Monday 28 February 2022

The Insufficiency of Gathering Online

Take a moment and find someone to hug, but first, go get a fishing rod. 

With their consent of course. The last thing we want to do in church or online is to do things against the will of others. Especially with fishing rods.

But find that person and give them a good ole Christian side hug. So you can both face the same way and read this post together. Because you need to be together to do this because we are about to separate you. 

From your shoulder to shoulder side hug take a step apart left and right but keep holding hands. You're still together, right? Of course, you are. You are just in a different position. The position isn't as intimate, but it is still intimate. You likely don't hold hands with just anyone, but you'd likely hold hands with someone you'd be willing to hug and be hugged by. 

Now let go of your hands, are you still together? well, of course, you are. You're just not as intimate. You are together in the same amount of space as before, but you are no longer intimately together, you are just together. 

Now move as far away from each other as possible in the room you are in. If you are in a megachurch this can be a challenge but will prove the point even better I think. Make sure you can still see each other, even if it's across a big auditorium or conference center, but remain in the same room. Are you together? Of course, you are. If you're not then the space that congregations of people gather in can determine whether or not you are in congregation with them. But it doesn't because you and your former hand-holding hugger are still together. 

Now leave the room. Are you together still? No, you are not together anymore. A wall and possible two now separate you. You are separated. You could holler down the hall of the room to speak to each other. communication could still be possible, but togetherness is not. You are separated. 

Return to the hug proximity and now for maximum effect. You'll need a fishing rod. Have one of you hold the reel and one of you hold the hook, with the line between you and the rod adding leverage. 

Welcome to Church Online. Literally.

From hand-holding, proximity are you together, or are you separated? Because you are now connected. and does that make a difference? Will it make a difference in the handhold distance that the rod can reel you in?  Because I imagine it will make more when you corner yourselves oppositely or leave the room. The best part of fishing is the fight to land the ones aiming to get away. To catch. And as churches that aim to be fishers of men. You think we would be familiar enough with fishing to know that fishing is not catching is not caught, and that our tackle might be impressive but a caught fish is a caught fish, and a lure or line or rod is only as good as its ability to bring fish to you. So you can be together with it. 

Because nobody boasts about the fish they've hooked, they boast about fish they've caught. They boast about fish they've landed and eaten and mounted on the wall. But the ones that got away are nothing but vainglory and exaggeration. And the ones that nibbled are nothing more than passing dismissal of details.

1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The churches that moved to gathering online did so with a tragic ignorance of how the internet works. Because if distance and fishing line can merely illustrate the difference between together and apart. Then the internet, your church's servers, your congregation's devices, and the thousands of miles of phone lines and fibre-optic cable, must certainly, concretely, keep us apart. Not to mention that what is seen on a video screen is not what is happening on the church stage at the same time. The real life events of the in-person church are translated into computer code at the camera, to be relayed and then retranslated into code that is displayed as a visual representation of what's happening on stage at your screen. With dozens of intermediary points where the information is routed between the two. You are not participating in worship with the people who are in person. You are essentially reading a series of numbers that have taken the form of pixels in as close to real-time as possible. That the reading looks like real-life changes nothing about the act of code being displayed in the font of pixels for you to process as a visual medium. You would not call a written account of what happened at church, church. But the only thing that has changed about the writing down of the events that happened at church was the language that they were written down in. Whether it was English, Hebrew, Python, or C++, it makes no difference. Transcribed religious services are not religious services in and of themselves. No matter how good they look on Facebook live.

The problem is that it looks like we are together when we log into a Livestream of our church and we are on our couch and they are behind the pulpit. But the reality, the one made by God and beholden to him and him alone for definition and control is that we are separated by multiple layers of things that keep us apart. The fact that it looks like we are together, Even that it feels like we are together, is a lie after all is said and done/prerecorded, because we call it one thing and it is another.

What it boils down to is who gets to decide what a thing is or is not. It's basic theology of creation. Is a pastor to camera to screen to congregation chain of connection the same as the air between two people who are about to hold hands and side-hug in a sanctuary? The internet was not created for people to be together. It was created to allow people to be connected when apart. 

Which is only a problem when the church since its inception has been the assembly or gathering of the Christians together, not a technology that connects people when apart. 

What churches did by declaring that online church counts as church, was to call something that they had no part in making both on the human side of the equation or the John 1:3 side, a name that did not mean what it meant. We called something that wasn't church, church, as if that was a call for us to make. And by doing so, sinned. Because anywhere else in scripture when someone said one thing but meant another. It was a sin. This wasn't deception for the preservation of life like in Exo 1:19. this is saying an action as integral as worship is one way when it clearly and demonstrably is another like Acts 5:1-11

What the church could have done when it needed an online church the most was the opposite of an online church. 

There is nothing unbiblical about home churches and in a time of need where it would be dangerous to gather in great numbers. The benefit of living in a time where the internet is a thing is that a father who works hard all week and reads his daily devotions, would not suddenly need to craft sermons for his family on a weekly basis. He could use a recorded sermon for his pastor but not call the watching of that video, church because it wasn't church and worship with his family at church because it was church. House churches and home churches have existed in orthodoxy for centuries. Online church became a widely accepted technical heresy in ignorance of that. What a church's Worship and Arts department produces online for content, could be used by families, forced into house churches by circumstance. Used to facilitate a house church model. Yes, we couldn't gather in the numbers that we could before, but the house church model could have executed massively given the cohort framework it was presented with. Every household could become a missionary to its closest neighbors, inviting them for some of the only human-to-human contact allowed during the pandemic. But what we did almost universally across the board is take the video venue multisite model for churches and apply it as if the venue part of that equation didn't factor into that. 

A video venue multi-site church is still a church because the congregation still meets together to use the live or recorded sermon as part of their assembly. That same model works with home churches but only if it's stated. Saying that from home you are doing the same thing as you were at the multisite's specific location is the same as saying you caught someone else's fish. It's demonstrably false, but we said it as if it were true. 

But there was never a youtube video, a Livestream, a pre-recorded easter or Christmas eve special service that constituted church during this time. The same way a person in another room while fish hooked by their distant side hugger could not say they are together while being reeled in. 

The fisherman might feel what they have hooked but what's hooked is a mystery until it's taken a hold of or at the very least seen close to the boat. Until the size and species of the fish are held by the fisherman, its strength is overcome by effort and the rejoicing of those in attendance with the fish, The catch means nothing. It's as fake as the fish you can catch online too. Made of code and not of the substance of souls.

2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV

And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

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