Every generation features new challenges. Our generation is full of change and throws many challenges to us all. For the people of God the question becomes, “How does this or that innovation affect our life before God?”. Without doubt the revolution in communication media is a profound challenge to every ecclesia, every family, every individual. Brother Matthew’s article seeks to awaken us to be faithful to God and His calling as we make decisions about the media and communications, lest their stealthy invasion blind us to their corrupting influences.

The Kingdom of Men has given this generation more modes of communication than any other in the history of humanity. We can talk, type, telephone, text, instant message, SKYPE, Facebook, email, VOIP, mobile, blog or multimedia-message.

There are also more vehicles for global self expression than ever before. What was once controlled by censors, record companies, distributors, librarians, publishers and governments has been swept aside by YouTube, MySpace, web blogs, forums, eBay, Amazon and Wikipedia, online areas which allow anyone to express and display thoughts, opinions and content of their choice to the world.

Literally any form of media can be shared and distributed via what is fast becoming known as the Human Network, a culture (rather than a network of computers) that embraces converging technologies and the opportunities they enable.

This phenomenon is so widespread that Time magazine’s person of the year for 2006 was – you! Yes, you. You control the information age, not anyone else, and this is your world.

Due to having so many more ways of communicating with one another this has led to a revolution in the quality and potential of our relationships. But has this been for the better or for the worse?

Better now than ever?

We all know that relationships break down through a lack of communication, so it would be logical that due to an exponential rise in communications’ devices there should also be a proportionate rise in the quality of relationships.

We should by now be seeing a measurable and obvious decline in the rate of divorce and family breakdowns as the mobile phone and texting makes misunderstandings a thing of the past.

Far from breaking down, we should be observing a pronounced increase in happy marriages, tighter family units, closer friendships more intimate fellowship. With everyone literally as close as the send button, loneliness should by now be a thing of the past.

And in the ecclesia it should be obvious that the union of Bible software and the Internet has produced an exponential rise in the quality of exposition from our platforms, as computer literate brethren capitalize on the vast amount of information at their finger tips.

By now, the gap between those who study with technology and those who struggle without should be growing wider and more embarrassing as computer illiterate brethren struggle to keep up with the quality and scope that brethren with technology take for granted.

The question is – do we finally have the tools which have elevated us to new heights in communication and fellowship, stronger marriages, more unified and cohesive ecclesial environments, closer and more open fellowship, warmer and richer friendships as Time magazine judged?

As the Kingdom of Communication is finally here, have we made it? “Are we better than our fathers?”

The reality

The things described above were the sales pitch, the dream, the hope and expectation that saw people scrambling to have the devices in their personal and professional lives, but unfortunately the dream has not materialised into reality.

From Time magazine to The Sydney Morning Herald people are saying the same thing – despite all the benefits that have come, true relationships (fellowship, family ties, marriages, friendships) are suffering because of modern communication devices.

Have you noticed how people are more insular now? that it is more of an effort to invite people round for tea? that the spontaneity of dropping in on a friend or friends dropping in on you is diminishing? that people would sooner write an email or send a text than pick up the phone and talk?

Why is this the case? It seems logical that a device allowing people to communicate with family and friends wherever they are can only improve the quality of their relationships and therefore must be a good thing!

The fact is that many of the ingredients that make up a happy marriage, warm fellowship and close ecclesias have been left out when creating new age communications devices.

What does God think of the information revolution?

The benefits the information revolution has brought about are many. The ability to preach online, to maintain international friendships with people we may not otherwise see for many years or to increase the ease of ecclesial communication certainly are benefits to our daily and ecclesial lives.

But there are questions that come about with this topic – how would God have us approach the advent of Web 2? Do Biblical principles even apply in the online world? We’re told not to love the world; isn’t the World Wide Web the same thing?

On the surface this subject appears to be difficult. The Law didn’t discuss email use. Paul didn’t write to the ecclesias about online social networking and Jesus didn’t discuss the merit of text messaging with the people who came to him. So what passage do we turn to for spiritual guidance on these issues?

The Bible is well and truly on top of this and far from being intimidated and blown around by the winds of change. We can be, in the words of Romans 8, more than conquerors, on top of the issues, guided by a clear spiritual ideology that will guide us through false promises of power and happiness.

Our community needs to spend more time considering the impacts of these changes, for good and for bad, given the significant influence they are having on families and ecclesias.

The following sections briefly set out some of the principles God has given on these issues. There is much more information that can and should be covered but the purpose of this is simply to provide some guidance and to show that the Scriptures are still relevant to this discussion.

The Bible on communication devices

When you look to the Bible you find the eternal Biblical concept for fellowship is sharing a meal face to face; the peace offering and emblems are all examples of this principle.

