A more excellent way?


#1

Recent member of this Forum, PastorMark, has floated the idea that members might consider organizing an “EU” church. I have expressed my doubts in previous posts to the topic “The Fellowship of Evangelical Universalism” which he started.

1 Cor. 12:31b “Now I will show you a more excellent way”.

Paul had organized a church in the city of Corinth. It was beset with all sorts of problems that Paul had to address. The more excellent way he went on to write about was the way of love. 1 Corinthians 13 is possibly the best-known chapter in the New Testament.

Love should be the glue that holds all believers together, despite their many differences in background, personality, preferences, political persuasion, sense of humour, etc.

I can testify to my experience of love and caring in this Forum. I have received genuine concern and prayer support, especially before, during, and after the illness and passing of my wife, Alida. Even when there are disagreements over specific matters, I have not encountered anyone who might be termed “disagreeable”.

What I am struggling to say is that this Forum has been virtually acting as a church to me. I have learned a lot; I have experienced fellowship (in 1 Jn. 1:7b the apostle of love says “we have fellowship one with another”.

Following is an article that I found today on-line, “In Defense of Virtual Church”, written by Douglas Estes, author of SimChurch.

A myth is growing in some circles of the blogosphere that online church is not good, not healthy, and not biblical. If we read carefully the criticisms levied against internet campuses, they boil down to some very common and tired themes: Internet campuses and online churches are not true churches because they don’t look like and feel like churches are expected to look like and feel like (in the West, anyway). Arguments against virtual church follow the idea that if it doesn’t look like church, feel like church, swim like church, or quack like church, it’s not a church. This may be a useful test for ducks, but churches are far more complex animals.
This myth is causing even open-minded people to have doubts about whether a church online can be ‘real.’ Let’s lay aside for a moment that nowhere in the Bible does it preclude online church, in any way. Let’s lay aside the fact that church history almost nowhere would lead someone to conclude that a virtual church is not valid (the lesson of church history is that new formats for church always go through a period where they are attacked as invalid). Let’s lay aside the troubling truth of the testimonies of meaningful community that are coming out of online churches. Let’s lay aside the problem that most (all I’ve read) of the blogposts criticizing virtual churches are based on cultural factors, pop psychology, materialistic misreadings of a few New Testament verses, or worse, citations of famous pastors who have doubts.
An even greater concern is the proliferation of a related myth: The myth of the “virtual” church. As a result, several of the churches who have launched virtual campuses are telling their pastors and people, “Don’t use the word ‘virtual,’ because people think it means fake.” For the record, virtual doesn’t mean fake, it means synthetic. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether church culture embraces or discards the word virtual, but we need to be accurate in our representation. Virtual churches are not fake churches; they are real churches that use synthetic space as a meeting place (or a synthetic medium as a means of building community). The ‘virtual’ part of the term—which identifies where they meet—has nothing to do with the question of their realness or validity.
Now watch the sleight-of-hand foisted on an unsuspecting audience. We hear and read the myth that the reason why virtual churches are not real is because they don’t have real community. Really? All this time I thought that church—and real, biblical community—had nothing to do with where a church meets. Isn’t church supposed to be about people in communion with God rather than the building? Does it really matter where the church meets? Does it really matter whether a church meets in a bar (‘pub’) in Portland, in a fancy stained-glass cathedral in Cambridge, under a banana tree in a jungle in Arusha, or in a synthetic space created on the internet? Can someone tell me why the cathedral (or the bar) has a privileged position for ‘real’ community over the internet (or the banana tree)? Since when does the location of a church determine the quality of its community? Is the enlightened church in America really still stuck on buildings? To me, this is enough to doom the myth but there is even something more problematic.
People are led to believe that members of online churches all connect to their video-game church as anonymous zombies in a Tron-like world. Supposedly these virtual (fake) Christians never really know each other, it’s all a façade, and that this is the sum and total of a virtual church. The real truth is that every virtual church I’ve ever attended has flesh-and-blood people in virtual (real!) community with other flesh-and-blood people whose primary meeting place is in synthetic space. Note I said primary! Because every virtual church I’ve encountered has worked very hard to put into place ‘regular’ aspects—from baptisms to small groups to mission trips—in order to help build real community across the board. Critics aside, no virtual church I’ve ever met is trying to be virtual-only (not that that would be wrong, but it would be like starting a church in a building and only being the church in that one building—why would you do that?). In fact, the average virtual church works harder at this than the average brick and mortar church. Virtual churches may meet for services in the virtual world, but they are not the one-dimensional illusion that critics like to easily prop up so as to knock down for their friends to applaud. And here’s the irony: Even as virtual churches seek to create community in both virtual and physical space, so too do their critics use virtual space when it is convenient for them in their brick and mortar ministries. (Just don’t tell those folks the discussion created by their blogs are real, not fake).
In this myth, critics single out the lack of ‘physical contact.’ But isn’t that why God invented megachurches—so we could avoid physical contact? So that people could go to church ‘together’ but sit so far apart as to never touch or physically know each other? Of course, I’m largely kidding, and come to think of it, this happens in my small brick and mortar church, too. In fact, as technology improves more and more virtual churches have physical aspects—you can see, hear, talk to and talk with others folks from your virtual church. But here’s the coolest thing: I know someone who comes to my church every Sunday and is not physically present; I can’t touch him, can’t hold him, can’t hug him, can’t greet him with a holy kiss, but thank goodness, He’s there and in community with us. We mustn’t judge the realness of a church’s community with God (or people) based solely on select physical criteria.
The good news for the world today is that virtual churches, Baptist churches, banana-tree churches, underground churches, Lutheran churches, communal churches, house churches, and yes, even tragically-hip Pacific Northwest alternative ‘pub’ churches are real churches. You may not want to meet in synthetic space—and I would not want to meet in a bar—but it doesn’t change the fact that when the people of God meet together for the purpose of glorifying Him, it’s a real church. Online churches are real churches with real people in real relationships with a real God simply meeting in synthetic spaces.

