Meditations (Web)Church

A year (and a bit) in the life of NewSpring's first Web pastor

Does God value physical presence like we do?

with 7 comments

Church planter Paul D. Watson has a must-read blog about the theology and methods of online evangelism. And as sometimes happens when you’re commenting on something thought-provoking, such as this post contending the priority of face-to-face communication, my thoughts ran away with themselves…

I’d love to get your feedback on what I had to say in agreement and response to his:

I think one of the more frustrating aspects to the critiques of online church is that it pretends a true and complete experience of God and one another is possible in the real world without technological facilitators … so where does that leave our Bibles? Or our church buildings?

First, God obviously thought that human speech and writing (symbolic meaning) were good technologies to transfer His meaning and action to us. And whether that symbolic communication is carried by a machine (a scroll, a book) a person (spoken word, deeds), or a visual sign (a burning bush, resurrection of the dead), it’s still symbolic action. And its value comes only from whether we perceive how it corresponds with God’s ultimate Truth and God’s ultimate spiritual reality. (Let’s remember that Satan can deceive even believers with signs and wonders.)

So online expressions of worship, faith and community are simply ways to communicate an ultimate spiritual reality and to receive an experience of an ultimate spiritual reality. And I happen to think that the more powerful our tools for communicating, the more potential there is to for that technology to help us grow in greater faith, live more obediently in Truth and serve more fully in the body of Christ.

Philosophically and theologically, there is no black-white separation of the physical and the virtual. In the Bible, words shape hearts that shape deeds. And deeds shape hearts that shape words. Physical people, bodily and symbolically, are signifiers … and the only signified (or authentic reality, Truth) is the spiritual one — life in and through and for our triune God.

When rightly evaluating how God-honoring our online or offline culture is, physical reality alone counts for nothing (”God can raise up sons of Abraham from these stones”.) The question is whether you are present and alive! in the spirit of God in all that you do.

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Written by NickCharalambous

December 23, 2008 at 5:16 pm

Posted in ruminations

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7 Responses

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  1. The only serious difficulty I have with virtual church, and it is serious, has to do with what I understand to be the nature of God, and the aim of worship as reflecting that nature back to Him.

    There is much that can be done online, and I have gained a great deal through these interactions. But there is something missing that I believe to be “of the essence.” As a believer in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, I understand God to be a “plural unity” indivisibly one, while distinctly three. Like most people, I can’t really understand what that means, and can only point to flawed metaphors such as 2 v. dimensions, and plead for limited human understanding.

    But God has made a means for me to experience and live into that which I cannot describe. He made the institution of marriage, by which we experience a plural unity of “one flesh” while keeping each person distinct and un-submerged. It is a relationship committed and bound only by love. Everything I understand about the Trinity, I can apply (in my own case, apply pastorally and therapeutically) to a good marriage. The second means to experiential understanding is within the life of the church, in the Christian Community gathered as “the Bride of Christ”

    When we forsake that “assembling of ourselves together” in the words of Paul, we loose this understanding. We no longer gain that experience of living out that aspect of the nature of God, which I think is the core of worship. There are many good things we can do on line; Encouraging, challenging, teaching, admonishing, and challenging one another. But true fullness of worship is at heart corporate for a Trinitarian Christian. That demands presence.

    R. Eric Sawyer

    December 23, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    • Thanks for the cogent response. I’m still not convinced that being physically present in the same room as other believers confers a special spiritual or mystical union between them. Marriage is a unique “union” of thought, action and feeling, but our union with Jesus as his bride will occur in eternity, not here. Logic says that if God, spirit, lives in all believers, then we must all be able to experience our oneness spiritually, not just physically. In my view, the “presence” most people insist is corporate worship is really their recognition of the need for shared experience.

      ipiphanist

      December 23, 2008 at 8:40 pm

  2. […] and “presence” was particularly fascinating for me since I had waded into these deep waters just a few weeks […]

  3. Hi Nick, I appreciate you leaving the older posts open. I’m still bouncing around your site and enjoying checking everything out. In answer to your question “Does God value physical presence like we do?”, I think my answer would have to be yes. He’s the one that gave us physical bodies and if it wasn’t important to Him He could have just left that part out! If you think about Jesus He was the Word, but the Word became flesh. Sure, that was all about the atonement, but nevertheless it’s important that 1 John mentions that they had heard, seen, and touched Him; in the flesh and tangible. Not that true faith needs that, but it was important enough to note. It’s interesting that today we who have come to believe upon Him can still get that tangible dimension since we are able to encounter Christ living in others! So, I think both the physical and spiritual are important to God, and he created us in a way that doesn’t really allow us to divorce one from another. Having said that, I fail to see how anyone could question the value of online connection. Just because someone’s not sitting right in front of me doesn’t make them virtual! If it does, we’ve all been doing the virtual thing for years every time we pick up a phone.

    Mike Helms

    May 21, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    • I agree wholeheartedly with everything you just said especially your point about the phone! The way i see it, our lives are always going to be lived on a continuum of offline-online, virtual physical interaction. We just have to make sure there’s a theology and a praxis for church that reflects our lived reality. The consequences of not doing that could be grim otherwise.

      ipiphanist

      May 21, 2009 at 3:13 pm

  4. When you have the time I was wondering if you could flesh out your last statement? I’d like to hear what you have to say in more detail.

    Mike Helms

    May 23, 2009 at 6:36 am

  5. […] of what I wrote now makes me wince because of its naivety. Some is no longer relevant given the changing online environment. But I […]


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