Virtual online communion? Theology comes in strange places, this bit came from the Nov. 17 issue of the Wall Street Journal.
The Central United Methodist church in Concord North Carolina is planning a “virtual campus,” complete with streaming services and, wait for it… virtual communion!
Something about this just feels wrong. As a Lutheran, I believe in the real presence of the blood and body of Christ in the elements. There’s something about running to the pantry and grabbing some Ritz crackers and grape juice that feels outright sacrilegious. According to the United Methodist Church’s statement of faith, they believe the sacrament is symbolic, which puts the issue into a different context.
Many churches around the globe are now streaming their Sunday services. This isn’t an entirely bad thing; as it enables people who aren’t physically able to come to service to worship remotely, like elderly shut-ins and military members serving overseas. But this traditional use of remote worship is being replaced by a generation of young people who would rather read the Bible on their cell phone or attend worship on their laptop. Many churches have been quick to identify this trend and are doing their best to accommodate.
Unplug for Jesus
Like most life-issues, the Bible has some advice for this. Jesus makes it clear that he wants Christians to join together. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20).
Proponents of technology could make the argument that even though they aren’t physically with the congregation, through technology they can be with them. My only argument with this is, you lose the benefit and strength of personal relationships in this view.
I often work “remotely” for my job. I can tell you there’s a big difference between being on a conference-call and being face-to-face in a meeting. The list of intangibles you’re missing out on is a mile long. It could be anything from a conversation in the parking-lot to a simple smile over coffee. When the sermon is over you can’t just “log-off” and go about your day.
As for the United Methodist Church; the Bishops put a moratorium on online communions shortly after this news story broke. It seems that they aren’t 100 percent confident of how technology can or should fit into their theology. Although I don’t agree with this practice, I applaud them for bringing up the issue. These questions aren’t going away, if nothing else, they will become more common moving forward.