It was good.
It was wrong.
Most western churches don't even make it to virtual.
In Part Two, Bob appeals to Calvin,
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.
Really? That's a good summary? Of ecclesia? Sticking with the Reformed for a moment, according to Donald McKim in the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (via),
In the New Testament, the term ἐκκλησία (church or assembly) is used for local communities and in a universal sense to mean all believers.
Communities that at their best – according to the New Testament, hold all things in common, love each other unconditionally, confess their sins one to another, practise servant leading, take care of the widows, orphans, those in prison, the sick & the dying, gather to hear the Word, correct and are corrected, grow in wisdom and understanding, study the Scriptures – and that's just scratching the surface – all of this done with a passionate love for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When you next gather with your fellow believers, ask yourself, is this what's happening?
This isn't an attack on Bob. From what I know of the community that he leads, they do their best to live like this – and are just as fallen and broken as the rest of us – but they are at least working at living what they believe to be true.
Internet Church, however, is the logical outgrowth of the Western Church. It is the consumer church on steroids – about meeting my needs in a way that "works for me." To the point of being ridiculous.
I was aghast – filled with shock and horror – when I read Drew Goodmanson's 5 Online Trends for the Future of Faith. The first point being doing the Sacraments Online. ARE YOU SERIOUS!? (And I'm not suggesting that Drew supports all of these things – he's simply reporting them. At least, that's what I hope.)
Online Baptisms?! In the comfort of your own bathtub?
Heck, why not just mimic some denominations, and stand over the sink and pour water over your head, three times for good measure. Do-it-yourself baptizing. (Why not go all the way and just be your own saviour?)
And receiving "Holy Communion" via the Interwebs?
If I have any Christian home, it would be amongst the Anglicans. Even there I struggle with their "delivery" of the Eucharist. I read Jesus telling us to break the bread and drink the wine at every meal in remembrance of Him – especially at the communal meals we will, of course, be having regularly together. (See jonny baker, here.)
Drew's point two is the The Rapid Growth of the Internet Church.
As people blur their sense of presence (with things like mobile apps that constantly tether you to distant places) the idea of having to be somewhere in person for it to be ‘real’ will be lost in a digital generation. Already there are fully packed online services for churches to launch their own Internet campus.
I am no Luddite when it comes to technology and the net. And I have significant community with friends scattered across the globe – connected via email, our blogs, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and more.
Like the nightmared little girl whose mother said, 'just talk to Jesus if you're scared' responded with "but I need someone with arms on," we both need and are the hands and feet of Jesus. Digital tethering can enhance the ecclesia, but it cannot begin to replace the warmth, touch, smell (occasionally ripe) of the body gathered. And Internet Church is at best, silly and at worst, simply wrong.
Would that the church were truly virtual!