New Horizons

Entering Cyberspace

G. I. Williamson

I live in northwestern Iowa, where big machines now do work on a massive scale that my uncles used to do by hand. Yes, I can remember my uncle John picking corn the hard way. But what took him days on end is now done in a few hours. And this is just one example of what the invention of machines driven by the internal combustion engine has accomplished to relieve us of backbreaking physical labor.

Yet as impressive as this is, it is my conviction that we are already moving into an age in which we are being similarly delivered from many of the onerous aspects of nonphysical work. And the computer (desktop and laptop) stands in the forefront of this development.

Let me give you one illustration of the computer's value to the church. Our Committee on Ecumenicity and lnterchurch Relations recently received a request for rather extensive information about the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and this information was needed quickly. I do not see how a request like this could have been answered "quickly" even a few years ago. But since nearly all members of the committee now have computers, it was possible for the chairman to contact them by e-mail (electronic mail), and ask different members to supply the needed information by return e-mail.

The result was that within a few days there was a detailed response to this urgent request, and it did not involve a great deal of work by the committee. This is the case because the information already existed in different reports, files, and so on. All that the committee members had to do was to "copy and paste" the needed information from one computer file to another. The chairman then assembled all the information and sent it off.

Writing and especially revising is so much easier on a computer. When I wrote my first book, I had to laboriously type and retype the manuscript three or four times! Such work is completely unnecessary if the first draft is done on a computer. Because of the computer's awesome potential, it is my conviction that touch typing and computer competence ought to be entrance requirements for seminary.

In my early ministry, I typed all the material for the church bulletin again and again, week after week. This is unnecessary now. Once a template is set up for the weekly bulletin, it is only a matter of inserting sermon titles, hymn numbers, and other changeable items. On and on it goes with all sorts of ministerial tasks. For example, I will never have to retype an entire committee report again.

After several years of reaping the benefits of using a computer, along came many new features. The most valuable one for me has been the simple luxury of e-mail. I still correspond with friends in New Zealand, Holland, and Australia. But gone are the days when it was necessary to compose letters, print them out, and then mail them (by air mail) at a cost of fifty to sixty cents each. Now I can send as many messages as I like—at any time of day or night—and they will be read within a few hours, and usually answered within about a day. And the cost is already taken care of in the monthly fee that I pay my Internet provider. (By the way, I now receive news bulletins from Home Missions by e-mail rather than what we now call "snail-mail." Just imagine what our church could save on mailings if every pastor received these bulletins by e-mail!)

And that is something else again—the Internet. With a little experience I have found that I can download much of the classic literature of the church (Spurgeon, the commentaries of John Calvin, etc.) into my computer. It is also possible, now, to buy an entire library of classic literature of the church on a single CD-ROM for fifty dollars. And just this past week I received an offer whereby I could get the latest edition of the entire Encyclopedia Britannica on CD-ROM for $150. More and more information, it seems, is becoming available every day.

Because of the growing importance of the Internet, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has taken action to set up a site on the World Wide Web. People all over the world can—and do—access our Web site (http://www.opc.org) to find out more about the doctrine and practice of the OPC. For example, by the time this article appears, we expect to place the entire archive of Ordained Servant on the Web site, so that pastors, ruling elders, and deacons in other Presbyterian and Reformed churches can make use of this material.

We were amazed to see the Soviet Union collapse. Some people believe the computer was an important factor in that collapse. The communist leaders faced a dilemma: they could either try to keep their people sealed off from the information superhighway that was then beginning to be built (but risking technological stagnation), or leave access open in order to keep up with the technology (but risking ideological defeat). They chose the latter course, and their ideology was defeated.

The printing press, invented in about 1450, was a radically new technology. Instead of the laborious and expensive work of copying the Bible by hand, it then became possible to print thousands of copies of it in far less time than it had taken before to produce even one copy. There were some who feared the consequences of such a radical change. The Reformers, however, did not fear it. They welcomed it. And they wisely used it to spread the gospel. Try to imagine the Reformation without the printing press! It made it possible for bold men of God to spread the truth rapidly to the multitudes.

It is my conviction that we are entering an age of information transfer that dwarfs the one that helped to spur on the Reformation. We who still hold to the Reformation gospel must make every effort to make maximum use of computers today.

You can find just about anything on the World Wide Web—false religion as well as true. But the interesting thing is that the Web site of the small OPC looks every bit as impressive as the Web sites of some of the numerically large churches. What counts now is what is there on the Web, and the comparisons can be made—more than ever before—without the extraneous influence of size, prestige, and the like. It is therefore our prayer that our sovereign God would bless the testimony of the OPC on the World Wide Web simply because it presents the truth.

Mr. Williamson, semiretired, serves on the Committee on Christian Education and the Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations. Reprinted from New Horizons, July 1997.

Return to Formatted Page