Online Church Part 1: What is a Biblical Church?

As mentioned yesterday, we’re kicking off an in-depth conversation about online church.  Over the next several weeks, we’re going to “focus on specific issues and aspects of online church one at a time.  The objective is not to definitively prove whether virtual churches are legitimate churches or not, but to help the church become better by discussing where virtual churches have unique the potential to advance the kingdom of God and where they face challenges to becoming healthy, fully functional churches.”

I think the place to start this conversation is by looking at what specifically an organization must be and do to be a “real,” biblical church whether online or offline.

In his book SimChurch (affiliate link), Douglas Estes explores several definitions of church:

Estes starts by defining a church as “a localized assembly of he people of God dwelling in  meaningful community with the task of building the kingdom.”

He quotes Martin Luther who defined a church as “the gathering of believers, in which the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered n accord with the gospels.”

John Calvin added to Luther’s definition saying a church must include correct church government and discipline.

In his book Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren defined a church as having 5 specific purposes: evangelism, worship, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry.

So, which of these do you believe is necessary for a church to be a biblical church?  And why?

  • Evangelism
  • Worship
  • Discipleship
  • Fellowship
  • Ministry (Serving those within the church)
  • Missions (Serving those outside the church)
  • Sacraments
  • Authority (Established/overseen by a denomination or similar organization)
  • Government (A charter or bylaws establishing organizational structure within the church & membership process/rules)
  • Discipline (correcting members who behave in appropriately and rooting out false doctrine)
  • Gathering together on a regular basis
  • Preaching by an ordained minister
  • Sunday school or small groups
  • Nifty Fifties
  • Motorcycle ministry
  • Others?

Please help spread the word about this discussion specifically to those involved in the development and pastoring of online churches.  We’d want as many people and perspectives involved as possible.  And don’t forget to vote in the poll in the right sidebar.

[image by e_phots]

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

43 Responses to “Online Church Part 1: What is a Biblical Church?”

  1. I would suspect Rick Warren is right with his 5 purposes stated however you like. But really a church is a group of people who are zealously in love with God and with others (both inside and outside the group).

    The 5 purposes are tools to express that love, by giving us opportunity to connect with God and connect with others both inside and outside the local church.

    The only other thing I would add is probably obvious but worth stating anyway: a biblical church will hold the Bible as its authority.

    • Hi everyone! I have been a a Christain for only about five years and it has been a struggle due to “Todays Church”. like Jesus said to
      many, men choose to follow in mans traditions and not Gods(my paraphasing)This is a real turn off to new Christains it also states in the bible that there the church is the body of Christ each individual has their own strength and all together make up the body of Christ. It was layed on my heart to “seek ye the truth” and I have it is all in the bible to understand some of the bible on must look into history and use the bible to put it together. Take for example( and remember I do not follow any denomination I follow what the bible says) the sabbath the so called church teaches the sabbath has changed “it has not!!!” it is a commandment jesus explains that the limmimits man has established for the Sabbath are nil and void NOT THE SABBATH. People say the sabbath was given to the Jews, IT WAS NOT! it was given to the 12 tribes called isrealites, jew are from Judea. I have been told We as Christains changed it yes we as Christains changed it in fact the Catholic church changed it go look up the 29th cannon for the Catholic church. What makes man think they can change stuff in the bible.
      Let me tell you an amazing true story My husband has been a Christain for about 3 years now and just recently he made the decision to get baptized, his mother asked her preacher if he would baptize him and he said ” I don’t think it will do any good because he is not part of this church” Hello The preachers and the church need to start teaching the truth and not mans traditions if this were to happen more people would come to God because the truth is “CHRIST” our FATHER.

      • Please remember that those of us who claim Christ as our Savior are still human and make mistakes. That has been true for the entire history of the church. Many verses in the New Testament are there because correction was needed in how even the Early Church was doing things. Don’t let your frustrations with man or a particular pastor’s opinions on how sacraments should be performed or their purpose hurt your relationship with God.

        I know that some denominations are touchy about the sacraments. Some are worse than others, sad to say. I believe that most A/G pastors will baptize anyone who wants to be baptized who profess an acceptance of Christ as their Savior. About the most they will ask is that the person attend a short teaching time at some point near the time of the baptism to be sure they understand what is going on. I assume some other denominations have similar open policies. On the other hand, the denomination I’m a part of doesn’t do infant baptisms since we don’t feel that is clearly taught in the Bible. That puts us at odds with some other groups.

        A particular church may only do a baptism service when enough people show interest, but if you’ll give them a heads up most will try to let you know when a baptism is planned.

