Synodical Letter

The following letter was written several years ago by the Synod of the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, to the consistories of the various NRC churches in North America and Canada. We share it on our website to inform our viewers of the perspectives and advice of our denomination's leaders.

Synodical Committee regarding Modern Media

To the consistories of the NRC in North America,

Dear brothers,

The Synodical Committee regarding Modern Media felt the necessity to write a pastoral letter regarding Modern Media and the usage of all kinds of devices in our families. We all know that we live in difficult times. It becomes more and more evident what the apostle Peter has written,,”Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”   (1 Peter 5:8).

This is evident in our days.  World conformity is rapidly increasing in our circles, and the common impressions under God’s Word are rapidly decreasing as well.  We must seek the deepest cause of these things in our own wicked heart and sinful life. Yet, the devil always wants to use many things to achieve these things.

In our circles we have always warned against having a TV and watching TV, because of its destructive influences and the waste of time. However, the developments have not stopped with the TV. Research has shown that at least 95% of our families have a computer and most of our families have access to the internet. We will not deny that the internet, as a medium, definitely has its benefits, such as:

  • It contains a lot of good information such as medical information, scientific information and data, educational information etc.
  • It can be used in our schools as a powerful and efficient tool in the study of our children.
  • It can provide us with addresses, phone numbers, and driving directions.
  • It can be used for online banking, payment of bills, and research.
  • It can be used for contacting one another through email and Skype, and it provides opportunities to maintain business connections.
  • It can provide remote access to other computers and file sharing.

Yet, we all agree that the dangers of the internet are at least as great as its benefits, for the internet has enabled us to have access to sinful content more than any other media ever has. This content is soul-destroying and God-dishonoring:

  • Using the internet for searching and watching pornography and all types of so called ‘free love‘.
  • Using the internet for watching sports, movies and TV-programs which are available online.
  • Using the internet for listening to inappropriate music.
  • Using the internet for gambling and entertainment.
  • Using the internet for inappropriate social networking.
  • Using the internet for illegal activities such as fraud, phishing, spreading of viruses and malicious software, internet theft, and cyber bullying.
  • Using the internet for gaming and being in virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life).

But there is more. One of the greatest dangers of the computer and the internet is the tremendous amount of time that is wasted by searching the World Wide Web. But time is precious time, and is the time of grace given unto us to seek the Lord while He may be found. It is time which we could have used for reading God’s Word and books based on God’s Word. For many people the internet becomes an addiction. We often hear the complaint that our (young) people cannot read good books anymore or have difficulties with listening to sermons. One of the greatest causes is that we live in a visual world and gather our information more by viewing than by reading. In our days with all the devices available, we are affecting our ability to read and to learn. Satan has used modern technology and internet to create a superficial Christianity in which he easily can disconnect our (young) people from church. Though many are maybe still a member, inwardly they have already said ‘farewell to the service of the Lord. We want to illustrate these things with some numbers, taken from research in the recent past.

Addiction to pornography:

  • 90% of the 8-16 year-olds have viewed pornography online.
  • 66% of internet-using 18-34 year-old men look at online pornography
  • Over 40% of all women are involved in online pornographic behavior.
  • 70% of all internet pornographic traffic occurs during the workday.
  • 12% of all internet sites, which is more than 83.3 million sites, are dedicated to pornography. In 2011, this number was significantly lower: 2.5 million websites were dedicated to pornography. Here we see the rapid increase of pornographic websites.
  • 47% of families said pornography is a problem in their home.
  • Beside pornography, many women are also addicted to other inappropriate use of internet, such as excessive chatting and instant messaging. A recent study shows that 93% of women between 18-29 years old, and still 70% of the women between 50-64 years old, are addicted to these things.

Children addicted to computers and internet has become a worldwide epidemic:

  • 82% of the users spend more time on internet than anticipated.
  • 65% of people use the internet to escape problems.
  • 34% of people check their smartphone before going to bed.
  • 21% wake up in the middle of the night to check their Facebook.
  • More than a third of the students spend more than 5 hours a day online.

