(Todays post is a follow on from yesterday, which are personal reflections on technology and Christianity. Please take a read of that post, as this is a direct continuation)
Yesterday we discussed technology in general and the internet. We then went over the first two personal risks of idolatry and distraction. Today I want to continue with Reliance and Church, remembering that it is not technology, but our application and use of it that we are concerned with here.
Our next issue is reliance on technology, rather than God. We can see that technology does all these amazing things for us – why do we need to rely on God? I heard an argument recently that because of ‘Moore’s Law’ (basically describing how fast technology grows), we will be able to create life in our own right within 100 years (heard at podcasts from the White Horse Inn). This person was relying entirely on technology to substitute for God.
Another issue with reliance is relying on technology to service our Christian needs. We rely on Facebook groups to be our community. We rely on blogs and online teaching to give us solid grounding. We rely on Christian music to give us worship. We rely on our technology to bring us closer to God, which leads into my next point.
I am aware this will be a controversial point, but I think in many contexts, we have ‘church’ wrong. In our modern western society, we believe church is a combination of worship songs and preaching. For some people, it may also include some form of sacrament, such as communion and baptism.
I honestly think this perspective is wrong. Church is a gathering of people. People are the church. It might be argued that ‘meeting’ online is the same, but I disagree (and I think the Bible does also). Online I can easily hide my feelings. Indeed, I can be someone entirely different. I can be who I think I am based on my Facebook profile and what people ‘like’ about me. I could be mortally wounded in my soul, but ‘praise God’ online. I can act happy, when I am not. I can be anyone, anywhere, and no one would know any different.
When people gather together, physically, there is a different level of relationship than online. You can see and know in minutes whether someone has an issue if you are physically with them. You can pray for them, cry with them, counsel them, put an arm around them, or even rebuke them if needed. You might be able to ‘virtually’ do some of these things, but I don’t believe it is the same, because the level of relationship online is simply not able to be the same.
Physically we can also perform things like communion and baptism, which the Bible affirms as important. I also think that the task of making disciples can only truly occur in a physical setting, because the teaching, guiding and even rebuking are so much harder when you cannot really see and know the person, but only their online persona.
Based on our faulty assumption that church is ‘just worship and preaching’, we can then easily say we can substitute physical attendance with a group of believers with an online ‘experience’. There are hundreds of online churches now, or internet churches. These places are as a rule not a bad thing. But I firmly believe they cannot replace the physical gathering of believers. Worship is good, but it is not church. Christian songs are good, but they are not church. Preaching and teaching are both good, even essential, but they are not church. I listen to teaching in my car all the time, and sometimes music, but it is not church.
Church is a physical gathering of believers in one place. (If you are looking for a more focussed study on ‘church’, ‘Ekklesia’ and ‘Logos’, I found Mark Roberts post ‘What is a Church’ and ‘Is Online Church Really Church?‘ very helpful, but there are many other resources as well)
The risk then is to the whole church, or Biblical concept of church. We begin to see our technology as a way to save time, and yet go to church. Or we see it as a way to attend a different church, more exciting church, larger church, etc. So we interact in a chat screen with other Christians, or maybe an online Pastor. We post to our Facebook that we are attending, just so all our friends know (or can click ‘like’ to edify us). But I think we miss that key ingredient – that is, the gathering of believers.
Please don’t misunderstand – I think that the online experiences available are in many cases great things. They reach out to the unchurched. In some cases, they fill a need for people who physically cannot attend church for a time and a reason (for example, someone in a hospital bed). But I don’t believe it should ever replace the physical gathering of believers for any length of time.
I think there are many things we can take away from these thoughts. The key one for me is that technology brings great benefit to many things – but is also brings great risk. We need to continually evaluate not just the technology, but its use and effect in our lives, by the written Word of God. We need to continually ensure that we are not taking the easy, wide path, but are travelling by the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14). Technology can make many things easier, but that doesn’t mean they are better.
Take some time to evaluate these things in your life, and what effect they have. If you are concerned, seek out answers. A good starting place is Tim Challies book, which is reviewed here. They key though is your life before God – not technology. Don’t let technology take away from God, or what He has for you.
Lord God, thank you for all of the benefits of technology, that you gave us the gift to find out about and use. Guide us in its use, teach us to be discerning stewards, always searching for your will. Show us where we are at fault, and bring us closer to you. In Jesus Name. Amen.