Even in the Kingdom age the marriage supper of the Lamb is made up of people who don’t need to eat, eating. And they are also communicating face to face when their status as immortals means their “mobile coverage map” extends to the ends of the universe.

In God’s eyes, offline face to face communication is always and will always be more profitable than anything technology can offer us.

Contrasting that, mobile phones, texting, instant messaging and online communities encourage remote communication and are a poor substitute for face to face hospitality. They both remove the need for, and impose their presence on, face to face communication.

A month ago we had some good friends around for lunch. Twenty minutes before they came we were running around getting the house in order and the food prepared. When they arrived we were not quite ready and with a certain amount of apprehension I heard the door bell ring and realised that I would be talking to both while my wife finished the meal.

I opened the door and there were the initial awkward few moments when someone first comes into your house and pleasantries are exchanged. It wasn’t too long before the conversation was flowing. However during the meal one of our visitors was cutting the chicken and his knife slipped and pushed all the vegetables off his plate onto the table cloth. He turned red and apologized but we all laughed and reassured him it was no problem.

Fifteen minutes later I was making an emphatic point and inadvertently soiled the table cloth. Now it was me with the red face. Finally the meal ended with another visitor over-filling a glass onto the table cloth.

Despite all this we had a wonderful time and shared warm fellowship. But what this illustrates is that a certain amount of pressure is associated with face to face fellowship. Abraham must have felt the same when he walked around introducing his mysterious visitors to his family.

All of this pressure and awkwardness could have been avoided simply by sending a text, instant message or email and we could all have felt reassured that we were still friends. But if we did that, thanks to the wonders of new age communications, we would have missed a vital point about the way God created us to share and enjoy fellowship and the kind of communication that makes that fellowship happen.

Face to face communication builds personal relationships. The experience of an occasion builds memories between the parties involved. It develops people’s characters and helps them to learn and grow in dealing with other people.

The Bible on visual and multimedia

The second commandment forbade the creation of all images and statues. In Deuteronomy 4:12–19 the commandment concerning visual mediums is explained in the context of stunting their ability to conceptualise and form a relationship with an invisible God.

When Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth he told them to not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen because the things which are seen are temporary but the things which are not seen are eternal.

When the Tabernacle’s furniture was built, no one ever saw it and the same applied with the tables of stone, Aaron’s rod that budded and the golden pot that had manna. They were all seen once and then permanently hidden.

All these messages are consistent with the second of the three primary lusts and the warning attached to it – the “lust of the eyes” has an inherent tendency to blind people to the things which are unseen by dazzling them with the things which are seen.

Everything about the worship of God was designed to expand Israel’s minds to see an invisible God reflected in every aspect of life.

When searching these principles further we begin to find God’s preferred medium for communication. Naturally we might think of reading but time and time again through the Old and New Testaments it is hearing that is emphasised as the primary means to “breathe in the breath” of an invisible God.

Throughout the Law hearing is mentioned over thirty-seven times compared to three occurrences of reading. God carefully created a culture that was designed to have His Word spoken, heard, remembered, meditated upon and imprinted on the heart. It was His objective to create a generation of “teaching” priests out of humans (Mal 2:7).

When we look at these things in the light of visual and multimedia – PowerPoint used for talks, methods used to preach and teach, the amount of time spent conversing through formats other than face to face communication – the Bible speaks to us with the principles that should guide us and sets out the challenges we need to consider.

Hebrew or Babylonian?

Human nature has not changed since Eve first looked at the tree and weighed up the knowledge of the good with the evil and decided the benefits of ‘being like the angels’ was greater than the risks.

The Kingdom of Men has not changed since the tower of Babel was constructed, a culture which inspired empires throughout history to the present of the power and potential bound up in human networking with a common medium. Babylon was one of those places with its roots in Babel.

The word “Babylon” meant different things to different civilisations. To a citizen of Babylon, dazzled by its splendour, excited about its power and opportunity and awe-inspired by its technology, Babylon meant the gateway to heaven. To the Godfearing Hebrew who was living a Godly lifestyle and seeing life from God’s perspective, Babylon was a word that meant “confusion”.

There are therefore two different cultures which can view the same thing from two diverse perspectives.

The question we need to ask is – what culture and what ideology is motivating us to reach out and aspire to faster access, more power and greater connectivity? And to whom are we trying to reach out with faster access, more power and great connectivity?

Technology gives, but what is it taking away – have we thought about the consequences? The mediums and media with which we surround ourselves will either strengthen our lives or strangle them and leave us thinking we are masters of the new technology when in fact we may be enslaved.