Sometime last year, I was asked to write an updated version of an old piece of mine entitled "Apologia for a Cyber Church" by my good friend Pastor Lane of The Church of Philadelphia Worldwide, who was ordained as a pastor (Nondenominational) on the 14th of February 2006, becoming a Licensed Minister of the State Of Ohio a month later, before going on to found the Church of Philadelphia Worldwide at the Blogster website.
The original "Apologia" was first published by Lane at the Church’s main site at Blogster, and I’ve incorporated a few scraps of this into the essay that follows, which while originally published at Blogster last year as “Meditation on a Cyber Church” was updated in March 2010 with the original title.
As always, I write in a spirit of truth in submission to the will of God, any falsehood being entirely accidental.
2.Apologia part one
It was ten years ago in 1999 that the emergence of the internet church was accurately predicted by the Christian sociologist George Barna of the well-known Barna Group at a time when many of us were still computer-free. For my part, I didn’t come online until 2001, and my online life didn’t really begin until AOL became my Internet Service Provider towards the end of that year.
Since that time, the net has grown progressively more prominent in the lives of Christians worldwide to the extent that it now quite literally teems with Christian websites, web logs, articles, audio sermons, videos, songs and, of course, E-churches of every conceivable hue and kind. Yet, Christians themselves haven’t to any degree forsaken traditional church-going for internet worship, which is surely a good thing, as the Bible speaks of the vital importance of “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10: 25). Therefore, unique circumstances notwithstanding, the cyber church phenomenon should arguably never be used to replace actual physical Sunday church attendance…only to enhance it.
Yet, Christ himself said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Are gatherings of Believers that take place on the internet going to be any less blessed by God by dint of being virtual?
It strikes me that this would be very much not the case.
I'm a member of two or three Cyber Churches, but the one dearest to me is Pastor Lane's Church of Philadelphia Worldwide which was the first I joined, and I'm pleased to say that his ministry is expanding, thanks largely to You Tube, where he regularly uploads Biblically relevant video messages, but also through Face Book, which is surely the social network phenomenon of the millennium so far. Most importantly though, Pastor Lane now broadcasts through his own Cyber Bible Gospel Network at the Ustream video streaming website .
It’s my desire that anyone reading this meditation should seek fellowship with Pastor Lane at the Church of Philadelphia Worldwide at Blogster, or wherever else he’s to be found on the net. You may not agree with everything he says, but then that is the right of every believer...to disagree on points of doctrine. In the end, the important thing is that we all agree with the following: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2: 8-9). Of course, certain fruits have to follow for salvation to be sure, but no Christian is ever saved by works, whether water baptism, church membership, good deeds and so on.
You may for example disagree with Pastor Lane’s stance on Baptism. He doesn’t believe that full immersion water baptism has any saving power whatsoever and that the Bible refers to several forms of baptism, including baptism into the Body of Christ. For me, his position is rock solid, but some may dispute this. To them, I can only say...go to his sites, debate this point with him, fellowship, join in.
You may rather find yourself in contention with his stance on Eternal Security, one of the most controversial Christian issues of all time. Pastor Lane upholds the eternal salvation of all who come to Christ, which means that once a person is saved, they are on their way to Eternal Life in Heaven, and can never lose their salvation. This is also known as the doctrine of OSAS, or Once Saved Always Saved. The opposite position is known by some who uphold it as Conditional Security.
Then again, it may be his view of the Rapture you take issue with. This prophesied Rapture, in which saved Christian men and women will be instantaneously taken from the earth to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in the air is never actually described as such in Scripture, but is first alluded to in 1 Thessalonians 4: 16-18: For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout with the voice of the archangel: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Pastor Lane believes the Saints will be raptured prior to a period known as the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor shall ever be), which makes him an upholder of the Pre-Trib – as opposed to the Post-Trib – Rapture. His is a common view within orthodox Evangelical Christian belief which allows for a wide variety of opinion, which is just one of the many beauties of the faith.
Whatever your beliefs though - indeed your interests - I maintain that Pastor Lane is equipped to discuss them with you from a Biblical perspective. A list of the tags attached to Pastor Lane's Home Page at Blogster will give some indication of the incredible variety of topics he's tackled in the past three years or so, including as they do atheism, baptism, culture, diversity, economy, ethics, Europe, globalisation, marriage, politics, repentance, salvation, etc.
3.Apologia part two
Lane and I became friends at Blogster some four years ago, when I was struggling with the aforementioned thorny topic of Eternal Security, and if I was quite honest, it is something I continue to struggle with today, although not in the same as was case in 2006. I was going through a phase of being genuinely frightened I'd lost my salvation in consequence of a period of serious sinning, but - and I'm recalling all this from memory - Lane assured me that the Bible makes it clear that no matter how serious the sin involved, God can and will forgive it provided there is sincere heart repentance on the part of the sinner.
As I stated earlier, Lane is a firm upholder of the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved which in recent centuries has been intimately associated with the Reformed tradition, which is to say the Christianity that arose out of the Protestant Reformation, and specifically that named Calvinism after the most influential of all the great Reformers, the Frenchman Jean Cauvin (1509-1564) more commonly known as Calvin.
However, the OSAS stance is now widespread throughout Evangelical Christendom, even though there are many who oppose it, principally perhaps from within the Wesleyan tradition. By the Wesleyan tradition I mean that arising in the wake of the ministry and writings of the great English preacher John Wesley (1703-1791), and including such great Christians movements as Methodism, the Salvation Army, the Church of the Nazarene and the Holiness and Pentecostal movements.
It was Wesley who revived the belief system known as Arminianism - named after the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609)- which opposed the Calvinist Doctrines of Grace on every one of its Five Points, namely Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistibility of Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Having said that, in keeping with Arminius, Wesley did affirm Total Depravity, but as I understand it, in Arminian theology, Total Depravity does not equal a Total Inability to respond to the Gospel, as it does in Calvinism.
To the Arminian, there is a universal Prevenient Grace which allows all men and women to either accept or reject the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to their God-given free will. Wesley effectively salvaged the reputation of a man whose doctrines had been declared heretical at the Synod of Dordt of 1618-1619, thereby transforming Arminianism into a major international force within Evangelical Christianity.
Powerful preachers of the Gospel continue to exist on both sides of the Calminian divide, even though many Christians today would consider themselves to be neither Calvinist nor Arminian. Yet, when all’s said and done, all true born again blood-bought believers are united by adherence to the belief that there can be no salvation without Christ, which comes by Grace through Faith…and only God knows the intentions of the heart.
Typing the words internet church into a browser will provide a person with a seemingly endless list of virtual churches of every conceivable kind. Does this not point to the strong likelihood that God is using the internet as never before to reach Believers who for one reason or another are unable to attend church on a regular basis? I’d say yes. On the other hand, here may be others who do attend regularly and yet who might benefit from the extra spiritual nourishment provided by a web-based fellowship. The internet as a whole is arguably the single most powerful and momentous means of mass communication in history. Therefore I believe as Christians we have a sacred responsibility to make as much use of the web as possible to communicate the Message of the Gospel while there’s still time.