Last Saturday, I spoke at the Christian Web Conference on the question of church online.  My prepared remarks, which I have slightly modified, are below.  Over the past few weeks, this conversation has burgeoned, and I hope to interact with many of the new voices on these questions.  For now, feel free to read and comment.

I have two regrets about speaking today.  First and foremost, I regret most of all that Andrew was unable to join us.  I have interacted some with him on this topic and was very much looking forward to having a spirited conversation with him.  His voice is an important one in the Christian community, and we are all worse off without it.  Second, I regret that I am in a position of ending this excellent conference by sounding a defensive note.  With all the things technology can do to further the mission of the church, it seems sad to close with a focus on what the Church can’t do. 

My task today, which changed slightly when we discovered Andrew was not going to be here, is to lay out for you the questions and issues of online church, and then to articulate a few worries that I have about its implementation within evangelicalism.   

The shift toward online church seems to be largely motivated by a true missionary impulse, which is the strongest argument for it.  Whatever else critics might think or say about online church, there are no grounds for denying the validity of the religious encounters and life transformation that individuals are experiencing.  The testimonials of conversions and changed lives that have come about through online church should be taken very seriously.  Those like Tony Steward, Nick Charalambous and others have clearly taken to heart Paul’s admonition that he becomes all things to all people that by any means he might save some. 

The reality of such conversions raises a host of definitional questions that make the conversation both interesting and difficult.  First, while church online might prove an effective means for some people experiencing saving faith and transformation, is it a valid expression of what Christians are saved into?  That is, is it sufficient for the primary gathering of the people of God to happen online, and why? Second, the notion of ‘church’ invites an enormous amount of disagreement.  Consider the categories:  “universal/local,” “visible/invisible,” and “virtual/real” (the last of which Andrew has introduced).  Navigating these differences was hard enough prior to the advent of the internet—now it is simply even more confused. Third, any talk of the Church’s use of technology is necessarily impaired by a given technology’s infancy.  The internet, while enormously powerful, is still relatively new.  Worries about church online that are grounded in the contemporary deployment of any specific technology may at some point be rendered irrelevant by technological developments.  Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, there are hermeneutical difficulties, which I think are twofold:  first, what, if anything, does Scripture say explicitly about the formation of Church life?  Second, how should our way of reading Scripture inform our understanding of what Scripture has to say about this question?

Additionally, there is the problem of identifying what we mean by ‘church online.’  There are, I think, four schools of thought:  (1)  some advocates argue that church online is meant strictly to enhance and extend traditional, bodily church experience and mission.  In unique cases, like invalids or those travelling, it may function as a replacement for normal fellowship.  Broadly, the internet is a meeting place where the Church can engage the world and so extend itself ‘online.’  (2)  The second slot on the spectrum belongs to those who think the online experience of corporate worship is and can be normative, and that the goal of such online communities is to encourage and culminate in offline interaction, either on a regular basis or occasionally.  Here “church online” seems to mean the corporate gathering of small communities in diverse geographical regions, and is in some cases a temporary arrangement. Communion in this case often remains a physical and social act that occurs in small group gatherings. (3) Third, some argue that both corporate worship and weekly fellowship exist online—with the hope, but not the requirement, of meeting locally, and with the caveat that baptism and communion will be done bodily, but not necessarily while gathered in the same physical location.  (4)  There are a few extreme advocates of online church who argue that the offline interaction is never going to be necessary, and that communion and baptism can both occur in some disembodied, virtual form.  

What should we say about this mess?  Allow me to take the path of any good critic short on time and ignore it.  Most advocates fall somewhere in the second and third categories, both of which suggest that online corporate worship can function as a normal replacement for the local, bodily gathering of the congregation.  In other words, the bodily presence by members of the congregation is not a necessary requirement for corporate worship. 

