Written by Ps Dev Menon
Last Tuesday, around 80 leaders from BP Churches had a ‘virtual retreat’. Instead of the annual 2-day event in Malaysia, it became a 2-hour session in Zoom to dialogue with Bishop Robert Solomon about the “Post-Pandemic World and Church”.
One point that resonated, was the fact that he did not think that virtual church – meeting in digital space – was as impactful as the gathered church. He compared our situation to the ancient problem of Gnosticism – where there were some who thought that simply gaining knowledge was sufficient for spiritual growth. I suspect the apostle Paul dealt with similar issues (1 Cor 8:1).
The early church fathers fought hard against this heresy, insisting that because of the fleshly incarnation and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (together with the institution of sacraments like Holy Communion and Baptism), that we as human beings are made for physical interaction. Coming together as embodied beings is essential to spiritual growth.
Bishop Solomon implied that sanctification (growing in holiness) largely takes place when brothers and sisters come together. When we watch online services, or even when we meet virtually, we find ourselves easily distracted. Let’s be honest, how many times have you caught someone (or yourself) liking a Facebook post or replying a WhatsApp message while they are supposed to be present in a Zoom meeting?
When we are physically present with one another, we must deal with one another – there is no distraction, there is no switching screen, there is no turning off the camera. When I am fully engaged with you – this is how I learn to love you – all of you. This is where the dozens of New Testament ‘one another’ commands become reality. Foot washing requires intimate contact…
During this COVID season, many physical norms have been taken away. We can’t help that. But as we get comfortable with the digital space, will we recognize its pitfalls and limitations? Can we utilize technology without getting enamoured by it? And as our forefathers once did in churches long ago, will we remember to keep fighting for the physical?