Many local church pastors would agree, that one of the greatest challenges we face is the “competition” we are reluctantly placed in, with the ever-increasing presence of internet-based teaching/teachers. At our church, we put our sermons online so they can be available to anyone who uses the internet. This is a common practice and has numerous benefits. However, that is not my concern.
My concern is that in our “quick fix” society the internet is, more often than not, the most convenient way for many Christians to find theological answers to their questions. The problem with this approach is that when people attempt to “rightly google the Word of God”, they often end up with more questions than answers and more confusion than peace. This practice puts many believers at risk of developing something I will call MDD – Multiple Doctrine Disorder (a fictitious description for the purpose of this article).
God’s intention in establishing the local church was for the truth to be taught and received in the context of relationship. That is where the world of internet church is seriously lacking. No one gets to see the whole package when listening to some charismatic and convincing sounding teacher preaching up a storm on the internet. After all, it is so much easier and so much more accessible than going to your pastor, or labouring through the Scriptures yourself with a prayerful, humble heart.
Sadly, as a result of this, we as local church pastors are losing people to the world of internet teaching and preaching. It’s with a broken heart I write these words, as we too in our own church have lost precious sheep to the influences of this media revolution. Never before in history has it been so easy for people to “heap up for themselves teachers” (2 Tim 4:3).
So how can we keep up? How can we compete with the ever increasing, and let’s face it, more appetising offerings of “virtual” pastors? Well, my suggestion is this – don’t compete. Don’t think for one minute you can match in 1 hour, what the internet can achieve in 5, 10, or 20 hours between your weekly sermons. Don’t think for one minute you can convince or change a heart that has confused itself beyond reason, and blinded itself beyond correction – a clear symptom of MDD. Instead, preach the Word, and trust the Holy Spirit to have His way.
Here is some advice and encouragement from the Apostle Paul himself, from 2 Timothy 4:2-5…
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Christians would do well to seriously reflect on the fact that God sovereignly appointed the exact time in history in which He would send Christ into the world, and establish His written Word. If it were us, we might question His wisdom. Surely our present day and age would have been far better! If Jesus’s sermon on the mount was on a YouTube channel, along with weekly episodes of His teachings – surely that would have avoided thousands of debates and disputes over the centuries? If the miracles of Christ were captured in full HD, or even Ultra HD – surely many more would be saved without hindrance? Well, let’s just accept the fact that God didn’t choose this, and He knows best. Draw your own conclusions from this.
As pastors, I believe more than ever before that we should be equipping our people in doctrine, and teach them how to rightly divide the Word of God – instead of wrongly googling it. A Christian’s doctrinal understanding and approach to interpretation should be the filter for whatever they see or hear – rather than some random internet teacher found at the click of a mouse, being the filter for how they understand what they have been taught in their local church. There is a place for using the internet as a place to learn and grow spiritually, and this can include watching or listening to certain teachers/teachings as long as this is done with much wisdom. I really appreciate how Matt Chandler, a popular church pastor, and internet teacher, gives a disclaimer in regard to this at the beginning of his online sermons.
Of course, there is a myriad of contexts and situations that could be discussed in regard to these things. Therefore, let me just finish with some practical pointers for all truth-seeking believers, that may help to prevent unnecessary division or confusion within the body of Christ.
1. Make it one of your greatest priorities to be part of a local church, in which the gospel is preached, and sound doctrine is taught. In addition to your personal/devotional reading of Scripture alone – let this be the primary place from where you learn doctrine, and grow spiritually, through relationships. Everything else should be supplemental.
2. If you find yourself in conflict with what is taught in your church – first speak to your pastor/elder/leader and gain some clarification – you may just have misheard something. Going straight online to “counter” what you think you may have heard at this point, could be very unwise, and cause you to build a case against something that wasn’t actually taught, or at least wasn’t meant in the way you understood it.
3. Should you find yourself in a state in which you are constantly jumping from teaching to teaching online – getting more suspicious of men you previously trusted, but at the same time (if you can be honest enough to admit it) are actually getting more confused in your thinking – you could be suffering from MDD. You are at a crossroads and a crisis at this point – if you bury your mind deeper online, you may never return. If you back off, cool down, and go and sit on a hill somewhere with just your Bible and pray – you will become less confused, and more likely to rekindle that “faith of a child”.
4. In a situation (because it does happen!) in which there is wrong doctrine being taught, or teaching you disagree with that concerns you – stop, think and pray before seeking to get all your questions answered online. The internet can be a rich source of Biblical wisdom and knowledge when used in the right way. However, when used in the wrong way, it can be a tidal wave of confusion and conflicting opinions that overwhelm and drowns even a mature believer. The result of this is either exclusive extremism or indecisive apathy – neither are good options by the way.
5. Avoid every internet teacher who is separate or absent from the context of a local church and/or devoid of any accountability with other men. Speak to real people if you have concerns, and take time to study yourself and listen – God may be wanting to use those He has placed in your life to protect you from error, and lead you into truth.
6. If you find you have developed suspicion and concern over what you are hearing taught in your church, take a long hard look at the fruit in the lives of those who are teaching it, and those who are receiving it. You won’t be able to compare this to the fruit in the lives of the internet teachers, as you only have a small window into their lives. This is one of the greatest pitfalls of online teachings. By default, they present much orthodoxy (what they believe) and little to non-existent orthopraxy (what they practice). We can never underestimate how much the fruit determines the root. In addition to this, too much teaching that is isolated from the whole counsel of God can easily lead someone into error.
7. If you feel like you are in that place of confusion and have developed symptoms of MDD – make the decision to go “cold turkey”on the internet (at least in regard to Bible teaching), and have an extended season of just being in the Word, prayerfully reading as a child, and asking the Holy Spirit to teach you all things. That being said, this should not be at the expense of sitting under the teaching of God’s Word at your local church – God’s ordained means by which His people are to grow together and learn together, in the context of relationship.
8. If you are a local church pastor who puts your sermons online -consider either a text, audio or video disclaimer, such as Matt Chandler uses, to help people utilise your teaching, as supplemental to their regular intake of teaching in their own church (I intend to look at doing this for our church since writing this article).
May we all act wisely in these days in which we live. In many areas, the internet is a wonderful servant, but it is a terrible master. Like a good poison – it has its benefits, but we mustn’t let it get into our system!