We might be tempted to qualify this and argue that the Sacraments—whatever those are—must be taken both physically and in the bodily presence of the (whole) church.  This is, in fact, Mark Driscoll’s rationale for rejecting online church.  However, I would argue that on this point, Driscoll is being deeply inconsistent.  If the preacher’s bodily presence is not necessary for the effective preaching of the Gospel, as the use of video sermons indicates, then the parishoner’s bodily presence is not necessary for the Gospel’s effective hearing.  But if the body is not necessary for the effective communication of the Gospel to the church, then why is it necessary for the taking of communion, unless there is some meaning intrinsic to the particular bread that the community shares, or to the combination of that bread with that pastor, or being in a particular place together.  The same Spirit who overcomes spatial distance to communicate the Word through preaching can surely make the taking of communion effective when thousands of individuals simultaneously partake of bread that has been consecrated through the prayer of the online preacher. 

I say this only to point out that the reasons for online church are more embedded in the structure of evangelical ecclesiology than most of us realize.  A sincere and Godly missionary impulse and the emphasis on the Spirit’s ability to overcome limited, physical, geographical arrangements have combined to create a forceful case for church online.

In other words, church online is the logical—and hence inevitable—extension of the multi-site movement’s implementation of video-sermons. 

Allow me, then, in my time remaining to offer two worries about online church and its emphasis on the Spirit’s ability to transcend space through technology.

First, the notion that a dislocated corporate gathering is just as real as traditional church rests on a thin view of the human body.  Andrew Jones has argued that a brick and mortar store isn’t really any more ‘real’ than Amazon.com.  But when extended to humans, I would argue the analogy fails.  The local Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com are both built for the sake of selling books.  They are, from that perspective, equal in that they are both determined by their uses.*  Their visibility is a consequence of the end for which they have been created.

However, my human body is not a tool, as my iPhone is.  It is, in a sense, me and so shapes my personal identity in ways I cannot choose to undo.  While we use it for certain ends, it also is a constitutive part of me, and I am not me without it or in a different body.  As an example, the fact that I am tall and skinny—which was not determined by me but by my makers, that is, my parents—makes me distinctly unsuited for the game of football, but particularly suited for basketball. 

Charles Lee has pointed out, of course, that were I to lose one of my legs I would still be “the same person.”  But there the notion of ‘person’ seems, again, too thin.  While the one-legged Matthew would clearly have some continuity with me right now, the change in my body would dramatically alter my interactions with the world and the world’s interactions with me.  It would be problematic as if people continued to interact with me as though I had two legs.  Clearly, what it would mean to be “Matthew Lee Anderson” would be significantly altered.

In this sense, the body is not just that by which I communicate with the world—it is a center of meaning on its own.  It reveals more than I might consciously intend and it is an essential part of me expressing my humanity.  Tony Steward has pointed out that church discipleship is possible online because they have established a “permission environment.”  But in embodied communication, we reveal more than we give permission to.  The particular shape of my smile, or the particular hunch of my shoulders can betray more anxiety or joy than I might be conscious of at any given moment.

There is a temptation to think that video communication overcomes this gap.  But when the people of God gather as the people of God in worship, the bodily communication of those people shapes the corporate response to the Spirit.  It is, for this reason, that Church traditions of worship were shaped in such a way that bodily activity—standing, kneeling, the lifting and laying on of hands, were developed:  if the people of God are to express their full humanity together–and there is no other way–they must do so in embodied fashion.

Second, and related to the first, in appealing to the spiritual universality of the church, advocates of church online utilize a problematic theology of place, which I worry further reinforces the rootlessness of the people they are ministering to.  Here, I part ways with Andrew Jones not on the essential invisibility of the Church, but rather on the way that invisibility is to interact with the visible.  

Andrew has rightly argued that Hebrews and John 4 challenge the geographically bound religious thought that seemed to be present in the Judaism of Jesus’ day.  However, as theologian Oliver O’Donovan points out, the universality of the Church can be instantiated either abstractly or concretely.  Church online, with its distance from the normal structure of human life, rests on an abstract notion of ‘universality’ where my churchly relations are scattered far and wide. 

O’Donovan appeals to, interestingly enough, the parable of the Good Samaritan to make his case, which opens with the line, “As it happened…”  While the parable clearly demonstrates that the Gospel transcends religious and social identities, it does so from within the contingent arrangements of our lives.  He happened to be travelling one day, and the need was thrust upon him.  The universal takes shape in the local.  G.K. Chesterton puts it this way: “The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world.  He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men.  The reason is obvious.  In a large community we can choose our companions.  In a small community our companions are chosen for us.”

