A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wherever Two or Three are Gathered in My Name, I Am Virtually There: Ekklesia in the Metaverse Church #2

Defining 'Church' and the Virtual World
by Lara M. Zinda

Just about everyone has an idea about how to define ―church. Usually, the definition stems from a sociological or biblical understanding. At conferences and meetings we often hear Christian leadership advocating for a return to the ―real church which suggests a divestment in the physical buildings that strangle our ministries by drawing attention away from the true calling of the Great Commission in Matthew 28. Others will argue the biblical notion of church as a spiritual union among people to worship and celebrate God. Those of this approach mostly agree that ―church is ekklesia, a body of believers, unified in their dedication and commitment to God and consequently, each other. Stanley J. Grenz states,

One fountainhead for the conclusion that the church is a covenant people lies with the Greek word, ekklesia, which the New Testament writers commonly used to designate the church… The Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint) chose ekklesia to render the Hebrew word qahal (―Assembly), which the historical writers used to refer to Israel as the ―congregation or ―assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:1ff; 1 Chron 28:8).10

Biblically, it is ekklesia or the assembly of the Lord that defines ―church.

In the New Testament, ekklesia manifests in two ways. In the first, ancient Christians considered themselves not an organization or a legal entity, but a people who lived, loved, and fellowshipped among one another in celebration and worship of Christ. Believers in the earliest centuries after Christ‘s resurrection met in homes and public places, sharing a communal meal and worshiping God (1 Cor 1:16; 16:19); they even were known to share their possessions (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-5:11). Life as an early Christian was not easy due to persecution so they became a small, tight knit group who stayed together and took care of one another. The other kind of church mentioned in the New Testament refers to the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23, 5:23). This kind of church is depicted as a body of believers who are connected to Christ through salvation. Neither ―church connects to a building but is a divinely created establishment, a body of believers unified in our Lord.

In 2008, Angie Ward wrote an article for Out of Ur that stated, ―As of this writing, there were around 100 churches listed in Second Life. Some were obviously created as a joke (The Church of Apathy), but dozens of others advertise legitimate doctrine, membership, and church functions.11 A search for the word ―church today provides over 2800 results. These include places (a virtual church building) and groups (a group of members affiliated with a specific genre, theme, etc). Ward‘s assessment that some were created as a joke is sound. In fact, many of the listings advertise wedding chapels for the growing wedding business in SL, some are jokes, and some are fronts for fraudulent operations. In a discussion with retired Second Life Mentor Rails Bailey12, there are many legitimate communities of worship in all faiths. But there are also a number of places that claim to be one thing and are really a scam to line the pocket of the creator. This reminds us of Brown's conversation with the Anglicans: one of the largest problems about the virtual world is accountability and regulation.

Next Wednesday: "Snapshots of Virtual Churches"

Previous Posts in the Series

Part 1: "Second Life and the Metaverse Church"

10 Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 605.
11Angie Ward, "The First Church of Second Life" Out of Ur. Christianity Today International, 25 Jul. 2008. Web. 18 May, 2010.
12Rails Bailey is a well respected Linden Labs volunteer within Second Life who lead the official volunteer program on behalf of Linden Labs, remains the director of programming for welcome islands, and maintains an in world business for building and scripting. Part of Mr. Bailey’s work as a mentor was to help flush out fraudulent agencies within SL and report them to Linden Labs. In real life, Mr. Bailey is retired and resides in Australia.


Allan R. Bevere said...


The question I have concerns the lack of accountability you mention. Is church in SL a way for people to have some kind of commitment to "church" without accountability and even moreso, without revealing their true identity. Does SL church become anonymous fellowship?

Vayhi said...

Your question is absolutely valid. To play devil's advocate, I ask you this: with the 20/80 rule (20% of the membership doing 80% of the work), how many of our real life members are truly accountable?

I have asked your question of some of those who lead churches in SL. They suggest that for some, it is anonymous worship, just like worship in churches with worship services of 1000+ people. Some worshipers know each other well, but most are anonymous, worshiping alone in a sea of faces. This means then, that the involvement of the worshiping community in SL, and consequent accountability, is just like in real life. It depends entirely upon the people participating (including the leadership) and their honesty and commitment to the Spirit's work among them.

While worship in virtual space may leave those of us unfamiliar with virtual reality quite uncomfortable, there are many people seeking both Christ and Christian community there. In my mind, it is no different than receiving an odoriferous beggar at the church door, a transvestite, a person with multiple tattoos and piercings, or anyone else unfamiliar to our norm (what we theologian types call "the other"). Many models to address the needs of people in virtual space are being explored in-world including hybrid models that connect those in-world with the out, but the question remains, how best may we serve them as (potential or current) brothers and sisters of our Lord? How can we serve a population who choose to present themselves virtually? Silly as it may seem, how do we best serve a population of people who present themselves as a furry?

This conversation may be perplexing for a traditional church. With technology on the move and the younger generation finding itself "plugged in" 24-7, more and more people are seeking to understand and know Christ in this format.

Thank you, Allan, for hosting this conversation. May the thoughts of your readers help to prayerfully shape the future of a metachurch of believers in a blessed and positive way.

Forgive me, I must run. Prayer service in-world starts in ten minutes. And yes, they take prayer requests. ;) LMZ