I have a confession: yesterday I didn’t go to church because we were iced in.
I went to eChurch instead.
We sung some songs with accompanying iTunes with some quickly downloaded lyrics. We prayed between each song about God’s sovereignty, love and means of salvation. We listened to a great sermon podcast from Jan 2011 by Rory Shiner from St Matt’s UniChurch, Perth, on being in Christ and the need to live out who we are in Christ. Then we had a prayer time for the ministries of the Borovtsi Learning Center here.
It was a different experience of church, but one that Christians around the world are becoming increasingly familiar with.
Behold, the eChurch is born.
Everyone knows the flaws of their local hard copy church. They teach this theology instead of that theology. They focus on these ministries instead of these needs. It spends money here instead of there. It is clique-ee and not welcoming. They don’t sing this kind of music, only that kind. The leadership structure is outdated, or too business like. There is no church discipline, or too much. The kids ministry is non-existent. It is not reaching the community…
Why should I go to this hard copy Church when I could design myself a tailor made, custom built, ticks all boxes eChurch?
I mean, if I can get the best sermons of the ‘greatest’ preachers in the world from an iTunes podcast (Tim Keller, Joyce Meyer, Mark Driscoll, Benny Hinn, whoever), why would I go to hear my local pastor ruin another great passage of the Bible, right?
I mean, if I can sing the songs that I like that are sung by the best Christian bands in the world at home on my own with the simple right click and save to desktop, why would I want to go to church and hear the pastor’s wife destroy another old hymn on the piano, right?
And if I want to get a bit of both worlds I can go for the live stream option. This version of eChurch is an ideal option for the busy worker or cash saver. I can save $$ and time. I get the experience without the associated palava. It’s ideal right?
You’ve heard of the organic church, emergent church, early church, traditional church, and every other church. Is this the new church?
I’d like to pause at this moment because my fear is that with all the internet eChurch data transfer, there has been some unfortunate theological data loss.
If church is not more than praising God, hearing the Bible taught, prayer, and hanging with other believers, then one might be forgiven for thinking that the eChurch is the way to go.
What is missing and why is what is missing so important?
What is missing?
An eChurch is not a gathering.
Firstly, in Hebrews 10:25, we can see that a Christian’s desire to give up gathering together is not a new phenomena. The writer gives a warning to the Christians to ‘not give up meet together, as some are in the habit of doing‘. What is missing from the eChurch? Simple, the gathering of Christians. We should heed the warning.
Secondly, in 1 Corinthians 14:26 Paul begins to discuss what is proper conduct for worshipping God. He states, ‘What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together…‘ It is a throw away line that bears great significance for us and our inquiry here. Paul assumes that Christians will come together to worship God. Why would Christians in 2012 assume that nothing is lost when one worships God alone in an eChurch?
Thirdly, we read earlier in 1 Corinthians 11 that the gathering is causing Paul plenty of grief. Despite this Paul does not disband the gathering, instead he points out the problems within it, the need for correction and a way forward. The gathering is not a dispensable part of Christian culture, but rather an indispensable part of what it means to be a Christian. In Paul’s letters in the New Testament we can see that Paul’s ministry is not merely church planting, but also to save the existing gatherings from theological and moral dysfunction.
Look how Paul consistently refers to the gathering in italics:
- v17: “…for your meetings do more harm than good”
- v18: “I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you”
- v20: “…when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat.”
- v33: ” So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.”
- v34: “Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.”
Meeting with other Christians is characteristic, in Paul’s eyes, of the life of a Christian.
In Acts 20:7 there was a regular time when the disciples gathered together to break bread. Perhaps this is referring to participation in communion (Lord’s Supper) as they were instructed when they were with Jesus. Regardless, there is a coming together of like-minded Christians.
Finally, the final eschatological scene is one of corporate worship. In Revelations 7:9-10 the writer makes specific reference to the many coming together as one. ‘After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice...’ The picture is one of corporate worship of God; a gathering of many for one purpose.
The eChurch strips the Christian of a fundamental attribute of what it means to live as a Christian, that is, to live and participate in Christian community.
Why do Christians gather?
Hebrews 10:23-25 not only exhorts Christians to keep meeting together, but also states the reason for this.
‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.‘
The first reason given alludes to the fear that Christians, if left to their own devices, will stop showing love and good deeds. The gathering provides the Christian with a measure of accountability, helping them to maintain a standard of Christian living that they alone might not be able to keep up.
The second reason that the writer of Hebrews gives is most important. The gathering is the best place…’To encourage one another.’ In times of hardship and trial, Christians can be encouraged and reminded that they are not alone in the struggle. This gathering is a place where they can be strengthened, so that they can ‘hold unswervingly to the hope that we profess‘. This is where the Christian’s confidence can be upheld, nourished and maintained in the face of doubt, hopelessness and fear.
Finally, Christians ought to gather together because it is a beautiful foreshadowing and foretaste of the eschatological worship of God shown in Revelations 7. This is what we are and this is what we do! By virtue of being found in Christ, Christians can gather as one body and with one voice to praise God. It is not only a beautiful picture for the world to see, but is also a truly beautiful reality to experience.
There are many more reasons for gathering, not least to serve one another through the exercising of spiritual gifts, but space does not permit.
The eChurch is a development of the original hard copy, but with many unworkable bugs. It is consumer driven in that it satisfies people’s personal desires rather than fulfil the function of the biblical hard copy.
In fact, because the eChurch removes the gathered element that is fundamental to the original hard copy, perhaps a more appropriate name of this church is the iChurch.
I do recognise that eChurch has amazing benefits, especially for the elderly and the sick who cannot attend church. In these and other such cases, the eChurch can be an amazing blessing.