Thursday, July 12, 2007

I Go to Church in My Boxers

The morning comes too quickly. Barely awake, you drag out of bed to get ready to go to school or church or work. You don't remember much about the ride, it is almost as if you warped to your destination. Just when you walk into the business meeting or get up to give your book report, you realize you aren't wearing any clothes! Your body jolts as you snap back to reality (thanks for the line, Eminem) and realize that you were having a nightmare. Everyone has had that dream or one like it, but modern technology is making it a less-terrifying reality.

Online courses really hit the scene in the late 1990's. Soon these popular, user-friendly programs made schools like Strayer University and University of Phoenix multi-million dollar educational operations. Now, people go to school without their clothes on everyday. Advances in occupational networking and increased commute times leads many employers to offer telecommuting to employees. Telecommuters can simply roll out of bed and attend virtual meetings in pre-shower pajamas.

The one place that has not gone fully e-friendly was the Church - until now. With the emergence of online communities like Church on the Net and i-Church, one can join and be active in a "church" without ever meeting the pastor or stepping foot in a building. These bonified, non-profit church communities come with many of the benefits of traditional churches: a pastor, opportunities to give, electronic places to interact with others and resources for growth in Christ. They are even affiliated with reputable denominations, and both have healthy budgets respective to conventional church plants.

The appearance of these churches raise at least a couple of questions for Christian leaders. First, there is the question of competition. These churches will appeal to time-constrained individuals looking for a church they can custom fit to their schedule. There is also the question of competance. Can these churches fulfill the obligations of a New Testament church?

I don't really find the first question all that enticing. After all, if church leaders sit around all day and worry about every new kid on the block, they will likely lose their focus and their minds. The second question is quite important, and that is where I would like to get some insight. Let me give you my thoughts and you can give me yours.

I can think of at least two crucial church obligations that a fully online community would not be able to fulfill: discipleship and fellowship. Perhaps you'd make the case that these churches could do both to some degree. For example, through reading articles and assigning virtual accountability partners the church could disciple others, and through chat rooms and online communities it could assist in online fellowship.

Yet even a full utilization of available technologies would only achieve a shadow of these things. For example, it is hard to imagine Peter, James and John developing into the spiritual giants they became had they only known Jesus electronically.

While we find no direct Biblical mandate for church membership, we do find some guidelines. The author of Hebrews, for example, tells us not to neglect gathering together, and he certainly is referring to a physical fellowship. However, there were no first century computers, so to draw the conclusion that electronic fellowship is prohibited seems to use the text to answer a question the author was not asking.

All things considered, I think an online church would be acceptable in a few cases. For example, a missionary with no access to a local body or perhaps as an accessory to a local body. But this is not a viable substitute for the local church.


What do you think is required to be considered "a church?"

Would you be open to attending a church like this?

Additional reading? Try "Revolution" by George Barna

(I am doing some research for a RELEVANT article. Comments may appear in print.)



13 comments:

Carr Family said...

J,

At first look and without any thought - the first thing that comes to mind is the power of "touch". No, it's not listed in Acts as a function of the first century church - but is it not a result of their meeting together? Touch is important in every culture. A hand shake, pat on the back, hug, and a "holy kiss" have all been used as greetings in different cultures.

While in China a few weeks ago, we noticed many of the good things about the Chinese culture. The best thing that we miss out on as Americans is community. In America, we come home, open the garage door, pull in, close the garage door, go out on our back porch in our privacy fenced yard, and then back in the house for a few hours of TV. At the end of the day in China a person goes to the open area (a park or something similar) and gathers with the community to play games, exercise, and talk. Personally, I am jealous.

We teach that the best thing to do in a time of crisis is to just “be there”. We are implying that our physical presence is more important than words. It is true. I have been to many funerals and hospitals in times of crisis. People do not remember what is said to them – but they do remember who was there. They remember a hand shake, pat on the back, hug, and a “holy kiss”.

Looking forward to Nov. 10,

johnny

Jonathan Merritt said...

Johnny-

That is some of the best insight I have gotten on this forum. You hit on something I would have touched on (no pun intended) had the space been unlimited. Beyond the actual Biblical requirements for church, there are plenty of reasons more common sensical that I can think of.

Blessings,

Jm

lgarrett said...

Jonathan,
I am with the previous comment. What about personal touch? There is no substitute for fellowship and discipleship in person. If we "do" church online then is it just merely something we are checking off of our to do list and not an act of worship with other believers and in a corporate way?If we are too busy to go to church then we must be too busy! People need to know that in a time of crisis that they can count on someone to be there for them. No boasting, just reporting-I was able to minister to 2 different ladies today with different needs. It would not have meant as much over the phone or on e-mail but in person giving a hug and wiping a tear was monumental to them. That's what Jesus would have done. Keep up the great blog!

Marcia Ford said...

This has nothing to do with the post (sorry!). I've searched in vain for an email address for you--I need it ASAP if you still want to be interviewed for We the Purple. Email me at ford2200@bellsouth.net. Thanks!

gordzilla7 said...