This article makes a great deal of sense to me. I would humbly suggest that this Forum is already acting as a virtual church. In a bricks a mortar church there should be expressions of love, the study of scripture together, communal worship of God, prayer for one another, and testimonies of God’s love for us and about His dealings with us. You can probably add a few more characteristics of a true church. There are already statements of faith and purpose in place so time need not be taken in arguing about what they should say!


#2

You make some good points, Norm, and the article is very interesting. Thanks.
I do have some misgivings with the reasoning, however. First and foremost is the pattern of meeting together, laying on of hands, interpretation of tongues, hospitality, discernment etc that can only happen mano a mano. So to speak.
There is another myth to consider - that sharing thoughts on a Forum is somehow one pure consciousness sharing with another pure consciousness - as if the body itself, the physical body, does not matter.
I cannot see your expressions, bodily movements, eye movement, tone of voice, or the feel of your hand shaking mine. We cannot share a meal.
In short - I do not believe we have true fellowship in this virtual world. We can share disembodied information, argue in a disembodied way etc. - but God gave us bodies, and that is mostly how we communicate.
I too have a fondness for this Forum, and for the people I imagine as I read their comments. I have benefited greatly from kind and considerate remarks, and for learning from those better equipped than myself.
But this is not a gathering of embodied persons. I cannot ‘read’ you nor you me. We see one another through a glass darkly.


#3

Dave, how is this any different than written letters? I mean, letters are certainly not a replacement for human to human contact, but to say it isn’t any form of contact, would cheapen many relationships that people hold dear.

I think people can be just as dishonest in person as in written form, fooling others. How many men or women lie to their partners face on a regular basis? Seems a lot if you look at infidelity rates. Seems that reading people in person has the same possibility as a virtual relationship for not know another’s true motives.


#4

Hey Gabe - I didn’t say that. It is a form of contact, of course. But I will never be convinced that the richness of human interaction can be replaced by the written word. I would not think anyone could be convinced of it, really.

We are talking about fellowship in the New Testament sense, not communication in general. People gather for worship, for mutual support, for a slap on the back and a smile, to listen together to the word of God and discussing it - and do NOT FORGET POT LUCKS!!


#5

(Reasonably) wise comments, Dave. But I have no difficulty in visualizing you. A photo can tell a reader what you look like, and how someone expresses him or herself in words can say much more. You know what I look like from the photo beside my name; it also depicts my wife Alida for whom you prayed during her illness. You also prayed for me when she departed this life.

The posts one makes, what they contain, and how they are expressed can add to the mental picture of who we are. For example, I know you to have a sense of humour very similar to my own, simply from what makes you smile or laugh.

Now, I suppose, you will correct my false picture of you and tell me what the REAL flesh and blood DaveB is all about.


#6

Still, I’d be very happy to meet you face to face, have a meal together, and shoot the bull - or in your case, the Moose? :wink:


#7

You are right Dave, you didn’t say that. I read into that. Though I will share a story. One if my best friends I met online, we played some games, sometimes talked, wrote, etc… He came to visit 3 years later. Was it awkward as you might expect? Not at all! Was it awesome to meet up? Absolutely. So I definitely agree with you in one regard, but I think friendship, true friendship does not require face to face. Otherwise, how do you explain you relationship with God? Would you assume that it is weak and non-workable because you can’t see or touch him?


#8

Well, I CAN see and touch my neighbor - uh, she’s single, I’m married and old, so the touching part is probably out - and if I understand correctly, how we treat our neighbor - and our enemy! - is a measure of our relationship and love for God. Martin Buber and his ‘I and Thou’ helped me along in that respect also.
I agree with you about true friendship not requiring face to face meetings; but in my limited experience, it is not a substitute for the ‘real thing’. We are in our essence embodied persons, not reducible to minds that share information.
But be that as it may - I was mainly concerned about Christian fellowship as the standard was set for us in the NT, and I personally don’t think it is totally commensurable with online messaging.


#9

As much as I like this forum, I would like to also have a physical universalist church, where I go to worship.


#10

OK, you’re on. I can’t afford airfare(s) for you but I can make arrangements for your accommodation at no cost to you (and your wife?). Some of my kids live in mansions I could only dream about when I was their age.

But, you would have to promise to bring a MAGA cap for me.


#11

If I came, a MAGA cap would come with me.
Airfare, however, would tip precarious finances into the Abyss. If that changes, I may take you up on this! It would be fun.


#12

A question for you both. MAGA is quite controversial. Do you think, as a believer, it is antagonistic to wear something that you know will piss people off? This is a genuine question, not a judgmental. My own Father whom I love with all my heart is a Trump guy. This is the same question I ask him.

Further, do you think any US citizen doesn’t want America to be Great? And if so, why wear a slogan that people find offensive when the statement itself is a given for nearly every person in this country? My dad cannot give an answer I would accept, or rather, agree with, but maybe one of you two can.


#13

This all my fault, Gabe. Please forgive me.

It’s not Dave’s fault, and I don’t think his response suggests any offense to those on the other side of the political spectrum. I would simply like the anti-Trump activists to abide by the same standard you set.


#14

You are too kind. But to be clear, I am not offended by MAGA hats. I just know many who are. And because I realize anything can be offensive to someone somewhere, I don’t think it is feasible to not have an opinion. So I am quite comfortable with MAGA hat wearers. That said, where does one draw the line? I know the answer is not simple and will probably be different for everyone.