        That still doesn’t negate the value of attending church in general and I hope you’ll pray about where God wants you to attend and try again. As each church in each town is different, I wouldn’t presume to suggest a particular church or denomination (even my own). God knows what is best for you at this point in your life and for your own particular background. He knows whether there are people there you will be able to make friends with and all the other bits and pieces that make a certain church the best fit for you. None of us do it perfectly (considering either individuals, churches or denominations takes on the proper interpretation of the Bible), but it is better to get involved with a group and try to work from the inside to move them closer to the Bible than to simply rail from the outside.

        Best wishes and may God guide your search.

  2. I think we have to go farther than “a church is a group of people who are zealously in love with God and with others”. This definition allows for a lazy faith: I could just get together with my friends once in a while for coffee and call it church. I know this is not what you meant, but if we are going to build our discussion around the definition of church, we need more.

    I think it is instructive to look at the Acts 2 model of a church to get some insights into what a church is. I know that Doug Estes in SimChurch does not agree, but it is the only real model of a church we can clearly find in scripture. I do agree with Doug that we cannot hope to completely emulate this early church, but we can still strive to imitate it in many ways. This church met regularly, taught scripture, prayed together, shared material possessions, evangelized, and performed baptisms and communion. It seems that our church today should strive to do these as well.

    Using that as a guide, I would add to Brian’s definition something like this:

    “A church is a group of people who are zealously in love with Christ that meet regularly to love, encourage, rebuke, and edify each other as commanded in the Word of God.”

    This is probably still not enough, but to me it gets us closer. I look forward to additional dialog on this topic.

    Dave

  3. Brian, thanks for your comment. So, are you saying evangelism, worship, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry and the 5 things a church must do to be a “real” church?

  4. Dave, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I tend to agree… ultimately a church is a community of believers that loves God and others, but I do think it’s important that we define how healthy biblical churches live out that love for God and others.

  5. First off, a Church is not the building, it is the members of those followers of Christ. I do agree that there has to be structure within the body of members. Christ as the Head, the Pastor as the Shepard, the members are the workers. We need to realize that not everyone can get out of their homes to attend a physical structured building to attend what we tend to call church. When people understand that in all actuality we Christian Members are all Ministers. We are called according to our God Given Gifts to perform different tasks. Prior to my Ordination, I was the church clerk, then I moved up to Pastors Secretary then to Treasurer over the Financial Board. Then I went to Seminary School, then I helped start a Ministry to address issues in our Community, that the (so-called Churchs) failed to address. One issue is still ongoing, because some do not think that (Church)can be performed online. I know that it can, since I contribute to the overseeing of such an endeavor. The people meet via chatrooms with telephone access. I have met one on one with everyone who is involved in the Structure and yes, everyone is held accountable, and yes they attend an hours worth of Sunday School type of classes. 57% of our members are now persuing higher Theological Studies online, since they are not physically able to attend an outside building. So, yes I support the online church assembly, and no I do not foresake the physical assembling of the members.

    Rev. Fisher

  6. There is a common tendency towards “either / or”. In this discussion the online church can seem to some as an “un-church”. I like the closing statement from Rev. Fisher “yes I support the online church assembly, and no I do not forsake the physical assembling of the members.”

    Rick Warren is a regular blessing to pastors on Twitter with his personal sound bites and ministry insights. I largely agree with his list of five essentials.

    I understand the fear, concern or resistance to new and atypical ministry methods. Jesus and later the disciples in Acts met such reaction from the organized “religious leaders” as Moody, Finney and certainly more recent men & women of God have encountered.

    If we’re honest and transparent in this discussion, we must admit the church has become very adept at masks. Some people attend for decades and never let anyone know the real them or the real issues they struggle with. The online church is getting behind masks the brick & mortar establishments don’t even admit exist.

    Christians have become comfortable using the phone for a prayer tool, but the computer is proving itself an effective real-time tool as well. What is different though is the perceived safety of the delete or disconnect button. People are contacting online ministries and rather quickly dropping the masks and finding help for their real issues because they don’t fear the personal rejection. Like the directory map in the shopping mall, the arrow “you are here” is key. We can’t get to where we want to go until we first find/admit where we really are.

    I have had the blessing of pastoring a couple churches, and currently am assembling a team for a new ministry plant that will begin online with the hope of an eventual brick & mortar ministry as well. I am discovering genuine online relationship and networking that excels what used to take many years to develop.

    I don’t believe this has to be an either/or option, any more than some of what is commonly practiced as church typical these days has clear roots in scripture rather than the traditions of men. The methods will change, like it or not. Be zealous for the message not the methods. Franklyn Graham is walking in waters he admits he isn’t totally enjoying, but he greatly enjoys seeing the young people come to Jesus just as the fruit his father saw from completely different methods.

