Modern technology has brought us virtual pets, virtual homes and virtual flowers. Yes, we can even have virtual children now. In fact, on March 5, one Korean couple was arrested for letting their real baby girl starve to death while they obsessively raised a virtual child in an online video game. It is so tragic and disturbing that it is hard to believe! But the truth is that people are losing touch with the warmth of reality, and instead, they are embracing a cold and detached alternative. And do you know what else? The church is not far behind in this trend.
Today, church-life faces a subtle threat to its overall health. It comes not as an external enemy, but an internal anomaly. It is the fast-spreading mentality of believers who would argue that faithful attendance and participation in the local body is really not important, neither for themselves nor for the whole of the local church. Their presence just doesn’t matter. As far as their spiritual health is concerned, they’ll be fine. They’ll just turn on Christian radio, or internet streaming. Maybe they’ll download an MP3 or flick through the Christian channels on cable or satellite television and just have church at home. And as far as their part of service in the fellowship, everything’s already been covered by the guys up front.
If, like so many believers do today, you view church as something passively to be observed and not actually participated in, then the case I will bring to the table in these posts will appear to be groundless. On the other hand, if you are willing to consider this topic through the lens of Scripture, you may just have to readjust not only your perspective, but also your involvement and attitude towards the body of Christ and the life of the church. Consider the meaning of church biblically. Does it ever refer to a sermon? A bible study? Even a building? Never. Certainly, these things are an essential part of church activity, but they do not constitute…the church.
The very word itself in Biblical language gives us the insight we need to remember. It is “ekklesia” and the New Testament is peppered with the word. Seventy seven times to be exact, with the majority of occurrences appearing in the Epistles. When Jesus spoke of the church in the gospels (Matthew 16:18), he referred to the universal church consisting of all true believers of every generation and in every part of the world. Location is irrelevant. In the other instances however, location is very relevant. The Apostles spoke of the church as specific groups of believers that met together in different places. To name a few, the church in Ephesus, the church in Galatia, the church in Corinth, Rome, Philippi etc. So we see that the meaning of the word has everything to do with the people who first of all are in Christ and secondly, who come together in His name somewhere locally.
In terms of definitions, church can’t be broadcasted by satellite nor can it be had from the comfort of our living room unless our living room is where the church actually meets. In many parts of the world, this is the case. Due to a citywide traffic block a couple of Sundays ago, we did exactly that for our church fellowship here in Italy. We held the service right in my living room for any who could join us, and it was a blessing. But for the people who unfortunately were too distant to come by foot, the best they could do was watch and listen online. Sure, it was better than nothing, but it was not the real thing. The real thing is active and not passive, it involves the rich blessing of ones presence where there is a warm touch. It is face-to-face fellowship and breaking of bread together. Handshakes, hugs, and sharing a laugh. Bottom line, it is a gathering. And that is the meaning of ekklesia. So when a person says, “Let’s just watch online and have church at home,” what they mean is let’s listen to the message. A message is good, but it is not church.
Why nitpick over such terms? Because meaning matters folks. And our understanding of these things will determine how we live our lives. Those who think church is just listening to a sermon are not only an ocean’s distance from the Biblical meaning of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19), but they are very close to robbing themselves and the local church of the rich blessings and fruit God intends to produce through their presence and their participation. Both are vital, neither can be virtual.
For part two of The Virtual Church series, click on this link “The Virtual Pastor.” Or in the meantime just give the subject some thought. What do uThink about the direction modern life is taking the church?