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Southern Religion

A virtually useless argument

In an uninspired battle of the straw men, two folks at Christianity Today’s leadership blog, Out of Ur, debate the value of online churches.

Douglas Estes, the author of SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World, began the discussion with a defense of virtual churches. Estes attacks myths that “online church is not good, not healthy, and not biblical.” He does so without a single link to a single blog or website which promotes or refers to his myth. And without reference to offline documentation.

Estes proceeds to demolish his undemonstrated myths with the argument that online churches are real even if they meet in “synthetic spaces:”

You may not want to meet in synthetic space—and I would not want to meet in a bar—but it doesn’t change the fact that when the people of God meet together for the purpose of glorifying Him, it’s a real church.

Estes says the “realness” of virtual churches should not be judged “based solely on select physical criteria.”

Bob Hyatt, pastor of the Evergreen Community in Portland, Oregon, thunders back his equally undocumented argument that virtual churches are a bad idea.

“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,” he says.

Hyatt compares virtual churches to online marriages. He doesn’t describe, refer to offline document documentation of or link to online marriages. He makes them up out of thin air, and moves right along as though his assertion creates them for us.

Standing upon his clay foundation of undocumented arguments, he asserts that virtual churches should use technology as part of a strategy to connect people, but plainly tell them, “This is not church.”

“To be a part of the Body requires you to be present, fully present, to others in a way you can’t be online,” he said. “Internet tools may enhance that presence when you are apart, but they can’t replace it. And nothing we do as a Church should ever communicate that they can.”

Since neither author gives us sound reason to consider the validity of his arguments, we are left to wonder about their necessity.

Some churches are using online methods to reach people who would not be reached otherwise, as you can see from this article. Online is being employed to supplement offline church celebrations, as you can see here and here. And to supplement the live worship experience.

A look at church parking lots on Sunday tells us that some people prefer offline congregations enough to attend. Many millions of people, surveys of church attendance statistics tell us.

If either author had demonstrated the existence of a real-world debate, this collision of the confused straw men might remind of of the hoopla over contemporary worship. That debate suggests that most folks will eventually learn (if they haven’t already) that it is ok to worship and even congregate in different ways.

Even virtually?

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October 29, 2009 - Posted by | Churches, WWW

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