A few weeks ago, while reading reviews on a book dealing with Christianity, I saw a link to a “Customer Discussion” forum with a title that read something like, “Why Catholics are idol worshipers.” Against my better judgment, I visited the thread. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the thread since then, but from what I can remember, the author of the original post had written a rather lengthy explanation of why Catholicism was a false religion, explaining that he had actually been a Catholic and therefore had first-hand experience with their idolatry. As you would imagine, the thread had grown to a significant length as people from all kinds of religious backgrounds contributed their opinon.
Some were hostile, some were gentle, some were hurt, some probably shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. As posters began to express their frustration with the original poster’s claims, the ex-Catholic tried to explain his motives. He felt that he had been hurt by the Catholic church, lead astray by false teachers, and wanted to prevent others from making the same mistakes. Despite his apparently loving motives, the dialogue continued to be more rhetorical than anything else, and it didn’t appear that anyone was persuaded one way or another.
Go to nearly any predominate site on the Internet which allows the users to create groups or start discussion forums, and you will find groups devoted to proving the existence of God, threads dealing with the problem of evil, commenters declaring why the Jews need Christ, discussions explaining why atheism leads to immorality and anarchy, and why the Mormons are all going to hell.
Some Christians might see these trends as an example of fundamentalist “Bible thumping,” senselessly throwing Scripture and Christian thought into the pubic square without any regard for tact, kindness, or brotherly love. Others might be encouraged that believers are using the tools they have available to proclaim the Truths of Scripture to a lost generation.
If the technology of the Internet has opened doors for us to share the Gospel in new ways, why would we not use it? Which leads us to the question, if we are called to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, and if message boards, forums, and Internet groups allow us to easily reach people all over the world, how should we use these tools to fulfill the Great Commission?
Perhaps a good place to try to answer this question is Paul’s statement, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). From this, it seems that Paul would see the Internet as another “means,” another way to reach people for Christ. If this is true, then the use of forums and discussion boards to evanglize and debate profound theological concepts should be encouraged. These are merely more means to fulfill our commission. But it is crucial that we take into account Paul’s final words here, “I might save some.” In other words, Paul uses means that produce fruit, means that really do, “save some.” With this in mind, we need to ask, does sharing the Gospel on message boards and forums produce fruit?
While it is comfortable and easy to say, “yes, in every place, on every site, proclaim Christ,” or “never use Internet forums to hold meaningful conversations about the Gospel,” I think the proper response is to honestly examine our motives and the probable results. Specifically, we need to ask ourselves some questions and really try to understand what we are doing and why, remembering that we should seek to use all means, like the Internet, to save some, to really produce fruit:
- Will this post I am considering writing lead readers to sincerely consider the Message of the Gospel, or will it make the Gospel seem like yet another topic people debate online?
- If I am going to honor Christ today by sharing the Gospel, is the Customer Discussion forum on Amazon.com (or whatever the site may be) the best venue to share? Is it the most effective use of my time?
- Am I planning on writing this post to honor God, or to honor myself? In other words, is my goal to love my brothers and sisters so that they come to the saving knowledge of Christ, or am I trying to gain confidence in my beliefs by attacking the beliefs of others?
- Why am I choosing this “means” instead of another? Do I really believe that this is the best way to reach people for Christ, or is it simply the easiest?
Sometimes in our zeal to tell the world about Christ, we can allow the Internet to become an easy way to feel like we are doing our part. There is little cost or risk involved in telling people about Christ online. If someone gets offended, or if you cause someone harm, you can simply create a new user name and try again. But if our goal is to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel, we will think critically about how we use this “means,” so that we might save some.