It is important to point out that for an increasing number of people, “normal life” and the sort of contingent arrangements that make it up are happening online.  But there is, I think, an important difference that makes churchly relations more difficult:  the lack of geographical boundaries makes it easy and likely to self-select our communities.  Because of the low entry points into ‘communal arrangements’—one need only select the right url to begin engaging a completely new set of people—the social ties that are formed are easier to break.  I have no freedom to choose my natural family, a point that makes it both frustrating and difficult.  The overwhelming testimony of the human behavior online is that the freedom to associate with anyone we so desire leads not to diverse and varied communities, but rather homogenous and self-selected cliques.

However, what of those who meet together offline throughout the week?  I have previously argued that embodiment is intrinsic to our humanity.  Additionally, regardless of whether we are singing or not, the embodied corporate response to the Word of God in worship is the expression of our full humanity.  Such a view inevitably (further) diminishes the role of communion within our corporate gatherings.  Paul’s logic is that the one loaf makes the one people, not the other way around.  The communal life of the Church offline provides the energy, but is not a replacement for the gathering of all the people of God in worship. 

Finally, we should point out that despite the New Testament’s emphasis on the universality of the church, it is Jesus who as the chief cornerstone is the Word made Flesh, the Word who entered a very particular place during the period that Paul describes as “the fullness of time.”  This sense of boundedness is not what the Spirit eradicates, but what the Spirit transforms through his resurrection power.  

These are, then, two worries that can be finally articulated this way:  the power of the Spirit is not such that it overcomes nature, but restores it.  The missionary impulse and the emphasis on the Spirit’s ability to join people in diverse geographical locations must be joined with a robust view of human embodiment as necessary for human—and hence a full churchly—life. 

One more point:  there are, of course, extremes on both sides.  But the nature of theological dialogue is such that what happens at the fringes pushes the center toward a given direction.  The theological assumptions of those at the extremes affect the way the center practices their spiritual life.  Hence, for those traditionalists with anxieties about the application of technology to the church’s existence, the pragmatic argument is not sufficient to justify the deployment of church online. 

Finally, these are only worries, and I must express my regret for closing with them.  As someone with deep conservative impulses, I admire the experimental nature of those who are pushing the boundaries of church’s application of technology.  As has been pointed out to me, those who have anxieties about the church’s hasty application of technology must be matched and countered by those who have anxieties about the church’s indifference toward those unreached people groups online.  It is my sincere hope, and earnest desire, that through the conversation about the prospects and pitfalls of the church’s engagement of technology, we can find common ground in Him who is the Word made flesh, and who dwells in us through his Holy Spirit, and who lives and reigns as Lord over all.

*It should be noted that during the discussion time afterward, Dr. Reynolds raised questions about the analogy itself that are worth consideration.  Specifically, he pointed out that the potential encounter with embodied human presence at Barnes and Noble may, in fact, be reason enough to reject the parallel with Amazon.com.

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Thanks for the post Matthew. I’m even sure if we actually met in person during CWC. Did we? :)

    I appreciate the thoroughness with which you present your thoughts. It’s very easy to follow.

    In regards to your reference about my example for identity, I would definitely disagree with your perspective. I think you might be confusing essential from accidental properties as it relates to identity. In this case, the soul would be essential to our identity and our bodies accidental in nature.

    I would make case that you (Matthew) are not the same physical Matthew from 10 years ago. Even if you have not lost any body parts, all of your blood cells have cycled. What makes you Matthew is your soul and not the collection of blood cells.

    By the way, I am not trying to downplay the importance of our physical bodies. My point is that I am my soul. The ability to enjoy the world and others via my body is a separate category of thought than who I am (i.e.,identity). Your perspective and counter-example about the need for us to use our bodies to experience the world is a different conversation than the subject I was writing about.

    My point has very little to do with how the body can heighten my experience with reality. You’ll note in my post that I was not trying to make a case that body-less presence is better than physical presence.

    My argument was that we can have legitimate points of contact or presence with people in a real way without necessarily having to be physically present. I noted God as an example of this kind of presence. (And no, I’m not saying were gods.)