Computer and/or smartphones:

  • In 2010, there were 60 million smartphones used globally.
  • In 2014, there are 1.75 billion people who own a smartphone!
  • In 2013 Q3, there were 456 million smartphones sold.
  • Smartphones and tablet computers have increased mobile Web traffic by 26 times over the last four years.
  • A recent study under 14-17 year-olds says 58% of them have watched pornography on their           smartphones.

The consequences are disastrous.

  • Due to the computer and internet, many couples/parents do not communicate properly with each other about the things pertaining to daily life, and not at all about spiritual things.
  • 56% of divorces involved one party having an obsessive interest in pornography. Many people, unfortunately also in our circles, are addicted to the smartphone and the internet. Psychologists registered already in 2008 an official name for this addiction, calling it Nomophobia, which means: no mobile phone – phobia. They suffer from an overwhelming fear of being without their cell phone which causes physical side effects such as a panic attack, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling, sweating, an accelerated heart rate, chest pain, and nausea. A recent study showed that 53% of cell phone users will suffer from Nomophobia. They never switch off their cell phones. Others suffer from what they call the Cellphone Vibration Syndrome. When they hear a sound of another cell phone ringing, they take their own cell phone to look, thinking that their phone is ringing, even when they hear a different sound.  
  • Internet addicts can experience a 10-20% surface area brain shrinkage.

God‘s Word.

But what does God’s Word say about these things? In Paradise man was created good and after God’s image with the purpose to live to the honor and glory of God our Maker. “And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a). However, we have willfully and willingly fallen away from God and fallen unto the prince of darkness whom we obey in all kinds of wickedness. Yea, we have brought us into a threefold death. By nature we all are inclined to all wickedness. Solomon says, “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).

Yet, the Lord is so patient with us and calls us to true repentance. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). The apostle Paul warns us severely in 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened”. The Lord also calls us to be holy for He is holy. “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

“Flee also youthful lusts, but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). For, “know ye not, that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?  “Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind… shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10).

Based on God’s Word and the staggering statistics, we all feel the need for protection against all dangers. A common comment is, “We do not need a filter for we can handle the devices ourselves”. This is a lie, for Satan has such a good connecting point in our wicked heart, and we are inclined to all evil. Another common comment which is often heard is, “We have a filter at home, so that should be enough”. This is only partially true, since we are able to connect our devices everywhere to the internet at so-called hotspots, such as Tim Hortons, McDonald’s, libraries, etc. These hotspots are always connected to the open internet. That means, it is easy to bypass the filters we have at home. They do not protect mobile devices, such as the smartphones.

What to do?

Maybe you will ask: what do we do? We acknowledge the decision of the General Synod that internet only should be used for educational and business related purposes. And we need to continue to warn that the internet only should be used when it is necessary. But we all know that the reality in our days is different.  

We should also realize that everything done on the internet is public and permanent. Even all things done secretly are public and permanent. It cannot be removed from the internet. Moreover we should realize that whatsoever we do in secret, “neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13)

So what should we do? We need a good filter for our computers and mobile devices. Maybe you will say, “We do not know about filters for mobile devices”. However, there are good filters available that are able to filter our computers, notebooks, tablets, and cell phones properly, at the same time and everywhere we are. Several researches have been done by committees, school boards, and consistories. The best filters are those which filter all kinds of computers, tablets and cell phones at the same time and provide sufficient built-in protection, such as:

  • Smart Web Filtering. It protects against harmful sites that slip past ordinary monitors and works across all browsers.
  • Accountability reports. It provides the administrator/customer with a list of all the internet activity for a given period. They also provide real-time alerts when users attempt to access certain sites or input specific information.
  • Time Limits & Access Controls. It sets healthy device access and Internet time limits including usage quotas and per device controls.
  • Games & Applications Controls. It lets you decide when and which games and applications can be used.
  • Advanced Social Activity Monitoring. It views Facebook and Twitter activity, status updates, pictures etc.
  • Location Tracking. It tracks your child’s device on a map,
  • Monitor Calls & Text Messages. It sees who your child calls or texts most on his/her device.
  • Blacklists and white lists. It gives the opportunity to block or allow specific sites. For example, the administrator could block all sites except a select few for small children (custom white list) or can decide to block additional sites for users, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
  • It works on PCs & Macs, including Windows 8 and the latest Mac OS X 10.10.
  • It works on all Android, iOS and Kindle devices.

