While a distinction can be made between an internet “church” and a church with an online “presence”, the aim here is to address the many expressions and implications of internet ministries. As you read this post “online” you may think that I am being hypocritical and if you think that, I want you to pay attention to a couple of small but important facts. There is no ‘about page’ on this website and it does not seek to tell you who Daniel S Ralph is, who he is married to and how many children he has. Neither does it tell you what church He is a Minister of, or that he is even a Minister. All you have is a name at the top left on the front page to indicate to all those who know me as the pastor of the church they attend, that they are on the Pastor’s website. Hopefully, with this said you can work out why it doesn’t need an about page, and if you haven’t worked it out it is because I am writing for the church I serve, to those who know me and therefore my family and witness is witnessed.
Staying on and not straying into another foundation
Throughout Romans, Paul explains and applies the Gospel and in chapter 15 he explains that his mission is to make Christ known where there is no worship of Christ at all. Therefore his ministry is not to build on someone else’s foundation, a place where the gospel is already proclaimed and where worship is taking place but only in virgin territory. With the rise of internet ministries, we have the blurring of foundations and denominations, as a result, there is the multiplication of views and not as we would want, the reducing number of debates as the issues are biblically addressed. Once this is understood we can then see how these different beliefs are in turn, different witnesses. It is one thing for these differences to be contained as much as possible within the local church and therefore cause as little confusion as possible to those in the world around us. It is another thing altogether to hang out all this dirty laundry (versions, representations, misrepresentations, expressions and the rest) in the public sphere.
The purpose of debate
Internet ministries which aim to serve beyond their foundations (Romans 15:20), however faithful they maybe can often have an unintended but not unforeseen impact and not always in a positive way. Those who enjoy these ministries as a substitute for gathering as a person of God with the people of God are substituting the local church (which is the creation of God) for an online version provided by a church or individual. Rather than encouraging the church to reform, they provide a way of escape, where battles do not have to be fought and a witness which remains without reform.
The role of an Elder is to teach and defend the word of God, and the purpose of debate is to make sure that the witness of the Church is as clear as possible. However, many are content to agree to disagree, rather than arrive at and establish which position is correct and making clear where we should all stand. Therefore, it is worth addressing the very obvious point, that there is only one Church, so this isn’t about competition or empire-building but rather about being a clear and present witness in a dark and sinful world. However, the church is more likely to read this with a cup of tea and one eyebrow raised than they are to raise it as a matter of importance.
Choosing your brand
Internet ministries which act more like brand providers do so strategically, they are tuned into what their audience wants. They know this because of their ability to measure how many views each song, post, audio and video gets. This, in turn, becomes a kind of social proof which is then presented as a reason for why you should click on the same post, video, audio etc that everyone else has. Instead of having truth through personality as Phillip Brooks once stated we have the worship of God being stylized to the tastes of individuals. It’s worth remembering (as an example) that the book “The Shack” was turned down by multiple Christian publishers for its terrible and heretical promotion of ideas, that do not even come close to the biblical revelation (word of God). It was published at a later date by a few individuals and not long after the initial sales, it was published by a big-time publishing house. This turned out to be a “good” business move, since it has been reported that this book has currently sold over 20 million copies. So what do we learn from this kind of social proof? We learn that those who do not like the idea of strong and biblically distinctive denominations can love the many expressions of online ministries.
When a family sits together in church and hears the same sermon, they recognise that they have not chosen what they are listening to and if they keep coming they will hopefully hear the full counsel from God’s word. It is then not difficult to understand why online sermons have the appeal they do, it must have something to do with being able to choose what and who you want to listen to. Therefore, the market share goes to those ministries which can navigate their way through the many preferences of such listeners and in order to keep their funding and following, they must stay away from such subjects as Homosexuality and Abortion to name only two and as they do, they resort to a deafening silence, truth is not as popular as one might think it is, even in the church. The church will not see the reformation it so desperately needs as long as we consider the worship of God in the realm of personal preferences.
Worship locally in the heavenly
As the people of God gather for worship they join the heavenly hosts (Heb 12:22-24) and as we worship God together, God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven. Since we are created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever it follows that all ministries of the church should do the same. As our prayers ascend, we remember they are spoken as an act of praise to the Lord God and for God’s will to be done everywhere. When Christians recognise that they are changed by their worship of God and that gathering to worship the Lord is an act of spiritual warfare, with material changes as well as spiritual changes in the physical world, we will see the church change first. The worship of God cannot be canned, put into an album or sold. It must remain and be what scripture teaches us, that it is the means by which believers lead the way in bowing their knee to the Lord God and when those form of the world enter into our gatherings they to will fall down and worship, since this is what the true worship of God can accomplish.