Communion of the Saints in the Age of the Internet

I got the following email from the Pastor who leads our bible study.

During last week’s Life Light I overheard some of you talking about those who feel they do not need the church — the “assembly of believers”. That attitude seems to be increasing in the United States. You can do everything on the “internet” —

http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/03/13/online.confessions/index.html

Here is my response. I’m posting it here as I would like to post all my rather lengthy and perhaps thoughtful stuff here.

I am sorry for the length of this email. I felt I should respond as I was the one who brought this up. Having the ability to write something without the limitations of paper tends to make me very verbose. I have edited several rather large tangents out of this diatribe against the idea of virtual churches. As with most new things in the Church, I think they only point to the novelty of mans ability to create new ways to sin and the churches (the building, not the bride) willingness to scratch the itch.

My first thoughts on reading the article is the first letter to the Corinthians. Paul says that when they have gathered together and that he Paul is with them in spirit they should hand the man over to Satan who has become proud in his sexual sins. Paul also states that he is with the community of believers in spirit. So we do have an example of the lack of the remission of sins due to some form of confession remotely from the apostolic fathers as recorded in the New Testament. In each case that I can think of, including where the Christ lays outs the Office of the Keys, distance doesn’t seem to be a problem.

However, proximity also seems to be important. Paul asks for the community in Corinth to gather together. Jesus tells us that we can bind and absolve sins here on earth and that he will honor that in heaven.

I guess I will tend to lean away from the idea of a virtual church because online communities tends to get gnostic. I use to run the largest Tolkien community on the Internet. At our height we have 50,000 – 75,000 active participants. From that experience I know a virtual community online can be good. They have many strengths and are the source of much blessing. But there are weaknesses to an online community. They tend to emphasize their strengths. The ability to focus on the mind and being virtually present. This means the group will start to deny the physical in favor of the mind and the virtual. This is the exact same problem that the gnostics championed as one of the blessings of their philosophy.

Being a part of a community is touching, tasting, breathing, crying, and in the end living together. The creator of the universe has blessed us with many amazing blessings including a mind that can come up with things like computers and email and virtual communities online. But that same creator did not enter cyberspace to talk to us. He didn’t send us an email. He didn’t touch the heavens and have the clouds form the letters “I LOVE YOU.” No, he entered reality as a messy, dirty, smelly, Human. The creator liked matter so much that creator and creation became bound up in reality in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.

In this cases we should follow the example of our God. How did he communicate our forgiveness to us. When Adam and Eve had sinned, e came to them in the cool of the evening. From that point forward, when God came, it was mediated through the medium of prophets, priests, and kings. Finally when the time was right our God entered reality, and when it was all done he yelled “It is finished” for all to hear. And before He left he charged his followers to tell others what they had witnessed.

No our God entered reality. No more mediation is needed. No more prophets, priests, or kings. No need to approach a mountain on fire, or a building or tent filled with the blood. And now that we are this free isn’t it -so- human to say. “I don’t like my freedom. It’s scary. I need my church experience mediated with a computer screen. I need my experience with my fellow believers mediated by the television screen. I need my experience with God’s forgiveness to be mediated through forms of entertainment like a movie. I believe in the communion of the saints like the creed says, but please, I need that experience mediated; the physical reality of the connection between other believers is too much.” These are all the sayings of a sinful man returning to the same attitudes he had before he experienced God.

I suppose I could keep ranting about this, I agree there are good things about having the ability to remotely confess. Sins are hard to confront. It’s easier to leave a note on a car and say “Sorry I ran into you. Here is my insurance information.” than it is to stop and confront the person you ran into. But the absolution of sins needs to be very real and felt, and seeing the words “I absolve you” scroll across the screen isn’t as real as the confessor/pastor saying it; and it’s definitely not as real as the dying God saying “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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