    Also, I was not even at CWC on Saturday and was not aware of the whole online church conversation. I did hear some buzz about it, but my blog post wasn’t the result of that. In other words, I didn’t write thinking that my post was about whether or not online churches could create authentic community and fellowship. I recognize that factors like relationship over time, depth of engagement, and other variables make the online church conversation very complex. Maybe it’s something I need to more intentionally think about :-)

    In any case, thank you for interacting with some of my thoughts. We need people like you to guide us in conversation about these matters. Keep up the great work!

    In friendship,
    Charles

  • Blest Be the iTies that Bind! A concise article about the “Online Church” http://bit.ly/lgbKC

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • John Dyer

    Thanks for this this excellent and helpful work. As you pointed out, it seems that many of the arguments against online church seem equally applicable to much of the evangelical church, in particular the mega- and satellite-church models. Perhaps the online church model can be used to stir up some dusty areas of our theology and help the evangelical church strengthen its weak points.

  • christofmeyer

    Thanks for the work you put into this argument Mr. Anderson. It seems like a train on the right track heading the right direction that is, however, rolling over some rusty rails that need to be nailed down more firmly before it can run at its optimal speed. That is to say, perhaps now that it’s blocked in, it would benefit from the effort of smaller, more precise instruments – around the edges.

    The area I still wonder about the most is the connection between Christ’s incarnation and our incarnation in the physical “body of Christ” on Sunday. It seems like you’ve just hinted at this and then moved on. But surely this is one of the strong points of your argument. Secondly, If G.K. Chesterton’s reflections on community are correct then online churches will have to work much harder than a normal “small community” of church-goers to avoid becoming narcissistic – they will pick their friends, present themselves from behind a curtain (of pixels), and miss out on the soulish communion that comes from being in close proximity with other ensouled souls.

    A last thought about the virtues of a bodily worship experience. By worshipping with, what is, essentially only your soul (* Charles seems to admit to as much above) you lose a key connection point to the heavenly worship of God that Churches have sought to aspire to for as long as there have been Churches. Namely, that since in heaven we know that everyone will be singing and worshipping God in the “particulars” of their earthly instantiation (tribes, tongues, nations, etc.) we join them in a very unique way when we come together around the altar and sing corporately (corporally?).

    Annie Dillard reflects on a moment of clear revelation when God came “through the veil” as it were and opened her eyes (not her mind) to see the beauty of a particular bo tree.

    “It opened on time: Where else? That Christ’s incarnation occurred improbably, ridiculously, at such-and-such a time, into such-and-such a place, is referred to – with great sincerity even among believers- as ‘the scandal of particularity.’ Well, the ‘scandal of particularity’ is the only world that I, in particular, know… We’re all up to our necks in this particular scandal. Why, we might as well ask, not a plane tree, instead of a bo? I never saw a tree that was no tree in particular; I never met a man, not the greatest theologian, who filled infinity, or even whose hand, say, was undifferentiated, fingerless, like a griddle cake, and not lobed and split just so with the incursions of time.”

    One of the impulses, anyway, of the advocates of online church seems to be making church attendance a purely spiritual act, which seems to disaffirm the sanctity of our bodies. That this same group has such a low view of the sacraments is no accident. “Why not just think about the sacraments?” is surely the next question. And, for that matter, why listen to any particular pastor on Sunday? It seems like a bit of a burden to be bound to just one guy doesn’t it? Perhaps in the future people will just want “best of” sermons found in the library of cyberspace.

    But then, there have always been libraries, and the doctors of the church still deemed it helpful to trudge to their local parish and listen to sub-par sermons, filled with sub-optimal Christians, for a reason. How much more so should we -given our blessings of cars, roads, and Church options.

  • John,

    Thanks for the kind words. You put my hope for this conversation very, very well.

    matt

  • Charles,

    Charles,

    Thanks for the great comments. Sadly, we did not get to meet at CWC. I was so anxious about this talk that I spent a lot of time prepping for it there. I heard great things about your talk and I’m looking forward to watching it when its online.

