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Contemporary Issues

"The Impact of Information Technology on the Christian Family in the 21st Century"

 

by Rev Jack Sin 

(Pastor, Maranatha B-P Church)

 

Introduction

The late 20th century witness an unprecedented electronic revolution with the introduction of Information Technology (IT) into the work place, schools, and the home. Never before have so many people have access to so much information at a click of a button. Advancement in IT revolutionises the way we communicate, learn, do business and relate to one another and keep in touch. It has been estimated that more than 1/3 of Singaporeans are IT savvy, and many more are expected to use it over the next few years. New acronyms are coined, from SGRAM, GPU, LAN, URL, DVDs to HTML, e-commerce, e-business and others, demonstrating the technological revolution that we are facing today. Children and adults have at their disposal wide range of overwhelming global information (with the help of search engines as well), which can be both good or bad, depending whether it is used for good or evil. How do all these affect the Christian family (and the church)? The following are to be considered:-

The Stewardship of Time

The use of the Internet has taken much time and attention from the average user. Children use it for emailing, chat rooms (even with strangers) computer games, like the Nintendo, MP3, surfing the Internet; others may use it for business opportunities, learning or leisure. Almost variably it displaces or take up valuable time of the user watching videos as opposed to healthy family interaction and reading of good Christian books, and fellowship. Beware that it does not become a substitute for edifying Christian interaction. Paul in Eph 5:15Ė16 says, "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." Moses said in Ps 90:12, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."Spending three to five hours a day just surfing, talking in chatrooms or playing computer games is poor stewardship of the time, to say the least. (I know of a teenager that spends five hours a day on the computer and some Christian families that allows the children to earn computer time by their hardwork and good behaviour as an incentive).

The Exposure to Spiritually and Morally Undesirable Elements

The availability of the cyberspace provides a wide range of desirable and undesirable elements to the average user, both young and old. It is almost impossible now to censor the billions of websites that are constantly being developed by many, although there are software (ie Net Nanny that can help to censor them). Children and teenagers are curious and often easily enticed and attracted to websites on violence, pornography, horror, comedy, or the occult (e.g., there is an Angelís net started by an New Ager, when you can supposedly contact Ďangelsí to be your spiritual guide). They will be easy prey to the virtual influence that are on the world wide webs in cyberspace.

The parents have a role to play, to both inculcate values, educate and nurture their children, to keep them away from spiritually harmful and morally unedifying sites. 1 Thes 5:21,22 says,"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil." Parents are to watch the games that their children play, that they are not about violence, pornography, or occult, which are commonly accessible in the Internet. It must be said in the same breath that there are edifying and helpful portals as well. Some schools or institutions of higher learning require Internet research by the students as part of the overall curriculum. Absolute censorship is not the viable solution. There is a need to teach our children personal discipline and responsibility grounded in the fear of God (Prov 9:10), the constant presence of the Lord with them (Ps 139:7,8) and our accountability to God one day before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10). The best censor is still a personal desire to maintain good conscience before God and man when the person concerned chose not to view certain sites himself or herself positively. On the other hand, the church can have their own website for a global audience. There are also intellectually and spiritually stimulating (e.g., educational websites, information on Christian religion, church history, bible, facts on science and geography, etc) which we can use.

Virtual Fun with the Forces of Darkness

A commentary in Computer Times (26 September 2001) had said it well, "Letís not kid ourselves, most games are somewhat lacking in educational value." Some games are often just mindless, acquaintance with violence and horror in interactive games. For example, in games like Wolfenstein, the player is to storm and wrestle with ghouls, zombies and other occultic elements. In the Throne of Darkness, the player is set up in a fantasy world and have to do battle with demon Zanshin and his evil hordes. In Diablos 2, there are monsters galore and the player is to vanquish these foes both human and supernatural. In the Lord of Destruction, Baal the game chief villain and his malevolent plans have to be combated against together with other forces of darkness. In some multi-media interactive games, characters screamed in pain as their flesh are being torn off and hysterical and mystical sobbings can be heard from a mysterious source. Game developers are piling up the multi-media playhouse with sinister character and genetically modified mortals, to entice and seduce young and unsuspecting players into a surreal game of diabolical make-belief.