  7. Thank You David:

    I have to agree with the above Marilyn Fisher.
    Our little on line church, has grown in the last four years, in attendance.
    There are so many people that join us that are disabled, or shut-in’s, including my self, that cannot get out to Church.
    This has brought so many together in fellowship and prayer.
    So many have said to me how this has turned them around in their beliefs.
    I feel this is just another way of us all joining in Our Love of Our Father above.
    I wish you all the Love and Blessings from Our Father.

  8. Marilyn, Paul, and Nancylee, thanks for your comments. All good stuff relevant to the conversation about online church.

    But before we get to far along into discussing the ways in which online church is good or the challenges it faces (there will be plenty of opportunity for that with future posts in this series) I would be interested to know which of the things listed above you believe are necessary for a church to be a healthy, biblical church.

    Evangelism? Worship? Discipleship? Fellowship? Ministry? Missions? Sacraments? Authority? Government? Discipline? Other?

    I really believe we have to start by looking at what a church has to do/be to be a healthy biblical church AND THEN we can discuss which of those areas online churches may excel or struggle.

  9. The Biblical Church needs to have Worship, Evangelism,Discipleship,Sacraments,Authority,Government,Discipline,Fellowship(assembly of like minded),Ministry and Missions. The Church needs to have structure and guidience through sound expositional biblical preaching, it must be organized under Qualified Leaders,for sound preaching of the Bible, it must have bylaws which are based upon the Pricipals and Doctrines of the BIBLE. They must observe the Sacraments of Baptism & Communon, they must provide proper training of Disciples to go out and spread the word, to both the lost and the falsely taught people. (This is not everything that is needed, it is just part of the list.) The main thing is that the Assembly of Members all confess Jesus as Lord, and that all are unified by the Spirit.

    Rev. Fisher

  10. Hello,

    Since GOD (Christ Jesus and The Father) are Spirits, as well as their words are spirit, and GOD is love, as long as we follow the Spirit of HIS love, in HIS way and HIS truth, does it matter to HIM where we go about it? (the place we are in)

    Since HIS body is a temple, and we are HIS body, therefore our bodies are temples, are we not in line with HIM who do as HE does?
    “He who obeyeth the commandments, it is he whom loveth the LORD.”
    Is it not the things of HIS which should be honored and looked at first? (HIS love) “Judge not by appearance”
    Is not perception first and foremost in order to discern through HIS eyes, the things which are Holy and True, good and acceptable, in our walk with HIM as we walk into and within the “Kingdom of God”
    HE would not have told us “seek ye first the Kingdom of God,
    and His righteousness” if it were not to be found on earth.
    Therefore is not “The Kingdom of God is within you” correct and true when one looks unto HIS righteousness as the way the truth and the life? Is this not HIS spiritual perception?
    Are not all other matters secondary?
    Thank you all for your support at http://www.truth-witness.com

  11. Quote by Paul: “Brian, thanks for your comment. So, are you saying evangelism, worship, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry and the 5 things a church must do to be a “real” church?”

    Yes. Those things are categories, but even those things are not an end in themselves. They are God given expressions of how to express our love towards God and love towards others. These are the tracks which love run on. To clarify, people could come together and say “Ok, now I’ve worshipped” or “I’ve served” or “I’ve enjoyed fellowship” and that is not church. That is a checklist. They’ve missed the point because they have not walked away with knowing that they love God/others, or knowing they need help in loving God/others and choosing to make changes.

    This leads me to ask “What is love?” I’m glad God tells us what love looks like, not only from 1 Cor 13 (where, ironically, Paul is telling the Corinth church how to have public services and “do church”), but also the entire story of the Bible.

    Now back to the issue at hand, churches express that love through worship, discipleship, evangelism, ministry and outreach. All the other things serve and express those 5 purposes.

  12. The church is defined as the body of people who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. That body is instructed to observe and seek several things. Communion, water baptism, laying on of hands for physical healing, baptism in the Holy Spirit, and the assembling together as they see the return of Christ coming are a few of the more prominent. Most of these cannot be done in a virtual church environment.

    I feel that there is a very real benefit seeing that a particular body of believers in this town exist in physical form. You get that when you attend a service in person. You don’t get this in a virtual service. For all you know you might be chatting with a computer program written by a computer science researcher in artificial intelligence.

    It is nice that people who consider themselves shut-in can get religious fellowship on-line. It would be better if the power of God was working in more of us (myself included) as it was in the New Testament church so that we could go to minister to those shut-in and perhaps see some miracles performed or healing done so they wouldn’t be shut in any longer.

