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A review of a ‘Live Streaming and Sabbath Work’ by Rev’s K.M. Watkins and I. D. MacDonald

Updated: May 24, 2023

The ninth commandment requires believers to preserve and promote truth, and the good name of our neighbour, we are instructed to appear and stand for the truth. I have no doubt about the sincerity of the opposition to live-streaming on behalf of both authors and their conviction that this emotion is theological. However, in the presentation of the material in this report they have shown clear misunderstanding and incomplete representation of some of the facts they have used.

Misrepresentation of facts

In the Summary, on point 3, they say “there is no evidence of less internet use on Sabbath than on other days of the week, and in fact consumer video streaming applications such as Webex and Zoom, which make up over 65% of all web traffic, typically experience the highest amount of traffic on Saturday and Sabbath.” Yet, the GIPR report that they cite as support for the first statement makes no reference to either WebEx or Zoom. It clearly states on page 13 a list of the video streaming applications it is referring to with stats for downstream and upstream traffic – downstream is usually the heavier of the two and the list is (Netflix, Youtube, QUIC, Disney+, TikTok, Media Stream, Playstation, Xbox Live, Facebook and Amazon Prime). The document makes no conclusions, on the pages cited about any heavier use of these services at a weekend. The other source cited is making no claims about volume but instead suggests that from 6pm on a Friday to 3pm on the Lord’s Day is a good time to interest people in an advertisement on the whole array of social media platforms. The balanced representation in the two technical reports that the authors have cited has been misunderstood and misrepresented to support a case against streaming media in a church! Yet, if we pause and consider, it is obvious that in the sinful world in which we live, that many live sporting events are streamed on both Saturday and Sabbath. Similarly, many worldly young people who are not in church are playing games on machines, like Xbox and Playstation, on the Lord’s Day. It is wrong to link in WebEx and Zoom, simply because they have been used by Churches reaching out to the sick and infirm and join them into statistics that do not cite them, in an attempt to prove a point. They have no credible evidence of increased worldly demand on the Lord’s Day other than to an advertisers opinion that more people are likely to respond to advertising on social media platforms (facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok etc.) when it is on the Lord’s Day rather than on a work day.

In the next section on misrepresentation of principles, I hope to show that some of these points might be used to encourage streaming among those concerned with Great Commission (Matthew 28). Many people would read a wide range of material at a weekend, yet it is to be hoped that this would not be misused as a rationale for discouraging the reading of appropriate Christian material on the Lord’s Day.

In the Summary, on point 6 they say “it is difficult to estimate the precise number of workers employed on Sabbath directly or indirectly across the three areas of work noted in 1 by live streaming providers such as WebEx and Zoom (both in BOLD).” They then go on to cite hundreds of thousands of workers that are employed on Sabbath to run the Internet. The difficulty in this area is that their key source GIPR, makes no reference to employee numbers or working patterns. On page 3 they make interchangeable use of WebEx and Data Centre data in a fashion that is pure conjecture. The statistic they draw from the uptime institute of a 15% increase in staffing numbers is based on their assessment that global data centres in 2019 employed 2m people and it is likely to be 2.3m in 2025, with the greatest demand in Asia Pacific (140000 extra people) followed by America (81500). The same report on page 22 explicitly explains the assumption on working patterns is based on a normal full time employee working 8 hours per day, for 5 days per week (40 hour work weeks) – yet Watkins and MacDonald extrapolate this without providing a reason to mean that 1.3 million people are working each day. They must provide evidence to claim that data centres employ as many on the Lord’s Day as they would from Monday to Friday, otherwise they are simply putting forth conjecture as fact. However, in all their attack on these working patterns they miss a few key principles:

1. When any user accesses the internet then they are not the direct cause of any employment by their use of that service. When telephones were first invented, to make a call you rang a local switchboard and the operator at that board would then connect you – therefore, using the telephone on the Lords Day in this circumstance would directly cause the employment of the operator as it was impossible to use the service without that employee. Today this is not the case, when you make a phone call there is no direct human intervention as a result of your action. It isn’t accurate to claim that at an industry-wide level the internet necessitates the employment of millions each day.

