Technology can be a wonderful thing. Many have benefited from it. Granted we love it when it works and want to curse it when it does not. Technology in many ways have been a great asset to the church with websites, apps, and even livestreaming this service on the Internet. 2020 will be the year where we not only remember the COVID-19 pandemic, but also when the body of Christ debated if livestreaming a service was just as the same as attending a service in person.
Can a church continue be a church if members of that body attend virtually? What is the church suppose to do? Is this a fad that will go away? Darrell Bock and Jonathan Armstrong dive into this issue in a book titled, Virtual Reality Church.
As the book begins, Bock and Armstrong talk a look at the advances of technology and how it has benefitted the church. From the printing press to preachers on television, the gospel of Christ has been communicated to everyone who is able to read and/or listen.
Society has had great advancement in technology that the church has used to get the gospel message across our world. Social media has been one way where the church has proclaimed God's Word to the masses. Granted some has used social media to post pics of their kids and voice their praise for their favorite sports teams, but ultimately, this avenue has been used to share the gospel.
As most of you know, some churches have livestream their worship services for those who could not attend in person. However, there are concerns that Bock and Armstrong bring up. One is that the use is in control. If a pastor preaches what he or she does not like, they can just click one button and be done with it. Another issue is the person going livestream into these services without identifying themselves. As our authors point out that people can use their own avatar or one that looks like a purple lobster. People are not real in Virtual Church.
Of course there are theological questions that need to be addressed. One is God present in a virtual church. We know, based on Psalm 139, that God is where even we make our bed in the depths. God does meet with us where we are even when we are not present with the people of God. Can we truly worship God in a virtual church? We could but it would not be the same as corporate worship even though you are watching on a screen.
Practical questions arise when it comes to attending a virtual church. How can we love God and our brothers and sisters in Christ when our presence is only known by some avatar? How are we to take communion? How can we "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24, LSB), if we are not present with the people of God?
I don't think the authors were trying to make us think that people attending church virtually would be an overall bad idea, but there are genuine concerns that the church needs to address. Just like every new avenue that comes our way, we need discernment in how to use these tools for the glory of God and wisdom on whether or not to use these new technologies. We should exercise discernment and pray for wisdom.
Overall, this book would be a good discussion among church leaders to help navigate over the issue of technology being used in the church.