    At any rate, any such church that you are trying to define must accept Christ as its foundation and the whole Bible as its guidebook (and not just the convenient bits that people like to hear).

    The church is already badly fractured. Perhaps the pieces will never be put together again before Christ comes. Having many pieces works to Satan’s advantage and not Christ’s. Anytime Satan can convince someone to not attend church because the Christians are fighting with one another or disagreeing about how their particular faction should worship or what bits of the Bible they believe and what bits they think only applied 2,000 or more years ago, he has won a victory. When people get mad and move to another church instead of fixing what is wrong, Satan wins another victory. If he can keep people at home where there are greater numbers of temptations and distractions, he wins again. If anything, we should be trying to unify ourselves once again to fight a united front. Adding more virtual churches makes things much worse and adds to the likelihood that people will receive unsound doctrine.

    That isn’t to say that having a web presence is bad. It is useful to be able to get a sermon if you were out of town or something. But it should be secondary to the primary physical focus.

  13. I just got into the mix of this discussion, but I do believe that we can emulate the first church to a certain degree. But I will not go into great detail but will answer the first question, What is a Biblical church. The simple definition of a church is a body of called out (from the world, Saved), baptized (scriptural baptism is nothing other than immersion according to scripture by one who is authorize to perform such tasks)believers, set apart to do God’s business. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

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  15. Neal, we actually agree more than you think – at least according to the rest of your comment.

    To clarify my post, Paul first asked "what specifically an organization must be and do to be a “real,” biblical church whether online or offline".

    The items I listed were specific Biblical requirements for the body of believers. I simply added that they were very difficult to achieve in a virtual church environment since that was where he was going with the final objective of the expected several week long thread.

    If you had one virtual church that everyone participated in, you could probably make it work and be closer to what Christ had in mind than what we have now. You could issue instructions to all believers in city Y to gather by the river or pool for a baptism ceremony at an appointed time. You could all meet somewhere for communion. You could meet in chat rooms for learning, and on and on.

    If there were members of the virtual church in every town, there would always be someone (if they were willing) to do His work when a physical presence was needed. If you had enough bandwidth, you could even broadcast the group activities to the world for a witness.

    But you'll never have a single virtual church situation. You'll have thousands of little virtual congregations with little unity doing their own thing, with people from around the world joining in to whatever one suits their fancy at the moment and moving on when something doesn't suit them. If they are adjunct to a physical presence and under that authority, you have safer footing, but it still doesn't solve the many heads and chiefs and too few workers problem. The bricks and mortar church people problems I described are where we are falling down in living up to the "real" Biblical standards Paul mentioned. Adding multiple virtual churches to the mix just exacerbates the current situation and its problems while opening up many more.

    Of the items Paul listed: Evangelism, Worship, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry, Missions, Sacraments, Authority, Discipline, and Gathering should be included. Why? They're commanded. The Bible should be the Governing document. Preaching by an ordained minister would not necessarily be required although the person should be operating with that gifting. I would group Sunday School or small groups in with Discipleship and Fellowship. The rest I assume were added for humor sake.

    The interesting question is what would Jesus in fact do if he had been born today instead of 2,000 or so years ago. I maintain that he worked person to person. He didn't use the media of his day in any way that is recorded. Paul certainly did, and we have the New Testament as a result of his and others letter writing and historical documentation efforts. But Jesus himself worked strictly on a verbal one to one or one to many level. That's something to think about as the "church" is evaluated.

  16. To William Haller — I couldn’t disagree with you more. But Paul has asked us not to address the question (as you nevertheless did) about whether online churches are legitimate or not in this post. So I’ll stick to the question alone:

    In trying to capture the essence of what a “real” church is, I look to the example of Jesus, around whom all our beliefs and practices are supposed to be gathered.

    So…

    Things Jesus did and explicitly instructed his followers to do:

    *Baptize people
    *Proclaim good news to the poor, the sick, the powerless, and the oppressed, INCLUDING healing them, feeding them, and taking care of them.
    *Pray, using the model he gave.
    *Love one another.
    *Break Bread & Remember — While Jesus *did* share bread and wine with his followers, the actual instruction was to REMEMBER Jesus whenever we did those things.

    For me, these things (above) are the essentials of being part of the church. Emphasis here on the church “universal” rather than local. We are the body. All of us, wherever we are.

