The guidelines we state here are based on those adopted by the 2013 Classis meeting of the RCNA. These guidelines are well known, apply to all aspects of our lives, and have always been the same. They are presented in no particular order, are by no means complete, and can be restated in various ways.
Accountability. All our actions are simple, free choices for which we remain fully responsible, and which inevitably have consequences. What we do online may seem to be anonymous and unknown to others, but we will be held accountable for them. And, of course, nothing we do on the internet is truly secure and private, and nothing we post is retrievable. This is a very good thing to keep in mind before sending a text, sharing a file, uploading personal information about yourself or others, or engaging in improper or other online activities you wouldn’t want others to know about.
Whatever we do must be done out of love, for the glory and honour of God, and to the wellbeing of our neighbour. This is true for whoever we are, and whenever we do anything. God’s word and revealed will (Ten Commandments) are to be our guide in life, and they call us to avoid the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life–three things that sum up what the world offers. We do well to remember that God is not mocked or deceived, that He requires that which is past, that He will reward each according to his work. There are very many online activities that do not meet this criteria.
Redeeming time. Many things that are not harmful to our neighbour (e.g. trolling for information on the web) are however harmful to ourselves, in that we are wasting our time needlessly. We are called to redeem the time, as the days are evil. We should ask ourselves periodically when we surf the web or text our friends if we are spending the precious time of grace appropriately? Most uses of social networking do not pass this test. Certain sites, such as LinkedIn, ResearchGate or Twitter, and to some extent even Facebook can be used for business purposes, and such uses are often justifiable, but using social networking for chatting with friends and sharing the latest gossip is sinful.
A major use of the internet and our digital devices is simple entertainment. It is important to relax and refresh ourselves, but surfing the web for simple, frivolous entertainment through Netflix, Vimeo, YouTube, Pinterest, sports sites, etc. is sinful. One should read the sermons of Edwards, McCheyne, and others on the danger of God’s wrath which the unconverted are under at all times. Shall we then have mirth? (Ezekiel 21:10).
Conformity. We are admonished clearly in the Bible that we are not to be conformed to the world, but that we ought to live as strangers and pilgrims. Not that we ought to adopt a self-righteous, holier-than-thou mentality, but we need to realize the world is full of anti-Christian alluring influences and temptations, and these have strong appeal to our depraved hearts. We ought to actively avoid the influences of the world as much as we can. A question–are we willing to make sacrifices, and forego conveniences, to maintain our Reformed identity? The internet has made many things more convenient, but is that enough warrant to use it for everything we currently use it for. You see, if you pick up a book, you can usually tell by the cover of what genre it is; you’d be surprised to encounter unacceptable material in a ‘good book’. But on the internet, even if well-filtered, unacceptable material often is accessed unexpectedly.
Most of the content delivered via the internet has a decided anti-Christian, secular, bias. The design and purpose of the media is to integrate us with the world, to homogenize, spread ideas and values. Continual exposure tends to erode the borders of what we find acceptable and lower the thresholds of what we consider morally right. It is virtually impossible to look at Google News on any given day and not hear about gay rights, or see an article that presupposes evolution, or hear of social unrest and miscarriage of justice? What does this constant exposure to these issues, always presented from a perspective hostile to the Bible, have on us? As mentioned at the 2013 Classis and Synod meetings, when we utilize media and communications (or any other) technologies, we should strive to keep “far from all things whereby [God’s] Name is blasphemed and His commandments transgressed.”
Temptation. The Bible expressly tells us to flee all sin and temptation, to watch and be ‘instant’ in prayer, to depart from evil, and to be aware of the wiles of Satan. We are to follow the Psalmist, who vowed: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes” (Psalm 101:3), and Job, who made a covenant with his eyes that he would not look at things that would lead to sin (Job 31:1). We cannot do so while using a medium in which God’s name, word, and precepts are mocked and abused. Read the comments many users make about the Christian faith on news websites, and it becomes apparent what spirit motivates them. By participating in, or tolerating such things, we can only expect to grieve and quench God’s Spirit, stifle the workings of our conscience, and hinder our prayers.
Sabbath. The sanctity of the Lord’s Day is increasingly undermined as a result Whereas 20 years ago most of us would shun using the telephone on the Sunday, today people use their mobile devices while in church and feel the need to send meaningless texts to each other during a sermon.
Parenting. We are to nurture and raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, instruct them in His ways and precepts, and model a proper Christian life. Clearly every parent falls short in this. But surely one duty implied in this it to inform ourselves of what our children are doing, also what they are doing online, what they listen to and watch on their digital devices. This task is made easier by software that allows accountability reporting. Another duty is to restrict their access to the internet, both as to content and when they can watch.
Restraint. As mentioned at the 2013 classis and synod meetings, “The use of modern media and related technologies can only be considered acceptable when … it serves a useful purpose, [and is with] restraint, and … the maximum possible protection from undesirable content, developments and opportunities.” This also runs counter to the temptation is to buy into the trend to buy the latest media gadgets and follow the latest fad and trend on the web. This is far removed from the injunction to live temperately and soberly in the world, to use but not abusing it. Rather it incites covetousness.
What can be said in conclusion? We can hope to do no more than raise awareness–the effects of these new developments on our families cannot be reversed or stopped. Media technology will continue to develop at an increasing pace, making us ever more vulnerable as a society and detached as individuals, and presenting temptations and opportunities for sin and vice in unprecedented, unimaginable ways. We have no might against this great company, against this flood cast out by the serpent, and may well ask, “What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?” Though the gates of hell will not prevail against God’s Church, we must be vigilant. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). “For as a snare shall [the last temptations] come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:35-36).