On Virtual Church

A number of posts at Evangel have been touching on the subject of e-Church or having a virtual parish community.

Virtual worship services lack the following features:

  • Sacrifice —  A the fundamental aspect of liturgy is sacrifice. The service is our offering to God and part of that sacrifice to God is of our time and our presence. Reducing that sacrifice to sitting before your computer screen in your proverbial pajamas certainly severely diminishes if not eliminates the sacrifice involved. There is also an aspect of “standing to be counted” especially in an increasingly secular world to worship … which when done anonymously and virtually causes that aspect to be eliminates as well. Moses travelled up the mountain to write the tablets. He did not have God “wire” him his message because he could not be bothered to go to God himself.
  • Holiness — “Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Liturgy is (or should be) a participation in the Holy. For myself, I fail to see how participation and contact with the Holy can be done by wire.
  • Contact with the liturgy and with the community. We have 5 senses. A virtual service may serve, poorly, two (hearing and sight). Touch, taste and smell are sensory channels missing in form the virtual sensory pallet. Humans remain more primitive and essential in our connection with these other senses. Hugging, kissing, touching, even smelling the presence of our neighbour remain an essential part of the human community experience. If the human essence could be reduced to a purely rational floating intellect then virtual community and church might work. Yet man, created in the image of God is not purely rational and the organism and the meat of us is part of that image.
  • Isolation in modernity is exacerbated by virtual contact. It is a bug not a feature of the modern world. Moving church to the virtual realm does nothing to reverse this.

How does the concept of virtual church confront these aspects of worship? Why or how do these aspects become inessential?

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  1. Boonton says:

    I think you have a very good point if the contest is virtual church vs. brick and mortar church (or club or group or whatnot since I think this applies to any grouping of people with a like mind about something). But is that really the contest? Do people opt for a, say, virtual Baptist Church while ignoring the real one down the block? Or do they opt for the virtual Baptist Church when the real church down the block is Catholic or Orthodox or too liberal or too conservative?

    I think most people who turn to virtual things like this have some valid reasons. They can’t find people nearby with a like mind or maybe they can but they manage to find people with even more like minds online. I think the flaws you pick out are all valid but a larger one might be that virtual churches are a little too good. By being able to find a ‘perfect match’ of like minds you don’t do justice to the actual community you find yourself in. You don’t get the challenge of having to deal with community members you don’t like, who disagree with your POV, and who push back. The virtual church sounds to me like the perfect drug for the person who is 100% sure of himself and leaves little room to consider his own fallibility.

    That being said, I think you have a similiar issue with real life churches. We live in a consumer culture where the idea is to ‘shop around’ until you find something you like. I’ve noticed my wife’s biological family & friends is both very religious and very geographically scattered (as far as what that means ina dense state like NJ). While they seem to share the same real church they also seem to have self-selected friends, church goers and culture to the point that they have created a rather insulated sub-culture leaving them immune from any challenge or disagreement.

    When I was in CCD many years ago, I recall an emphasis on attending your local Catholic Church. There was quite a bit of criticism of some who started attending mass at the Catholic hospital accross the street. The POV was that going to an out of town Catholic Church was perfectly acceptable if you were travelling or had some exceptional circumstances (like missing the early mass and hitting up the church with the late mass) but you *should* attend the church that covered your town and not ‘shop’ even if it was within the ‘Catholic network’.

  2. Mark says:

    In the evangel discussions, it seemed to me that there was a notion that people where (a) choosing virtual church and also mentioned was the idea that because Mr Piper gives really good homilies that some churches instead of having their own minister give a homily to have a big-screen video homily-of-the-week from Piper.

    When my wife and I were seeking a church to raise our kids in … me being a non-believer and raised Lutheran and she being a lukewarm non-attending Roman Catholic … we shopped around and spent a little over a decade as active members of an episcopal parish. After my conversion … a combination of a desire for a sea-change and as my reading and thinking about theology had led me to the patristic (late-antiquity) theological texts and from there to Orthodoxy. Why I mention this … is because we visited and joined the closest Orthodox parish to us. The point is that I think the criticism of cafeteria Christianity and shopping for a church has validity.