A couple of posts that provoke consideration about the nature of local church.
John Armstrong attempts to get to know the “First Reformed Cyber Church”
“Pastor Dianna Smith says “Worship at First Reformed Cyber Church is a very Reformed liturgical process.” She says this is just a new format that is being used to connect with younger people. Smith posts Scripture passages, music and videos, as well as litanies, all ahead of time. When the service begins she then guides those who take part from link to link. She will direct participants to read the Scripture text on their own and then, when they are finished, to respond with an “Amen” or by clicking “Like.” By this she knows when to proceed. Sermons are abbreviated and thus usually a sentence or two. (I am not making this up!)
Smith says the part of this that is most meaningful is “the joys and concerns” people share with each other. She adds, “They will post their joy and I will respond to it, and others respond to it.” People go back and forth encouraging and supporting one another. She adds, “The church is so excited about it, to see the young people that are a part of it, belonging to this way of worshiping.” She initially estimated 10-15 teens would participate but this has exceeded the teens of First Reformed and now draws 300 to 400 hits a week. She adds, “I’ve already had a family join the church that are members of Cyber Church only.” She employs many contemporary idioms and says this is really about “powerful worship.”
Read the rest of Armstrong’s post here.
On the 9Marks blog Deepak Raju reports on a US court decision that reflects a better understanding of biblical principle than some contemporary ‘churches’.
The internet church called Foundations of Human Understanding argued that they are a “real” church. The Court disagreed.
“The Foundation argued that it met the associational test by gathering a ‘virtual congregation’ of believers when its members listened to sermons broadcast over radio and the Internet at scheduled times. The Foundation’s ‘electronic ministry’ also included a call-in show, allowing members to call and interact directly with the clergy.”
“The Court of Appeals applied the associational test, which defines a church as a religious organization that, as a principal means of carrying out its religious purpose, holds regular religious services for a regular, cohesive body of believers to associate with one another and to engage in communal worship.”
The conclusion of this matter:
“The court’s ruling in the case gives guidance – and warning – to churches that use newer technologies to broadcast sermons and other religious messages to reach a wider, and perhaps younger, audience. To maintain ‘church’ status with the IRS, churches that take advantage of technological advances should ensure they are holding regular communal worship services for congregations that are physically present, and that such communal worship is not merely incidental to virtual activities.”
Read the remainder of the post here.
These sorts of evaluations are not people telling other people what a local church is, rather they are applying the criteria that the Bible itself lays out, and the way that teaching has been historically understood.
The new movements may be a lot of things, but they are not, in the biblically understood sense, a ‘church’. That is if we depend on the Bible to define what ‘church’ is.