Popular online theology may not be Biblical theology
Dear BPCWAians, Over the past 2 weeks, we have looked at the usefulness of media to Christendom, as well as looked at some of the dangers that every one of us should be mindful of when using “Christian” material online. In this Pastoral, we conclude with looking at the teachers, their teachings, and God’s ordained means for the Christian to grow and learn about Him.
Be careful of learning theology from online devotionals, blogs and social media. These days, there are online devotionals or Bible studies that you can subscribe to and receive daily. It is a popular thing. These devotionals may tell stories of daily sorrows, joys, trials, tearjerkers and heartaches that would strike a chord in many hearts, evoking thoughts in you that may say “me too”! But take a close read, and you would probably find that many are just simply that – testimonies of their lives with a few verses of Scripture thrown in (often quoted out of context) to “Christianise” it. These often focus on personal relationships and social issues and work on the reader’s emotions. Not significantly different are the various forms of social media like blogs and Facebook posts. This last group cannot be ignored, as some studies say that social networks form about 28% of all online activity. Highly interactive, social media thrives on online “conversations” and the exchange of information. Unlike diaries which were previously so personal that the individuals kept it under lock and key, today’s blogger thrives on sharing their ideas, and personal interpretations of Scripture. They share their joys, woes and thoughts to everyone, and invite everyone to share their comments. They throw open the window to air their views and promote what is in their hearts to everyone. Their goal is no different from that of the print media – readership and followings. Would you readily want to learn theology from the stranger sitting next to you on the bus or on the train? Most of us would be taken aback at such a concept. Yet, it is rather amazing that many would eagerly and readily submit themselves to learn from such bloggers or social media contributors. This mode is most popular with progressive Christianity supporters and is a means whereby certain unsound views become popular. A BBC article on smartphones and social media rightly commented that these promote “a separate strand of Christian practice… [in a way that] For many, it’s no longer necessary to set foot in a church. [These channels] allow a private expression of faith… And the ability to pick and choose means they can avoid doctrine that does not appeal. A lot of people who consider themselves to be active Christians may not strictly even believe in God or Jesus or the acts described in the Bible… A new kind of mutated Christianity for a digital age is appearing.” This is especially appealing to people who have little commitment to truth, who prefer a “God” that “allows them to get on with their own lives rather than Jesus, who comes in and interferes with everything.”
The problem with imbibing popular online theology. What happens when we gullibly accept and believe whatever we read online? The answer is simply that what you read for the purpose of learning begins to change the way you think and look at things. Just as the familiar saying goes – you are what you read. What you often read about changes you to adopt its same mindset. Social media, particularly, has an attraction that is similar to serial dramas – it has an addictive power because it is built with the goal of viewership (or in the case of social media, “followership”). It is another form of “reality TV”. Slowly, quietly, the change is happening in you without you realising, as you share this person’s life, disappointments and experiences. I remember a worshipper who began to read material that was critical of the existence of God and Christianity. He eventually began to doubt the reality of Christianity. A student listened to another religion and lapped it up without considering Scripture. Another worshipper began to trust the online teachings more than the teachings she received at church. These are now no more in our church, and one even claims to be an agnostic now. Let us not be proud in our own conceits, thinking that we shall never fall. God warns us that “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1Cor 10:12) The fall may be slow and imperceptible to those around you. Soon, you may begin to doubt what you learn at church, though you initially may continue to come for Bible Studies. Because the online bloggers seem to write with such authority and conviction, you may be lifted up to think that you too, like them, know better than those that teach at church. Even worse, some of you may begin to think that you know better than God’s Word in the Bible. If so, you have now embraced the mindset of a Christian blogger who is a self-blog-trained “theologian”. Many are teaching others based on what they themselves think without proper Scriptural interpretation. Let us take heed and be warned.
Trained Pastors or self-taught bloggers? In today’s digital age, Christianity to many “is becoming less about the preacher in the pulpit… People come with a certain expectation of what a community looks like and what freedom they’ll have”. There is an unconscious attraction of preferring to read blogs and Facebook comments rather than old fashioned Bible studies, because you can contribute your own ideas and promote your own agendas. But God intended to use the order He established in the church, His body, for the building up of believers. That is why He says that in church, He gifted “pastors and teachers… For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11, 12). It is not because the Pastor wants to retain control over the people. It is just simply that that is God’s plan to give soundly trained pastors the gift and responsibility to handle the Word properly, not self-taught bloggers. A church clearly publicises its doctrine of beliefs, and the Pastor is accountable for what he teaches in the church. Such clarity of doctrine and accountability of teachings is done away with in the multitude of internet teachers and bloggers online today. I write this Pastoral to warn you, as one that watches for your soul to give an account (Heb 13:17).
2Tim 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
Yours in our Lord’s service