I was first introduced to the GIGO principle by one of my oldest friends when we were kids. He was considerably smarter than I was and exceptionally gifted when it came to working with computers. He explained to me that the GIGO principle was ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ What he meant was that if you put in bad coding instructions, the computer will give you nonsense or garbage output. I tried for a while to learn about programming when I was younger and realized I was creating more garbage than program but the phrase never left me. It popped up again later in life as I began to work in graphic design. People would ask us to design things but not really give us an idea of what they really wanted. They got whatever we could dream up with limited instruction, usually something they didn’t like. Again, garbage in, garbage out.
Discipleship can be a bit like this or have certain similarities to the GIGO principle. If you listen to teaching from questionable sources, hear sermons with faulty theology, practice things that originate from ideas that are not in line with the Way of Jesus, you may be practicing GIGO Christianity. It looks good until you really try to run the program, that is, until you get outside the confines of your personal group and start practicing in the real world. God doesn’t bless, the program doesn’t work, things fall apart.
You might wonder how a person can check the programming. For Methodists, we consider our method for checking the program the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. The firs three of these things, Wesley borrowed from his Anglican tradition and the final was his own addition. These four things are the starting place for checking the programming to avoid practicing GIGO Christianity.
The way you do it is to take an idea and ask yourself these questions:
(1) Is the idea found and explained clearly in Scripture?
(2) Is the idea discussed and explained by church throughout its history? How much and mow long?
(3) Is the idea one that makes sense?
(4) Is the idea one that resonates with your personal experience and the experience of others who are practicing non-GIGO Christianity?
(5) and I’ll add a fifth one to this, is the Holy Spirit teaching this to you through these other means?
This little exercise is a starting place, a way of dipping your toes in the water and learning to examine the ideas that are thrown at us day in, day out by a world that seems to be speaking constantly. It is also a way to avoid the echo chambers (places where everyone is saying the same thing without thought or question) that are so prevalent in our world today. May we all seek to clean up our systems and check our programming so it aligns with the Way of Jesus.