This is something I have wanted to write about for quite some time. Unfortunately I have always put it off because I’ve found that I have not been able to formulate my thoughts on it sufficiently nor have I been able to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. But I think it is an important topic and has been on my mind in recent days. So formulated or not, let’s talk about this.
God has built His church, the body of Christ, around a particular authority structure. Each local body has within it a pattern of authority. The leadership of the church is to be held accountable by the people and the people entrust the leadership with a degree of spiritual authority over them. Some churches place a greater focus on this than others. In my younger days the most dreaded day of the year was the “elder visitation.” On that day two of the elders from the church would come to the house and would spend time with the parents and any older children. They would pray with the family and then ask them questions about their spiritual state. They children would be asked questions appropriate to their age, and after the kids were dismissed, the elders would continue to meet with the parents. While I dreaded this as a child, now that I am an adult I can see a real benefit to it. The local church was doing its best to ensure that the leadership had some sense of the spiritual maturity of the flock and was giving the membership an opportunity to bring their problems and concerns before the elders. It was a beautiful thing.
That practice is no longer widely practiced in the local church body, and it is a pity. In fact, the office of elder is rapidly disappearing altogether from evangelical churches.
Generally ministries within the local church are similarly governed by the church. Each ministry is held to a degree of accountability by the leadership. If I were to teach a Bible study class within my church, I would expect the leadership to take a vested interest and to oversee the ministry. If I were to teach something opposed to the Word, I’d expect them to chasten or discipline me when necessary.
This type of structure exists within the church for a good reason. Christians, like all humans, are prone to wander and to get themselves into all sorts of doctrinal trouble. The church has been tasked with ensuring its members are living lives that bring glory to the Head of the church.
While this type of spiritual accountability is built into the local church, it is conspicuous by its absence on the Internet. Any person can have a ministry online and be free from any real accountability. Blogs are a prime example of this. There are many blogs run by Christians that receive tens of thousands of visits every week. Many bloggers have a far bigger and diverse audience than the pastors within their local church. They can teach, instruct and encourage other believers from behind their personal computers. Unfortunately they can also do great damage. Yet they do all this with no real accountability. I am sure that many, perhaps even the majority of bloggers, have no accountability whatsoever with what they write on their web sites. This seems to fall outside of the structure of the local church.
I am reminded of a story I read a few weeks ago. Apparently there are now tens of thousands of individuals in the United States that make a living by selling items on eBay. The United States government is concerned about this for two reasons. First, these people fall outside the domain of the Internal Revenue Service and usually pay no tax on their income. Secondly, they fall outside the domain of whatever body measures the workforce, so that these thousands of people, while they earn a good living, are considered unemployed. The government is seeking ways of including such people in some category where they can be properly accounted for.
We can make this a metaphor for bloggers. Bloggers fall outside of the usual authority and accountability structures that are built into the church. Sure it is possible that the readers of a site will play this type of role, but it can only be so effective within the confines of the Internet’s anonymity. And we all know that for every person who will hold a person accountable for poor doctrine, there is at least one more, and probably many more, who will applaud it.
The blogosphere is rapidly becoming a primary means of sharing, teaching and disseminating information. Its popularity increases on a daily basis. So what are we to do? How are we to hold bloggers accountable for what they write? What can we do, as believers, to ensure that we are remaining true to the Word, and placing necessary safeguards in place for those times, those inevitable times, when we dishonor our Lord?