The availability of Christian resources on the internet can be both a blessing and a hindrance. On the one hand, there is excellent and extensive material available that is edifying and God-honouring. It can be of practical use and we would be foolish not to make use of it for study, teaching, sermon preparation and devotion.
On the other hand, there are websites overseen by those with poor doctrine. On occasion, cult websites are accessed unwittingly by sincere believers. Also, teaching can be on offer that is unbiblical and rooted more in personal opinion, if not outright heresy. The five pointers below can help us navigate the plethora of online material.
1. Is it biblically based?
Whenever we read anything about Christianity, we should always consider if it is biblical. It doesn’t matter how captivating or engaging the style and means of delivery is — we must ensure that what is being said is in accordance with God’s Word.
Some of the more popular emergent church leaders today will write in such an ambivalent manner that there is little clarity in what they are advocating. Although they may make appeal to biblical motives, their doctrine is frequently closer to Universalism than biblical Christianity.
Frequently, the authority of Scripture is undermined, biblical history is treated with suspicion and biblical interpretation is lacking. Poor exegesis leads to texts being misused to support any given agenda or belief. Beware of verses merely skimmed across without study or contextualisation. Loaded questions may be used and a robust theological framework absent.
2. Is there a statement of faith?
Church websites that have a statement of faith provide clarity. That statement of faith should be scriptural. Some sites helpfully provide mission statements. If the statement of faith is vague, then the content is likely to be vague and can potentially confuse and confound rather than clarify truth. This is especially important when looking for a church to attend. They may have great programmes and a lot of exciting things going on, but first and foremost, what do they believe?
What you believe will profoundly affect what you do and the ministries that you are committed to. The statement of faith will reveal something concerning whether the church or ministry has a high view of God and the Scriptures, which is paramount.
3. Beware of cult websites
It is not uncommon nowadays to Google a theological subject only to soon find yourself on a website promoting Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses or some other cult. Look beyond initially promising words and ensure ‘another gospel’ is not being presented to you.
Check the statement of faith or the website’s ‘history’ or ‘about’ page, which may help clarify the general orthodoxy of the teaching. There are many cult websites; some of them blend in easily and can be difficult to recognise. Of course, the title of the site doesn’t always reveal who they are!
Be careful to ensure that your children, young people, new Christians and those who aren’t so seasoned in sound doctrine are aware of this. It would be useful for every Christian to be vigilant; not just for their sakes but to help others to be discerning.
4. Is the site reputable and using reliable sources?
Some people like to do their own blogs or web pages and again there are many good ones out there. However, it is worth considering the sources quoted to ensure that they are reliable. Are they regularly relying upon generic secular sources regarding spiritual matters? Rather than doctrinally sound sources, do they quote more from celebrities, political commentators and morally astute social commentators? Are they more interested in being politically correct than biblically correct?
Examining website links also aids investigations to determine whether a source is reputable. If a site is exclusivist to the extent that it only has links with those in complete agreement, then there is likely to be a problem.
Looking at which other ministries they recommend will give you some indication of where they are coming from. Nonetheless, you may go on some websites that recommend material that is brilliant and other links that are dubious. This probably means that it is lacking in discernment and the result will be a mixture of truth and error.
Lastly, a good question to think through carefully is, are you accessing a website that supports what you would like to believe rather than what the Bible expressly teaches?
5. Are they endorsed by reliable teachers, leaders or ministries?
The above point isn’t a completely foolproof test but will certainly go a long way to see who is likeminded among them. When reading a good Christian book, it is often endorsed by other recognised and faithful teachers. Similarly, when reviewing a book that is not so good, it is usually no surprise to see the same appraisals given by those whose ministries are questionable.
If still in doubt, pray that God will give you discernment about what you read or research online. Run something past your pastor or elders or someone who knows the Scriptures well and is sound doctrinally. Remember God’s Word endures, is authoritative and is the test to see whether everything else stands or falls.
‘The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever’ (Isaiah 40:8).
Jon Taylor is evangelist/liaison officer for Messianic Testimony, an associate of the Open Air Mission and a researcher for the Reachout Trust