The Life and Times of Martin Luther by J. F. Merle D’Aubigne’ chronicles the life of the great reformer as well as the changes in religion, politics, and technology that combined to shake 16th century Europe.
Most are familiar with the story of the German Augustinian monk who discovered in the Bible the gospel of justification by faith alone. The truth of salvation brought peace to Luther’s soul, and he coveted that same peace for others. His preaching and teaching challenged the errors of the powerful Medieval Roman Catholic Church.
Other reformers such as John Wycliffe and John Hus preceded Luther, but they did not have his impact. They and their followers were persecuted, and their message suppressed. Luther longed for evangelists to carry the good news to distant lands he alone could never reach. But instead of such men, Merle D’Aubigne’ observed, “God had provided a missionary of new kind. The printing press was the successor of the Evangelists. This was the breeching battery…”(p. 327) Simply put, the new technology of movable type face printing allowed the mass production and distribution of Luther’s books and pamphlets (not to mention the Bible Luther translated into the common tongue). In the providence of God, printing fanned the flame of the Reformation into a spreading conflagration.
We live in a day similar to Luther’s in that new technology is changing communication. For the Christian, the internet can be a marvelous vehicle for evangelism and edification. It is a terrible mistake not to use it as such.
Recently, Apple, Facebook, and YouTube banned some far-right political personalities from their platforms. Claiming that “false news,” and “hate speech” are intolerable, they have decided to censor certain groups. I am familiar with only one of those removed, and I disagree strongly with much of his tone and content. I would never argue for absolute freedom of speech and the press (there are laws against slander and libel for good reasons). Some communication is dangerous. Also, as a Christian, I support public standards of decency. Nevertheless, I am concerned about what these websites have done and are doing.
Certainly no Christian wants wild conspiracy theories or error spread over the internet. But if the powerful entities controlling the few main platforms of communication decide to ban the flat earth society, they may also decide to ban the young earth society as well. There are many who find the idea of special creation to be fanatical. No child of God approves of hate, but statements in support of traditional marriage and morality have already been tagged as “hate speech.” I know personally of people suspended from Facebook for posting objections to so-called “gay marriage” and disapproval of “transgender” people using facilities designated for the opposite sex. Can we expect sermons proclaiming “neither is there salvation in any other,” and “no man cometh unto the Father but by [Christ]” to be soon labeled statements of “exclusion,” or of “inferiority” toward other religions, which according to Facebook’s official policy is prohibited? Who decides what constitutes “hate?”
The Bill of Rights guarantees religious liberty, as well as freedom of speech and the press. But when speech and the press are largely expressed through limited channels – and someone controls and censors what passes through those channels – is not liberty threatened? I recognize that these websites and services are privately or corporately owned, but that does not diminish the fact that these few entities have staggering power and influence when it comes to communication. It is almost as if someone had control of much of the paper or the ink in Luther’s day.
The hymn writer said, “Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace, tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.” Throughout church history God’s people have done this using every means of communication available. Tragic it will be if the major platforms of communication on the internet become off limits to the truth of God.