Though there are several good filters available that cover many or most of the above mentioned features, the best filter we know so far is Qustodio, which covers all of the above mentioned features. We know there is more. When we have a good filter, we use a good weapon in the battle against the increasing dangers of the internet. However, we should also be vigilant in monitoring the internet activity of others at home and be aware of the incredibly rapid changes and developments in the digital and technological world of today with its potential dangers.

The Synodical Committee regarding Modern Media recommends that all consistories advise their members and that all school boards advise their parents:

  • No BlackBerry devices are used, since they cannot be filtered by Qustodio.
  • Not to take an internet plan on the cell phones of us and our children.
  • Since there are many open hotspots, always install the Qustodio filter on all our computers and (mobile) devices, whether they have an internet plan or not. 
  • Consistories are advised to have a committee that can provide instructions for or help with the installation of filters on their devices and financial resources to make this help available where needed.
  • Consistories are advised to talk about these serious matters at their consistory meetings, at house visitations, and during the baptism evenings with the parents. How can our parents answer the baptism questions and how can they promise and intend to see these children when come to the years of discretion, instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein to the utmost of your power if we do not have a proper filter on our devices but have open internet available?
  • Consistories are advised to talk seriously with the confession of faith students about these matters.  How can they do confession and answer the question of Voetius, “Do you promise at all times to conduct yourself conformably to this doctrine faithfully, honorably, and beyond reproach, and to adorn your confession with good works” if they have open internet?

When was the city of Mansoul taken? When the gates were opened. That is still the case and always the way Satan works. The gates of Mansoul are all open to all kinds of sins. If we also have open gates to the world in our houses, Satan has an excellent opportunity to take Mansoul and let it be defiled with all kinds of sins. If we have the open internet available on our (mobile) devices, then we open our hearts to all that the world offers. It’s not without reason that it is called the world – wide – web. Isn’t protection essential? Would you let your child roam the streets of, for instance, Chicago alone?

Let our school boards also make sure:

  • That there is no open internet available in our schools.
  • That the schools have a proper accountability internet filter. Qustodio is now also available for schools.

Above all things we must say that the best filter is the fear of the Lord in exercise! When David did not have this fear of the Lord in exercise, he walked in idleness upon the roof of his palace and we all know the terrible consequences of that. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of his neighbor and brought the disfavor of the Lord upon himself. This lasted until the Lord brought him in the valley of humiliation as a guilty sinner after that Nathan came in unto him and said: “Thou art the man”.

We need God’s restraining and preserving grace day by day. For, we cannot stand one moment against the attacks of the devil and our wicked heart. We ought to watch and pray that we enter not into temptation, for the flesh is so weak. And, “who can say, I have made my heart clean I am pure from my sin?” (Proverbs 20:9). Let us therefore be found praying that God’s saving grace may be given unto us.

May it be noticed in the life of God’s children that they have a tender life bound at the throne of grace. Our hope and prayer is that we may still be protected from the many dangers that are around each and every one of us and that we may all receive this one thing needful for time and eternity. In that way it will be true:

The righteous man shall flourish well, And in the house of God shall dwell; 

 He shall be like a goodly tree, And all his life shall fruitful be.

The Synodical Committee regarding Modern Media wishes our consistories, schools, and congregations the Lord’s indispensable blessing. That we all may realize that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth”. And “men looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). May we all receive by heart renewing grace that ‘filter’ of the fear of the Lord.

Synodical Committee regarding Modern Media,

Rev. P. van Ruitenburg, Rev. E. Hakvoort & Elder L. Teunissen