When discussing online churches that never gather in one physical location, two questions that often come up are
- How do you do baptisms?
- How do you celebrate communion?
In SimChurch, Douglas Estes does an excellent job of looking at the various options online churches have for the sacraments. He breaks them down into 4 categories.
1) Symbolic virtual sacraments – This is reading about and meditating on the sacrament, but not actually physically performing them.
2) Avatar-mediated virtual sacraments – This method is specifically for churches in virtual worlds like Second Life and is where the avatars actually engage in the sacraments but the people in the physical world do not.
3) Extensional virtual sacraments – In this situation, people are logged in to their online church and then physically engage in the sacraments at their own location. For communion they get out their own bread and wine/juice. For baptism, there would be a web cam broadcasting the baptism for the rest of the online church to witness.
Whether extensional virtual sacraments are legit or not, may depend on what you believe about communion and baptism. If you believe the sacraments must be overseen by an ordained minister, then is it OK for each person to get their own communion elements? Is it biblical for an unordained family member baptizing a person in front of their virtual church? If you believe the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus, can that happen in an online church where the participants are not sharing the loaf and cup blessed by the minister?
4) Outsourced virtual sacraments – With this method, people of a virtual church find a local church to specifically for the sacraments. Most advocates of online church, dislike this option because going to a physical church undermines the belief that an online church can be a fully-functioning equal to an offline church.
Which if any of these expressions of baptism and communion are (most?) biblical and why? Where can online sacraments excel? What obstacles and difficulties do online churches have to overcome when it comes to the sacraments? If you are a part of an online church, how do you do them?[image by mervynandjojie]