The Church Virtual?

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Ecclesiology, Other Interesting Stuff | Posted on 07-06-2011

My good friend Kurt Willems just launched a funny post over at The Pangea Blog about reasons “You Might be an Evangelical Reject if…”  I got a good giggle out of the post and many of its follow-on comments, because I certainly have found myself in the “Evangelical Reject” camp with some regularity category myself.  But the post got me to thinking…what kind of church am I really part of?

That’s a question without a simple answer.  I attend Sunday worship services regularly at a local church where we have chosen to plug in as a family.  I enjoy the fellowship there on at least a superficial level; I sing with their praise singers, I participate in Sunday School discussions, and I am gradually developing friendships with a few folks that may, some day, go beyond casual conversation.  But while the conversation is ongoing and the door is not entirely shut (yet anyway), I probably cannot be a member there–or ever participate in a teaching or leadership capacity–precisely because my theology does not conform to the prototypical Evangelical statement of faith that is a condition of “membership.”

Nor have I found any real alternatives among other sorts of fellowships.  I don’t fit into the Catholic or high-church Protestant molds because my Anabaptist proclivities don’t mesh with notions of Apostolic Succession and the sacraments; I don’t fit into a mainline Protestant setting because I still hold a higher view of Scripture’s witness to (for example) such things as sexual ethics than many of them now countenance, and I find this same problem causes me to clash with the Anabaptist-descended Mennonites I’ve checked in with over the years.  While I’m too “liberal” for the “conservatives” among whom I now worship, I’ve found with equal certainty that I’m too “conservative” for the “liberals,” as well.

None of this prevents me from choosing a group with whom to worship.  I think regular assembly is important, not only for my own spiritual life, but for the example I choose to set for my wife and kids.  But it does seem to preclude the sort of spiritual give-and-take that is required for fellowship to go to the next level…and by this I mean the sort of relationship in which one can seriously, candidly, and respectfully engage with other brothers & sisters on important matters of faith and thought and practice, even when the discussants disagree.  It took me nine years to find anybody with whom I could pursue faith at that level in my last church, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised it’s not happening in the first year at a new place.

But what is weird, and the reason for the title of this post, is that what I have not found in person at the local church, I have found with some of you online.  The challenge of re-examining a scriptural passage, or critiquing a long-held doctrine, or daring to get serious about a point of discipleship…these things that ought to be part of anyone’s “church experience” are exactly what a few of you blogging partners have been for me.  In a paradoxical way, I find fellowship in these dialogs, with some of you whom I’ve never met face to face, to be far more vital to my own spiritual thinking than most interchanges I have with people who are breathing the same oxygen in the same room.  You are becoming, for me at least, the Church Virtual…invisible to me (except maybe on Skype), separated from me and from each other by hundreds or even thousands of miles, but a fellowship of great significance nonetheless.

Is this healthy?  In all honesty I’m not entirely sure.  It seems to me that true Scriptural fellowship ought to involve the breaking of bread, and prayer and worship and teaching, that happen in a decidedly physical, local context.  I hope and pray that one day I’ll be able to share those things with some of you.  But in the meantime, I thank you for your engagement.  It has, for me at least, been a true lifeline to staying engaged in the faith.  Peace and blessings be upon you!


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