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)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wherever Two or Three are Gathered in My Name, I Am Virtually There: Ekklesia in the Metaverse Church #6

Today we conclude our series on virtual church. I thank Lara Zinda for her willingness to contribute this fine series to my blog.

by Lara Zinda

Mohamed Taher states, "Behind every [virtual] activity, there is a source of inspiration."33 The model of ekklesia is certainly met in virtual reality by many people who gather to worship and hear the Word. The label of "church" for those of metaverse ekklesia is wholly dependent upon your definition of "church". As Ailsa Wright states, "Robert Warren describes the traditional notion of church as building + priest + Sunday service. He suggests that a definition more closely accords with the current situation is that church is community + faith + action, or 'an engaging faith community'".34 I concur. Those who gather in community to worship our triune God are indeed a church, faithful, and whole. How they live out their theology varies, in part due to the limitations of the metaverse, and in part due to their perceived calling and purpose. To discount a body of believers as "not a church" is disrespectful of their efforts to faithfully live out their call as Christians in their specific community. In fact, as we are all called to faithfulness and encouragement, we fail in our mission.

In England, a new form of church is gaining momentum. A Fresh Expression Church is:

…a term coined by the Church of England report Mission-shaped Church and used in the Church of England and the Methodist Church for the last five years. It is a way of describing the planting of new congregations or churches which are different in ethos and style from the church which planted them; because they are designed to reach a different group of people than those already attending the original church. There is no single model to copy but a wide variety of approaches for a wide variety of contexts and constituencies. The emphasis is on planting something which is appropriate to its context, rather than cloning something which works elsewhere.35

The metachurch is indeed a Fresh Expression Church, serving a population unlike any other, developing and growing in faith. This is indeed unusual when compared to the traditional church. Imagination and flexibility are necessary to prevent the hardening of heart to something different to which God calls some people. As Rev. Mark Brown states, "A mission to a virtual world requires flexibility in that we need to be prepared to examine how we understand church as well as being open to new ways of communicating. For the church to maintain relevance we need to pitch our tent in new lands and set about learning the language. To do this effectively requires that we develop new ways of understanding what it means to be church and provide the resources necessary to see it come to fruition."

Our world, and how we relate to one another in it, is indeed changing. As technology develops, we find new and exciting ways to express ourselves. The Church is called to serve God in these new dimensions by sharing the gospel message, baptizing, teaching, serving, and welcoming into a community of fellowship; it's called to do so in theologically sound ways, not sacrificing traditions but instead, applying them in new ways. To dismiss members of the virtual world simply because they choose to relate to one another in a non-physical way is to dismiss the souls behind the representation simply because we don't like where they sit: behind a computer screen. This would be a failure of the traditional church, and a failure of the wider body of Christ to serve our calling and make disciples. Instead, let us lift up those keyboard jockeys in prayer, welcome them to be a part of faith communities, and honor our traditions and theological beliefs in a responsible way.

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"

Part 4: "Theology in Virtual Practice-- The Anglican Cathedral-- Evangelism and Edification"

Part 5: "Theology in Virtual Practice-- The Anglican Cathedral-- Worship and Social Concern"



33 Mohamed Taher, Cyber Worship in Multifaith Perspectives. (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2006), viii.
34Alisa Wright. "Anglicans of Second Life – some reflections on lived experience" The Anglican Church of Second Life. The Anglican Church of Second Life, April 2009. PDF, Web. 16 May, 2010.
35Graham Cray. "An introduction by Graham Cray." About Us - Fresh Expressions. Fresh Expressions, n.d. Web. 19 May 2010.


Vayhi said...

This just in! (Timely, doncha think?)


Allan R. Bevere said...

Yes, how timely.

Scot McKnight has just published a post on this you might be interested in.


Vayhi said...

Regarding Long's comment about Jesus, by his logic, one could argue that these virtual preachers do just as Jesus did, equipping and commissioning the masses to do the work in the place they cannot be. Jesus was after all, physically just one man.

My opinion? It's not optimal. Yet there are times when digital worship is indeed a blessing. You once reminded me that evil will use everything in our world for its advantage. You followed that with a reminder that God will use everything too. Perhaps the jury is still out on this but I still argue that there are people who are coming to the Kingdom this way and they deserve our attention, love, hospitality, and welcome.