2. Many internet providers will offer support plans for users that want direct support, for example, the church bookroom pays a support contract to be able to gain technical help if there is a problem with the software. Users of ISPs and the streaming services used in churches are not paying for these support services and are not accessing them on the Lord’s Day.

3. I agree with the authors, that Christians should rest on the Lord’s Day from worldly employments and recreations. We both agree that we should refrain from needless works, words and thoughts about our worldly employments and recreations, except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy. We are both happy that a Christian Doctor or Nurse can be properly engaged in a hospital on the Lord’s Day. Yet, with many medical services working with access to global networks and data infrastructures, a Christian nurse can perfectly properly use the hospital technology systems to order medicines and engage life support systems on the Lord’s Day. Of necessity, therefore it is not inherent that all uses of the internet on the Lord’s Day are wrong and the fact that the infrastructure is available on the Lord’s Day is also proper in some cases.

4. The authors conveniently ignore the fact that there are many other areas of our technological world that also have an infrastructure, which can be maintained on the Lord’s Day despite our wish that it wasn’t. There is no necessity for internet service providers to choose to employ their staff on the Lord’s Day – this may be a choice made in some instances by an unchristian employer and one that we would both condemn. However, the action of the employer doesn’t mean that the whole infrastructure is so tarnished by this wrong choice that we can’t use it. The authors are not arguing that because updates to services are applied on the Lord’s Day that we shouldn’t use the internet altogether – but, that would be a much more logical outcome of their position.

5. The maintenance of a technical infrastructure, like the internet, may wrongly be done on the Lord’s Day. Equally, so is the maintenance of the electricity infrastructure, gas, sewage and roads all of which are maintained on the Lord’s Day. This is wrong – but, our actions do not directly cause this Sabbath breaking, nor is it affected by whether or not we use these services on the Lord’s Day. It is peculiar that the authors, are so set against the use of the internet infrastructure for proper purposes on the Lord’s Day – but, have no objections to lighting homes and church buildings, heating their environment, travelling to the building in a car on a public road or using the toilet when they need to do so. Why is a special case being made around the use of the Internet, rather than sticking with the historic position of the FP church in condemning Sabbath work?

Misrepresentation of principles

1. When God made us in His own image, He gave us creative ability. Our spark of creativity and our authority over nature, enables us to carry out His commission to be fruitful, to multiply and to replenish the earth. 2 Thessalonians 3 commands us to be busy in our work. 2 Thessalonians 4 requires us to engage with our business and work with our hands. The Book of Daniel separates kingdoms by their technologies: gold, silver, bronze, iron, iron-clay. Augustine, in City of God, praises the invention of his day: textiles, architecture, agriculture, navigation. Innovation is not essential evil. An atheist world can try to push faith out of technology, sinful humanity can misuse technology, but our material world is full of God’s blessing in technology from fresh coffee, to blossoming fruit trees, smartphones, space exploration, self-driving cars and advances in medicine. Technology is not always used well, but neither is it a sinful bad apple, it can be the proper use of our God given creative instinct in our own day and generation.

2. God gives us technology, as he gave Noah the idea of tar to waterproof an Ark and we may all too easily misuse that technology, such as those in Babel using tar to try to waterproof their rebellious tower. Isaiah 54 explains that God gives us the smith to bring forth the instrument and the waster who uses it to destroy. While this world lasts God upholds our present creation despite man’s sin and often withholds the full natural consequences of that sin. In Psalm 73, we see the prosperity of the wicked, who are not troubled, but in verse 17, we see their end. If God cares for mankind in his sinful state, who are we to withdraw from the wicked world? There remains much of the original glory in God’s creation.

