Today we have a choice between virtual church and real church. D.J.Soto quit his job at a megachurch in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 2016 to start a virtual congregation, a “fully computer-generated religious institution.” Members of Soto’s church use virtual reality headsets and tap into Altspace VR’s social media platform that provides digital meeting spaces for avatars. The worship service includes a lecture with computer-driven graphics and pictures. The Easter service included walking into Jesus’ tomb and taking a tour of the cross. There is even a baptismal service in which avatars, which are icons that represent people, are baptized.
Other ministers are using variants of Soto’s methods. Jay Kranda of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, uses livestream services and apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook. Some of the people using these electronic church services call themselves “bedside Baptists” and “pillow Presbyterians.” Churchhome Global is another electronic church with Judah and Chelsea Smith using prayer emojis to engage congregational members.
For those whose concept of a worship service is to be a spectator with only a minimal personal involvement, virtual churches may be attractive. Not getting out of the house on Sunday is attractive, especially in bad weather. The problem with all of this, however, is that it misses the purpose of worship.
The biblical concept of the Church has never been that people come as spectators. Worship is not just one dimensional. We praise God and encourage one another. The communion we share is not only vertical as we thank God for the sacrifice of Christ and the cleansing nature of His blood. It’s also horizontal as we share our unity and love for one another as we participate together. The Church is not a social club. It is a gathering of people who share their resources, their lives, and their desire to serve. When you read Acts 2:41-47, you see activities that are not to entertain, but to serve people and God.
The virtual church may enable people to escape the problems of American denominational worship. However, it doesn’t begin to approach the biblical concept of the purpose and conduct of worship and living out the faith together. See James 1:27 and 5:13-20.
— John N. Clayton © 2019
Data from USA TODAY, May 7, 2019, page 1B.