In the 1970s, George Harrison sang about “Living in the Material World.” In the 1980s, Madonna proclaimed to the world that she was a “Material Girl.” While those songs seemed to describe the culture of their day, it seems that we have transitioned from living in a material world to living in an immaterial—a virtual world. In this world of email, texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Wikipedia, it seems that more communication takes place through the transmission of electrons than through physical human interaction.
We live in a world where “virtual reality” defines a great deal of our lives. What people call “reality television” is largely scripted and edited to fit the producer’s designs for his show. If you are unsatisfied with the “humdrum” routine of your life, there is Virtual Life. If you want to know what you will look like with a new hairstyle, there is Virtual Makeover. There are virtual games, virtual worlds, and even virtual pets. In this world of virtual activities and relationships, it is no wonder that people are rejecting the traditional church model and seeking to find church elsewhere…even in the virtual world. Gone are the days of church on television, today there is even virtualchurch.com.
Where are we going in this virtual world? Has the age of a traditional church come to an end? What is the role of the church in this virtual world we live in today? I believe that the church’s role is exactly the same as it was nearly 2000 years ago when Jesus gave what we know as the Great Commission. We are to go out and to make disciples of all of the nations (including our own) baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that Jesus taught. In a sense, the church is the one stable element in this fast-paced changing world and we offer something that is tangible and not immaterial—the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the demonstration of love and grace as Christ has shown that to us.
What then of this virtual world all around us—should we reject it as “of the devil” as some churches have? No, not at all! Paul said that to the Jews he became as a Jew, to those under the law, he was under the law, to those not under the law, he became as those not under the law, etc… (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). What Paul was saying is that he utilized the culture of those to whom he was giving the Gospel. The same can be applied today. The virtual world is technology for networking and communication that is at our fingertips. Let us use it, not simply for our own entertainment, but to draw people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.