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Online Communion: Is It Cutting Edge or Heretical?

The Wall Street Journal did a fascinating story this weekend on the challenge Central United Methodist Church in Concord (northeast of Charlotte) experienced when they launched an online campus that included streaming worship services, webcam Bible studies, counseling via live chat and a dedicated online pastor. Things were going fine until they proposed having a communion service online. Encouraging worshippers to “simply grab some grape juice and any bread or crackers they have in the house, and consume them after the pastor, in the sanctuary, blesses the juice and bread as representing the blood and body of Christ.”

But that’s when the Methodist denominational leadership said “No.”

The Journal reported, “On Friday, the denomination’s leading body, the Council of Bishops, declared a moratorium on all online sacraments, including communion, and called for further study of which practices would be acceptable online. The moratorium was declared at the request of an influential group of United Methodist ministers and theologians, who said in a statement that communion is understood to be celebrated “within a physically gathered community.”

In other words, they felt communion should be experienced face to face with a body of physical worshipers, not alone in a “virtual” world.

Theologians have weighed in from both sides of the argument. The Journal continued: “Gordon Mikoski of Princeton Theological Seminary said Protestants have proved they can adapt to the times and technology, as they owe their existence to the invention of the printing press, which helped spark the Reformation. But Dr. Mikoski opposes offering communion online because, he said, physical, human presence is a critical component of Christianity.”

“God spoke through voices and thunder and lightning and burning bushes and all kinds of things,” Dr. Mikoski said. “But the highest, most complete way that God communicates is, God takes on human flesh and becomes human.…From a Christian theological point of view, that’s significant.”

But on the other side, Rev. Tim Lucas, 42-year-old founding pastor of Liquid Church, an evangelical church in Morristown, N.J. quoted the apostle Paul who said, “By any means possible, will I share the Gospel.”

What’s your take? Is there a line we should be careful of crossing when it comes to sacraments in a virtual world? Is there a time when we need to set down the mobile device, close the laptop, and show up at a local church?

But as Rev. Langford of Central Methodist responded: “The way we operate now, if you want to receive [communion], you have to come to my church sometime between the hours of 9 and 12 on Sunday morning,” Mr. Langford said. “I don’t think there’s any other institution in our country that can survive on that kind of business model.”

In a digital age, these questions matter. What do you think?

 

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13 Comments

  1. My favorite line in all of this is, “God takes on human flesh and becomes human”.
    The God I’m familiar with now ministers to us through His Holy Spirit which can be with us anywhere as we take communion. I know many people who take communion daily in their homes especially if they are looking for a healing or a specific word form the Lord. The Methodists have missed the meaning on a number of things lately which disappoints me because I grew up and found Christ in the Methodist Church. God will meet us anywhere anytime and His sacraments should be a part of that meeting.

  2. Here’s my take Phil:

    Jesus didn’t give any instructions in any of the gospel accounts about where his disciples should be in proximity to each other when taking communion in ‘remembrance’ of Him.

    Paul admonishes the Corinthians about taking communion for the wrong reasons when they came together, but there was no instruction only to come together to take the Lord’s Supper.

    Simply Jesus’ instructions to his disciples where that they should remember him. That was the point. Not the where.

    The meaning is what matters. Not the form of how we remember Jesus and his sacrifice for our sins in my tradition.

    I understand some Christians hold tradition and scripture together in the different ways and fully respect those who have a different view.

    In terms of online church, the point is that we remember Jesus, not where that communion takes place.

  3. This is not a new argument.

    Ever since Chicago Mega-church pastor Paul Rader broadcast the first sermon on radio on June 3, 1922, Christians have been arguing about how to evangelize through media – or if we should do it at all. Billy Sunday preached against all forms of worldliness including reading novels and attending the theater. But then other fundamentalist preachers of the 1920’s used any means necessary to get the gospel out there – including radio. And you could then argue that early Christian Radio was a precursor to the evangelical movement of the ’30’s & 40’s. So where would we be now without media?

    Remember that technology is only technology if you were born before it was invented. None of my own children regard The Internet as ‘technology’ – it’s simply part of their everyday life.

    TV & Radio have been broadcasting church services for many many years now – and I can recall many of these including a time of ‘taking communion’. Even right now TV evangelists ask viewers to repeat the ‘salvation prayer’ with them at home. – So, why the big fuss about communion over the Internet? – In fact isn’t an Internet Church MORE intimate? – A church service shared live with a live audience in real time, versus a church service that was prerecorded and then edited 6 months ago?

    Physical touch IS important. We know that infants will die without physical human touch, and young children will not develop properly without it. So there is a real need to un-plug from the ‘Electronic Church’ and sit next to someone on a pew from time to time.

