There is no doubt that technological and scientific progress has made our lives in the 21st century, much more convenient than what our ancestors even 50 years ago could have ever imagined. Did you know that during the first Apollo space mission to the moon in 1969, the computers on-board the space shuttle had a memory of 64 Kbytes and an operating system of 0.043 MH? By today’s standards it was less equipped than our modern toasters. Today, even a simple USB stick or WiFi router is more powerful than that. To put this in context the outdated iPhone 6 operates at 1.4 GHZ and can process 3.36 billion instructions per second. Put simply, the iPhone 6’s clock is 32,600 times faster than the best Apollo era computers and can perform instructions 120,000,000 times faster. Advances in technology and communication have managed to bridge enormous gaps; scientific, geographical, cultural, social and religious gaps with blinding speed, and the church has benefited from that.
Technology has enable churches to operate better and minister in new and more effective ways. The internet with all its ‘apps’ has made information and communication easier. Newsletters, bulletins and prayer requests can be made known and available to the corporate body, at the click of a button. There are all sorts of software available to help with church administration and marketing. Websites, podcasts, Vimeo and other ‘tech’ have been designed to engage people with truth and to promote the gospel. I even know of a pastor who uses ‘Skype’ every Tuesday night to teach the bible to an unreached group in a country thousands of miles away from his comfortable ergonomically designed computer chair. ‘Tech’ is good…if used correctly! The internet and technology in and of itself is not bad, but it does have its drawbacks. Just like anything else, technology can become a problem, when it starts to rule you, so we must always think carefully about the ends to which we apply it.
Neil Postman the author of The End of Education, identifies this problem and exposes the subtle process of how technology can turn into a god, he wrote “at some point it becomes far from asinine (foolish) to speak of the god of Technology—in the sense that people believe technology works, that they rely on it, that it makes promises, that they are bereft when denied access to it, they are delighted when they are in its presence, that for most people it works in mysterious ways, that they condemn people who speak against it, that they stand in awe of it, and that , in the born-again mode, they will alter their lifestyles, their schedules, their habits and their relationships to accommodate it. If this is not a form of religious belief, what is?”
Neil Postman has hit the nail on the head. Technology can very well become a form of religious belief! When people alter their lifestyles, their schedules, their habits and their relationships to accommodate anything other than God, it is nothing less than idol worship. Idolatry in its larger meaning is properly understood as anything that substitutes the Creator with created things. An idol is whatever takes the place of God in our lives…It is what we think is an absolute necessity for life and happiness. An idol is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s usually a good thing that we’ve made into a god-thing that then becomes a bad thing to us. Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional saviour.” Christian author and pastor, J.D. Greear says, “When something becomes so important to you that it drives your behaviour and commands your emotions, you are worshipping it.”
So what commands your affections? What is the first thing you want to do when you get up in the mornings? And what is the last thing you do before you go to sleep? What does your heart cling to? Technology can be defined as ‘the application of scientific inventions to the needs and convenience of man’. Once our convenience and comfort become more important to us than the glory of God, and the building of the Bride of Christ, there is a serious problem. Technology can turn into an idol if it prevents and hinders us from connecting with God. John Piper said, ‘One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook, will be to prove at the Last day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time’. I think what Piper is saying is that we like to think that technology saves us time, but we hardly ask ourselves – save time for what? Is it so that we can redeem our time in some way for God’s glory (Eph. 5:15), or just waste it more creatively?
Dr. C.J. Williams, Professor of Old Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary comments on this very problem; ‘It is rare to go anywhere and not see someone furiously talking with their thumbs, or “Facebooking” with any free moment. Staying in touch is easier than ever, which is a blessing, but have social media made us more social, or less? Have they made our relationships any deeper or more meaningful? Spending hours on social media is a sure sign that a useful tool has been turned into a distracting master. ..I suspect that many of our time-saving technologies have only made us busier, sometimes to the detriment of our spiritual lives.”
The heart of the issue is not technology, but how we use it, and how it uses us. Do we worship our tech, how much of our time do we devout to it, and is it a tool for our pleasure or for the glory of God? Does our use of technology points us and others toward or away from God?
Another serious issue worth considering is how does technology help or hinder our interaction with other physical humans, and how does it help or hinder the believers responsibility toward ‘the work of ministry’ and the ‘building up of the body of Christ’ (Eph 4:12)? As much as social media has the potential to bring people together, it also has the tendency to isolate us. Instead of interacting and engaging with people in the same room, people are more comfortable engaging with a device. We have thousands of virtual relationships, but very few genuine relationships. What happens to the church, when our human interactions significantly diminish and online interaction takes its place?
The Apostle Paul asks the Roman Church a very timely question, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). The question demands an answer. Consider the many lost people around our churches that have been providentially placed alongside us, in our communities, by God so we can share the gospel with them. How will they hear the gospel if we are not willing to leave the safety and comfort of our computers and gadgets to go and interact with them? Through Facebook? Through a cut and paste message on Whatsapp? I think not.
Jesus didn’t call any of his disciples to a life of convenience, safety or comfort. He called us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow him, even till death (Luke 9:23,24). Is all this technological convenience perhaps making us lazy? I think so.
Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, said, “The internet is the friend of information but the enemy of thought.” I am sure you have heard of Mrs. Google who thought she knew better than the doctor and went online for all her medical questions. We laugh at that because we all know that person who ends up self medicating with the wrong medicines because they thought it would be easier and more convenient searching the web for medical answers than visiting an actual trained and qualified doctor. In church communities, the same logic applies—instead of going to a pastor or spiritual leader for advice many people, find it easier and more convenient to search online for answers. Instead of searching and studying the scriptures for answers, that whole sanctifying and learning process is bypassed with a quick ‘Google Search.’
Let me leave the concluding words to Dr. C.J. Williams, in an article he wrote for challies.com, ‘Ever since the Tower of Babel was built, technology has been both a source and expression of human pride. On the other hand, Solomon’s Temple and Hezekiah’s Tunnel depended on the best technology of the day. The same World Wide Web that opens up new vistas for the spread of the Gospel has also brought pornography into millions of homes. Technology can be a dangerous force or a true blessing; the key (as with all things) is to bring it under the lordship of Jesus Christ. ..one of the greatest daily challenges a Christian faces in the modern world is to think clearly about his or her use of any technology. Does it help you achieve good ends in your heavenly calling and service to Christ, or is it an avenue of distraction and temptation? Would Jesus look on and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?’