How Christians Ought to Face the New Media Era

Editor’s note: This article, written by Wang Yi in 2012, is the second in a series of three pastoral letters on how Christians should use the Internet and social media. It was recently re-published by Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC). 

Although this letter was written nearly a decade ago, the questions it addresses are more relevant than ever in today’s world. As ERCC editors pointed out when re-sharing the letter, most people “spend significantly more time on computers and cell phones than interacting with people.” This new era has led to both “unprecedented convenience and…unprecedented threats, because each of us as individuals has become so naked and open.” Christians of all nations are in need of supernatural wisdom as we seek to follow and honor God in this digital age, and must keep in mind that our first responsibility online is to represent ourselves followers of Christ and to honor the mission of the kingdom. For Chinese believers, the need for discernment is even more crucial, as draconian new restrictions on online Christian activity will come into effect this spring.

This letter has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 


Peace to all God’s children:

Unreliable sources have reported that the parent company of Weibo [a Chinese microblogging platform somewhat similar to Twitter] intended to use Sister Xiao Min’s famous worship song, “Five O’clock in the Morning in China” as Weibo’s theme song. Sister Xiao Min recently said she is often asked why she chose 5 a.m. as the time for the call to prayer, instead of 6 or 7. She bemusedly replied that she was sorry for the inconvenience.

>
”“In the last two years, social media and not the gospel has reinvigorated the wave of people awake at 5 in the morning.”

A Call to Prayer—or to Check Your Phone?

As the urban church has risen, the spiritual heritage of this practice of morning prayer has almost faded. One might argue that there are solid, defensible reasons for this, such as the fast pace and time crunch of urban civilization, and the overwhelming amount of information available in everyday life. However, it is not an exaggeration to say that, in the last two years, social media and not the gospel has reinvigorated the wave of people awake at 5 in the morning.

Weibo is changing the way the younger generation of believers do morning devotions. A member of our congregation posted that, every morning, he struggles between first grabbing the iPad on his left, or the Bible on his right. Half-joking, I commented that his hand should go right, because the psalmist David wrote, “at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Another commenter replied that was fine—unless the Bible ended up on the left one morning.

In my own Weibo friend group, I see 100 members of our congregation who are active on the platform. I don’t use QQ [a Chinese instant messaging app], but I understand our church QQ group has nearly 200 members. It is estimated that about half of our church uses smart phones. A few weeks ago, a sister gave a talk at our church on “The Urban Church and the New Media Age.” Since then, I have been thinking about what the popularization of social media and the use of portable devices means for the church’s pastoral care, teaching, and evangelistic mission. How are these things related to the “desires of the eyes and pride of life”?

A U.S. survey showed that 40 percent of husbands and 20 percent of wives believed they could go a month without sex, but not without an iPad. Because of this, some organizations have launched a “clean bedroom” campaign, urging people to leave portable devices outside the bedroom. Churches have also launched campaigns to “clean up their pews,” refusing to allow portable devices in Sunday services. I don’t know if this is appropriate. But, dear brothers, if your need for ready entertainment and communication outweighs your love for prayer and meditation, you are abusing God’s creation. You are using this new thing God has given you to destroy your love for the ancient cross of Christ.


Would You Pray With Us Today?

Sign up to receive our weekly prayer emails with requests for the house church in China

Will the iPad Be in the Kingdom of Heaven?

There are many idols, both new and ancient, behind the iPad. I recently read a theological paper that discusses eschatology, using the iPad as an example. The author asked, if the world to come is both disconnected from and continuous with the world today, then what may be brought into the new world? Will the iPad be in the kingdom of heaven?

>
”“I have been thinking about what the popularization of social media and the use of portable devices means for the church’s pastoral care, teaching, and evangelistic mission…If your need for ready entertainment and communication outweighs your love for prayer and meditation, you are abusing God’s creation. You are using this new thing God has given you to destroy your love for the ancient cross of Christ.”

I have two thoughts. First, the iPad is the most exciting, mass-produced invention human civilization has made to date Owning and using this device has an extremely strong idolatrous appeal, and I, for one, am not immune. Second, in the face of the innovation and change the iPad has brought to human life, we have almost lost our imagination regarding the kingdom of heaven and our desire for a more holy and beautiful way of living. Is heaven without an iPad more frightening than heaven without Jesus?

There is a joke about two beggars, discussing what they would eat if one of them became king. The first said he would eat a steamed pork bun bigger than the kitchen sink. The second said he would skip the pork buns, and go straight to eating the pig. I think the theological paper I read is very much like the discussion between these two beggars. If we think according to the desires of the flesh instead of the word of God, our hopes for eternal life will be nothing more than a replica of the beggar’s wish for a very large pork bun.

Am I paranoid? I worry that, for the older generation of Chinese Christians, “Five O’clock in the Morning in China” is a call to prayer; but for the new generation, it means checking Weibo. I am concerned that, no matter what we confess with our lips, our hearts proclaim: “I believe in the iPad; I believe in Weibo; I believe in QQ; I believe in eternal life; Amen.” I worry that the power of these new forms of media is taking away the blessing of the Holy Spirit among us. Every day, the world says to us, “May be grace and piece of Weibo, the touch of the iPad, and the guidance of Google be with you always, from now until the end of time.”

Public Witness in the Social Media Age

The sister who shared at our church about the era of new media said that, in this age, every person can share the gospel with everyone else. This is also a time of transition. While previously only the powerful had the opportunity to address strangers, now many people have the habit of talking online with strangers as well as friends. The personal lives of individuals are more transparent to the public than the lives of politicians and celebrities were in the past. Each Christian now faces greater pressure to be a public witness than that which was previously faced by pastors or missionaries.

Because of all this, whether or not you like it, every Christian who has something to say to the world ought to hold him or herself to the standards of an evangelist. If you go online, you must be a “missional Internet user.” If you talk about the gospel, you must be a committed and discipled Christian. If you start a Weibo account which you use to post daily sermons, then you ought to consider applying for a seminary certificate program.

>
”“Whether or not you like it, every Christian who has something to say to the world ought to hold him or herself to the standards of an evangelist.”

I am not arguing against you. I am arguing against myself, because I, too, am often caught up in this spiritual crisis. I am not arguing against using an iPad or logging onto Weibo—I do the same. I am against my own misuse of God’s grace. I am afraid that I have come out of the twilight of one idol, to wake in the dawn of another.

Pray that Christ’s blood may cover us, that we may overcome temptations and gain ground in all spheres: including instant messaging and social networking.

Brother Wang Yi


Wang Yi is a Chengdu pastor who was arrested on December 9, 2018, as part of a crackdown focused on his church, Early Rain. He was sentenced to nine years in December of 2019, and is currently in prison.  

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for Christians across the globe to learn wisdom and discernment as they live and interact with others online.

Share This Story

Further Reading

hangjia-xu-3ZdSvOSlm4c-unsplash
The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
Read More
billow926-ND4-6joi3t8-unsplash
Qingdao: How to Pray
Read More
cajeo-zhang--Qkr9oCfcZo-unsplash
Qingdao: Locals and Outsiders
Read More

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

Videos

ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

Videos

Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

Videos

Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Videos

Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

Videos

Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

Videos

Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

Videos

Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

Videos

Stories from Shenzhen

About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

Videos

Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

Videos

Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

Videos

Stories from Shanghai

give

A short message about partnering with us.