There is much work yet to be done.
We have used Paul’s letters to the Corinthians to sketch a basic framework whereby we might conceive of an authentic online community that is diverse, yet united in it its posture of cruciformity and orientation to the wisdom of God. We have described ways in which that community might find its identity in continual participation in the humility, weakness, and love of Christ’s crucifixion.
This kind of community would be known by its refusal to recognize social or economic stratification, emphasizing instead the equality of each member’s personhood through their Spirit-given gifts. By so modeling the kingdom of God, the community would be a Spirit-filled embodiment of Christ in its mission to reconcile the cosmos to God.
The digital context is, in many ways, uniquely suited to these purposes. By its very nature, social media blurs the lines of distinction between social and economic statuses, creating a world in which marginalized voices can be found, heard, and amplified. The possibility of continuous connection to other believers means that a person can always have a supportive community surrounding them in prayer and counsel, and they can share much of the day-to-day existence of their lives with one another.
Yet, while there are creative ways we can use online connectivity be present with one another from a distance, there remain tangible needs that cannot be met within a purely digital context. Indeed, it would be foolish to attempt to completely separate the digital world from the physical—the two coexist alongside and within one another, and a digital ecclesiology must be cognizant of this reality.
The church should be present within a person’s daily life, but cannot become the totality of that person’s daily life. A church that meets in the digital sphere cannot replace the physical relationships humans need.
Our increased access to the internet, with its capacity for global and perpetual connectivity, is changing the way our culture thinks and behaves, and no one knows exactly what the future of our society will look like. The digital world is still in its infancy, and we as the church must be participants in shaping its future to draw out the ways in which it can reflect the gospel and minimize its potential for dehumanization.
For us to affect the development of our increasingly online society, we must be present in the digital world as it matures.
The ecclesiological sketch developed here is only one outline of how we may be engaged in the work of cultivating digital communities, but I pray that it may deepen our commitment to translating our conceptions of what it means to be the church. It is no longer enough for us to exist solely in a physical presence—we must embrace the digital as an extension of our embodied selves.
We, the body of Christ, cannot content ourselves to sit back and watch as these new media become the message without us; the world needs God’s story of hope and humanity to be woven into the fabric of its life, everywhere that life is found.
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