    I appreciate your feedback immensely. I should point out that I didn’t mean to imply that you wrote your thoughts in response to anything that happened at CWC. I included them largely because I thought you did a fantastic job of articulating a very common approach to the relationship between the body and the soul, and it is our understanding of that relationship that I think is driving us toward online church (among other things).

    Allow me, then, to say a few words in response:

    1) I agree that the soul provides for continuity of personhood through change (though, interestingly, my understanding is that in fact my brain cells are the only parts of me that are still the same as they were 10 years ago). I think we could agree on this formulation.

    2) The disagreement is one about human identity, and what constitutes it. When you say that you are not trying to downplay the importance of the human body, I completely believe you. However, I think its inevitable in the idea that human identity is SOLELY determined by our souls. If the body is intrinsically no different than my iPhone (i.e. a tool for my soul to interact with the world), then I think a whole host of problems arise. Hitting someone’s body seems qualitatively different than hitting someone’s phone–the fact that my body houses my soul gives it a special status. But I think it also means that the body is intrinsically related to my human identity, and isn’t just an instrument. After all, the shape of our souls IS affected by our bodily perceptions. Causality works both ways.

    Hence, I don’t think our bodies are “accidental” to our nature. I guess my basic criticism is that locating our identity strictly in our soul is too narrow of a metaphysics. Harry Frankfurt, I think, distinguishes between metaphysical identity and personal identity, and I’m trying to get at something similar. What provides continuity through change might be my soul, but what makes me “Matthew Lee Anderson” and everything that means is the particular combination of my body and soul.

    So, I agree with you that there are legitimate types of presence that are not embodied–Paul’s language of being “present in the Spirit” comes to mind. But those don’t seem to be fully human presence, and when they are presented as such (not necessarily by you), I think they are so largely because of the anthropology you quite ably articulated.

    I hope that makes my point a bit clearer, particularly as to why I included you in my revised version. Really, you have the gift of explaining difficult ideas very clearly, which is fantastic. Your post was simply too clear to ignore. : )

    Thanks for interacting with me on this. I agree that it’s a conversation that needs to continue–these issues are just difficult, and the more able minds we can get involved, the more progress we’ll make! :)

    Best,

    matt

  • Christof,

    Thanks for the kind words. I couldn’t agree more about it needing more clarity around the edges (and in the center!).

    “The area I still wonder about the most is the connection between Christ’s incarnation and our incarnation in the physical “body of Christ” on Sunday. It seems like you’ve just hinted at this and then moved on.”

    Yes, I avoided that largely because there’s a minefield there that I wanted to avoid. At some point, though, I’m going to have to man-up and deal with this question.

    “Secondly, If G.K. Chesterton’s reflections on community are correct then online churches will have to work much harder than a normal “small community” of church-goers to avoid becoming narcissistic – they will pick their friends, present themselves from behind a curtain (of pixels), and miss out on the soulish communion that comes from being in close proximity with other ensouled souls.”

    Yes. It’s not impossible for them to create diverse communities, but it will be much more difficult than it would be otherwise.

    That said, I couldn’t agree more with Dillard about particularity. It seems to be especially tied to our humanity, as all the arguments for universality are tied to the Spirit. Oliver O’Donovan’s Resurrection and Moral Order makes this point as well.

    Best,

    matt

  • Interesting point on why preachers who use video should see people doing church exclusively online as a valid http://bit.ly/1slrYP

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • church online is the logical—and inevitable—extension of the multisite movement’s implementation of video-sermons. http://bit.ly/1slrYP

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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  • Blest Be the iTies that Bind: A few thoughts on online church from CWC http://bit.ly/lgbKC #tweetcwc (@biotrom it’s up, finally!)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • I.J.Reilly

    Matthew,

    It seems unjust to me that you would bring Chesterton in to support a point you would make, when the whole of Chesterton’s thought would think this topic quite comic. This is in a profound sense to take Chesterton out of context. If you are going to bring him in bring him all in. And if you don’t know what his thought would be in the matter I am willing to provide some quotes. ;)

    I think if he were participating in this he would have something to say that you and your readers may find quite discomfiting. He may think you are straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.

    Now I don’t think this is a controversial point but if it seems so I am willing to elaborate.

