From Facebook and Fracture to the Ancient Answer
Facebook, Myspace and other online communication tools reveal a cultural phenomenon that has interesting ramifications for the Church. Originally, in the late 60s and 70s, the Internet was intended to be an information conduit ‚Äì a way to move massive amounts of information from point A to point B. In this capacity it was an important tool for the military and had application for business and education as well. In the early 80s a globally connected system was envisioned and quickly developed. Today, the internet has indeed served as a place to find information across a broad spectrum of topics. But, it has also evolved into a phenomenon that reveals a great deal about humanity as we move deeper into the 21st century. This revelation of sociological trends is evident in the way the internet is utilized. The world-wide web has developed into a platform for people to connect with one another ‚Äì to renew old relationships ‚Äì to explore new relationships ‚Äì to find community ‚Äì all at a safe distance and within tightly controlled parameters. Those who are welcomed into a user‚Äôs particular cyber community are carefully filtered to meet the specific needs and requirements of that individual. This process results in closed communities of likeminded members who are bound by narrowly defined self-interest. We live in a world filled with people longing for community‚Ä¶but only on their terms‚Ä¶and for their personal benefit.
What if the expectations of Christians for what the Church should be mirror their online practice? What happens if the ‚ÄúFacebook, Myspace‚Äù phenomenon becomes the way churches are constructed and operate? Is this reinterpretation of ecclesial practice in agreement with or antithetical to the Scriptural definition and purpose of the Church?
Statistics may indicate to us that this is exactly what is happening. As reported by the Barna Group, which has been studying church patterns since 1984, ‚ÄúNumerous shifts are occurring among church-goers in the U.S. as they choose from many new forms and formats of the local church.‚Äù What are some of these new forms and formats and what do they reveal? Barna claims there are, ‚ÄúVarious new forms of faith community and experience, such as house churches, marketplace ministries and cyber-churches‚Ä¶‚Äù One of the growing trends is for Christians to attend services or meetings at more than one church ‚Äì to meet a variety of perceived needs. People want an ‚Äúauthentic spiritual experience,‚Äù within a faith community, but they do not trust the conventional Church or Church leaders. Surveys reveal that fifty percent of American adults claim that ‚Äúa growing number of people (they) know are tired of the usual type of church experience,‚Äù and ‚Äúseventy-one percent say they are ‚Äòmore likely to develop my religious beliefs on my own, rather than to accept an entire set of beliefs that a particular church teaches.‚Äô‚Äù A quick survey of the Saturday paper‚Äôs Churches page reveals worship designed in a plethora of styles to meet even the most esoteric need. From traditional to contemporary, from Ancient-Future to Cutting Edge, from liturgical to free, from Big Band to Southern Gospel, etc., churches have adapted their worship practice to appeal to an array of narrowly defined interest groups. What are we to make of this?
Reflecting a broader sociological development, expectations of the Church/Worship seem to mirror expectations of on-line social interaction. Consider the similarities between current internet usage and participation in the Church. From the statistics above it seems clear that people desire connectedness to a community ‚Äì they want to fit in ‚Äì but on their terms and for their personal benefit. Sounds familiar, eh? We must ask, ‚ÄúIs this what the Lord intended for His Church?‚Äù Did God mean for the Church to be remade into what people want it to be so that their desires and needs can be met?
It is time for us to reexamine the Scriptural prescription for the Church. Three passages come to mind immediately. Ephesians 4:3-6 teaches us to ‚ÄúMake every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit ‚Äî just as you were called to one hope when you were called ‚Äî one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.‚Äù 1 Corinthians 1:10 states unambiguously, ‚ÄúI appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.‚Äù Is this possible today? If so, we must commit to the principles that are established in the Scriptures concerning the Church. Philippians 2:3-4 may be the key. ‚ÄúDo nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.‚Äù What a difference this approach would make in every aspect of our lives ‚Äì and most assuredly in our approach to worship and the Church.
Embracing these principles of mutual respect, sacrifice and promotion of others over self, fosters hope for the unity of the Church. It is possible to envision a Church that is not defined by style, but rather by the One who draws the worshipers together as One body. In this Scriptural scenario, heritage is respected, the innovative welcomed, and the future approached with solidarity instead of fractious self-interest. Now that‚Äôs something to Twitter about!