Too Much Information
by Kevin Presley
Many things are inherently worthwhile but detrimental in some circumstances. Satan uses benign things to ensnare the unsuspecting. For example, money is necessary to our survival but has doomed the souls of millions who overestimate its worth or misuse it. There is nothing necessarily wrong with television. It is but an electronic device that receives and interprets electro-magnetic waves that are broadcast over the air. What appears on television, however, is often wrong for Christians to watch. Used properly, television is a wonderful medium that has even been instrumental in the conversion of many to New Testament Christianity. In the 1960's scientists began envisioning a way to connect computers to share information. This primitive process called "packet switching" was the precursor to the modern internet. No, a United States Vice President did not invent it; he only encouraged its later development in Congress. When the concept was hatched, computers were giant machines that belonged to the government and the scientific community. They filled entire rooms and were complex but yet very limited systems for managing information. I doubt many of the scientists then could truly imagine what would come 40 years later. Computers that fold into a backpack or a briefcase can be opened just about anywhere in a populated area and connect to a literal world of instant information. In fact, forget computers as we typically think of them, now you can type a message to someone around the world or look up information from millions of sources on a cell phone. One wonders how much farther innovation and technology can take us but I'm sure they wondered that many years ago, too. Technology has enriched and simplified our lives in many, many ways and paradoxically, it has complicated and cluttered our lives at the same time. It has opened doors and closed others. I have worked in the television news industry and can tell you that medium and just about every other medium of journalism is undergoing a metamorphosis thanks to nothing less than the internet. Three iconic male anchors delivering our news to us for 30 minutes in the evening is a thing of the distant past. Local newscasts are shedding viewers not only because of the explosion and cable and satellite offerings but due to the rise of the internet and the blogosphere. There are thousands upon thousands of sources for "information" at the click of a mouse. As a result, facts and civil dialogue are buried beneath an avalanche of shouting pundits, mean-spirited and agenda driven bloggers and people who use the internet to gain their minute of fame or let their voice be heard. The internet is a tremendous tool and a valuable convenience but it is also becoming, in my opinion, the bane of our society. Too, it is becoming a destructive weapon of the devil among God's people. It goes without saying that the internet has made pornography anonymous and easily accessible and has poisoned many minds and led many Christians into sin. With that stated, that is not the primary problem we shall address. A problem of equal significance is that of "too much information." Good information is a vital thing but too much information can be harmful.
A PIPELINE FOR GOSSIP
The internet makes it possible to assassinate someone's character, plant doubt and suspicion about the innocent and spread misleading rumors with the click of a button. In warning us to control our tongue, James said "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!" (James 3:5) Our tongue can be misused by letting our fingers on a keyboard speak for it. The web is such an instant form of communication, it is as easy to use it impulsively as our tongue is. The anonymity offered by blogs, forums and chat rooms and incognito email addresses make it easier and more tempting for people to tale bear with little or no accountability. Of course, God knows our "handle" and keeps a record of every word.
A BACK DOOR FOR UNSCRIPTURAL PRACTICES
The internet is a relatively new medium and, therefore, its place in the work of the church continues to evolve. We should remember that the same patterns and teachings of the New Testament that govern every other aspect of the church's work govern its use of the internet too. For instance, we believe it is wrong for a woman to teach or preach publically (1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Cor. 14:34). Most of us would conscientiously take exception to a woman expounding upon spiritual matters via a radio program, television program or a street-corner pulpit. Well, FACEBOOK, forums, blogs and other such sites are just as public. Another example pertains to church autonomy. The New Testament teaches that every congregation is to be governed from within and is responsible for its own work. There is nothing in the Bible that permits the universal church or brotherhood to organize into anything larger than each local, self-governing church. Any arrangement that is unscriptural on paper or in person is just as unscriptural in cyberspace. The internet has reduced the size of our planet drastically. It has taken a coast-to-coast journey that used to take many days by automobile and perhaps a week or more by mail and reduced it to the length of time it takes to type a message and click on "send" or "publish". The temptation is more prevalent to treat the church as one big entity, ignoring the walls of church autonomy. Recently, a young man posted some things he ought not to have on a social networking site. I pointed out his error to him and then referred the matter to the leaders of his home congregation to deal with as they saw fit. Again, the internet does not exempt us from the patterns and regulations of apostolic teaching!
A FORUM FOR INCINDIARY RHETORIC
Civil conversation is rare in the political sphere today, in large part, because of the internet. If you follow political news, have you read many of the blogs on the internet lately? The atmosphere is charged with hate and vitriol toward opposing sides and nothing has fueled that more than the internet. People can lob their written firebombs at the "enemy" and then hide behind the anonymity of the internet. They wouldn't dare sign their name to a letter that spewed the same venom that their anonymous comment or email spews toward others. Jesus said we will be judged by "every idle word" (Matthew 12:36-37) and God is just as aware of what we write on-line as what we say with our lips.
A PULPIT FOR FALSE TEACHERS
This is perhaps the greatest danger of all. Freedom of speech is a cherished right in American society but it is NOT a right afforded in the Kingdom of God. Paul warned Titus about the false teachers at Crete who were pedaling their own brand of Judaism from house to house within the church. He said "whose mouths must be stopped." (Titus 1:11). The internet makes Paul's teaching more difficult to follow. Some people do not deserve a platform because they are ignorant of the Bible's teaching and reason from emotion or false precept and others have an agenda they are trying to foist upon the church, just as in Titus's day. The internet provides such men with a platform. Hardly a church in the country will allow them to occupy their pulpit and so they turn to the internet to spread their heresy. Unsuspecting church members receive their emails and read their blogs, not knowing who these men are or their relationship to the churches where they have been and caused trouble. These men should be identified and denounced just as loudly as those who attempt to teach false doctrine in a church assembly. We are seeing the destructive forces of liberalism and false teaching unleashed upon the church today and much of it is taking place via the World Wide Web. There's not much we can do to stop them but we can be vigilant and warn the faithful to beware.
The internet opens a thrilling door of opportunity for the spread of the gospel but it is also fraught with pitfalls and dangers. Remember, whatever applies to churches and individuals in any other forum or medium, applies in exactly the same way on the internet. Church leaders and parents would be well advised to warn their flock and to warn their children of the dangers of "too much information".