  17. I could see that in times of persecution the fellowship of the church could be done on the internet. The problem is that the internet relationships cry out for face to face meetings. The group meetup.com is an indication of the need of not just cyber relationships but in the flesh meetings to bring some interactions together. I believe that the taking of bread and wine together is significant. So a community can relate using internet and can use the internet for what a communicty of faith does such as pray, worship, evangelize, and teach. Using such a tool can help us do this but would we choose to only do church this way unless under persecution.

  18. William–we still disagree on a very fundamental level. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to engage some of your points more fully when the appropriate post comes up.

    One thing (since it’s directly related to the question at hand):

    I’ve stated that my own understanding of the church is tied to things Jesus expressly instructed his followers to do (as opposed to things he just *did* which may still be good examples to follow).

    You seem not to disagree me on that point, if I’m understanding you correctly, so if we can back up to there…

    Where does Jesus expressly command his followers to gather, and what in his words (or at least the Greek in which they were written) indicates to you that “gathering” is something that can only be done with bodily proximity?

    Mind, I’m not necessarily arguing that gathering isn’t important for a church — just that it’s on shaky biblical ground if we are focusing on things Jesus instructed us to do, and that even if he did, the concept may be more broad than we allow it to be.

  19. Also, for the record, since Paul asked us to refrain from judging whether or not online churches are legitimate or not, I think it would be helpful to choose our words carefully.

    For example: Saying that something is “difficult” or “challenging” or even “problematic” to do in a virtual environment is quite different (and more charitable) than saying something “cannot be done” or “you don’t get this in a virtual service.” I would submit that when such finality is used, it tends to shut down the conversation before it gets started — and it doesn’t acknowledge the humility that you might also be wrong (especially if you’ve never experienced a wide variety of virtual church services firsthand).

  20. Pastor Parris R Lester Dec 2, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    As the order goes out from Rome to shut down the church buildings, unless it is to worship the antichrist, none of this discussion will matter much. Those who worhip the Lord will need to worship him in spirit and truth. There will be no brick and mortar worhip nor will there be cyber worhship for that will be shut down also. It truly will be a rare occasion that we find ourselves gatherd for fellowship in the last days. So let us hold true to what is truely important which is the spreading of the gospel, the teachings of Christ doctrines and being led of the spirit of God. Since we are the church the question asked of what is necessary to be considered a biblical church is answerd by the fruits that one manifestes after he accepts Jesus. The lord said you will know who belongs to me by the way they treat(love) one another. There is no validation needed for a brick and mortar church or cyber church all that is needed is for the Lord to build it.“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it”—Psa.127:1. Sound doctrine by the leading of the Holy Spirit is what is required. The bottom half of the proposed list really falls in the area of entertainment and activities which are satans substitutes for joy in the church. God Bless

  21. Neal, it’s good to see you jumping into the conversation. I appreciate the way you’re trying to keep the conversation focused just on the question being addressed in this post. And thanks emphasizing the value of holding off on making judgments about whether online churches are legit or not. :)

    Brian, thanks for replying and clarifying your view of what a church needs to do.

    William, you said “Of the items Paul listed: Evangelism, Worship, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry, Missions, Sacraments, Authority, Discipline, and Gathering should be included. Why? They’re commanded.”

    Just for the record, I was just throwing out options to get the conversation going.

    But to throw my 2 cents in… I do believe Evangelism, Worship, Discipleship, Fellowship, Ministry, Missions, Sacraments, Discipline, and Gathering are necessary. I actually don’t think authority (as in oversight by a larger multi-church governing organization) is necessary to be a “real” church. And when it comes to “gathering” while I do think it’s necessary, whether gather has to be done physically or not is something we’ll get into more tomorrow when we talk about the theology of presence.

    One thing aspect of church that’s come up in the course of this conversation that I committed in the original post is prayer. It’s hard to imaging a “real” church not praying together.

  22. Let me ride on your post a bit Paul.

    Why Sacraments? Why Discipline? Why Gathering? Is it simply because they are commanded? Saying it a different way, why do you think that they are commanded? What was God thinking when he gave the instruction? Those things aren’t the goal, they are methods to reach a goal.

  23. First to Neal… You won’t find Jesus saying we should assemble together as a quote. However, if you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, you can check Heb. 10:25 – … Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is;… Can this be done in ways other than physically today – yes. But Paul’s directive as a duty to one another was to meet together – not write frequent letters to each other which would be the best equivalent they had to the options available today in a virtual environment.

    For comment two, I would suggest that regardless of how the church is organized (real world or virtual) for water baptism to occur a physical gathering is required of at least a baptizer and a person wishing to be baptized. You simply cannot do that virtually. Regardless of what some on-line role playing games can achieve, dunking a virtual representation of yourself in a pool just doesn’t work for me. Perhaps that betrays my age, but if so, so be it.

