Use of the Internet—Be Alert to the Dangers!
1 Jehovah’s people enjoy wholesome association with one another. They enjoy sharing experiences from the field ministry and appreciate hearing about events that occur in connection with Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Kingdom work around the globe. They like to be informed about anything outstanding that may happen to our brothers, such as a crisis or a natural disaster, and they want to know if there is something they can do to help. Such interest shows the unity of the brotherhood, proving that we do indeed love one another.—John 13:34, 35.
2 Today, we hear about world events quickly. Radio and television broadcasts give live coverage of events in full detail to audiences all over the globe. The telephone also makes it possible to communicate immediately with people around the world. In communications a recent phenomenon that is taking the world by storm is the Internet.—See Awake!, July 22, 1997.
3 The invention of the telephone opened the way to fast personal communication worldwide. Although the telephone is very useful, caution is needed in the way it is employed, as it can be a tool for improper association or activities, and overuse of the telephone can be expensive. Television and radio have potential in the field of education. Sadly, though, much of the programming is morally corrupt, and attention to it is a waste of time. Wisdom dictates that we be very selective in the use of television and radio.
4 The Internet enables one to communicate inexpensively with millions of others throughout the world, and it opens the door to vast amounts of information. (Awake!, January 8, 1998) The indiscriminate use of the Internet, however, can expose a person to great spiritual and moral dangers. How is this so?
5 Many are concerned about readily available information that shows how to build weapons, including bombs. Industry complains about the amount of time workers waste using the Internet. Much has been stated in our publications about the obvious spiritual dangers encountered on the Internet. Numerous Web sites present violent and pornographic materials that are entirely unsuitable for Christians. (Ps. 119:37) In addition to these dangers, there is a more insidious danger that Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular need to be on guard against. What is this danger?
6 Would you invite a stranger into your home without first finding out who he is? What if there was no way to find out? Would you allow such a stranger to be alone with your children? This is an indisputable possibility on the Internet.
7 Electronic mail can be sent to and received from people you do not know. The same is true when you converse electronically in a forum or in a chat room. Participants may at times claim to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, but often they are not. Someone may claim to be a youth when he is not. Or a person may even falsely claim to be of a certain gender.
8 Information passed on to you may come in the form of experiences or comments about our beliefs. This information is passed on to others who, in turn, pass it on to still others. The information is generally not verifiable and may be untrue. The comments may be a cover for spreading apostate reasoning.—2 Thess. 2:1-3.
9 With this danger in mind, if you use the Internet, ask yourself: ‘What do I use it for? Is there a possibility that I could be harmed spiritually by how I am using it? Could I be contributing to the spiritual injury of others?’
10 Web Sites of “Jehovah’s Witnesses”: Consider, for example, some Internet sites set up by individuals who claim to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. They invite you to visit their sites to read experiences posted by others who claim to be Witnesses. You are encouraged to share your thoughts and views about the Society’s literature. Some give recommendations about presentations that could be used in the field ministry. These sites offer chat rooms for individuals to connect to, allowing live communication with others, similar to talking on the telephone. They often point you to other sites where you can have on-line association with Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. But can you tell for certain that these contacts have not been planted by apostates?
11 Having association via the Internet may not be consistent with the recommendation found at Ephesians 5:15-17. The apostle Paul wrote: “Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time for yourselves, because the days are wicked. On this account cease becoming unreasonable, but go on perceiving what the will of Jehovah is.”
12 The Christian congregation is the theocratic means through which we are fed spiritually by “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45-47) Within God’s organization, we find direction and protection to keep us separate from the world as well as motivation to keep busy in the work of the Lord. (1 Cor. 15:58) The psalmist indicated that he experienced joy and a feeling of security among God’s congregated people. (Ps. 27:4, 5; 55:14; 122:1) The congregation also provides spiritual support and assistance for those associated with it. Therein, you can find a group of loving, concerned, and caring friends—people you personally know who are ready and willing to help and comfort others in times of distress. (2 Cor. 7:5-7) Congregation members are protected by the Scriptural provision for disfellowshipping those who sin unrepentantly or who promote apostate thinking. (1 Cor. 5:9-13; Titus 3:10, 11) Can we expect to find these same loving arrangements when associating with others via the Internet?
