In his latest sermon, Pastor Aries Zulkarnain challenged the church to wake up to the fact that technology is a tool, not a substitute for God.
By Peh Zhen Jun
“How are you growing spiritually for the past seven months that we have been doing church online?”
Aries Zulkarnain, City Harvest Church’s executive pastor, asked the church in the online service last weekend (Sep 5 and 6). Last weekend marked the seventh month that CHC brought its services online, due to COVID-19.
Technology has taken the wheel as worship services go online–and this situation will remain for a long period of time, said Pastor Aries. It is thus necessary to evaluate technology’s effectiveness in supporting an individual’s spiritual growth. Citing the book From The Garden To The City, he quoted author John Dyer: “One of the most dangerous things you can believe in this world, is that technology is neutral.”
Pastor Aries pointed out that while technology is neither good nor bad–it depends on how it is being used—it not only transforms the world but it can also subtly transform users.
To illustrate his point, he told of how he had a puncture in his tire, but could not remember how to change it, because he had always been able to simply call for a mechanic to do the job. However, this happened at the start of the Circuit Breaker, and he could not get any help. He was forced to spend an hour replacing his tire.
This experience taught him the downside of over-relying on technology. It is important for Christians to redeem technology, to use it for good, and not to allow it to dictate their values and habits, without their realizing it.
STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES OF TECHNOLOGY
Pastor Aries went on to use two examples from the Bible as learning points. The first was Apostle John. In both 2 John and 3 John, the apostle expressed his desire to meet the church face-to-face instead of relaying his words through “paper and ink”.
Pastor Aries explained that paper and ink was an advanced technology of communication in those days, comparable to the video-conferencing platforms that the church uses today. Back then, the famous Greek philosopher, Socrates, had expressed concerns over the technology of writing, saying that learning through face-to-face dialogue was the key to helping people grow in wisdom.
“He was worried that while writing can make people more knowledgeable, it would fail to make them wise,” the pastor explained. John was aware of these drawbacks, just as Christians understand the drawbacks of using technology for the church. That is why he said they need face-to-face conversation so that “our joy may be full”. (2 John 12).
“This is what I want to bring to you, City Harvest Church,” the pastor said. “Being fully aware of the strengths and the weaknesses of this new technology called writing, John made a calculated choice to use technology in service of the embodied life of the church. Not the other way around—using technology to replace the embodied life of the church.”
Pastor Aries emphasized that online services cannot replace community and fellowship. As the church continues to hold its service online, the danger is that it becomes the norm for the members. While the new normal brings about convenience, it can also replace the community that church is, and cause people to believe that commitment to the house of God is no longer needed. Christians need to be aware, just like John was aware, of the limitations of technology.
The second example Pastor Aries gave was Cain. Genesis 4:16-17 records that Cain built a city after he went out of the Garden of Eden. Pastor Aries said that because Cain was created in the image of God, he had the same power to create culture.
The problem, however, was that Cain’s heart was not right. 1 John 3:12 reads, “not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.”
Cain’s works reflected his evil heart and that was why God rejected his offering. Cain brought this same attitude into the building of the city. “Instead of a place where humans live in relationship with God, deeply connected to Him and His creation, Cain built a place where people could live without God, and could disconnect from His creation,” the pastor said.
He warned that if members were not careful and allowed technology to erode their values and dictate their spirituality, they would follow in the footsteps of Cain, using technology to replace God.
WHAT IT TAKES TO GROW SPIRITUALLY
“Online worship can never replace personal worship,” Pastor Aries said. “You can use YouTube for worship, but it can never replace your personal worship of God.”
He explained that God is looking for a worshipper to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) and not a technology geek. To grow spiritually, it is vital for a believer to be involved in the process of worshipping, instead of just watching others worship on a screen.
Pastor Aries shared a recent experience he had: one night, he received a distress call from a member at 2am. He had to drive out to meet the member and bring him home. As he thought about what happened, and questioned why the member couldn’t simply have contacted him through Zoom, the Holy Spirit spoke to him, reminding him that becoming more tech-savvy would not make him a better pastor. Only by going the extra mile for a member in need, and being willing to make sacrifices would one be shaped and formed to become a better shepherd.
Pastor Aries concluded his sermon by reminding the church to be mindful of what tech devices hide from them. While holding service online removes the hassle of having to go to church physically, it also takes away the chance for one to develop virtues that God delights in. Pre-COVID, church-goers had to make a decision to go to church in person. They needed to be patient to wait in line for the elevators and for ushers to lead them to a seat. They had to be involved in the process of worship, and saying “Amen” to the preaching even in they were tired from studying or work. But all these, the pastor said, contribute to the spiritual growth of Christians–when they are willing to put the spirit before the flesh.
In closing, he asked the members to evaluate how they have been growing spiritually in the past seven months of online services, and led them in a prayer to rededicate their lives to God.