    Even if you web cast the results to provide the witness to the world (which is the value of water baptism anyway) at least two people are required to do the work. A virtual church cannot function even in that capacity unless it can call on people in every community where a virtual member is located around the world to do the baptizing in some proxy fashion. I fully agree with Brian that they are methods to reach a goal and the way baptisms are performed today bear little resemblance to what they meant to a Jew in the early church. The mechanics just don’t port well to a virtual environment.

    For Paul, I would say that any church activity should put Christ as the head from an authority point of view. That’s the primary reason I included it in the list. Outside of that, I would agree with you. That however, coupled with the smooth operating of the Holy Spirit, is an absolute requirement. If you have that, there will be harmony and consistent focus and direction regardless of how many virtual churches and physical churches there are. Without it, it will be worse than what we have now.

    I’m too pessimistic to believe the majority of physical churches put Christ and His will first 100% of the time. I think the percentage is less in a virtual environment simply because of the lack of accountability factor. That isn’t to say there aren’t good examples that do and they don’t have to be denomination backed. Back to the “real” church question you asked first though, there was a direct line of accountability in the New Testament church. The church wasn’t perfect, and many of the letters Paul wrote took space to correct problems in one or another church. But the accountability did exist.

    Any Christian who is well grounded in scripture will have no problem seeing problems that any particular virtual church might have. For a person who has never read the Bible or had any religious training, they may be led into error. The cost of a pure virtual church can be very low and risks having many people start one with motives that aren’t in line with Christ. A virtual church that is an extension of a physical church at least has a sense of solidity to it and hopefully a large number of people who have committed themselves in a time and material way to see its success.

    My value on physical presence comes from my background. I was raised (and still am A/G). The gifts of the Spirit are something that is real in our services. I’m really at a loss to see how that part of the Bible New Testament experience would port to a virtual church presence. That isn’t to say you couldn’t have a lot of people gathering together and learning and growing on-line in Christ. But how do you handle the operation of the Holy Spirit on-line. I try to transcribe the interpretations we’ve had lately to messages in tongues, but even though I have the original foreign language message, I find it impossible to transcribe accurately. Since the speaker doesn’t know the language – what do you do when most people aren’t going to have functioning web cams and voice to text software that will handle any world language you throw at it?

    Regardless, they are given as a sign to unbelievers. They work fine in a physical church service and achieve their ends. So do healing and miracles. Yes, if everyone had web cams a healing or miracle could be recorded and work in virtual space as well as directly in front of you. But when you discuss your theology of presence, this is something to seriously consider. It is much different and more trustworthy to see someone rise out of a wheel chair (especially that you know and know the history of) than it is to simply read about it on the Internet. We’ve only had that happen once that I know of in our services, but it did happen. While we shouldn’t be looking for God to perform for us, when He does, it is wonderful to get the best exposure possible. Having it happen right in front of you to someone you know works far better than anything you can do on-line. An instant replay doesn’t work there any better than it does in the TV industry.

    My apologies if I addressed the question of legit at the wrong time, but it is the most important question. It is at the heart of what is tearing the physical church apart in so many ways today. The Anglican and Episcopal denominations (to name but two) are at loggerheads over an issue that is clear in both Testaments. You cannot pick and choose the parts of the Bible that apply to Christians. This isn’t an attempt to pull the direction a different way either – just an example. For any virtual church to succeed, it needs to be able to stand and provide just like the New Testament early church did in all ways. If it can’t then it can be an extension, but cannot replace a physical church. I’m afraid that too many people will be tempted to dabble in pure virtual churches and never really be evangelized for Christ.

    I also agree with Pastor Lester. The more things move virtual, the easier to stamp out when the time comes. If people who aren’t sold out to God miss the Rapture, where will they turn? If they use the Internet, it will be easy to hunt them down. That is something that must always be considered regardless of the allure of a virtual setting.

  24. I found the posts very interesting and encouraging, yet the idea of “virtual church” does field a sense of caution. It must be said that Paul tells us that he would “be all things to all people that he might win some”.

    Human beings, maybe especially Christians, are resistant to change. That should not stop the development of new types of ministry that both fill a need and are made possible by technology and social or cultural change. As a missionary to Native American tribes, I know that Christianity works in any culture. We should not expect folks to change in order to come to Christ, but to be profoundly changed by encountering Jesus the Lamb of God, entering into an eternal relationship with him.