13 It has become apparent that the opposite is true. Some Web sites are clearly vehicles for apostate propaganda. Such Web sites may claim otherwise, and those who sponsor a site may give a detailed explanation to affirm that they truly are Jehovah’s Witnesses. They may even request information from you in order to verify that you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
14 Jehovah wants you to exercise discernment. Why? Because he knows that it will safeguard you from various dangers. Proverbs 2:10-19 opens by saying: “When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you.” Safeguard you from what? From such things as “the bad way,” those leaving upright paths, and people who are immoral and devious in their general course.
15 When we go to the Kingdom Hall, there is no question that we are with our brothers. We know them. No one requires authentication of this because the brotherly love manifested makes it obvious. We are not personally required to provide credentials to prove that we truly are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is here that we find the true interchange of encouragement that Paul spoke about at Hebrews 10:24, 25. Web sites that encourage on-line association cannot be depended on to provide this. Having in mind the words of Psalm 26:4, 5 can alert us to dangers that could easily be encountered when using Web sites on the Internet.
16 There are no limits or checks on the kind of information that is maintained by and accessible to Internet users. Often, children and teenagers are easy targets of crime and exploitation in this environment. Children are trusting, curious, and anxious to explore the relatively new world of cyberspace. Parents therefore need to supervise their children and give them sound Scriptural guidance about using the Internet, just as they would guide them in their choice of music or movies.—1 Cor. 15:33.
17 Sadly, some who were once our brothers and sisters have had to be disfellowshipped because of association that started by meeting worldly individuals in chat rooms on the Internet and eventually led to immorality. In shocked disbelief, elders have written that some had actually left their husbands or wives to pursue a relationship that began on the Internet. (2 Tim. 3:6) Other individuals have disowned the truth because of believing information provided by apostates. (1 Tim. 4:1, 2) Given these very serious dangers, does it not seem reasonable to be cautious about becoming involved in chat sessions on the Internet? Certainly, exercising the wisdom, knowledge, thinking ability, and discernment spoken of at Proverbs 2:10-19 should safeguard us in this.
18 Noticeably, there have been a number of individuals who have created Web sites ostensibly to preach the good news. Many of these sites are sponsored by indiscreet brothers. Other sites may be sponsored by apostates who wish to lure unsuspecting ones. (2 John 9-11) Commenting on whether there is a need for our brothers to create such Web sites, Our Kingdom Ministry, November 1997, page 3, stated: “There is no need for any individual to prepare Internet pages about Jehovah’s Witnesses, our activities, or our beliefs. Our official site [www.watchtower.org] presents accurate information for any who want it.”
19 Study Aids via the Internet? Some have felt that they are rendering a service to the brothers by posting researched information in connection with various theocratic activities. For example, a person may do research based on a public-talk outline and then post this, thinking that such information will benefit those who need to prepare the same outline. Others will post all the scriptures for an upcoming Watchtower Study or provide source material for the Theocratic Ministry School or the Congregation Book Study. Some may offer suggestions for field ministry presentations. Are such really helpful?
20 The publications provided by Jehovah’s organization stimulate our minds with upbuilding thoughts and train us “to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Heb. 5:14) Can we say that this is achieved if others do our research for us?
21 The Beroeans were spoken of as “more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica.” Why? Because “they received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) Although Paul and Silas preached to them, they could not make the truth their own without becoming personally involved.
22 Using another person’s research for a talk or for other meeting preparation really defeats the purpose of personal study. Is it not your desire to build up your own personal faith in God’s Word? Based on personal conviction, you can then make public expression of your faith—in your talks, in comments at the meetings, and in the field ministry. (Rom. 10:10) Using another person’s research does not fit the description given at Proverbs 2:4, 5 to personally ‘keep seeking and searching for the very knowledge of God as for hid treasures.’
23 For example, when looking up scriptures in your own copy of the Bible, you can briefly review the context of each scripture. You can ‘trace all things with accuracy,’ as did Luke when he wrote his Gospel. (Luke 1:3) The extra effort will also help you to be skillful in looking up scriptures in the ministry and when giving talks. Many have stated that they are impressed with Jehovah’s Witnesses because they know how to use their Bibles. The only way that this can apply to us is if we make it a practice personally to look up scriptures in our own Bibles.
24 Using Our Time Wisely: Another consideration in this regard has to do with the amount of time spent creating, reading, and responding to information posted on the Internet. Psalm 90:12 encourages us to pray: “Show us just how to count our days in such a way that we may bring a heart of wisdom in.” Paul stated: “The time left is reduced.” (1 Cor. 7:29) And further: “Really, then, as long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.”—Gal. 6:10.
