‘. . .that they all may be one . . . so that the world may believe that You sent Me.’ John 17:21.
Currently the number one, fastest growing website in the United States is www.godtube.com, the brainchild of former CBS television producer and graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary Chris Wyatt. Before going to seminary Wyatt also produced Jam Central for ESPN. Reading that within twenty-five years church attendance in America is projected to be one-half of what it is now, Wyatt came on the idea of his website, giving Christians the opportunity to view sermons (well, they’re really not sermons since they are less than five minutes long), funny skits, cute videos of children singing, appeals to be involved with ministries such as one I saw on ministering to orphans, as well as the ability to interact with other believers on theological and social issues. His hope is to move people back to the church. He very much encourages local church participation. As Wyatt says, ‘Kids have PlayStations, video file sharing. Not only do some churches not get it, this is not even on their radar. That corkboard cut-out of Jesus isn’t going to work anymore.’
Internet technology, like fire, nuclear energy, and sex is a two-edged sword. Fire can heat a house or burn one down. Nuclear energy can serve a country with reasonably priced electricity, but a reactor melt down can kill thousands. Sex can be beautiful and intimate in marriage or destroy one through adultery. We all know the remarkable benefits of internet technology. Google has made negligible the preacher’s time-search for just the right illustration. It also has proven many preachers’ downfall through internet pornography. So websites like godtube.com can no doubt provide a helpful service to many believers. But I suggest it fails to address a serious, underlying problem of our postmodern culture. Instead of helping believers get back to church it merely contributes to our fragmentation. I have no doubt Chris Wyatt wants to serve the body of Christ, just as I have no doubt radio and television preachers want to get the gospel out to as many people as possible. However I predict that godtube.com will no more bring people back to church than television or radio do. We don’t malign good television or radio Christian programming, any more than we do godtube.com, but these will not draw people back to church. Increasingly people live in a virtual world, and now people are finding their Christian fellowship through virtual churches. The man who watches Christian television but does not belong to a local church needs the loving touch of a pastor and other Christian friends as he faces death. There is no substitute for the local, real body of Christ.
I suggest the corkboard cut-out of Jesus will continue to work in today’s postmodern, virtual world. Really now, what do our children, our teens, all of us really need? The woman who has been teaching the same Sunday School class of third graders for thirty years, who brings each child flowers on his birthday, who prays for her students by name daily, who hugs the children when she sees them in her community, who weeps with the parents who lose one of their children to a childhood disease, is really what people need. This is what people want. No virtual church can ever replace the local body of Christ. The virtual church of godtube.com, while taking advantage of modern technology and offering a service to people, unknowingly erodes the very thing they want to encourage, the very thing our postmodern world craves – authenticity.
So, if godtube.com will not bring people back to the local church, what will? We all know of the various means being used today to do just that, and some are more biblical than others; but in our increasingly pluralistic, secularistic, postmodern world the only thing that will unify, edify, and expand the body of Christ is true, biblical ministry. It is believers dwelling together in unity, loving one another, forgiving one another, being kind to one another, praying for one another. It is believers dying to themselves, determining to follow Jesus in what he came to do – namely gathering the lost, dying, and renouncing the things of this world for a greater good, building the kingdom of God. Until these things happen all the wonderful technology in the world will not make a dent in the deterioration of our once great Christian consensus. Until preachers and church leaders repent of idolatry, work toward unity in their own churches, and follow Paul’s admonition to the Philippians, to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, we should expect little change for the good in the Christian church.
So, why not examine your own life? Are you helping or hindering authenticity in your local church body? Are you speaking negatively of the pastor or elders? Are you gossiping, tearing down the brethren? Are you an encouragement to your pastor or a drain on his emotions? Are you more concerned about telling your child’s Sunday School teacher how he or she can do it better than you are about the fact that the vast majority of children in your town don’t go to Sunday School at all? When you see the problems in your church – not reaching the lost, being a cold, unwelcoming congregation, that your preacher is boring or too theological or not theological enough – do you earnestly and fervently pray about these things? Are you suspicious of people who look differently than you, who hold different values than you, dress differently than you? Do you move toward them or do you avoid them? Could it be that one reason our postmodern world moves toward the virtual is because they seldom see the personal?
May God search our hearts, showing us our sin, our idolatry, even our fear of others, moving us to repent and do what Jesus did – seeking and saving the lost. Granted, we cannot die for anyone’s sins, but we can die to our own agendas, our desire to remain comfortable and secure behind the walls of our home, rarely venturing out to the broken community around us. Surely Jesus would have us live authentically, in no way compromising biblical truth, in no way watering down theology, but causing that theology to live practically and powerfully by the Holy Spirit working within us and those whom we ought to reach.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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