Meditations (Web)Church

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

Dear John: Is the Web church blasphemy?

with 18 comments

It’s almost too fashionable now to say you are a fan of the ministries of John Piper and Mark Driscoll, the twin pillars of so-called and much-debated New Calvinism.

But, aside from my extraordinary (and also theologically sophisticated) pastor, Perry Noble, those pastor-theologians have provided much of the spiritual solid foodsince I came to Christ in 2003.

One of the things I admire about most of them is that they convincingly show theology isn’t just an academic matter but essential to every believer for their joy in Christ. And they shepherd their churches with the “Big C” church at the forefront of everything they do.

(They also have two of the most progressive online, multimedia ministries in the world. The Desiring God web site is practically the gold standard for any ministry wanting to make its teaching accessible to the masses in practically every environment.)

In Vintage Church, Pastor Mark has come out unequivocally against the concept of the Web Church. His argument boiled down to his belief that you can’t have “real community” online and that the sacraments of Communion and Baptism cannot be rightly administered.

I’m hoping Pastor John will weigh in soon in response to my twitter question for his “Ask Pastor John” series:

#apj is there a sound theological basis to believe you can worship and be part of Christ’s body in community through an online church?

What other Web church questions would you ask?


Written by NickCharalambous

March 19, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Posted in web campus

Tagged with , ,

18 Responses

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  1. ..”the sacraments of Communion and Baptism cannot be rightly administered.”

    How could anyone know that for sure since it’s never really been done before?

    By saying it can’t be done puts God in a box. He is capable of greater things beyond our theological understanding. If God calls us to evangelize online through the means of a web campus community, are we going to deny it’s credibility or effectiveness?

    I truly believe that “His yoke is easy and his burden is light” (Matt 11:30) and that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13. We can try our best to complicate those thruths all we want, but we are just limiting the power of God that can work through us for His glory.

    Chris Hill

    March 19, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    • Chris: As you know, we’ve already administered a sacrament, communion, online, and I believe we did it with dignity and theological integrity … so I do disagree with Driscoll on that. On your point about “He is capable of greater things beyond our theological understanding,” i believe that our theological understanding begins and ends with the inerrant word of God as revealed between the covers of my Bible … so if we can’t come up with a Biblical theological basis for what we’re doing, that would give me serious pause … food for thought.


      March 19, 2009 at 3:04 pm

  2. nice post. the arguments against the online distribution of the church remind me of the fear that gripped the catholic church when bible’s were first printed & distributed. end result; martin luther’s 95 thesis on the door of the german church… salvation by grace through faith, the ministry of ALL believers, and the spread of the gospel through people, not organizations that control and contain.

    the question for me is not, can this be church? rather, who and what is the church?

    if you’re answer is soley “an organization ordained by God to administer sacraments”… i have a few problems with that.

    David Helbig

    March 19, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    • that’s a really interesting analogy, the catholic church response to the publishing of the vulgate Bible … I’ve made a similar connection in a blog post calling the web church the “new reformation.” I hope you’ll give me your thoughts on it. The who? and the what? questions are huge, and every day as a Web pastor stretches me on both …


      March 19, 2009 at 9:33 pm

  3. Good point. My personal theological understanding does also begin and end with the inerrant word of God. The great thing is though: my journey for theological truth hasn’t ended yet! God reveals new things through His living word every time I dive into it.

    Chris Hill

    March 19, 2009 at 3:44 pm

  4. I struggle with the online community thing.

    I’ve believed passionately with it, and believed against it because of Driscoll’s arguments regarding the sacraments.

    I absolutely disagree with Driscoll regarding not being able to have online community. I’ve lived it first hand (though the place I experienced it was not NewSpring nor LifeChurch). Though I never got deep in to community when I “attended” LifeChurch’s internet campus, I don’t discount that others will and have experienced deep community there, or for that matter on NewSpring’s internet campus.

    The Reformed community’s dismissal of online community and internet church as irrelevant and/or something unBiblical is a great source of frustration to me. Conversely, I rejoice that churches such as yours and LifeChurch are willing to explore online community and give it an honest go.


    March 19, 2009 at 4:38 pm

  5. I guess I’m wondering whether we’re going to get a more full-throated theological dissection of the web church … right now, I’m amazed at how shallow the analysis is. As an ordinary pastor, (and a young one at that), it would be a blessing to have more guidance from those far more learned than me …


    March 19, 2009 at 9:36 pm

  6. As you know, I’m new at this as well. Just for my own personal growth and development, can you explain why a full-throated theological dissection of web church is important to you personally?