25 Such counsel highlights the need for us to be judicious in the use of our time. How much more profitable it is to spend time reading God’s Word! (Ps. 1:1, 2) That is the best association we can have. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) Parents, are you teaching your children the value of using their time wisely in Kingdom pursuits? (Eccl. 12:1) Time spent in personal and family Bible study, meeting attendance, and field ministry far outweighs time spent browsing the Internet, expecting to gain benefits.
26 In this regard, it is the course of wisdom to focus our attention on spiritual matters and on those things relevant and essential to our lives as Christians. This calls for the making of well-considered choices respecting the information that merits our time and thought. As Christians, that which is relevant to our lives was summed up by Christ, who said: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33) Are you not happiest when your life is filled with Kingdom pursuits rather than any other activity?
27 Internet E-Mail: Although sharing personal experiences or thoughts among family or friends who live far apart is appropriate, is it really loving to pass these on to others who may not know your family or friends? Or should these be posted on a Web page for just anyone to read? Are these personal messages to be copied and sent indiscriminately to people whom you may or may not know? Likewise, if you receive messages from others that were clearly not intended for you, is it loving to pass them on to still others?
28 What if the experience you pass on is not accurate? Would this not be sharing in perpetuating an untruth? (Prov. 12:19; 21:28; 30:8; Col. 3:9) Certainly, keeping “strict watch that how [we] walk is not as unwise but as wise persons” would move us to consider this. (Eph. 5:15) How happy we are that the Yearbook, The Watchtower, and Awake! are filled with verifiable experiences that encourage us and motivate us to keep walking in “the way”!—Isa. 30:20, 21.
29 There is also another danger. The apostle Paul said concerning some: “They also learn to be unoccupied, gadding about to the houses; yes, not only unoccupied, but also gossipers and meddlers in other people’s affairs, talking of things they ought not.” (1 Tim. 5:13) This argues against spending time and effort passing on frivolous information to our brothers.
30 Think, too, of the amount of time that it takes to keep up with a large quantity of E-mail. Interestingly, the book Data Smog stated: “As one spends more and more time online, e-mail quickly changes from being a stimulating novelty to a time-consuming burden, with dozens of messages to read and answer every day from colleagues, friends, family, . . . and unsolicited sales pitches.” Further, it states: “Many electronic glutizens have picked up the very bad habit of forwarding every entertaining nugget they receive—jokes, urban myths, electronic chain letters, and more—to everyone on their electronic address book.”
31 This has been evident in the E-mail circulated among many of the brothers—such items as jokes or humorous stories about the ministry; poetry presumably based on our beliefs; illustrations from various talks heard at assemblies, conventions, or at the Kingdom Hall; experiences from the field ministry; and so forth—things that seem innocent enough. Most routinely forward such E-mail without checking the source, making it difficult to know who really is the originator, which ought to make one wonder if the information is really true.—Prov. 22:20, 21.
32 Such often-frivolous messages are not the kind of healthful words that Paul had in mind when he wrote to Timothy, saying: “Keep holding the pattern of healthful words that you heard from me with the faith and love that are in connection with Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 1:13) The “pure language” of Scriptural truth has “the pattern of healthful words” based mainly on the Bible’s theme of the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty by means of the Kingdom. (Zeph. 3:9) We should make every effort to devote all our available time and energy to support this vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty.
33 Since we are deep into the time of the end of this system of things, this is no time to let our guard down. The Bible warns us: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Pet. 5:8) It further states: “Put on the complete suit of armor from God that you may be able to stand firm against the machinations of the Devil.”—Eph. 6:11.
34 If misused, the Internet can be a means by which Satan overreaches those who are seduced by its power. Although it may have limited usefulness, there is danger if it is not viewed with caution. Parents especially need to be concerned about their children’s use of the Internet.
35 Keeping a balanced view of the Internet is a protection. We appreciate the timely reminder by Paul: “Let . . . those making use of the world [be] as those not using it to the full; for the scene of this world is changing.” (1 Cor. 7:29-31) Having these things in mind will help keep us and our families from becoming distracted by all that the world has to offer, including what is available on the Internet.
36 It is imperative that we stay close to our brothers in the congregation and use the remaining time wisely, thus making ourselves available for the advancing of Kingdom interests. As this system nears its finish, let us “no longer go on walking just as the nations also walk in the unprofitableness of their minds,” but let us “go on perceiving what the will of Jehovah is.”—Eph. 4:17; 5:17.