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Virtual church?

What will the future church be like? In The Easum Report, Bill Easum describes a scenario for the 21st century church:

In the "dialogue center" (sanctuary or worship center) people sit around tables. They are eating and talking about their needs and expectations in regard to worship and sermon options. In front of each person is a "holobyte" responder...

In the "dialogue center" (sanctuary or worship center) people sit around tables. They are eating and talking about their needs and expectations in regard to worship and sermon options. In front of each person is a "holobyte" responder (holographic computer). It instantaneously tabulates and records on a large screen everyone's comments and choices. It displays in several languages, and each person has an appropriate earpiece.

Persons at each table discuss options listed in the worship folder and record their collective choice in the responder. The cumulative totals of each table result in one or more holographic images sitting down at each table. The images dialogue with the table group about their choices and how those choices relate to biblical materials.

After the dialogue, the table groups record the results of their conversations by choosing hypertext links from a given section of a hypertext Bible. These links take the hearers deeper into a scriptural concept or narrative and its implications in relation to the previous conversation. In a few minutes they record choices implied by the conversations. These choices are tabulated and relayed to the pastor (nonseminary-trained), who instantly customizes his or her "dialog of the day" (sermon) to address the choices. As the sermon progresses, people can electronically ask questions that give further direction to the pastor. One link provides music for each table. Children receive virtual experiences of biblical times through interactive computers.

All the equipment will cost less than the price of a good electronic organ and will be programmable by a high school student.

Do you disagree with Easum's picture of the future? Is it because you are uncomfortable with its being so different from what you are used to? You may have what you feel are biblical and theological concerns about the future church's being so different. Is it possible that the church (institutional, denominational, fellowship) may be increasingly out of step with what God is doing in His church? Will church as we know it prevail into the next millennium? To prevail means to embrace and embody what God is doing in His Church through the life and ministry of our local church.

Church Shock AD 33

The Book of Acts reveals that the first-century church was much different from the more familiar religion of the day, Judaism. The emerging church met in homes, not the synagogue. The definition of spirituality changed from meaning faithfulness to the events, traditions, and laws of Judaism to meaning obedience. Rather than a select group performing ministry, all believers shared the ministry. God was doing something new.

For these early Christians, the change from what they knew about church (Judaism) to what Christ initiated as the Church was a shock to their theological and methodological paradigms. Most early believers were Jews and had grown up in the Judaism. Some of them asked questions such as, "Who can read from the Torah?" or "Is it right to meet in homes instead of the synagogue?" "Why is Christ working on the Sabbath? Why are His disciples picking corn on the Sabbath?" Certainly some feared that Christ was compromising the truth for the sake of relevancy. This was the cry from the church leaders when Christ healed on the Sabbath.

They crucified Jesus not because He was God but because He was the God Man. He was crucified because He was the Man who also embodied the true character, nature, and mission of God. It was because He was doing it differently from how they thought it should be done. It was because He became man and dwelt among us that created the tension that led to His death. He was messing up all their presupposed notions. He was breaking all the rules of how church ought to be according to the Jewish leaders. Christ told the religious leaders that He hadn't come to destroy their law and traditions; He came to make sense out of them. He came to give meaning to the rituals and ministries.

Jesus' greatest rebukes were leveled at the institutional church (Judaism). Talking to His followers in the presence of the scribes and Pharisees, He said, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20, NIV). If Jesus physically walked in our world today, would He say the same thing to us?

The incarnation of God always disturbs the religious and their establishments. It moves the mission and nature of God beyond man's plans, patterns, and rituals developing pious irresponsibility into true spiritual devotion, relevant ministry, and eternal significance. The incarnation of Christ in the life and ministry of the church threatens the traditions and rules of the religious order. When a local church body begins to embody the purposes of Christ's church in its life and ministries, the establishment in the institutionalized church may accuse it of heresy or of compromising the gospel.

Church Shock AD 2000

The church Jesus established brought a revolution of historic and eternal magnitude. Today's church faces a similar shift as we move nearer to His return. The issues are similar. We need to admit the error of being bound to traditions and methods that were provisionally and contextually appropriate for the church for a season. God is doing a new thing. The local church prevails when it clearly identifies the essential mission, values, and purposes of the church and freely expresses God's eternal purposes in appropriate ways, regardless of the difference from specific cultural constructs, past or present or future.

God will not allow any culturally oriented method or pattern to become "the pattern" or "the method" for His church.

God will not allow any culturally oriented method or pattern to become "the pattern" or "the method" for His church. His church is dynamic. It must grow, change, and adapt, in accord with God's continuing plan, to every tribe, tongue, and culture. To prevail, a local church must consistently and consciously revisit the core mission, nature, and purposes of Christ's church. Each generation must embrace the majesty and mystery of God's church and then appropriately embody and express Christ in their culture.

Callagan in his book, Effective Church Leadership, says, "New understanding of doing ministry must be created with each new generation for the church's mission to move forward. When an older generation imposes its understanding on the new generation----however innocently----both groupings become dysfunctional. Each new generation must carve out an understanding of ministry that matches with its time."

What if the church as we know it is not all that God wants it to be? What if God has another level He wants the church to know and achieve in His great redemption plan? Is it possible that we have seen only in part, looking through a glass that is dim and distorting? Could God still have greater things for His church in the future? I believe so. Let us look to God for vision to see the Church as God intended it----like a bride prepared for her wedding day.

Next issue we will discuss issues facing the future church and how we can respond.

For additional study:

  • Anderson, Leith. A Church for the 21st Century. Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1992.
  • Barna, George. The Second Coming of the Church. Dallas, Tex.: Word, 1998.
  • Chandler ,Russell. Racing Toward 2001. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992.
  • MacArthur, John R. The Master's Plan for the Church. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991.
  • Mead, Loren B. The Once and Future Church: Reinventing the Congregation for a New Missions Frontier Washington, D.C.: Alban Institute, 1993.
  • Mead, Loren B. Five Challenges for the Once and Future Church. Washington, D.C.: Alban Institute, 1996.
  • Ogden, Greg. The New Reformation, Returning the Ministry to the People of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1990.
  • The Easum Report. This report on the forces transforming ministry in the 21st century appears monthly in Net Results. Contact Bill Easum at 554 Bayside Drive, Port Arkansas, Texas 78373-4922. Voice Mail 512-749-5364; Fax 512-749-5800;
  • The Futurist: A Journal of Forecast Trends and Ideas About the Future. Published monthly by World Future Society, Bethesda, Maryland.


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