Is an Online Church Really a Church?

It depends on how you define church.  But if your definition of church is, or approximates the following, then I can’t see how you can honest conclude that an online church is really a church:

The local church is a community of regeneration believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy. (Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, p. 307)

While, however, some of us cannot serious consider an online church really a church, we cannot ignore the need for an online presence, according to Ed Stetzer: “Every church should have an online presence, but a physical presence is necessary as well.”

For example, “When we take the Lord’s Supper together, pray for one another and confess our sins to one another, it is better done in physical community with online enhancement or augmentation, not replacement” (emphasis added).

Stetzer concludes,

Ideally, churches will have an online presence, but will strongly encourage life-on-life interaction where social media enhances rather than excuses community. This can be one more tool that we have to introduce people to Jesus Christ and His church. It is not going away anytime soon, so we cannot just ignore it. Instead, we need to learn how to use it for God’s glory. If not, we will become increasingly irrelevant in a world shaped by the Internet.

Perhaps in certain extremities and physical restrictions an online presence is necessary.  However, to quote Stetzer, “Your church should be online, but I don’t think it should be an online church” (read entire article).

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8 Responses to Is an Online Church Really a Church?

  1. Lon says:

    Glad you asked. I was thinking about this too because Daystar has been in the news. The simple answer is “no” and anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous. An “online church” is more specious than an “online community.” Further, the definition of a local church you quoted as regenerated believers only is a definition shared by only part of protestant/evangelical churches. Many in the reformed tradition expect the unregenerate to be in the local church as well. They distinguish between the purity of THE universal Church, and the impurity of the local church. I became a Christian in circles that held the former, I now hold the latter position.

    • TC Robinson says:

      Lon, I too agree that an “‘online church’ is more specious than an ‘online communiy,'” all things being considered.

      Regarding the definition of church cited, it goes beyond mere physical presence and points actually to one in union with Christ, being indwelt with the Spirit of the New Covenant.

  2. Simon says:

    Is the concept of “online Church” simply one outworking of the “invisible Church” ecclesiology? Interesting that Driscoll is quoted here as he is one of the biggest benefactors of “remote” preaching, with his sermons beamed around his several “campuses”.

  3. Simon says:

    TC, i wasn’t referring to his websites and sermons that can be downloaded online. But he also beams his sermons live to several campuses around the country during worship services.

    • TC Robinson says:

      Thanks for clearing things up. Actually, that issue is still being debate – church campuses and the like. Personally, if I were in attendance, I would want someone in front of me speaking, not being streamed.

      • Simon says:

        I think live streaming may be appropriate for conferences, lectures etc but not for worship. Having said that, in a tradition where the sermon is central, what is the difference if the preacher is present physically or virtually? People think it doesn’t seem right. I’d agree. But that would be on the basis of my whole theology of worship and the sacraments (how can you administer the Lord’s Supper live streamed?). But I’m not sure there’s a good objection to this practice from a Reformed view of worship.

  4. TC Robinson says:

    Simon, not all in the Reformed camp is in agreement with this approach. For example, John MacArthur continues to bark at the whole thing. But I do agree with the sacramental element of your comment.

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