Four-and-a-half years ago, our lives radically changed. My wife and I, with our three children, moved from Australia to the United States. This decision to relocate and serve at Ligonier Ministries was significant. Our children were all under five years of age. We said goodbye to our family and friends and sold almost everything we owned. This was “starting over.” But more significant was that we had never been to the United States and had never met anyone from Ligonier in person.
We arrived late one February evening in 2012. The next day, we shared a meal with some of Ligonier’s leadership team. I was suffering from severe jet lag, but I didn’t miss an important lesson: pixels are people. Our previous online interactions had not been between mere pixels on a screen; they were between people. They remembered things I had said (typed) as if I had said them face-to-face. It was also clear that this wasn’t the beginning of our friendship. It was the continuation of a preexisting relationship. They knew me. I knew them. Pixels are people.
The Internet has changed the way we communicate. The ability of an individual to share a message has never been as easy or as far reaching. In March 2015, the world began watching NASA astronaut Scott Kelly spend a year aboard the International Space Station. He documented his experience through images he posted on Instagram. And last night, my parents blew kisses and said goodnight to their grandchildren. They live almost ten thousand miles away in Australia. Thank you, FaceTime.
Yes, the Internet can draw us closer together. But because of our sinful hearts, it can also push us apart. People—even those of us inside the church—easily twist God’s good gifts.
Christians must remember that to connect to the Internet is not to disconnect from Christ’s lordship. Since Scripture is our only rule for faith and life, we must answer to Christ for everything we do and say both online and offline. God’s Word remains sufficient for our day even as the technological landscape changes.
It seems our thinking can get distorted when our actions are mediated through a screen. I call it the “digital deception.” Words we would not dare say in person, we tweet or post as a comment. Instead of taking a matter to our elders or the church courts, we take it to the blogosphere. It’s almost as if we believe that if it happens online, the Word of God doesn’t apply. Would the Internet look any different if Christians read John 13:35 before posting online? “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus’ words here should lead us to repent of our sinful rhetoric. If the pen is mightier than the sword, pixels have proven to be nuclear weapons. One of the greatest threats to the peace, purity, and unity of the twenty-first-century church is a Christian with an Internet connection and a keyboard.
In light of its potentially destructive power, why would any Christian use social media? The short answer is because the Lord is sovereign and pixels are people. There are more than three billion Internet users around the world. This is not by accident. The Lord is the author of history, and the church finds herself with unique opportunities to do good in this world and bring Him glory.
When God commanded Adam and Eve to exercise dominion over creation in Genesis 1:28 and when Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18–20, the use of technology was assumed. It took advancements in agriculture and farming to help sustain a growing population, and advancements in transportation and communications to help edify and support a growing worldwide church. Whether it is the plow or the printing press, the steam engine or social media, technology is a God-given tool for our good and His glory.
By the end of the decade, more than half of the world’s population will have Internet access. What a digital mission field! We should ask ourselves: When they see the words and actions of Christians online, do they know we are Jesus’ disciples because of our love for one another? When a non-Christian asks Google, “Who is God?” or “Is Jesus really the Savior?” will they find trustworthy articles and sermons? When a resident of a town searches for a local church to attend this Christmas, will he find one that preaches the gospel?
We fail when we neglect the technology the Lord has given us. The church is responsible to steward both the message of the gospel and the Great Commission opportunities that present themselves. Christians had to be taught how to use the printing press and broadcast radio. Likewise, we must be willing to learn how to use today’s technology well.
As I shared that meal back in 2012, I learned something else: people are better than pixels. Yes, we already knew each other and had a relationship, but that evening was a superlative moment. It was edifying in a way our prior pixel-based interactions could never be.
The Apostle John wrote, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). Like John, may we also prefer to talk face-to-face, not displacing human contact or the ordinary means of grace found in the local church. But also like John, may we not neglect God’s gift of technology and the paper-and-ink equivalent of our digital age. Remember, pixels are people.