    • Amen, brother. That may be the crux of the discussion. Christians are resistant to change and, therefore, have stopped some of the essentials need to be a "real" church. I have services on Sunday afternoons at an American Legion post and have many people from other churches that attend. Why? Because we subscribe to God's Holy Word in our little "after Church" church. We accept everyone as they are and never judge them for their faults, their mode of dress (unless it is totaly obscene), welcome all faiths, and try to make God the cornerstone of every service. Then we serve a meal after each service in order that we all share a type of christian communion every Sunday. We also have a team that goes out to minister to gang members, bikers, addicts, and anyone else that can't (or won't) come to church.

  25. William.

    I’m beginning to think you’re more interested in proving yourself right than you are in engaging in a conversation with me as a leader of an online church. “Cannot, cannot, cannot.” Of course, what seems like foolishness or impossibility to you may be entirely possible with God.

    If God has called my online church into being (as I believe) then it will continue to thrive and continue to bear visible, tangible, “real” fruit — maybe Pastor Lester is right and THIS is the true definition of a church.

    And IF God has called my online church into being, then all the incredulous blog comments in the world will not be able to stand against it.

    I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?

  26. ABOUT AN ON-LINE CHURCH
    I think Church-business cannot be carried out on-line, except “Evangelism.” All others have to be done physically in real time.

    Now here is my concept of a Biblical Church.

    WHAT IS A BIBLICAL CHURCH?
    First, I would like to set this straight. There are two things implied here: (a) a “Biblical church” is a church that is based on the Holy Bible and it, therefore, faithfully tries to follow what the Bible says as a “Standard for Ethical Behavior,” and (b) the Church of the Bible that Jesus built upon the “rock, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

    The first is a church that is organized based on the Holy Bible and it may be established by anyone or by any group; and it makes sure that “Biblical spiritual ethics” are observed carefully through the following:
    • Evangelism (covers preaching by an ordained minister or preacher)
    • Worship (covers participation in Liturgical Rites and the Eucharist)
    • Discipleship (covers ministries and missions)
    • Fellowship (covers getting together and working together in camaraderie and brotherhood)
    • Sacraments (covers practice of the faith)
    • Authority (established/overseen by a denomination or similar organization)
    • Government (desirably with a charter or bylaws establishing organizational structure within the church and membership processes/rules)
    • Discipline (correcting members who behave inappropriately and rooting out false doctrine)
    • Others (practicing “LOVE” as defined by Jesus and in imitation of Him)

    The second is the Church that Jesus built. This is the Church where the Bible is based, rather than it being based on the Bible. This is the Church established by the Apostles on that Day of Pentecost after the descent of the Holy Spirit and 3,000 were baptized, formally establishing the Church ― the Church of the New Testament, later called the Church of the living God. It is probably the ONLY Church truly acknowledged by God. This is because Jesus said, “On this rock I will build My Church…” (in the singular). If there would be other churches, it follows that all of these others should be part of this “My Church” so that all of them will be one, just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one; and all the Apostles and Christian disciples are one.

    So, what is the difference between the two definitions?

    Now, here is the difference as illustrated by my own personal experience. When I became a manager of a department in the manufacturing company where I was employed, I felt the need for more management-knowhow to cope with the job. I attended seminars and seminars on the various aspects of management and I found that afterwards I could indeed manage my department much better and pretty well. I even got promoted to Assistant Vice-President for Manufacturing.

    Later on, with all of these qualifications, I tried to teach college and I found that I was allowed to handle only those subjects pertaining to my Engineering BS-degree, despite the fact that I was a practicing and a good manager. I was limited to these because my management-knowhow acquired from seminars as attested by proper certificates, no matter how good, is not recognized because the institution I got it from was not a duly accredited institution for such learning. It only appeared so because it was organized as such under SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) rules governing commercial institutions, but not accredited by the CHED (Commission on Higher EDucation) which regulated educational institutions of higher learning. So I went on and earned an MBA degree from a duly CHED-accredited university. Lo and behold, this opened all the relevant courses for me to teach, from undergraduate to graduate courses. Thus, I learned that qualification, recognition and acceptance ― these three ― are earned only from properly accredited institutions and not from just anywhere, regardless of what this “anywhere” may claim. Such is the difference and such is life. Oui, c’est la vie, c’est la vie!

    John H. DiBautista, Philippines

    • John, thanks for your comment…

      "I think Church-business cannot be carried out on-line, except 'Evangelism. All others have to be done physically in real time."

      I ask that in the keeping with the spirit of this conversation you refrain from making judgments about online church at this point. Try to comment in terms of where online church can excel and where it faces difficulties or challenges. Thanks.

      And I'm afraid I didn't follow the analogy of how your teaching/MBA situation and how it relates to online church.

