship with God or with our loved ones at risk over the Internet.


Bibliography

Center for On-Line Addiction, www.netaddiction.com/addictive.htm, accessed December 23, 1998
CommerceNet, www.commerce.net/research/stats/wwstats.html, accessed August 19, 1999
Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, www.addictionrecov.org/intwhat.htm, accessed March 31, 1999
Pinkerton, Robert, The First Overland Mail, New York, Random House, seventh printing, 1953
Talley, Jim and Boddie Reed, Too Close Too Soon, Nashville, TN, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Revised edition, 1990
Vine, W.E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Old Tappan, NJ, Fleming H. Revell Co., 17th ed., 1966
Wall Street Journal, August 19, 1999