Christianity Today recently reported that nearly half of polled senior pastors believe that in the future some people will experience their faith exclusively via the Internet. The results were culled from a recent Barna Group survey.
The report goes on to dissect whether or not this is problematic. I would say that it is, YES, very problematic. Not seeking faith assistance via the web, but seeking it exclusively. I use the Internet all the time to supplement my religious experience. I listen to podcasts, read articles and blogs, engage in social media, etc. In fact, I believe most Christians do. But the Internet becomes theologically void when it replaces rather than compliments the faith experience of the believer in a local church.
Because the Internet, social media, podcasts of your favorite preacher or whatever cannot duplicate an irreplaceable tenant of the faith…
“not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:25
At this point we see that the problem is not the Internet, but rather the problem is one of the heart. And we also see that the temptation to “neglect” going to church to meet together with other believers is not something new to our USAmerican culture but has plagued the heart of believers since the earliest days of the church.
So the question that should be asked is this:
Why would a Christian not want to be a part of a local church?
And by implication, replace the local church experience with a virtual experience or something else?
The answer to that question could take us in many directions, but here are a few that come to mind.
- “I love Jesus, I just don’t like the church.” I’ve heard this through the years ad nauseam. If you dig on this you will typically find additional comments like “church people are hypocrites,” and “church is boring,” and on and on. While not discounting the hurt many people feel from bad church experiences (I have some stories of my own to tell), the whole “I love Jesus but not church” thing smacks of arrogance to me. Basically, an “I’m too good for you” attitude. Theologically, such a statement is offensive to God. How can you say you love Jesus but hate His bride? If you said you liked me but not my wife, I’d say “See ya!”
- “We have a game on Sunday.” Or a gymnastics competition, or swim, or cheer, or whatever. Just pick the sport and insert. Sunday used to be sacred. No group or organization or anything dared tread on Sunday because of a thing called church. That was so long ago, though, that most people outside the church don’t link the two together anymore. And sadly, too many inside the church no longer link them together either. Fall ball, spring ball, summer ball, travel ball. The culture of travel sports is dominating the mindset of parents. Yes, I put this squarely on the shoulders of parents. Most of who don’t have a clue how often they really are out of church. In their mind, church will always be there (next Sunday) but baseball is only for a season. And kids are only kids once, right? Yes, that’s right. And once again, I put this to the parents who, as I said above, don’t have a clue what they are actually modeling and teaching their kids. Do we really think it’s going to become easier for the next generation to say “Yes” to Jesus and “Yes” to church? My great fear is that once ball season is over, and kids grow up, and Mom and Dad come back to church (maybe) and the kids don’t, Mom and Dad will look at each other with puzzled expressions and cry out to their pastor, “I don’t understand why my son isn’t interested in church?! After all we raised him in church!” And that’s the point…. You didn’t.
- “We have church with just us.” This form of neglecting the gathering together with other believers sort of flows from the above two excuses. I’ve heard folks talk about how they “have church” at the ball field, or how a group of buddies will “have church” on the golf course, or how a family with a spiritual control freak father will “have church” in their house. So there is one major problem in how all these groups “have church”… it’s not CHURCH. Yes, where two or more are gathered, God is in the midst of them. And that is all good and well, and I’m not saying there’s no benefit in this, but just like the Internet, what can be a good supplement makes a poor replacement. A church has a pastor. A church functions to draw people in. A church functions to evangelize the lost. A church brings in the tithe. A church sends missionaries to foreign lands. A church worships as a whole, not in parts. But that group of buddies on the golf course, or that huddle of parents sharing a devotion before the first pitch, or that dad surrounded by his wife and kids (and maybe even another family) in his living room does none of these things. So call it what you will, but it’s not a church.
I could go on and on. But I suppose in the end, it’s all about what you give your life to. Christ calls us to give our lives to him and to live out our faith in a community of believers called the church. The church is God’s instrument to change the world. Travel tournaments, holy huddles, and the Internet just can’t do that.