Online Church

A friend sent me a link to this article about online church and asked what I thought. I think online church can be great for evangelism and as a supplement to the local church, but not as a substitute for the local church. Probably the closest thing we find to online church in the Bible is in 1 Corinthians where Paul writes:

“Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5)

Here Paul sees himself as with the church in spirit even though he is not physically present. However, this would seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Notice also that Paul is joining in spirit with a church that is actually gathering together physically.

The apostle John certainly felt that physical presence with each other was important for true fellowship:

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 12)

Pastor/author John Stott wrote these rather prophetic words back in 1982:

It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today. We should certaily welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power. Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary. In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen. In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.
    — John Stott, I Believe in Preaching, p. 69. (HT: Luke)

Back to the article, here are a couple things that bugged me in it:

    “On one site, viewers can click on a tab during worship to accept Christ as their savior.” I don’t know that asking someone simply to raise his or her hand to accept Christ is much better, but I think we are moving in the wrong direction here.

    “[One church] buys Google ad words so that a person searching for ‘sex’ or ‘naked ladies’ sees an ad inviting them to a live worship service instead.” I’m all for reaching people for Christ, but I’m not sure how this squares with 2 Corinthians 4:2 (“We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception”) or 1 Thessalonians 2:3 (“The appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.”) Different contexts, but the principle of no deception still applies.

So, I don’t like the idea of virtual church replacing actual church. And I am a little leery of some of the methods being used. But I don’t want to nitpick either. “The important thing is that … Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18) What do you think about online church?

Further reading:
    • Is Online Church Really Church? (Mark Roberts)
    • Churches Reaching Less Than One Percent of Virtual World (MMI)

2 Comments

  1. John W says:

    One simple thought: quality not quantity.

    I think you hit it with “I think online church can be great for evangelism and as a supplement to the local church, but not as a substitute for the local church.” The quality that is lost is fellowship — there is no replacement for that.

  2. Margaret says:

    There is no substitute for fellowship at a local church. Watching a service on TV or online, cannot be the same. Of course, these ways of watching a service are a wonderful opportunity for shut-ins and elderly who cannot get to church. But for those who can get out and go, you are missing something wonderful if you just stay at home.

    Sometimes, if I am away from home, or sick, or home because of snow, I really miss being at church. The worship and singing with other Christians is uplifting, and the relationships with others of like mind is inspiring. Also, Church is a place to share in ministry, a place to give, and a place to serve. And, in giving and serving, we are richly blessed.

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