Virtual Church 05 – Function of a Virtual Church
In the last Podcast of this series, we discovered what is a Virtual Church. Now we discuss, what functions does a Virtual Church fulfil.
Some church leaders suggest that virtual church membership will continue to increase and that by the year 2020 “nearly all churches will be virtual churches” in the sense that physical attendance will become secondary and most contact will be via Virtual Reality (Andy Peck, ‘2020 Vision’, Christianity, September 2006, 14). Another survey suggested that by 2010, 10% to 20% of US adults and teenagers will use the Internet as their primary spiritual input. These figures suggest the growing importance of a virtual church in the life of people. But how does a Virtual church function?
The phrase ‘one holy, catholic and apostolic’ probably remains the best means of identifying whether a church is truly part of the historical church or not. The Church at its inception was “a practice of shared faith”, epitomized by these four dynamic marks. Although definitions may vary, these four hallmarks traverse the broad spectrum of Christendom in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The term ‘one holy, catholic and apostolic church’ is a verbal confession, denoting the four visible dimensions of the invisible church and being a community springing forth from its first century founding. Furthermore, it evolves from generation to generation, but without losing the core beliefs. Catholic here, in case anyone requires clarification, means universal and not the denomination.
Jesus when praying in John 17v17-21 stipulates these four hallmarks of His church: one (John 17v21), holy (John 17v17, 19), catholic (John 17v21b) and apostolic (John 17v18).
By engaging in fellowship, worship, mission and bible teaching, a church thereby reflects the historical and biblical universal church which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. One in that the church exhibits fellowship between the individual believer and God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit; as well as fellowship between believers. A church is holy in that the church encourages worship of Almighty God. Catholic, in that, the church is engaged in the continuous mission of evangelisation. Finally, the church is apostolic in that it teaches from the Bible.
While these four hallmarks are statements of faith, they also must lead to declarations of function, because the Church must be actively visible. These four derived functions of the church are: fellowship, worship, mission and bible interaction. They are mutually interdependent and as Jürgen Moltmann in his book “The Church in the Power of the Spirit” states, “they are the invisible church’s visible manifestations.”
How does a Virtual Church engage in Fellowship?
Fellowship is a mutual sharing together. Through the sharing of stories and interacting with each other, Christians in a Virtual church engage in acts of fellowship. Sharing a common purpose of seeking Jesus, worshipping and praying together, playing games, engaging in stimulating dialogues and lending support when required, are all facets of Virtual church fellowship. The Virtual Church can also engage in regular offline meetings, to help engage each other more.
How does a Virtual Church engage in worship?
Worship in a Virtual Church has a variety of methods in which God’s glorification is sought. Global worship includes singing, responsive prayers and liturgy. Each individual member having his or her own bread and wine can engage in the Eucharist, similar to traditional church. A problem may well arise with baptism, which is by necessity a physical action. This problem can be overcome by negotiating with a traditional Church to baptize the person wanting baptism.
How does a Virtual Church engage in mission?
Virtual Church evangelism is primarily based on a friendship evangelism model with building relationships at the core. It is talking to people online, interacting through blogs, writing of testimonies, engaging in discussion threads and venturing into other online forums and communities. In a Virtual Church, where people are judged more on the ability to be persuasive rather than appearance, Scripture is powerful. Evangelism is therefore not instantaneous (although it can be) but rather a process of journey.
How does a Virtual Church engage in bible teaching?
In a Virtual Church, bible teaching continues to be central. Sermons are preached and interactive discussions are engaged in afterwards. Topical teaching threads and blog threads can teach Scripture and commented upon. Audio files can be streamed or downloaded from the Church and played on iPods and other devices, for use in personal time. Particularly relevant is the narrative style when online “holographic stimulation” will facilitate emotional attachment.
In the next Podcast, we will look at the perceived liabilities of a Virtual Church, before heading into to the main benefits.
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