Guest Column Peter Milsom
‘Lead us not into temptation’ — Christians and the internet
Christians today face some significant new challenges. One of these is the internet and the way we use it. For people of all ages, and especially the young, the internet is an important part of their daily lives. Recently, I met a retired Christian lady who has just gone on Facebook.
The internet has changed our lives. We live in an age of instant, worldwide communication through e-mail, social networking and Skype. We shop online and bank online.
The information highway provides us with easy access to web sites providing information about almost everything. Wikipedia is now regarded by some as being as reliable as Encyclopaedia Britannica. If we need to find any information, we simply Google it!
The internet has potential for real good. The task of the apostles in taking the gospel to people of the Roman Empire was made easier by the common language and good roads. Today, the internet is a superhighway for the gospel and is being widely used to make the gospel known, especially in countries where other means of evangelism are forbidden.
People with access to the internet in communist and Muslim countries can read the Bible and have the gospel and the Bible explained in their own language, in the privacy of their own homes.
Privacy, however, also has real dangers. Not only do we have access to the internet, but the internet has access to us, in the privacy and secrecy of our homes. Temptations to sin now have unparalleled access to us simply by clicking a mouse.
A high percentage of Google searches are for sites with adult content. Pornography, dating sites, chat rooms, gambling and uncontrolled gaming are only too easy to access.
A survey in the USA revealed that sexual addiction rates amongst church members, both men and women, are similar to the population as a whole. 40 per cent of ministers surveyed admitted accessing online pornography.
In the past, a person seeking pornography, for example, had to make a conscious decision to go to a retail outlet or contact a mail order company to obtain it. Now, any time you are online, you are five seconds and a few mouse-clicks away from still and video images, many beyond imagination.
They are compellingly addictive and, of course, totally unsatisfying. From the familiar and seemingly safe surroundings of our home or office we are able to enter a sordid world of temptation and evil. The images we see corrupt our minds and may destroy our marriage and other relationships.
How should we respond to this situation? One of the first steps is to admit to ourselves and each other that there is a potential problem. There are some things which Christians hardly ever talk to each other about. Bringing the subject into the open gives us the opportunity to face it and to strengthen one another in the face of these temptations.
Many Christian men have few close friends and find it very difficult to talk. They are facing increasing challenges and pressures in their working lives. Many work long hours in intense working environments.
Job insecurity has increased and some are unemployed. Low job satisfaction and tiredness are common. All these factors can make us more susceptible to temptation when we sit in front of a computer screen.
What starts as curiosity can become a way of life and a form of release from the pressures of life. Our secret guilt is something we find impossible to share with our wife, a close friend or our pastor.
The challenge is not only a personal one. It also raises questions about the quality of fellowship we enjoy in our churches. For many church members today, their involvement in church life is limited to one service a week.
We hardly know our fellow Christians, and conversations after services are at best superficial. Pastoral care may be limited and not give the opportunity to discuss difficult issues.
Even for those who attend more often, our engagement with fellow Christians may only be for six hours per week, and there is a lack of real depth of fellowship and trust. Our isolation and anonymity within the fellowship of the church also make us more vulnerable to temptation.
Pastors and church leaders are vulnerable too. Christians may not realise that pastors can be lonely. They spend many hours in personal study, often with the aid of a computer. After services they try to talk to as many people as they can, which often means that conversations and relationships lack depth.
The busyness of the church programme and handling the various crises that arise can be energy sapping. There may be little time or energy to give to relationships within the marriage and family, which brings a profound sense of failure and guilt.
Relationships within ministers’ fraternals may also be occasional and limited. When serious temptations come, to whom can we turn? Whom can we trust enough to risk discussing the temptations and sins with which we are struggling? Without help, the unresolved conflict continues and the outcome may be catastrophic for us, our marriage and our ministry.
Our failures in connection with the internet may be the elephant in the room that we never admit or talk about. Preaching ministry seldom addresses it. We need urgently to create situations where Christians can enjoy real and practical fellowship, which builds trust, mutual care and support. Formality makes us vulnerable!
There are computer programs which can help us build defences against the sinful use of the internet. Some make us accountable to a trusted friend; others seek to protect children from the dangers of the internet.
Some have found the following web sites helpful: Covenant Eyes: www.covenanteyes.com; Cyber Patrol: www.cyberpatrol.com; and Net Nanny: www.netnanny.co.uk
There is an enemy of our souls who is like a roaring lion. He loves to compromise us and then accuse us of living a double life. Sometimes he makes us ineffective and hopelessly compromised. Then he waits his opportunity to move in to destroy us, if he can.
We need to watch and pray for ourselves and for each other. We need to remember Paul’s words, ‘No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it’ (1 Corinthians 10:13).