Paul says in Eph 5:11 "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" and Gal 5:20 "Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies" that as believers we should have nothing to do with such unedifying influences in our lives. The latest is that you can catch blockbusters in the comfort of your home on your PCs. PAC TV: a subscription base, personal entertainment suite on broadband was launched as a trial in Singapore. Subscribers can enjoy unlimited screenings of any shows from beauty pageants, music videos, sitcoms to the latest movies. These unedifying time robbers had been the pre-occupation of many teenagers and adults as well, substituting bible reading, fellowship and prayer. Paul in Phil 4:7-8 says, "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

The New Substitute for Fellowship/Personal Communications

It is noted that the Internet and computer have the tendency to displace sound interpersonal relationships. Impersonal Emails are used instead of personal meetings, phone calls or a group interaction and healthy socialisation. There will also be available to many distance-learning programme over the net without the personal interaction of the teacher and the classroom. Some users have been known to get acquainted with a stranger on the Internet and then develop an intimate relationship with them and forsake home or work to be with a virtual friend or fiend often to their detriment.

Often, as guardians and parents, we need to be there physically and join our children in their activities. Chat with them and show them other interesting and edifying websites and things that they can see and do. Often discuss and talk to them about dangers and things that they ought to avoid or beware of, eg horror (ie Diabolos game) pornography, violence or other undesirable elements. Some video games allow the user to cut off the heads of the opponents or bomb buildings in retaliation. There is always the peril of being addicted to it which has happened to many (1 Cor 6:12). Sometimes as parents, we can get in touch with their friends and interact with them and find out about our childrenís interest, behaviour and conduct. You can check on the history of their surfing and the sites they visited and have a password that is managed by someone responsible. If there is a need to discipline, do not hesitate to do it with love, making it commensurate with the offence committed. Forfeiture of privileges (eg, no computer play time for a week or so) or other punitive measures can be administered, tampered with prudence, patience and care. Give place for a gradual change with guidance for the better and encourage a lasting reformation of heart and mind (Rom 12:1,2). Paul said in 2 Tim 2:22"Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."

The Home as a Workplace?

One good (or bad) consequence of the IT revolution is that some work can be done from home. With some computer software and the Internet, it is now possible for financial analysts, accounting and banking professionals to literally work from home, so that they can be with their family and yet useful economically. The danger is turning the cosy and warm home into a cold and formal office completely, hence not separating work and family life. Good discipline and management of time is necessary here for a healthy balanced family and work life. Workaholics will find this a real temptation to handle. There is to be clear demarcation of when is work time and when is family time and the confusion between the two is unhelpful. Work must not be allowed to substitute quality family time with the children and spouse.

Conclusion

The 21st century is an age of technological change and as parents and leaders of the church, we have to keep abreast with it without being ignorant or overwhelmed by it. The computer today is almost indispensable for the average person in a new era of the 21st century. Children need guidance and attention in this matter. It is requisite that parents encourage Christian fellowship and edifying communication with others and their children. As parents, we need to know what our children are seeing, reading and doing on the computer. Do not give them free access to the computer all the time without supervision until they are responsible enough to be left alone. One safeguard is a strong parent-child relationship that brings the child to the parent (and to God in daily prayer and dependence) every time he / she needs counsel. The Christian here is to be characterised by fervent prayer and the reading of the Word, not an obsession with diabolical games. At other times, corrective actions like punishment is necessary but it is to be done in a positively edifying manner and not just the venting of our inordinate anger or frustration unnecessarily. Col 3:21 says, "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged."

The Church and Christian family can benefit from the IT revolution by using it with regard to positively edifying websites and correspondence with family and friends abroad. Ultimately, pray and ask the Lord for wisdom and prudence to manage and nurture the child in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. The parentsí example and Godly principles are important for the children to follow therein. We are all accountable to God one day, including the way we relate to our culture, social and technical environment and bring up our children in a covenant home. (Prov 24:3,4, Ps 127:1).

The IT revolution is amoral and it possesses vast potential for both good and evil. As Christians, we are to have sound spiritual and moral fibre to use it for good only. We end with Paulís admonition in 1 Cor 6:12 "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." 1 Cor 10:23,31 says, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

The end of all men is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever and this applies to all aspects of our lives as well. 


 
 
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