    Regards,
    I.J.

  • GaryH

    I.J.,

    Could you clarify what’s the gnat and what’s the camel? I’m a little slow about these things.

  • I.J.,

    I think we’ll end up disagreeing over the fair use of Chesterton’s thought, but I appreciate your feedback.

    Best,

    matt

  • One quibble with this parenthetical: “…though, interestingly, my understanding is that in fact my brain cells are the only parts of me that are still the same as they were 10 years ago….”

    “The same” in what sense? Neurons always form new connections with other neurons–that’s the basis of learning–and neurons demyelinate or die. (A rare few can actually regenerate, but the vast majority don’t; the role of glial cells, which can regenerate, has also been understated until recently.)

    The brain may have a roughly static number of neurons during adulthood–and the cells maintain a form of structural integrity–but since the connections are what matter most, the brain is hardly a static entity.

  • biotrom

    I would go even further than Dr. Reynolds regarding the Amazon.com/Barnes & Noble parallel. I think that even the physical presence of the goods to be purchased separates the two. Much more so the presence of human vendors.

  • I.J.Reilly

    Matt,

    Perhaps we would disagree, and I could be wrong, he was a very generous man and if he had to choose a side in this debate I am sure he would choose yours.

    But if he were privy to the conversation I am sure he would be disappointed (possibly more?) when a community that lists him as a patron, and thereby invokes his perspective, neglects to consult his thought in the matter. Especially when his thoughts would spring from the thing which animated his whole project, namely, orthodoxy as he would see it. Do you disagree?

    You make some very good points especially regarding grace perfecting nature.

    Cheers,
    I.J.

  • I.J.Reilly

    Matt,

    You sare critical (and I completely agree) of the fact that it is “easy and likely to self-select our communities” and you go on to say,

    “The overwhelming testimony of the human behavior online is that the freedom to associate with anyone we so desire leads not to diverse and varied communities, but rather homogenous and self-selected cliques.”

    But do you not think that this is systemic to Protestantism overall? In place of “human behavior online” I could perfectly substitute “Protestantism”.

    Has it ever been any different for Protestantism?

  • I.J.Reilly

    GaryH,

    The ecclesiological issue at stake in the discussion is dwarfed by the ecclesiological issue that Chesterton would raise. His answer to the question, “What is the Church?” renders the discussion absurd. No offense meant, I see that given the ecclesiological assumptions germaine to the readers of Mere-O, this disccussion is necessary.

    Cheers,
    I.J.

  • Jim,

    Great point, and I affirm it wholeheartedly. It was an aside that I threw in there tentatively hoping (honestly) that you would chime in with more accurate information. Thanks, and duly noted.

    I.J.,

    Thanks for the comments, as always.

    I think I disagree with the accusation that I am not consulting Chesterton’s thoughts on the matter. If anything, my explicit quotation of him proves the opposite. And if by “orthodoxy” you mean Roman Catholicism, well, he wrote the above prior to his conversion and I would argue it fits well within the broad confines of little-“o” orthodoxy that we try to promulgate here at Mere-O, and that he defends in Orthodoxy (his book).

    As for the self-selection of Protestantism, you know I am averse to public polemics on this particular issue–I have friends on both sides–so I will simply say this: if it has been historically true of Protestantism, it is a bug, and not a feature.

    Best,

    Matt

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  • As someone who has been deeply involved in developing an internet ministry with http://network211.com/(our goal is to reach 10 million with the Gospel message in the next 10 years; and we are well on target) I find the article and comments rather interesting. At present, we too, are developing an on-line church (Global Christian Center), and wrestling with some of the same concepts. In my opinion, an on-line church is only a substitute for the “real church” when there is no church available. As for example, in so-called closed countries, or for people in isolation or home bound, and so-forth. Communion is possible via programs like Skype, and local believers can baptize new converts. In other words, the internet can provide almost anything that television or the radio does; and, who would argue that both have not been successful in providing spiritual nurture to hundreds of millions down through the years?

  • Jeffrey Allen

    I would say that much if not most of evangelicalism churches are not really churches of all: at best they are preaching points and online “churches” are the logical next step and that most of their attendees have no frame of reference as to what a real church would look like.

