August 31, 2009
There is NO Virtual Church (Part 2)
Three reasons John Calvin would be opposed to online churches.
(Read part 1)
Calvin’s definition of “church” is where the Word is preached, the sacraments are received, and church discipline practiced. That’s a good summary of the defining characteristics of the New Testament ecclesia and a good summary of the main problems with internet church.
Is the word preached “at” an internet campus? Absolutely. In fact, the Word preached becomes the centerpiece. Church is boiled down to singing a few songs and hearing a message.
And while internet campuses provide a great sermon delivery vehicle, and even allow you to virtually raise your hand in response, what they don’t do is allow you to be known and missed. You can’t stand at the end of the gathering and ask for help moving. You can’t help tear things down and clean up afterwards. You can’t look after someone’s kids while they pray with someone else. You can’t take a visitor out to lunch. How can our community be a sign and foretaste of the kingdom when our method of gathering keeps us from ever physically serving, loving, or being present to one another? I know how participating in a congregation begins to make me more like Jesus. I’m unsure how that happens with an internet campus.
I know that “virtual” baptisms are practiced online. I know too that every week thousands in virtual communities practice virtual communion, if not together, then at least simultaneously. And I have to wonder, Why can’t they see that’s not enough? That simultaneous is not the same as together, and that taking communion in this way completely misses the whole point?
As for discipline and accountability, some say that online churches encourage more transparency in the chat rooms and virtual lobbies of internet campuses. But how is the pastoral care of prayer and recommending a good book, accountability, in-depth counseling, and church discipline practiced? Short answer: it can’t be. Because of the nature of internet relationships, only what people choose to reveal will ever be known. Internet churches are no help for the wife whose husband really needs someone to open a can of Driscoll on him—unless, of course, you can get him to wander into the virtual lobby.
As for equipping: How does one become a leader in an internet church? Is it being made a moderator of the chat room? What does it mean to “desire to be an elder”? How am I confirmed in my gifts in an internet church? How do I exercise them?
The internet may present a wonderful way for me to connect with the larger Church, but it can’t—and shouldn’t—replace connection with a local church community. My fear is that like the drive-in church, internet campuses have that potential to make half-formed Christians who believe one of the highest values is convenience, not service—what I can get, not what I can give.
In a world struggling to retain its humanity while being drowned in technology, and in a culture fighting to remain deeply connected to a few while filtering through thousands of Facebook “friends,” the Church can and should be a counter-culture. We should use technology, but we must not let it shape (or misshape) us.