Every day I pilfer numerous articles and scope out what the Christian community says on the internet. Like anyone else, I gravitate to particular websites, ones that have my interest and loyalty.
These websites are marked by quality journalism and literary writing. Their editors are qualified, usually not just as writers or editors, but as scholars and pastors. Typically, these sites are loosely connected or aligned to a pastoral figure, a church, denomination, or are a collection of the aforementioned.
And every day, as I read these Christian websites, I give myself a subtle reminder. I rehearse it quietly to myself. Here is what I say: “This is not the Word, not my local church, not an ordinance.”
Why do I give myself these reminders? I remind myself because I am prone to wander from priorities and authorities. What follows are reasons for these cautions.
This is Not the Word
Sure enough, the Word of God is frequently the base of Christian articles. Yet, just like other forms of journalism, even the best Christian websites veer towards sensational op-eds. You have to carefully read and categorize every article. Ask yourself: “Is this exegetically driven? Or opinion driven?” This helps you determine what authority level you permit an article to have. Still, even if it is exegetically driven, you have to ask: “Does this interpretation or reading of the Word hold true?”
The Word is authoritative over your life. As the psalmist confesses, “Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true” (Ps. 119:142). Measure every article read against God’s truth. Likewise, don’t allow websites or articles to supplant time in the Word. They are no substitute for pulling out the Scripture and hearing directly from God.
Though they may bring you to the Word, Christian websites are not the Word.
This is Not Your Local Church
Community develops around Christian websites. You’ll connect with others that enjoy the same websites. Likewise, you’re bound to cross the same people in comment threads and develop friendships. These interactions, though genuine, are displaced by space. They are no substitute for your local church.
An aspect of local church community is that your local church sees you for who you are. In turn, you see them and submit to them, because the Scripture calls you to this, saying: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).
Too often, you have the freedom to project what you wish to others on Christian websites. Substituting digital community for local church community creates a vacuous space that lacks accountability. Furthermore, digital space caters to individuality. You visit what sites you wish and are not a holden to anyone for your behavior. This individualism is dangerous.
Jonathan Leeman in The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, reminds us that the dangers of individualism are not countered by community, digital or otherwise. He says, “The solution to individualism is not community. The solution — one fears to say it without pages of qualification — is to reintroduce a conception of submission to God’s revealed will as it’s located in the local church.” The local church requires you to submit to elders, other members, and to Christ when a Christian website cannot.
Likewise, though many websites have pastors writing and editing, none of them argue that they function as pastors in this role. These men do not have the capacity to cover you with authority nor the ability to do so because of the digital space that lies between you two.
Though Christian websites are a great place to learn about the church and fellowship with the wider church community, they are not your local church.
This is Not an Ordinance
This one is a surprising reminder. If you’re like me, you like to create laws for yourself. You like routine and gravitate towards it. But Jesus never said, “Thou shalt log in and read Christian articles daily.” This isn’t something you have to do; this is a freeing realization.
Though you enjoy checking out what’s being said by the Christian community on the internet, you have to remind yourself that it’s not part of your identity. Being adopted into sonship with Christ, calls you to baptism, the Lord’s supper, prayer, the Word, and the local church community. It doesn’t call you to keep up with what is being said on the web.
At times you may feel out of place because other Christians know what’s going on in the blogosphere and you don’t. But that knowledge doesn’t shape you like the ordinances Christ gave you. You’re shaped by taking in bites of the Lord’s body, not bytes of data from Christian websites. You’re washed in the stream of Christ’s blood through the waters of baptism, not by the stream of your twitter feed.
Though Christian websites are a great place to learn what Christ ordained, you’re not ordained to go to them.
This post first appeared at Joey’s blog and is posted here with his permission.