Colossians 4:16 “And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea.”
Those of you who know me know that if I stray far from my computer screen, I start to twitch. Not only do I love experimenting with technology, I love thinking about what our new ways of communication and interaction might mean for faith and for the Church.
I think it’s fair to say that, historically, the Church has not exactly been on the cutting edge of change—at least not since it became a venerable institution. The cynical part of me thinks that if the institutional church were present at Jesus’ death and resurrection, we might well have turned up our noses and said, “Humph, we’ve never done it that way before!”
At no time do I feel that more strongly than in the response to technology. While there are exceptions, as a rule we don’t trust it. For some reason God is not truly praised by your song if you’re reading the words off a screen instead of from a hymnal. The Word is not powerful if not delivered live. And if we don’t have the majority of our business meetings while sitting together in the flesh in one room, the communal nature of faith is compromised. Since the “Net-Gen” generation coming up is both completely wired and completely engaged in community, this seems an odd position to hold. But I encounter it in many, many places.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, looked to four things in trying to make a decision: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. And so I tried to reflect on these things related to technology in the Church. On the experience front, it is clear to me that there are ways to be in community through the web. It doesn’t replace ever seeing another soul in the flesh, but it certainly doesn’t obliterate community. On the contrary, it allows me to be in wonderful community with people I never otherwise would have met. Reason says that new delivery systems can be adapted to basic human needs, as we are seeing in the transition from the early days of the Web to the new world of the dynamic, interactive, user-dictated Web 2.0.
Tradition, at least for the past 50 years, has said that you have to do things face to face…from worship to Christian Education to business meetings. But I find as I look back to the days of Paul, that he did a lot from a distance. Even though you can’t tell someone’s tone from an e-mail…or from a letter…we have most of the New Testament only because Paul relied on the technology of his day to enable him to minister to churches from Rome to Jerusalem. More than that, he relied on “forwards.” The letter to the Colossians, which some scholars believe is basically the letter to the Ephesians with a couple of personalized changes, was to be forwarded on to the church in Laodicea and vice versa.
Nobody is suggesting that we all hole up in a room and never visit live with another human being. Paul certainly visited churches whenever he could. But Paul’s use of letter/courier technology allowed those who couldn’t see him in the flesh to still hear the word of God through him. It allowed him to be with congregations in Ephesus, Colossae, and Laodicea all at the same time. It facilitated a large offering for the poor in Jerusalem…a community effort in which all the connected churches participated. And it allows us to be in community with those people in those churches even now…2,000 years later on the other side of the world. I, for one, am glad of it.
Connecting God, show us how to use the new gifts you have given us for your glory. Amen.
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