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Function of a Virtual Church

Virtual Church 05 – Function of a Virtual Church

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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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Church as Apostolic

45. The Christian Disciple and the Apostolic Church

John 17v18: “Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.

There are two main reasons regarding the church being apostolic: apostolic mission and apostolic teaching. There is also a theory regarding the apostle Peter and papal succession.

Firstly, the two New Testament words translated as ‘Apostle’ are apostolos and apostolē, both of which signify mission and being sent out. Mission is at the heart of the apostolic church in that it is sent into the world with a Gospel that is for all. Therefore the two assured reasons that the church is apostolic, is due to its being founded on the authority of Apostle-based teaching as found in the New Testament, and apostolic mission as in the Great commission (Matthew 28v18-20).

Secondly the church is apostolic because the Church, according to Paul, is founded upon the teachings of the Apostles (Ephesians 2v20). The Apostles as witnesses to the very life and teachings of Jesus, and their teachings, were the identification mark that was considered normative practice for the early church. The Apostles still play a role in church life today, in that the church’s teaching, authority, life and preaching is based upon the apostolic teachings found in the New Testament.

Thirdly, there is a theory that the church was founded on the Apostle Peter, and that the church today has an apostolic link to him via papal succession. This is based on the thinking that the Apostle Peter was distinct from the other apostles in that Jesus always chose him first and that he spoke freely and independently from and for the other apostles. It is also based on the tradition of cathedra Petri that states that Peter alone had Episcopal authority, and that this is passed down through the Roman Catholic Church and its pope. This view is based on Peter’s confession of Jesus being the Christ, and Jesus stating that the keys to paradise are for Peter alone (Matthew 16v18-19). However this interpretation is erroneous and there are a multitude of objections to this theory. The principle objection being that all of Scripture, warrants that the church is founded on all of the apostles and all of their teaching, and not just on Peter alone. This is the correct view and to read anything else into the pretext and context of Matthew 16v18-19 is erroneous.

The means by which this hallmark can be tested in any church can be monitored in the function of Bible interaction. If the church is a community engaging in bible teaching, then the church can be seen to truly be ‘apostolic’.

Bible Interaction

The apostolic church devoted itself to teaching from the Apostles (Acts 2v42). One of the tests given to manuscripts in order for it to be considered part of the New Testament canon was its link to the apostles. Other tests included:

  • Were they accepted as authentic and used by the Church?
  • Were they in agreement with the doctrine handed down from the apostles?
  • Self authenticating – Godly men and women could recognize God’s Word.

What is the Bible? The Bible is the Word of God, and is the instrument of the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith (Ephesians 1v13) and ongoing sanctification (Ephesians 5v26). Paul writes that all of it is God Breathed” (2 Timothy 3v16), in that it is inspired by God and has its origins in God. It is not just the ideas, but also the words that are inspired by God (1 Corinthians 2v13).

Why interact with the Bible? The Bible is capable of being understood by all God’s people. God the Holy Spirit enlightens the minds of Christians Disciples, so that they can understand spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2vv10-16). Through interacting with the Bible, the church teaches, rebukes, corrects and trains people for the purpose of righteousness (2 Timothy 3v16). By interacting with the Bible, Christians keep from sinning (Psalm 119v11), are comforted (Psalm 119v52), have their minds focused on God (Psalm 43v3) and are sustained in a daily spiritual life (Deuteronomy 8v3). The church also interacts with Bible, as the Bible is a link to the apostles (New Testament) and prophets (Old Testament), who are the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2v20).

What is the interaction?

There are five main ways in which Christian Disciples can interact with the Bible. Public reading of Scripture was regular in Israel and in the early church (Nehemiah 8v3). Presently due to high literacy particularly in the Western world, Scripture can easily be read in private as well as corporately. Memorization of the Bible was commended to “lay up His words in your heart” (Job 22v22). By reading and memorizing the Bible, meditating on it helps understand the implications of life’s occurrences and God’s blessings (Joshua 1v8). These three interactions lead to a fourth: that of obedience. By obeying the Bible the Christian Disciple learns to obey God, as it is His word (Deuteronomy 31v12).

Fifthly, preaching/teaching of the Bible receives the main emphasis in the New Testament, such as at the Church’s birth and Peter’s address to the crowd (Acts 2). After they were dispersed due to persecution, the Apostles continued preaching and teaching (Acts 8v4). Luke gives thirteen different words for preaching, and over thirty are used in the entire New Testament. Preaching is defined as God communicating Himself to man through other humans empowered by the Holy Spirit. For John Stott, preaching is the centrepiece of worship to God in the Spirit’s power.

These four marks of the church can be summarized like this. The church is one because Jesus is one; the church is holy because Jesus is holy; the church is catholic because Jesus is saviour of all; the church is apostolic because , as the Father sent Jesus who taught the Apostles, Jesus sends us to teach the Apostles teachings. It is these four hallmarks and their functions that are the test of whether a church is a biblical church.

For more to think about please do read 2 Timothy 4v1-5. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. As a Christian Disciple, do I need to change how I interact with the Bible?

Q2. As a Christian Disciple, why and how can I be watchful and endure?

Q3. Do I as a Christian work at telling others about Jesus?

As ever, if you have any comments to make on this, please do contact me at partake(at)hotmail.co.uk. Thank you.

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