    But – why does communion HAVE to be “within a physically gathered community”, when God operates in a spiritually gathered community. – If we go along with the Methodist leadership, then we had also better stop telling people that we will ‘pray for you while I’m at work’, or that we will ‘be there in spirit’.

    God is not restricted by time or space. Yes He wants us to fellowship physically together, but today a man can still feel alone as he sits on a pew and takes communion with a group of others who won’t talk to him after the service; or you can have a man who receives God’s anointing in his bedroom after viewing a sermon on Youtube.

    God is big. – It would be a dangerous thing indeed to get in the way of where He wants to go.

  4. This is an example of where the “Old Guard” gets stuck in traditions and loses perspective of what we are all called to do. Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me!” He did not say, where, but He did provide how. Is there a difference in what this church is now trying to do? I don’t think so. We are taught that the way to salvation is to accept Jesus into our heart, anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

    The bigger issue is that we as followers of Jesus need to realize that the role we are to serve doesn’t only happen inside the church. We must live it every single day of our lives, regardless of where that is located. We are to be living examples as servants of Christ. If our actions are different than what Jesus taught, then are we not being hypocritical in the way we live our lives.

    Let’s get away from the holding onto longstanding traditions and live the lives that Jesus has instructed us to lead. Life is a tryout for using the skills, technology, and tools that God has given each of us. If we don’t use them to their optimum level, are we not achieving what is possible with what God has provided?

  5. I believe communion can be experienced in its fullness as a part of an online community.

    A strong argument can be made that at the same last supper, Jesus washes their feet, asks if they understand, asserts that this is an example for them, “you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you. … you will be blessed if you do them.”

    If anything comes out of the last supper, it is definitely foot washing.

    I am against online foot washing! 🙂

  6. Well I guess I will take a different side compared to the other comments. I love technology and I believe it is a wonderful tool to share the Gospel and to help those who are not able to physically attend a local church gathering. However it should never become a substitute for physically gathering together. Throughout the Bible it is evident that God has created us to live in community. Community allows for transparency, accountability and the ability to encourage each other. Yes God loves us as individuals but we are not created to go it alone. It is too easy to hide behind a computer screen. Technology is a tool for sure, but it should not be a replacement for the family of God living and worshiping together.

  7. Tradition is not always bad especially if it continues to have value however, the issue here is not replacing tradition but rather using another means of communication to move people in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. My church has done this type of ministry for a couple of years now and It’s very effective.

  8. I think heretical is too strong a word. I don’t think that there are rules about this. However, as wonderful as technology is for the advancement of the Gospel, actual face to face fellowship is vital. So long as we are not seeking to replace genuine ‘real world’ relationships with online ones, I think that this may have a place.

    I wonder what this does for those who believe in transubstantiation or even consubstantiation. Is the Lord ‘virtually’ present 😉

  9. The first thing that came to my mind about this topic is when Jesus healed on the sabbath. Think about it. I think if online communion brings somebody closer or benefits anyone in their relationship with Christ why regulate it? They are simply just acting as the pharisses, skeptical about everything and religious. By all means, preach the Gospel!

  10. Boy! Don’t we want to break someone’s back in all of this? It reminds me of Nathan’s analogy. Not without reason, God used a lamb to nail that adultery. A shadow of things to come? Aren’t we the classic case of one who have many sheep, but have chosen to steal the single sheep…that precious possession of a “least of our brethren”, even a one who has virtually laid down his life for us like Jesus did, and then slaughter it and throw a wild party INDEPENDENT of that one? I hope you see the application and see how far we have come. With Online Communion, which is as far reaching as the “ends of the earth” of Matthew 24’s eschatology–the purview of that particular One man alone–it is clear that we have carried this protestant bandwagon to its logical guilty end. It is the spirit of Korah, then. Now, it is the spirit of the anti-Christ present among us big time, to a crescendo where it is the very “abomination of desolation” that was prophesied by our Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder that even a global church such as the Methodist Church put a “moratorium” on ALL Online Communions. They did wisely, i believe. But does that include mine too, namely, Skyfeast or Softpill eCommunions, which we began in 1998, no doubt with God’s will at that time. Have i “trampled under foot the Son of God, and regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant [by my own handling of the same] by which i was sanctified”? No doubt, in this flat world, without realizing what they are doing, many punks are going right ahead and “standing in the most holy place” with no commissioning from the Holy Spirit. But friends, this is one milestone of Project Apocalypse that God will not look the other way. We are asked to run to the mountains–MOUNTAINS that are made of living stones. And i believe, these mountains themselves will ultimately run to the Mountain of the Lord. For, He also says, “he who falls on this stone will break into pieces, but on whom that stone falls, it will pulverise him/them.”

    In closing, thus says the Lord, putting things in perspective: “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”

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