The debate over online church has been going on for years now. In fact, I first blogged about it more than 3 years ago. But as more and more churches launch Internet campuses, the debate continues to grow. A few days ago John Piper shared his thoughts on the issue.
God made us with bodies. He made us to give holy kisses to one another—embraces, handshakes, eyeball-to-eyeball conversation. He made husband and wife not to have imaginary video sex through Skype. He made them to go to bed together in the same bed. He made them to raise children in the same house, with hands-on hugs and spanks on the bottom and love. And he made churches to get together to hear each other sing, and to look at each other and talk to teach other, and minister to each other and help each other die well.
In other words, Piper is saying church is to online church as sex is to online sex.
Real sex is intimate, physical, relational, interactive, and much more. On the other hand, online sex is essentially an attempt to find fulfillment in isolation through a superficial show. In some ways on the outside online sex may look like sex, but it has none of the attributes of genuine sexual intimacy.
Likewise church is intimate, physical, relational, and interactive. On the other hand, online church is essentially an attempt to find spiritual fulfillment in isolation by watching a service. In some ways on the outside online church may look like church, but it has none of the attributes of genuine Christian community.
Equal opportunity offender
If you’re the pastor of a church with an online campus or an advocate of online church and your offended by what I’ve said so far, let me be fair and offend everyone else for a moment.
The biggest problem with online church also the biggest problem with offline church. That problem is that is that the primary focus is on the worship service. This may shock some of you, but…
Church is not a worship service
Somehow many people have come to equate church with the Sunday worship service. But the truth is the Sunday service is only a small part of a church.
Church is a community of believers
Scripture tells us that among other things a church, aka community of believers…
- Develops genuine friendships
- Shares their money and possession with each other
- Eats together
- Shares communion together
- Prays together
- Serves one another
- Serves those outside the church
If your only involvement in your church is showing up for a worship service once a week, I don’t care if it’s online or offline, you are not being the church as God intended it.
Some of the things listed above that God intended for people to do together as a part of a church can be done by online, however many cannot. And those that can are often, like online sex, a hollow imitation of the real thing.
Thousands of American military men and women have been serving for extended periods of time in Iraq over the last several years. For many of them their only contact with their spouse for a year or more has been through phone calls. Occasionally, I’ve seen TV shows where they’ve facilitated a video link between a husband and wife. You can see from the emotion in their faces that it means a great deal for them to talk to each other and to see each other.
Do you think given the choice between a video call and an in person visit any of them would opt for the video call?
Of course not.
Do you think if they continued to be physically separated year after year with only occasional voice and video chats their relationship would continue to develop into everything their hearts long for?
Of course not.
Its obvious to everyone a video call is a hollow imitation of a physical visit.
So, isn’t online church also a hollow imitation of a physical gathering of believers?
That’s not to say that there isn’t any redeeming value in online church. It may be effective for outreach or a temporary connection for those unable to do church in person. But that’s for a future article.[images by therefore, abcharliee, newbirth]