"Church" has been defined as a body or an assembly of believers, unified in their dedication and commitment to God and consequently, each other. Historically, this assembly could be local, such as an assembly of believers in a local house church, or ethereally, such as the wider collection of believers in the body of Christ. For generations, people have come to accept these ideas of "church". But what do we do with a body of people who choose to gather locally in an ethereal way?
Exploring Church Functions
There is no doubt that the Anglican Cathedral regularly hosts a number of believers in community with one another. In fact, according to Milena, Bishop Christopher Hill of the Church of England is examining real world structures in order to bring proper recognition of, and authority to, the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life. To Bishop Hill, this ekklesia, this body, is indeed a church of Christ. But, is it a "church"as Dr. Elaine Heath might describe?
The Church has been charged with several functions as part of its divine purpose. Millard J. Erickson, upon whose work I will rely for this section, identifies these purposes as evangelism, edification, worship, and social concern as they relate to the metaverse church.19 In this post we will deal with the first two.
The metaverse church seems mostly inspired by the Great Commission, manifested in practice by evangelism and education of the basic principles of the faith. In this sense, the metaverse church is a missional church. In Matthew 28:19 the faithful are called to go into the world and make disciples. In Acts 1:8, Jesus calls the disciples forth to witness in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. This instruction required obedience of his faithful followers, the church. In order to be the Church, we must follow Christ's commands of which evangelism is one. We do this by sharing the gospel with others and welcoming them into the Christian life.
The aim of the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life is to ―be church for people wherever they are whatever their circumstance.20 This model treats the people in virtual worlds as a special population, much like the church for the incarcerated, shut in, students, and others in non-traditional communities. This type of model of evangelism and consequent service to special populations inspires the Anglican Cathedral, and various churches in the virtual world to carry out their ministry.
The edification of believers seems to be a necessity before evangelism. We are given gifts to strengthen our faith in God. Ephesians 4:15-16 states, ―"But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body‘s growth in building itself up in love." In this way, the ekklesia is bound together in love, thus strengthened for the work of both evangelism and social concerns.
Worship concentrates the people's attention on God. As edification builds up believes by strengthening them among themselves, worship strengthens their relationship between God and one another. Here, the believer and his or her fellow believers strengthens their relationship with the Divine by offering obedience and supplication to God. The strength they gain in God from worship and communal fellowship, individually and together, is turned outward to evangelism and to non believers.
Erickson writes, "There are several means by which members of the church are to be edified. One of them is fellowship."21 The metaverse church specializes in this area. Various islands exist that cater to Christian culture, featuring not just Christian stores, but cafés, beaches, dance clubs with Christian DJs, libraries, art galleries, and other gathering places. Special events are scheduled regularly throughout the metaverse, drawing between 15 and 100 people at each event. Here, residents socialize, perform certain tasks together, discuss various topics, even dance, hug, and praise in avatar form. Mark Brown quotes Paul Fiddes, author of Sacraments in a Virtual World,
One ought not to assume that cyberspace is a disembodied world. The net is composed of a form of energy, just as is the familiar "physical" world in which we operate everyday. Moreover, the persons behind the avatars are in physical connection with the virtual world - through many of the senses (sight, hearing, touch - i.e. keyboard, mouse). Anyway, mental activity always has a physical base in the brain. Studies have shown that people feel a bodily connection with those with whom they are communicating over the net.22
That connection allows in part for edification of the metaverse church. One only can speculate as to Dr. Heath's response.
Another way the church is edified, according to Erickson, is in teaching. Weekly bible studies and discussion groups exist by the dozens. Various groups exist in which a theological or biblical discussion can materialize at any time. While there is certainly room for a more formalized Sunday School program or even disciple or confirmation education, the small groups flourish. We should also remember that our pastors, lay leaders, deacons, and lay people preach regular sermons in dozens of church and chapel settings throughout Second Life. People are discovering their personal gifts and calls to ministry and are putting them to use as ushers, bible study leaders, peer-to-peer counselors, DJs, prayer support, musicians, mentors, and preachers. The metaverse church can be, and in many cases is, edified.
Next Wednesday: "Theology in Virtual Practice-- The Anglican Cathedral-- Worship and Social Concern"
Previous Posts in the Series:
Part 1: "Second Life in the Metaverse Church"
Part 2: "Defining 'Church' and the Virtual World"
Part 3: "Church in the Metaverse-- Examples"
18 Brown, 1.
19 Millard J. Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 346-350.
20 Brown, 6.
21 Erickson, 348.
22 Mark Brown. "Virtual Sacraments?" Brownblog. Brownblog: fresh thinking about Christian ministry, 22 June, 2009. Web. 16 May, 2010.
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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 30, 2010
Wherever Two or Three are Gathered in My Name, I Am Virtually There: Ekklesia in the Metaverse Church #4
by Lara Zinda