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pastors' blog

First Baptist Church of Skype

Posted on April 21, 2009

What makes a church a church? We began to unpack this question at our 5pm Discussion and Prayer meeting Sunday night, April 19.  We started with the basics: a church is a gathering of Christians.

But that immediately raised a question for us: do the Christians have to physically meet together to be a church?  Could a group of Christians form a sort of virtual church using teleconferencing and IM chat?   Why couldn’t believers “gather” via the internet from around the country or the globe on a weekly basis to talk, pray, hear a message and interact?

The group seemed bothered by the idea of a purely online church.  But I pressed them to come up with biblical arguments for why a local church must in fact be local in a physical sense.  Here were some of their responses:

  • Church means “assembly” – The very meaning of the word implies a physical congregating.
  • The NT epistles were written to local churches – Paul wrote to the churches in Rome, in Corinth and in Ephesus.  In the book of Revelation, Jesus dictated letters through John to seven local congregations.  While the NT occasionally speaks of the universal church (i.e. all believers everywhere through all time), the predominant use of the word refers to local gatherings of believers.  This side of glory, the universal church is expressed and experienced primarily in local assemblies.
  • The model of the early church in Acts reveals physical gathering – In Acts 2:42-47 we see that the believers “were together.”  “Every day they met together in the temple courts.”  And they “broke bread in their homes and ate together.”  Together, together, together.
  • The Lord’s Supper is by definition a shared meal – How could a virtual church eat and drink a shared communion?  Paul’s instructions for the believers when they “come together as a church” to take communion (1 Corinthians 11:18ff) simply make no sense for an online “community.”  Can a group of Christians who don’t practice the ordinances of Christ claim to be a biblical church?
  • The images of the local church imply physical closeness – A unified body.  Living stones built together.  A family of believers.   Feel the weight of those images.
  • So many of the NT commands necessitate physical proximity – How do you greet one another with a holy kiss online?  What does one do with the commands to practice hospitality with one another in cyberspace?  How would internet-based relationships enable believers to hold one another accountable, or pastors and elders to watch over a flock?  It is all too easy to pose on the internet and control one’s virtual projection.  How would you really know a man well enough to affirm that he qualifies as an elder?  And under what circumstances would you need to forgive someone you primarily know by reading forum posts (perhaps besides getting into a “flame war”)?  The list goes on.  A local church requires a level of relational connectivity beyond the bandwidth of any internet connection.

We concluded that to be a church, a group of Christians must at some point unplug from the web, put down the cell phone, and actually be together.  In the flesh.  On a regular basis.  While modern communication can certainly keep people connected (like this blog post), it can never substitute for face to face fellowship.  I hope you can come to the next Discussion and Prayer meeting (April 26, 5pm) and practice being a church with us!

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:25.

- Pastor Jeramie

578 Main Street, Hingham, MA 02043, (781) 749-2592

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