Wednesday, September 16, 2009

There is NO virtual ecclesia (?)

Stephen Garner just gave me a heads up on a provocative article entitled: There is NO virtual ecclesia. In it Bob Hyatt, an emerging church pastor from Oregon argues that failed claims that televangelism would create an electronic church that could reach the masses applies to much of the hype surrounding online church experiment.

While he argues some interesting and valid points about the limits of mediated church experiences and that online communities can not fully replace embodied care and interaction he seems to assume that offline churches always provide the social accountability and garner the spiritual investment of its members. He claims the virtual ecclesia is lacking because it is missing: the sacrament, discipline and accountability, service and equipping. However from my 13 years of research I would say that while it is not a given, that these aspects can be and are being integrated into many religious communities online. It is what people bring to the table and their level of creativity and investment online or offline that makes a gathering true ecclesia or not. The article is definitely worth a read and would like to hear others thoughts.

Also check out Shane Hipps interview at the National Pastor's Convention in San Diego (Feb 2009) discussing his views of "virtual community" and opinions on Second Life Church.


bob hyatt said...

"that offline churches always provide the social accountability and garner the spiritual investment of its members. "
No! I assume no such thing! You infer what I did not imply :)

But while it's NOT a given in "offline" church, it IS *possible*- and that's the difference. With "online" church, it's not.

David Michels said...

Two years ago I would have also rejected virtual church as an inadequate substitute for real life community. But some of the stories you first related in Exploring Religious Community Online made me begin to wonder about those who couldn't find community in real life churches. Over the past six months I have become involved in SecondLife. I have made friends, shared parenting stories, and supported people in real life relationship breakups. I have discovered real people behind the avatars. And some of these people go to virtual churches. It seems they haven't found the kinds of churches that Pastors Hyatt and Hipps are describing. I find it interesting that these men are part of the emerging church movement that offers itself as an alternative to what they would consider as ineffective traditional churches. Virtual churches are competing with the emerging church movement to be the alternative. Pastor Hipps offers his own definition of community but I wonder if it is theologically a New Testament model. For instance, what about the apostle Paul in house arrest in far off Rome? He participated in the life of the church only through his letters; was he not part of the community? I think he was. :-)