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Virtual Church?

Date: 
Sunday, 2 May 2004

A recent article declared that the virtual church is the way of the future. This
'church' has no building and does not meet together. Instead, it is a cyber-
community where members log on from home to download a service of their
choice and then make their offering by electronic fund transfer.

Does this sound bizarre? Virtual churches do have some real advantages. They
saved the huge annual capital and recurrent expenditure that is involved in
owning and maintaining buildings. Parking problems are solved overnight.
Another real benefit is that virtual church can bring Christian ministy to those
behind the various 'curtains' erected by governments tying to exclude
Christianity - so long as people have access to on-line technology.

One major problem with the virtual church is the very issue that is our focus
today. God created us for the purpose of fellowship. This is firstly fellowship
with God himself, for our participation in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4) is the
basis of our bond to each other. Secondly, fellowship is a sharing in and with one
another as we gaze in wonder at our fellow Christians and realise just how much
we have in common through Jesus (Eph 4:1 -6).

Fellowship means that we need to be together. This is like the earliest
Christians, who shared one another's physical space and possessions as an
expression of their fellowship (Acts 2:42-46). This real presence with one another
enables us to relate to real people, with all our struggles and foibles and to grow
through these relationships. It is infinitely superior to cyber-fellowship where
people can create false identities and build false relationships through a series of
calculated fictions.

Fellowship is an expression of the truth that we are one body, as well as
individual people. Both these truths are important. We must recognise the
dignity and individuality of the individual, along with the diversity of God's work
in each (eg Eph 4:7). But we must also recognise that all believers are one body
in Jesus (Eph 4:4). It is a challenge to each of us, and to us as a church, to give
these two truths their practical expression,

Virtual church? No thanks! The internet is great technology to help in Christian
ministy - including to those beyond the reach of the local church. But nothing
beats real fellowship with real people in the flesh.