On-line preaching can be tremendously helpful. But it brings with it a few dangers. Watch out for false and novel teaching. Watch out for the temptation to find a teacher, any teacher, any teacher at all, who agrees with you and goes against what others are telling you. Use your resources wisely. But do not let your resources take you out of faithful Christian living in your local church. Do not daydream about having a legend for a pastor or feel the urge to reshape your pastor into your favorite conference personality. Be grateful for faithful teaching, but do not assume that simply consuming content has sanctified you.
Preach the word! The Lord commands it. The body is blessed by it. The sermon is a good and necessary thing for the life of the believer.
In today’s world, the believer has access to more of the preached word than ever before. We can read books of collected messages. We can stream our favorite Bible teachers. We can turn on RYM Radio and hear teaching all day long. We can Google the Internet (I hear that’s what the kids call it), and find videos of pastors of small churches we will never hear of in any other way.
But, as a pastor, one who preaches weekly (and hopefully not weakly), can I warn you of a danger or two in too much on-line sermon consumption? I’m quite grateful for the resources that the Lord has placed at our fingertips, but I fear that some believers may move from being helped to being harmed by their consumption of material on-line.
I Know a Secret
One danger of on-line sermons that I think we would all agree on is the risk of consuming false teaching. This is more likely when a believer is listening to a pastor or scholar about whom they know nothing. If you are listening to a message or reading an article written by someone whose scholarship is not being checked by others, you run the risk of novel and even dangerous teaching.
One of the attractions of many an on-line message is the fact that it teaches you something you have never heard before. It is possible to run across a man who is translating the Hebrew of Genesis for himself and saying things about what it means to be human that no faithful teacher has ever taught. If a believer is not careful here, he or she may come away with a damaging, false belief that was all the more dangerous for feeling like it was something secret that no other teacher has brought forth.
I’d bet that you have heard of the problem of Gnosticism in the early church. Among the dangerous beliefs of the Gnostics was the ego-boosting belief that they possessed secret knowledge that was not available to the general public. It was easy for folks to love the fact that they were let in on the stuff that other, ordinary people could not grasp. See any similarities to how some folks feel about that special teacher they have found on-line?
Do you remember choose-your-own-adventure books? These were popular before video games took the idea to a whole new level. A reader would follow the story of a hero until a particular turning point: enter the cave or climb the mountain? The reader would turn to a different page of the book to find out what happened to the hero depending on the choice the reader made for the hero. Perhaps the cave contained a dragon. Perhaps the mountain led to a castle and a princess. The point was to give the reader a sense of adventure by being able to pick the kind of story he or she wanted to read.
Similar to the draw of novel and dangerous doctrine is the temptation to pick and defend your own favorite teaching. Sometimes people will have a particular point of doctrine they want others to agree with. Instead of examining faithful teaching of faithful teachers, the eager learner will scour the Internet for the one teacher who says it just the way they want to hear. Want to find that Calvinist who dunks on your Arminian friends, no problem. Want to find that Arminian preacher who makes your Calvinist friends look like cold-hearted robots, piece of cake. Want to find somebody who interprets a particular passage in accord with your strange preferences? This one might take a bit more work, but the Internet is a big place, and lots of people have said lots of crazy things over the years; so it can be done.