In many ways, you have control over what you want to have fed to you online. When you think about it, the internet is one giant digital buffet line you can pick and choose from to put on your plate and eat, depending on the mood you’re in at that particular moment. Other than advertisements here and there, nothing is digitally forced on you except what you have personally chosen.
And the same can be said about who we choose to spiritually influence and mentor us. If you’re trusting in yourself and choosing who you are going to on the internet as your primary source of spiritual input, you’re submitting only to the trustworthiness of yourself, and you don’t have to listen to anybody you don’t want to listen to. If the sermon on the podcast starts to make you feel uneasy, you stop it and find something else to tune in to. If the Bible study is too challenging, you can simply click away to a different one you’re capable of easily digesting.
See what I mean? If you have complete control over the “mentors” who teach you through a screen and those mentors never really interact with you, they aren’t really mentors at all. If I’m only choosing the voices I want to listen to and neglecting the more uncomfortable, challenging, and painful instruction, I’ve constructed a sort-of Frankenstein’s monster conglomerate of spiritual input that suits my desires and caters to my self-perceived needs.
Now, I’m not saying this is all bad, because there’s a lot of rotten theology and false teaching out there to ignore. However, if I’m the only one in charge of my spiritual input, and I’m not living the Christian life in the context of good and challenging community, my Christian life will become little more than a hobby I engage with when I’m comfortable doing so.
However, if I’m a member and regular attender of a Bible-teaching church, I’m going to hear sermons I didn’t choose to hear, I’m going to sit next to people who make me uncomfortable, I’m going to sing songs I didn’t pick, and I’m going to be stretched in ways that would never happen if I were doing things on my own. I’d be held accountable to attend, to give, to engage, to lead, and to submit to authority—all things that (in general) can be uncomfortable because of my sinful nature. (Side Note: I know this sounds weird in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, but in principle, it’s still true and will be true when lock-down ends.)
Perhaps there is an entire generation of young believers who are trusting themselves and only going to where they’re comfortable when it comes to following Christ. If so, this is not only tragic but dangerous because the Christian life isn’t meant to be comfortable; it’s meant to be transformational.
God has appointed means of giving a person (such as a pastor, biblical counselor, or teacher) a platform to lead, speak, advise, and direct others in the body of Christ. But if that authority is superseded by you who chooses to simply trust yourself to go to Google and get the input that suits your desires, you have the ability to set the agenda. You put yourself in the place of trustworthy authority over your own spiritual life and make yourself the one who has the power to direct, control, and lead. And slowly over time, your self-governing spiritual approach establishes itself in your family, church, community, and state.
To an individualistic culture, what I just described sounds awesome because it puts you at the center, but we must all come to grips with the counter-cultural reality that the Christian life is not about you. It’s about Jesus, not complete independence to do whatever I want to do. If I have total control over my “mentors” by doing internet/Google church, it gives me the autonomy I sinfully want but was never designed to handle. In other words, I trust myself into my own destruction.
Being pastored by the internet online service of my choice gives me the option to choose the voices I’m listening to, but at a horrible cost. Since when has any human being known what was actually good for them? We are infested with sin, and only by the grace of God are we able to make it from one day to the next. We have no idea what is best for us. Our innate desire to be independent is how we screw up our lives, not fix them.
If I let my two elementary school aged daughters do whatever they wanted to do all day, every day, I would be the textbook definition of a bad parent. Why? Because if my kids did whatever they wanted and I didn’t get involved to correct them and guide them, they’d eat candy for every meal, run into the middle of traffic, pick up broken glass to shove up their noses, and swallow any shiny red berry they saw growing on a bush. In other words, if I didn’t get involved, they’d be doomed.
And as much as we’d like to believe we’re more intelligent, sophisticated, and trustworthy than little children, we’re not. Think about all the ridiculous mistakes humanity has made that have led to wars, genocide, slavery, oppression, racism, et cetera, and tell me we’re not doomed if left to our own humanly methods. Just like little children, we have no idea what is best for us!
We need a God who is big enough to disagree with us about how we are supposed to live our lives. We need a God who knows that human independence is a death sentence to mankind. We need a trustworthy God who cares enough about us to get involved, because if he doesn’t, we’re doomed.