**Editor's Note: I apologize for the lack of posts in recent days. We've been experiencing some technical difficulties. -Url Scaramanga**
I was disappointed to read Douglas Estes' piece last week on Ur, for a number of reasons, but chief among them is this: it fails to deal substantively with a single serious critique that has been raised regarding virtual church. In fact, Mr. Estes not only fails to address the critique, but he seems to fail even to understand it.
So in a spirit of Christian love and good dialogue, let me respond point by point!
First, Mr. Estes asserts that critique of virtual church can be boiled down to "Internet campuses and online churches are not true churches because they don't look like and feel like churches are expected to look like and feel like (in the West, anyway)."
Respectfully, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, my concern about internet church is that it's too much like what we expect (and want) church to look and feel like (at least in the West).
Video venues and internet church are the logical next step to the celebrity and consumer culture of America, and they represent a threat to both the overall maturity of the Body of Christ and our counter-cultural mandate. Celebrity elevation of pastors who have begun to franchise themselves and their "brand" around the nation should concern us for a number of reasons I've outlined elsewhere—they draw down people and resources from other church communities and they are unable to do mission-critical activities.
I'd say those are pretty substantial concerns.
Second, this article repeats what I see as the major scriptural argument in favor of virtual church—"Nowhere in the Bible does it preclude online church." The argument from silence, as we all remember from high school debate class, is the weakest. And in this case, I believe the Bible isn't silent. Let me ask very plainly:
What do we call a church that not only fails to engage in, but makes a practical impossibility, the idea of church discipline? How will discipline happen in Second Life/Internet/Sim Church, where anonymity reigns and screen names and identities are changed with a couple clicks?
What do we call a church that not only fails to engage in, but makes a practical impossibility, the equipping ministry of the church? What about discipleship and leadership formation? How does one become an elder in a virtual church? What do we call churches without biblical eldership?
Can true community be mediated by a screen, or is it forged in the times at table, bearing one another's burdens, serving the poor and one another together, at weddings and funerals, births and deaths … all the stuff that happens when I turn the screen off.
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