3. Technology is to be used for his glory. It was the Lord who taught us how to multicrop (Isaiah 28), farming has been our primary technology and all modern technologies are blends of previous ones. We have an iphone, which draws together the camera, the voice recorder, the touch screen, the music player, the speakers etc. The technology has simply developed. We have seen a move from reel to reel tape recorders (sometimes opposed by ministers in the church), to tape recorders that recorded sermons, to a copper wire links to old people’s homes, to a VOIP link, to the possibility of live streaming worship over the internet to enable the sick and infirm to be able to access the services in their own homes. John Calvin reflecting on Isaiah 28 explains, the food is not made useful by the spiritual health of the farmer who has been enabled by God to engage with his created order. Some FPs in previous generations, might have opposed electrical light in our churches, but it was God that created lightening and it was the Creator that has allowed generations to learn how to make light bulbs to electrify our cities, our smartphones, our computers (including Zoom and WebEx!) and even a forthcoming age of electric cars. The lightning bolts that He handcrafted have been given us a model to power our world, along with other forms of energy from the sun, just as He has filled our environment with minerals and metals that allow us, as His image bearers to tame and replenish the earth.

4. All technological development exists within God’s plan. Kuyper speaking on Science likens it to a temple that seems to arise by itself – each little stone brought forward and cemented into a great building, some of which are taken out and then refashioned and recemented back in, a great series of incremental improvements; but none emerge by accident, they follow the plan that has been laid down by the Creator. Science and Technology are God’s invention; they operate within His decree on His earth. Calvin describes the Lord as the ‘lone inventor’ because he has already described every technological possibility. He taught us the flail and the threshing floor, and he has now given us a 500 horsepower machine that reaps, threshes and winnows with GPS coordinates and a wireless support network. Emotionally, we might prefer the flail, but we are not honouring Him by instinctively trying to build a theological case against change. God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good. He sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5) and the wicked actions of the waster doesn’t spoil the work of the smith, just as the irreligious thinking of technology giants doesn’t alter our responsibility to use the power of a global network to fulfil the Great Commission.

5. Our emotional response should not mean we try to freeze time. It is easy to fall into an emotional state that doesn’t like to see progress and wants to freeze time. Many people just don’t like change – but let us not pretend that an opposition to technology and change is theologically right! The Amish might want to live in a supposed frozen agricultural utopia from 300 years ago, but fundamentally this is rejecting our stewardship of the earth and God’s control over time.

6. Our responsibility is to use innovation for His glory. The GIPR/Sandvine report that Watkins and MacDonald use extensively does identify an increased trend for people working and engaging with material online. It talks about an increase in usage traffic of 20% to 50% for most internet providers and cites how commonplace we now find the use of online shopping, online access to health services, online education, zooming with grandparents and relatives for family calls, applying for government services and hybrid models of working at home. God loves the Church and deploys human innovations that will provide for its increase and to support believers and their families (including the ill and infirm). The same tool that can destroy a sinner, can provide a Christian with a vocation. Charnock speaks of the gifts that are the ruin of bad men, which are as profitable to some as they are dangerous to others.

7. Technology is to be used by the church redemptively. How many millionaires (and billionaires) has it taken to create Zoom and WebEx (amongst others)? Maybe God ordained all of this to create a cutting-edge reliable platform that can be used by the church redemptively? These platforms might destroy evil men, but they serve the church. Spurgeon speaks of electricity as a spiritual force that had broken free of the chain of time. The great need is for sinners to meet with the God of the universe. Spurgeon says, electricity might travel at 200,000 miles per second, but prayer travels faster. Jonathan Edwards, could not imagine AI, but he did appreciate human ingenuity and expected future technology to expand time for contemplation and leisure. Long before, Zoom and WebEx in his office in the backwoods of America, Edwards foresaw an age of innovation that would empower communion with God and connect the global church in real time. ‘The invention of the mariners compass is one thing by God discovered to the world for that end: and how exceedingly has that one thing enlarged and facilitated communication! And who can tell but that God will make it more perfect; so that there need not be such a tedious voyage in order to hear from the other hemisphere, and so the countries about the poles need no longer lie hid to us, but the whole earth may be as one community, one body in Christ.’ (Miscellanies, vol 13, Yale, 2002, 369).

Dr A. Middleton

Co-opted technical advisor to the Website Committee

Director of Computer Science

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