Online Church?

Since I became aware of the “reformed” stream of the emergent church movement, I have been following serveral bloggers from this stream with interest. One of them is Drew Goodmanson. He is an interesting guy because he is also in the front line of thinking about the impact of social media on church. (In fact, he runs a web business.)

Yesterday he reported a conference he was at where some were promoting the idea of planting an online-only church. The thought prompted the question for Drew:

What are we called to be as a Biblical community? And can this be done with technology?

This seems to be a hot running issue and I suspect that a large number of web-savvy people (esp. the young) think that the answer is simply a matter of working it through to a solution on the grounds that the web is simply another cultural medium.

I beg to differ. I wrote a quick response which I thought I would post below. It merely outlines my thoughts on it, but here it is…

Thanks for this interesting, and, I guess, somewhat disturbing post.

I agree with you that there can be community online. My problem is that thinking is subtly changing from church –> fellowship –> community as though these things are synonyms. I find it amazing that anyone can hope to plant an online-only “church”!

Here’s why: I am a reformational guy and when I think about “church” I begin to think about the marks of the church, which were recovered at the Reformation. These are

  1. preaching of the gospel,
  2. right administration of the sacraments, and
  3. church discipline.

So it seems to me that if we want a genuine biblical church (that’s what we want, isn’t it?) we need to ask how these can happen through the online medium. We might argue that online video can deliver the first of these adequately (though I have my doubts).

However, can baptism be done? taking of the Lord’s Supper where we “discern the Lord’s body”? The mind boggles!

Finally, how is discipline carried out online? In fact, how can one possibly have any idea that an online avatar is professing genuine faith without any kind of face to face contact? This is a basic starting point for exercising discipline. Even if one has a method, how can one effectively help with dealing with sin, especially if one is at the stage of getting an individual to see that there is a sin to repent of? I don’t think any of this can be done without life-on-life involvement.

As you can see, I am a bit of a skeptic!

Online Church?

Christ is Coming

Nehemiah 11 is an awkward chapter. It comes after the walls of Jerusalem have been rebuilt, and the great covenant renewal service has taken place in chapters 8-10. But after this high point it seems to hit a brick wall (ha!). The bulk of chapter 11 consists of a list of names of people who settled in Jerusalem after the return from exile. What’s that all about? Why is it there?

It is tricky, and it is tempting to skip over it and move on to more ‘meaty’ devotional and exemplary stuff. However, Paul’s words to Timothy ought to cause us to be cautious about skipping over anything in the Bible:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
– 2 Tim 3:16 (NIV)

The “all” requires us to ask the question of any part of Scripture: “Why is that there?” It demands an answer.

Well, here is my stab for Nehemiah 11. The chapter emphasises family leaders (4-9), priests (10-14), Levites (15-18), and sundry people in a support role for a functioning temple (gatekeepers, temple servants, singers) who were to in habit the still run-down interior of the walls (see Neh 7:4). Who were these people?

The priests were descendants of Aaron, a Levite, whose task was to perform the acts of worship in the tabernacle and temple. (Zechariah was one of them – see Luke 1:8.) Other Levites acted as their assistants. The Levites had no land. The Lord was their portion.

What this tells us is that chapter 11 is about how the people took seriously the reformation that was stimulated by the reading of the Law in chapters 8-10. With renewed zeal, they read the Bible and wanted to do what it said. In particular they wanted to ensure that the people of God would continue to worship in the ways that God had prescribed. So, in these chapters we see revival (heart) and reformation (practice). This meant that the ‘holy city’ must be a secure place for the functioning temple.

This of course reminds us that this is always God’s desire: that his people assemble and worship him. It was the motive for the Exodus (Ex 4:23) and now for the return from Exile. It will be in glory too.

Not only that, but it must be done in God’s way. God sets the parameters for how worship should be conducted.

It is easy to see why in Nehemiah it should be ‘just so’. The symbolism is pregnant with redemptive historical meaning. The temple? Immanuel (God is with us). The sacrifices? Christ our sacrifice. The Law? Christ the perfect, sinless Man. etc.

The whole chapter shouts, “Christ is coming! Prepare!”


Christ is Coming

Long Preaching

Sometime ago I came across the title of a sermon by Stephen Marshall, a 17th century puritan, entitled, “A Sermon of the Baptizing of Infants”, delivered at the Westminster assembly, I think. One would think such a thing would have been available somewhere on the internet by now. Sadly, I had not been able to find it.

Today, a friend of a friend, or a “friend” in facebook-speak, sent me a scanned copy of an original document. (Thanks!) It runs to 60 pages – I estimate nearly 20,000 words.

One sermon! My sermons last 30-35 minutes and I think I say about 3500 words. Scaling Marshall’s work appropriately, I estimate 6 hours of preaching. Can that be right? I suppose they had a lot of time…

Tongue in cheek, I think, he says in the preface,

…I indevoured to cleere it as fully as I could in one Sermon, and was thereby compelled to borrow a little more time then is usually allotted to that Exercise.

“Borrow” a “little” more time, indeed…

Long Preaching

The Unique Gospel

… the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures... (Romans 1:2)

There is much that could be said about this verse. For example, the gospel originates with God, by which Paul means the Father. The Father is the origin of good news. Not only that but he made it known through promises long before Jesus came. His people could anticipate its coming if they believed God. The method of delivery of the promise was through prophets,  which will include Moses (Deut 18:15), who all wrote down what they received to form “the holy Scriptures”.

Interesting implication: the gospel did not begin with the advent of Jesus. It was present in the pre-Jesus history. In fact, if one looks closely at the story one sees it goes back to the Garden (Genesis 3:15). And one could argue it went back before that. How else could it be that “he chose us [i.e. Christians] in him [i.e. Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4)?

When we consider the uniqueness of Christ, and therefore the absolute necessity of eternal salvation only in and through him, the validation of that claim does not rest only on a couple of proof texts such as John 14:6 or Acts 4:12, though those are good places to rest. It is more pervasive than that. Those verses are the summary of the richer truth that the whole of human history has been heading in one direction, governed by a sovereign, loving Father, who has left signposts along the way pointing to the coming of his Son, who would do the work of saving his people.

There are not many ways of salvation. There is only one. There always has been only one. As long as history continues, there will ever be only one – the gospel of God.

The Unique Gospel