    Matthew 28:16-20 is a very straight forward charge from “all the authority in heaven”. Real life deciples can and currently are being made online. People’s lives are being eternally changed through web church communities. I don’t know how that’s possible, but I don’t need an explanation. I just need to be obedient.

    Maybe I over-simplify things.

    Chris Hill

    March 20, 2009 at 8:55 am

    • No, you’re not oversimplifying, Chris … I praise God for your confidence. It’s a personal thing. I am just very aware of how serious the stakes are, and I want desperately to hold firm to sound doctrine while I allow myself in God’s confidence to do things that I know I’m called to do.


      March 20, 2009 at 4:17 pm

  7. here is my opinion on the ability or inability to establish community in an online setting.

    some people are socially awkward. they don’t meet and make friends very easily. i think an online setting is a safe place for that person. where they can completely be themselves without having to experience the awkwardness of an in person social encounter.

    some people are just more at home behind a computer. they feel more comfortable with their laptop. i think the “computer geek” (and i mean that with as little disrespect as possible) needs a place where he/she can thrive. the socially awkward can become completely normal when online.

    and i believe that they aren’t being someone else or not being themselves when they are in an online forum – the opposite. i believe that some people are more themselves when behind a computer and less themselves when with people.

    the online church is trying to reach them. and i love it. people hearing the word of God. how can we be upset with that?

    (btw – as i read your blog – i hear it in my head with a british accent. i love it.)

    blake comer

    March 20, 2009 at 9:54 am

    • Totally agree with you, Blake. I’m doing a video small group right now, and I actually think that as a discipleship tool, it works a little more efficiently and effectively than an real group (which I also lead.) I think it all comes down to the frequency and type of involvement that we have with each other online/offline. Shallow is shallow anywhere …


      March 20, 2009 at 11:44 pm

  8. Blake Comer, your comment nails it.

    Church as I have experienced it is tailor made for extroverts and can be a nightmare for introverts like myself.

    Now, I want to veer off Blake’s observation and address online vs. offline community.

    Nick, I remember you saying here on your blog that offline community is preferable to online community. I appreciate you saying that and I fully agree.

    But I maintain that there is value to online community, and it is being summarily dismissed by certain high-profile pastors. That’s where your (and my) desire for more theological discussion of the topic: why would they thoroughly discuss it when they don’t even think it has any validity?

    I challenge them on that, because of my own experience.

    I can point to several instances where online community was there for me and the people on my computer screen reached out to me, in ways that the people in churches I attended should have and never did.

    Online community is extremely valid right now, certainly as a venue for fellowship and a supplement to church.


    March 21, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    • I’m with you, BrianD. Online community serves a very valid purpose. I’m certain the question is how we integrate social technologies into our faith, not whether we should. If it’s theologically orthodox, I’m certain that there will be “fruit” to prove it. To me, it’s very much like the Acts church and God’s dramatic proofs to show that planting the faith in other environments did not destroy orthodoxy but enlarged our understanding of it.


      March 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm

  9. Nick, it’s a question when certain influential church leaders question or doubt it.

    When some of the influencers question its validity, the need is there to defend online church ministry, even if it stands on its own merits and shouldn’t need defending.


    March 25, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    • Indeed. I do want to defend web church. I certainly wouldn’t be in a position doing ministry I didn’t believe in. I just am wired to believe that the church’s theological and scholarly giants can help us lowlier folks grapple with the big questions.


      March 27, 2009 at 9:04 am

  10. Nick, the “sacraments and baptism” argument has been on my mind for a few days now, and I wish I could ask its adherents this:

    If a believer was imprisoned as a result of his/her faith, but continued to share the gospel and won souls for Christ inside the prison walls, is the Holy Spirit somehow invalidated … and church also becomes impossible … simply because neither sacraments or baptism (i.e. “doing church the right way”) are possible for incarcerated Christians in prison?

    Specifically, Driscoll’s argument seems to validate the authority of man-made precept over the grace and righteousness of the Almighty.

    -joe d.

    March 26, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    • That’s a great lens, Joe. I really don’t know what validates the sacrament, other than as a commitment to uphold the value of it’s meaning. I can certainly see the concern of our sacraments becoming meaningless (non-believers’ baptisms, mindless taking of the Lord’s supper) but that’s just as much a danger, if not more of a danger, in traditional church settings as it is on the front lines of a faith being carried to the margins by devoted, commitment believers…


      March 27, 2009 at 9:00 am

  11. […] “Online church is sick” A little while back, I mused about whether my two reformed heroes, John Piper and Mark Driscoll, considered the Web church blasphemy. […]

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