  27. Hi Paul,

    About On-line Church: That’s exactly what I meant. I’m not making a judgment, I am making a comment. I think On-line Church could do well, even excel, in the area of Evangelism — to propagate and spread the Faith as Jesus commanded. All the other aspects of the Church have to be done personally, that is, with one’s physical presence, hence, cannot be done on-line.

    About the Biblical Church: I don’t know how I can elaborate further on the connection between the Biblical Church and the Church that Jesus built (the Church of the Bible). To me there is a difference. The relationship between these two is similar to that of commercial establishments offering management seminars and a duly accredited Graduate School offering management courses. Both have the same ends; but to teach College, credentials from only the latter are recognized and accepted. I think the metaphor is clear enough without getting unrefined.

    Many thanks for your comment, I appreciate it.

    John H. DiBautista

  28. To be honest, there are a couple of things here that I think have to be considered: First is "ekklesia" – the greek word from the Bible commonly represented as "church". Ekklesia is translated by the United Bible Societies as "assembly, gathering, congregation, church (of religious, political, or unofficial groups)". However, when you take the roots of the greek word (ekkleio – exclude, shut out), you realize the word itself implies an exclusive gathering which on the surface would seem to be mutually exclusive of what we commonly think of as "church". Yet, when you consider that we are to be "set apart" or "in the world but not of the world" it does make sense. Church, then, should be a "gathering or fellowship that sets itself apart from the common ways of the world, instead being focused to that which He would have us be." The key is that "church" should not be focused on being a "building where we go to see God." Instead, "church" is the gathering of people who mutually support each other in being God's people instead of the worlds. (continued)

  29. Second is that we are the "Body of Christ." The gathering is not just a bunch of people who come together once a week to sit in a room, sing, listen and then go back to "normal life." We are called to be Christ's hands and feet, eyes and ears, mouths and noses. That implies more action than contemplation. Christ Himself did not put a focus on gathering in a building. Instead, He put the focus on being out with people and serving them. Hmmm … if we are to be imitators of Christ, that would imply that we are to be out serving people, not putting our focus on sitting in a building. (continued)

  30. Third is community. We aren't supposed to be "rugged individualists." This comes back to "being in the world but not of the world." If you watch TV, or look at the "ideal" that the world sets out as being "best", you see a lot of focus on the "lone ranger – the person who can be a success all on his/her own." That is in opposition to who God calls us to be. We were given community; in Genesis we are told that "we were created in Their image." The image of God is not singular, but is plural. Christ re-emphasized this in calling people to be together; "where two or more are gathered" isn't saying that God won't be there for the individual, but instead that He wants us to come together. THAT was the key of the early church of Acts 2-4. A community of people that are there to support each other, and welcoming to others. That gathering is there all the time, not just as a convenience. (continued)

  31. So that brings me to the whole issue of "online" or "virtual" churches. One the one hand, the internet does provide an opportunity for "community" for those who wouldn't otherwise go out of their homes; however, at that point are we spending too much time focusing on finding a "gathering of convenience"? The problems of the internet is that there is no real sense of intimacy. Instead of seeing "real people as they really are", you only get to see that which someone is willing to expose (not unlike the "traditional brick and mortar church" come to think of it). Unfortunately all too many people online create an "online persona" that has nothing to do with who they really are. There also is no sense of permanence. When something new intrudes in life, all of a sudden the "virtual church" takes a back seat (hmmm … again not unline the "traditional brick and mortar church"! Maybe we're seeing a trend here?).

    • Pastor Johno, thanks for your thoughts on what a biblical church is. Your last set of comments made me realize I left out an important topic when putting together the schedule for this series – whether genuine community can be formed in an online setting. I tweaked the schedule and added a post on that topic for Dec. 15.

  32. At the end of the day, it's not about the building (or lack thereof), it's about the people!
    …John Harden; Pastor, Dirty Feet Ministries (http://dirtyfeetministry.org); Guitar and Vocals, Body Parts – 1 Corinthians 12 (http://bodyparts.dirtyfeetministry.org)

  33. At the end of the day, it's not about the building (or lack thereof), it's about the people!
    John Harden
    Pastor, Dirty Feet Ministries (http://dirtyfeetministry.org)
    Guitar and Vocals, Body Parts – 1 Corinthians 12 (http://bodyparts.dirtyfeetministry.org)

  34. Pastor Johno — I take issue with the idea that "there is no real sense of intimacy" on the internet. My own experience has proved this to be false. I have developed and maintained intimate relationships with friends online and members of my online church community.

    Just because you've never experienced intimacy online, or can't understand how that might be possible, does not make it impossible. I personally don't understand how God works in the world—but that doesn't make God's working in the world an impossibility.

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