Rev. Stewart is pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland.
The Web site of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church (CPRC) in Northern Ireland is our most cost-effective and international form of witnessing. It bears its testimony day unto day and night unto night, for the Internet never sleeps. Whereas it is too much to claim that “There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard” (Ps. 19:3), we do at least have items in over a hundred foreign languages (especially Italian, Portuguese, German, Russian, Spanish, Afrikaans, Dutch, French, Filipino, and Ukrainian). Many are the mornings when I turn on my computer to find an encouraging e-mail from halfway around the world or even a new translation or two in my inbox!
There is much about a Web site that suits a Word-based church. Our text pages contain articles expounding the Word and the audio section contains sermons preaching the Word. Both serve doctrinal evangelism, bringing the rich, distinctive, antithetical message of the biblical and Reformed faith. This is why our translators choose to render our materials into their own languages. What point is there in translating the Arminian “gospel” of Christ died for everyone and God loves everyone and wants to save everyone? This stuff is (sadly) already out there.
Liberal and modernist churches, which (correctly) no longer feel that they have an important and vital message, do not need or bother to produce a Web site (or, at least, one with much on it). What do they have that is worth saying? Just fluff and mush and social events and (left-wing) political commentary. But we want to shout the Reformed faith from the rooftops, so that the living and powerful Word of God spreads.
The Web site of the CPRC, then the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship (CPRF), began in late December of 2003 as www.cprf.co.uk. Our first webmaster, a member of the CPRF, found a good Web hosting company from which we bought Web space and domain names. He worked long hours and even late into the night to put the materials I sent him on-line. The Web site grew quickly. Sadly, our webmaster developed some strange views and left our fellowship, but we are indebted to him for all his hard work.
Our second webmaster, Martyn McGeown, served for almost a year, before beginning training for the ministry at the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Michigan. Along with other Web site work, Martyn transferred a good number of old sermon series from audio cassettes to electronic format. My wife, Mary, is our third and current webmaster. She has changed the appearance of the Web site and has overseen its enlargement, especially the languages page.
The idea of our languages page (www.cprf.co.uk/languages.htm) came to me through a Brazilian named Felipe Sabino. Felipe e-mailed me to ask permission to translate some of our materials into Portuguese, so I asked him to send me a copy of his translations (when he was finished) to put on our Web site. On Felipe’s Web site there were already Portuguese translations of writings by various Protestant Reformed ministers, so I requested them too. The PRC Web site contained some translations of PR material in Dutch, Spanish, German, Russian, Slovakian, etc., and I found a few other PR items in foreign languages on other Web sites. This was a start.
Then I spent some time searching the Internet for our ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian) and our Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt) in other languages. Later, I located some of our liturgical forms in different tongues, or had helpers translate some of them. The Declaration of Principles (adopted by the PR Synod of 1951) is a key document; we now have it in Italian, Russian, and German.
We began to offer free books for translations, and friends and new contacts took us up on it. One of our translators, Francesco De Lucia from Italy, even moved to Northern Ireland to join our church. By these translations into various languages, our Protestant Reformed churches, ministers, and doctrines have become a little better known throughout the world. The beginnings of a PR mission in the Philippines involved the PRC Web site in English. Maybe the Lord will use the Web site materials in various tongues to open up other doors in the future.
What is on the CPRC Web site indicates what Web surfers from all around the globe can do with it. If they know English, they can, for example, listen to audio sermons, speeches, and interviews; watch on-line debates; read articles and quotes; order free pamphlets; buy books, tapes, CDs, and DVDs; learn about special lectures and our Reformed Witness Hour broadcast; etc. They can even obtain directions to Ballymena Protestant Hall, where we meet each Lord’s Day, as did a Lithuanian couple who attended a Sunday morning service recently. For those who do not know English, their options are obviously much more limited. But our 1,200 or so pieces in 110 other tongues are at least a start.
Our Web site has been of use to us in many ways. We have made friends from all around the world and have invitations to stay with saints from every continent, though I doubt if we will ever be able to take them up on it! People have attended PR churches and mission works in North America and some are planning to come to the Calvin Conference in Grand Rapids (3-5 September).
Through our Web site, I gained an opportunity to debate a Church of Ireland minister about Mel Gibson’s Romish movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” on the BBC’s Hearts and Minds TV program. People have subscribed to our monthlyCovenant Reformed News and/or our weekly church bulletin. Many kilograms of Reformed Free Publishing Association books and PRC pamphlets have been posted out through on-line orders, and inside each book or pamphlet goes a little CPRC sticker giving our Web site number, for you never know where that literature might end up.
The Web site is, of course, of use to those CPRC members who use computers, both for themselves personally (e.g., if they miss a service through sickness, they can listen to the sermon later on the Web) and for witnessing to others. Our Web site has had a hand in people joining our church. Especially it enabled one lady (in the privacy of her own home) to find out more about us before committing herself to attending our services regularly. It is also an encouragement and a tool to the saints in Limerick in the Republic of Ireland, with whom we are working (cf.www.limerickreformed.com).
Our Web site, of course, involves a lot of work: adding new articles, sermons, bulletins, and translations; eliminating typos and developing existing articles; advertising our upcoming sermon titles and special meetings; standardizing and improving the layout; and (soon) providing updates and pictures of our new church building.
The Web site also makes more work, such as, answering e-mails containing questions and objections. Many of my responses refer my correspondents to the relevant articles or audios on the Web site. To this end, we have created what we call “Resources” pages, so that the various sermons, articles, pamphlets, books, etc., on a particular subject (e.g., Calvinism, cessationism, eschatology, marriage, and prayer) are gathered together in one place for easy reference. We plan to add more “Resources” pages in the future.
With some time and effort, we could produce some short Christian talks of up to ten minutes each that could go on You Tube for free. Once our church building is up—next year (D.V.)—we hope (like several PR churches) to be able to broadcast our services live on the Internet. There are people all around the world who are especially interested in biblical audio-visual materials on the Web.
Along with the various resources of the PRC (books, pamphlets, etc.), the support and encouragement of the saints in the CPRC and the labor of earlier webmasters, my wife, Mary, is of special help with the church Web site. She has the necessary technical skills, and we can work together on two computers in the one house (since much of my day is spent at home).
A developed CPRC Web site is particularly important to us because we wish to reach out to people in the British Isles and Europe and, God willing, establish a Reformed denomination.
With schools, universities, and industries using computers more and more; with Bill Gates and others pushing to get more computers into China (population 1.2 billion); and with various high-ranking figures even claiming that every child has a “right” to access to a computer, there are many indications that computers (and thus the World Wide Web or perhaps some modification of it) will become an even more important means of communication in the days ahead.
The medium itself, like paper for books or airwaves for radio, is neutral. It is the content that is key. Pornographers employ the World Wide Web to promote their filth, and gambling syndicates use it to make money through people’s covetousness. Evolutionists, humanists, Muslims, communists, and Romanists, etc., are all spreading their propaganda against the Lord Jesus Christ using the Internet. We, on the other hand, have the opportunity to spread the glorious Word of life, especially as it has been developed in the Reformed tradition and in the PR churches.
Thus we cast our bread…upon the World Wide Web, with the confidence that we shall find it after many days (cf. Eccl. 11:1). We do not know which means of witness “shall prosper, either this or that” (v. 6), but we know that it is God who “giveth the increase” (I Cor. 3:6).