    First of all lets say you are evangelized into a local church thru the rite of baptism, the pastor knows who you are and some people know and care for you. You notice people coming and going and you find out that some people are living in sin but so far so good.

    A new pastor is called and he is determined not to know your name. He tells the “church” it’s his way or the highway. You feel forced out so you now have to church shop and find that while you want a caring small atmosphere that alot of people in other churches just want good music and a good sermon. They are not interested in Christian community. You keep looking. You go from First Baptist to First Lutheran( a much smaller church) but find that they are determined to just ignore you. The pastor is nice but that’s it. He even tells you that you will probably never break in. He’s truly sorry about it but knows you won’t be sticking around.

    Since no protesant church with a straight face can tell you that they are the true church, you and your car have infinite possibilites to self choose and try to find a place to fit in.

    You come to the conclusion that the only way you can function and not get hurt is to have no expectations. A little later you realize that if you can’t have any expectations it’s just not worth your time or money.

    What makes it perfectly hopeless is that you once belonged to the only true church where you were assigned a parish, the members ran the church (no clergy) and even though you did not like Brother Jones you knew that in a pinch he would drive you to the doctor if you were sick. You were stuck with the other imperfect members and they were stuck with you since you did not have the option of going to the next parish down the road. You get to see the same people every Sunday and over the years going thru the different stages of life. The church has very stict standards and at any sign of immorality you will be warned and if necessary disiplined so you feel that you are truly in a distinct society as opposed to a church that is desperately trying to attract the world by watering down Christian standards.

    I told my mormon friend that the fastest growing church in America was not them anymore.The fastest growing religion is no religion. I think I know why.

    Feel free to flame.

  • Jim,

    I think that’s a very judicious conclusion to come to. I think it’s a helpful tool for the edification of the local church body, and a potential substitute in extreme circumstances, but certainly not the norm.

    Jeff,

    I’m not sure I understand where you’re headed (but have no interest in ‘flaming’ people–that’s not quite our style around here). It seems to be a critique of Protestant churches as leading to agnosticism/atheism. Is that right? Or is actually a defense of Roman Catholicism as the “only true church?”

    I have thoughts in both directions, but I want to make sure I’m getting your ideas right before responding.

    BTW, thanks for the comment. I’m a little slow to respond these days because of the holidays, but that should change next week.

    Best,

    matt

  • Jeffrey Allen

    Hi Matt, I don’t know what I was trying to convey other than my frustration at trying to connect at evangelicalism churches. I feel I should have some right at connecting as we have forked over thousands per year sending two children, (now just one) to Christian schools because we live in the inner city.
    Beside the normal problems you would expect, the homosexual agenda is being pushed. I don’t care what people do, just leave the kids out of it.
    I am not pushing either of the only true churches at our home. My wife is Roman Catholic and I am LDS. We are aware of the major problems of both “True” churches. I just think the free for all mentality that I have seen in the other christian churches prevents what a church should be. A covenant relationship between Christ and his people. I had asked earlier about books to bring me up to speed on the evangelical christianity movement. Please forgive the previous screed of a week ago.Something I had read set me off.

    Sincerely in christian love.

  • Jeffrey,

    I do agree with you that connecting at evangelical churches is often more difficult than it should be. I don’t know what your experiences have been or where you live, but if you want to email me directly, I may be able to put you in touch with an evangelical church where it might be easier and might have a more robust approach to ‘church’ than you have currently experienced.

    As for books to get up to speed, Mark Noll has a book I haven’t read, but will recommend anyway (since he’s the man and knows this topic better than anyone): The rise of evangelicalism: the age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys.

    It seems more historically oriented, but that would be a good starting point. George Marsden’s Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism might be another good resource.

    One of these days, we’re going to do a ‘historical evangelicals’ series, but that’s probably a long ways off. : )

    Keep commenting, pushing back, and questioning. And don’t worry about screeds. We all slip into them every once in a while. : )

    matt

  • Jeffrey,

    I should add one link: probably the most comprehensive list of resources on evangelicalism is here:
    http://isae.wheaton.edu/resources/

    Matt

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