Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
2 Timothy 1.3
A Virtual Church
With every day, I’m more convinced that God is using the Internet in unparalleled ways. He’s gathering Christians from every corner of the world, every walk of life, and every tradition of faith to coalesce into a new kind church—a virtual church that takes His Body back to the days of the Early Church. It’s a church without borders, without and within. It’s unfettered by titles and hierarchy, immune to history, and unconstrained by dogma. It’s peopled by earnest believers coming together for no other purpose than expressing the love of Christ, learning how to please Him better, and sharing an extraordinary wealth of knowledge and experience for our mutual benefit. We are that church.
Like the first believers, who met and shared their faith privately while also observing temple rites, we find one another daily even as we continue to serve our local congregations. And like the Early Church, we meet primarily through the written word, exhorting each other and delving into the Scriptures, always—always—searching for knowledge and wisdom we activate in daily life. Being physically removed from one another is a blessing in disguise, because “out here” we connect being-to-being rather than person-to-person, unburdened by traits and tics that often lead to conflict. While others exploit Internet access and anonymity to stoke controversy, indulge hidden desires, and satisfy material cravings, we carve out harbors of faith and care. We are a lively, impassioned crowd. We honor bold individualism with tolerance and respect. If we disagree, we never reject; if we doubt, we never disengage. As a result, God’s Spirit continues to add to our number every day. It’s a truly amazing phenomenon to behold—a sort of Acts of the Apostles Redux—and it’s incumbent on all of us, as “early adopters,” to follow the Early Church’s example, as well as do our all to avoid pitfalls that tripped it up.
A Virtuous Church
We strive to be a virtuous church, following guidance given in Jude 20: “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” We build each other up in faith and sustain our community in God’s love. The advantages of virtual community can also compromise capacity to increase in virtue, however. Without the vital leap of faith that transforms screen names and comments into lives and needs, we risk becoming a collective of individuals rather than a thriving body of believers.
I’m not advocating an alternative movement to pull us away from chosen traditions of faith and worship. We need to belong and contribute to a local body of believers. We need fellowship with Christians in physical proximity to us. We need pastoral guidance and care. Yet, through the Internet, God gives us a priceless gift—an invitation to find kindred spirits who share our fervor for His truth and ways. Having discovered so many wonderful fellow believers, we mustn’t forsake upholding one another in prayer, encouraging one another in faith, and enfolding one another in love. We are not numbers on a hit counter or identities adrift in cyberspace. We are unique reflections of God housed in flesh, each with unique needs and potential. We embrace each other in obedience to Christ’s “new command” in John 13.34: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Numerous times in various places, Paul repeats his message to Timothy: “I constantly remember you in my prayers.” In 1 Thessalonians 5.17, he instructs us to “pray continually.” And Acts 12.5 tells us that after Peter was imprisoned, “prayer was made without ceasing of the church for him.” (KJV) We can do no less for each other. Blogging creates an unprecedented opportunity for people to open their hearts and minds to strangers—who quickly become friends. But, as believers, this relatively new medium also expands our responsibilities vis-à-vis Galatians 6.2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” What’s more, we enlarge our commitment to pray for one another to include silent, unseen visitors who don’t blog or comment, yet gather with us. In many cases, they need our prayer and support most of all. Enormous challenges and profound longings have brought them to us. We’ll never know their names or what drives them to seek us out. But God knows and our prayers for them will be answered.
While Sharing the Peace, my former church in LA sings a song called “I Need You to Survive.” When I’m able to return for worship or the song crosses my mind, I’m always moved by its simple candor: “I need you. You need me. We’re all a part of God’s body… You are important to me. I need you to survive.” We’re part of One Body—joined by “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Ephesians 4.5) We need one another to survive. On this Lord’s Day, in addition to attending our regular worship, I invite all who gather here to virtually Share the Peace as a reminder to constantly remember one another. Because of Christ’s love and mercy, I am yours always. I need you to survive.
We need to constantly remember one another in prayer. We need one another to survive.
(Tomorrow: A New Tune)