e-Christianity and the e-Christians it Produces

Work schedule getting in the way of church? Don’t like the preacher? Out too late on Saturday night and unable to get up for Sunday service?

No worries. There’s always e-Church. You can do church online: stream services, listen to sermons, give your offering, even join a Bible study or discipleship group. And you can do it all in the comfort of your own home, while lounging around in your pajamas.

Long before there was e-Church on your phone, tablet or computer, there were preachers on the radio and television. Religious radio broadcasting began in the 1920s, and is today the second leading format in the U.S., second only to country music. Television evangelists gained immense popularity in the ’80 and ’90s. There are now approximately 1,500 religious television and radio stations in the U.S., broadcasting thousands of hours of programming each week.

With the advent of the internet, religious broadcast options, and the dissemination of religious teaching, skyrocketed. This is a positive development in many ways, but it is not without its dangers. There is trouble in e-Church.

One of the most disturbing things about e-Church is that it allows people to drop out of Christian community while believing they are doing everything they need to do to please God and grow spiritually. If they have a conflict with a fellow-church member, they can leave without resolving issues or reconciling, which is clearly contrary to biblical teaching. It’s not that the electronic church promotes such behavior, but it does enable it.

About 226 million people in the U.S. self-identify as Christians, yet 160 million of them will not be in church this Sunday. Or the following Sunday. Or the one after that. Tens of millions of Christians simply do not go to church. They consider it an option they can take or leave, and many have chosen the latter.

Where did they get this idea? Certainly not from the Bible. Nor does it come from the saints or well-known Christian teachers. John Wesley, the Anglican priest who founded Methodism, said point-blank: “The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” He was right. In the third century, St. Cyprian put it this way: “Outside the church there is no salvation.”

This, of course, does not mean that church attendance is necessary to salvation, but neither does it permit us to think of the church as one option among many. God’s plan from the very beginning has been to build a church, not merely enlist individuals. This means that Christians must be in community, if they are to fulfill God’s plans for them.

One doesn’t need to look far to see the reasons for this. God wants flesh and blood Christians, not merely digital ones. The spiritual transformation he intends takes place on multiple dimensions, including: the will, the mind and emotions, and the body. It is in the context of committed relationships that the various facets of human personality are transformed; that is, in the church. That this can take place in the digital world is not at all clear.

A recent study at Harvard compared brain activity during digital and face to face encounters. Researchers learned that the part of the brain that is active when one sits with a distraught friend – the part linked to compassion – is not active when one receives a Facebook message from a distraught friend. The digital encounter, while very valuable, simply does not do the same thing in us or for us.

The many commands and principles expressed in the Bible are fleshed out in community. For example: St. Paul famously urged Christians to present their bodies to God as living sacrifices and to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. This does not simply happen as we think. People are not just brains in jars of flesh. Nor does it happen because we add an emoticon to our Facebook message.

Spiritual growth and transformation happen, as the apostle himself makes perfectly clear, in the context of community, in the gritty give-and-take of love in an imperfect church. The body is offered, and the mind renewed, through service to God and his church. The e-church is a useful tool in such service, but a poor substitute

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 12/16/2017.

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8 Responses to e-Christianity and the e-Christians it Produces

  1. John Kleinheksel says:

    Thank you dear Shayne! So well written an comprehensive. Packs a real punch. Thanks again!

    • Donna Pierce says:

      After replying to the article I also wondered what is it about Christianity that is always beating up each other by telling others what they should or shouldn’t be doing my saviour loves me and I love others gently explaining christianity to them.
      Do u want a pat on the back because you went to church this morning I didn’t and i even missed e church but prayed over my cuppa from receiving an email to support very sick children in the holy land i have no money silver and gold have i none…are you punching it to church for psychological needs or are you hitting the pavement today in search of someone who needs your love not your fist – my nanna used to say never a truer word than said in jest. Complain and agree all you like – u are wasting time – I don’t here a dissertation on what love looks like – you are either part of the problem or part of the solution

  2. salooper57 says:

    Thanks, John! Hope you and yours have a blessed Advent and Christmas!

    • salooper57 says:

      Thanks for reading! I guess i don’t think so much that we are all part of the problem or part of the solution as I think that we are all problems and all (potential) solutions. The biggest work that needs to be done is in us (and in no one more than me), and then through us.

      I’m glad to hear of your ministry of encouragement! God will bless such efforts to people’s good and his glory. As regards e-church, I may not have been sufficiently clear: I think it offers many opportunities for good and provides some people with encouragement and connection they could not otherwise experience. But it cannot replace the messy, loving, complicated but beautiful relationships that exist when the church gathers. God, as the New Testament makes abundantly clear, loves the Church!

      May you have a blessed and merry Christmas,

      Shayne

      • Donna Pierce says:

        Thanks for the clarification it is gratefully received – i can now feel your heart for the issue – we are all messy and nothing would ever replace the ideal of church – I have heard church builders express their loneliness – as each of us mature at different rates and faith is built precept on precept it will always be a bumpy ride – Plain old fashion manners cover many a sin – we have far too much to deal with of our own – assisting others is a relief – if we each had just one person to save like remember its life or death here not religion – we wouldn’t be disturbed by those who do drive us to distraction – I’m considering traveling to a Holy Land Tour with Dr Michael Heiser and teaching my children true history and focusing on what Jesus came to accomplish so they can become focused on Him and I hope to teach other children the same – I lament over poor teaching and I think that is the church at large I hope we are in for a shift here then we will be a formidable army for Him. What a bedraggled bunch of cadets we have in the meanwhile♡♡♡ get out and get down in the dirt and rescue someone 😄

  3. Jay Golden says:

    In my opinion this article does more bad than good. It pushes the young, busy, unsure Christian away. Every pastor/preacher I’ve ever seen talk about the need to go to church, all have said that it is not where you meet that is important, it’s that you meet and worship God. Doing so online is in no way lesser than doing it in a church in Gods eyes. Also think about the infinite reach an online church service has compared to a brick and mortar building. Trying to tell people in anyway that they’re not doing the right thing by watching online sermons is completely wrong! Encourage fellowship I understand, but however a person chooses to hear the word of god, never shame them for it. I hope you can see where I’m coming from. Merry Christmas!

    • salooper57 says:

      Jay,
      I appreciate you reading and taking time to share a comment. I also appreciate your honesty. It was not my intention to discourage people from enjoying any benefit they might experience from online communications with other Christians or solid biblical teaching. I guess I should have been more clear: brick and mortar church buildings and the programming that goes on within their walls is only important so long as it facilitates the health and spiritual growth of the church (see. Eph. 4:11-16). A church does not need a building – didn’t have one until the fourth century and in many places on earth still does not. (For example, my oldest son is part of a church that meets in homes.)

      But while the church does not need a building, it absolutely needs its members. The communal life of the church is crucial to the accomplishments of God’s purposes in us and to our own spiritual transformation. The real church (sometimes the church within the “church”) is usually messy – “Painfully uncool
      The church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools,” as Jon Foreman put it – but the give and take, forgive and be forgiven, love and care relationships within it are vital.

      So, I didn’t want to tell people they were doing the wrong thing by doing online church, and I apologize for being unclear. My intent was to encourage people to go further and incarnate their experience of church in close and continuing personal relationships. I know some people are prohibited from doing for physical or emotional reasons, but where it is possible, I would like to encourage Christians to it.

      Thanks again for reading. Go under God’s Mercy, and have a beautiful new year.

      Shayne

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