I wasn't a real fan of "Revolution" - http://www.theooze.com/articles/article.cfm?id=1411&page=1 - because Barna went from analysis to promotion, but I do think there can be some benefits from the e-church in terms of increased connectionalism. Our church has a myspace page for that reason, but I think you are right. You can't have discipleship and it is pretty hard to submit to an elder online. Good topic.

Katie C. said...

I totally agree with the other writers. There is something so different and wonderful about being IN a church rather than watching a church. I believe that nothing compares to not only being in the presence of God, but being in the company of hundreds of people gathered together for the sole purpose of worshipping Him. For me personally, when I want to go to church the very least, is when I need to be there the most. God has a funny way of bringing the right person to me to say what I need to hear or having a girlfriend give me that embrace I have been craving all week. I agree that internet church could be a wonderful supplement during the week. It saddens me that people may pick to sit back and watch church while lying on their couch w/ their computers on their lap. How sad to miss out on the fellowship and community that comes with the local church. That kind of reminds me of watching a great concert on TV...yeah, you can hear the music and you can see the performers, but nothing really compares to actually being at the concert...the sound is different and the energy is very different. I don't know anyone who would rather watch a concert on TV than actually being there. I think the same should go for the church.

lgarrett said...

Ouch Marcia! Wasn't looking to be interviewed and thought I was responding to the post. Not going to get wordy-if I am understanding the question at hand. To have church on line or to not?! You lose something when in print like we are here. I totally understand the missionary as an exception. But that is an exception. He/she would not use it to not go because they were too busy and or lazy. They would not have access. Totally another issue. So, for me and my house, we will go and worship in person and not attend church on the net or i church. Once again, you lose the personal touch. I hope I am not off of the post once more!

Brandi said...

Thinking about an online church I can see how this would appeal to several people. Then I start thinking about the day to day functions of the church. What if a church member is in the hosptial having surgery, who would visit. If a new baby was born, who would take food to the family. If a family needed monetary help, how would it be supplied. The church is more than just sermons that can be put on the internet.

I also have listened to sermons on the internet and they are not the same as sitting in on the service. How would you feel God moving among you? Does the verse that says: where two or more are gathered in MY name I will be there, still apply if you are not really together?

I think church needs to be a physical place where everyone can go and have their life changed!

Nicola said...

Hi - As project leader of Church on the Net I'd like to respond by saying I agree with you all. But the crucial thing to note is that - it's not for Christians! Ours is an evangelistic site and our stated goal, which you can read about on our 'About us' page - is to get people to a point where they want to join a local church. We already have articles on 'why go to church?', 'finding a local church' and 'styles of church', as well as the importance of fellowship.

CotN can't possibly be enough for you if you're a church-going Christian - it would not be enough for me. But our target audience is people who have NO contact with church, Christians or God. We're starting from way back, and pray that through finding out a bit of what Christians believe, people can open themselves up to God and then He can draw them into offline fellowship.

Jesus didn't go looking for the lost in church! He went looking in trees, by wells, at the city gates, by the shore - wherever people were, he went. Well, we're taking the gospel to the internet.

Thanks, and please stop by CotN from time to time, post your thoughts there, check out the blogs, etc!

Nicola x

Jonathan Merritt said...

Nicola-

Thanks for the update / correction. I appreciate it. In fact, it is very much like telecommuting or online classes in that physical involvement is encouraged and offered. So the discussion still persists.

There are numerous online communities or "churches" that propose a completely online church community. This is offered as an alternative to church or, in the case of CotN, as an introduction to church.

I am curious as to what people think about both of these situations...

Jm

JLabs said...

the best comparsion i can come up with is. You can watch a football game on TV, but actually going to one is a completly different experience all together.

Link said...

I believe that it is plain to see that God is using today's technology (including your blog) to encourage hearts with His truth. Online church-related sites are good for that. They also can be good for posting thought provoking articles. For this reason I believe, like you, that all validity is not lost for a "cyber church",however, I have my own reservations.

If one were to examine the human psyche, they would notice how much physical touch plays into development (I am, of course, talking about appropriate touch when I say this). There's just something that God has placed in us to want to be around other human beings. A handshake or a hug can make a world of difference to someone who's having a bad day. I also thought about how difficult it could be to minister to the sick and the weak, if all one could do was just say "I'll pray for you..." instead of being there to literally be the hands and feet of Christ in those hospital rooms. I'm just saying that, encouraging people to disconnect from the church physically might, somehow, encourage them to disconnect from physical ministry--a vital part of being the Church.

James said...

A church is made of the people, or Body of Christ, not the building itself. In some situations, like you mentioned it may be fine. That being said, an online church has many flaws and could never fulfill its functions like face-to-face contact could, and it will never be able to. Furthermore, in my opinion, a church that caters to people who are "too busy" for church is operating as an enabler. People that are too busy for God's church are too busy.