Apologia for a Cyber Church
Originally published at Bloggerville (http://thechurchofphiladelphiaworldwide.blogspot.com/2008_01_28_archive.html) on the 28th of January 2008:
On April 27 2007, I had the honour of being made an elder of the Church of Philadelphia Worldwide, an online church based at Blogster.com under the leadership of Pastor Lane Nickerson of Urbana, Ohio, and whose web address is: http://unlimited.blogster.com. There are those who might question my decision to be a member of a cyber-church in the first place, and in the course of this piece I'll be debating in favour of my having done so, as well as internet churches in general.
Anyone who has read my writings thus far will be more than adequately aware of my condition prior to becoming a Christian in January 1993, so I'm not going to go into any further details about it during this brief defence of the e-church phenomenon. Suffice to say that at least partly as a result of it, my walk with God has not been an easy one. But then, is it not so that while coming to faith in Christ produces the salvation of the soul, it doesn't by any means necessarily also ensure perfect freedom from the consequences of sins committed prior to spiritual rebirth? It is entirely up to God how much or even whether He heals.
While it is true is that the thirteen and a half years I've spent as a born again Christian have been marked by a variety of psychological conditions, it is also true that prior to becoming a Christian I was in a far worse shape than I've been since. After all, I was enslaved not just to alcoholism but to very severe Obsessional Compulsive Disorder, both of which God healed me from, as well as other sicknesses, spiritual and otherwise.
I recently held online discussions with Pastor Lane as to the possible nature of the psychological conditions alluded to above. I say possible because needless to say neither Pastor Lane nor myself are mental health specialists. I do feel confident in saying, however, that depression is involved. By this I don't mean life-threatening despair so much as the long-term, low-grade depression of which chronic lack of normal energy and joy of life (anhedonia) are common symptoms. That said, a diagnosis of unipolar, or major, depression might be premature, as I'm also subject to spells of elated hyper-creativity, although these do not extend to garrulous sociability. On the contrary, I tend to social avoidance. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was also mentioned. Among the symptoms of PTSD as I understand it are a reduced interest in the everyday pleasurable activities most people take for granted, anxiety, irritability, hypervigilance, insomnia and emotional detachment.
It goes without saying that I'm hardly the one and only Christian ever to have struggled with some kind of Pauline "thorn in the flesh", whether mental, physical or spiritual, or a combination of these. If I might paraphrase rock'n'roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis of Faraday, Louisiana, we born again believers have chosen a pretty hard road to hoe. Whatever one's opinion of Jerry Lee, he is 100% correct in his assessment of the Christian walk. In the light of all these facts, can any of us in the Body of Christ honestly refuse to admit that membership of an internet church might be spiritually beneficial to many a believer?
A Church Life
I hope I haven't given the impression so far in this apologia that I never attend church in person nor have any intention of everdoing so again, because nothing could be further from the truth. However, I'm not in close fellowship at the present time, which is to say part of a cell or prayer group. In the past, however, I've attended several, and within a variety of churches.
These include Cornerstone, a Charismatic church affiliated to the Word of Faith movement and based in suburban Surrey, which was the very first church I visited on a regular basis, doing so for about two years from 1993. They also include the Riverside Vineyard Christian Fellowship to which I defected from Cornerstone, remaining there for over a year before returning to my first church.
At some point in '97 I started going to morning services at Kingston Baptist Church in south west London. This was in consequence of a short-lived desire on my part to distance myself from the Pentecostal-Charismatic fold. In '99, however, after having spent some months cycling each Sunday to the 2.30pm service at Kensington Temple, an Elim (Pentecostal) church in Notting Hill, a Kingston-based KT cell group under the leadership of Pastor Louis of New York City beckoned and I answered the call. Late in the summer of that year, this mutated into the satellite church Liberty Christian Centre with which I forged very close ties, serving in the worship group from its inception in early 2000 until well into the following year. The church folded in '01, at which point I returned to Cornerstone and still another cell group, remaining there until the end of '02.
I left in consequence of a renewed desire to seek out churches existent beyond the Pentecostal/Charismatic family of churches. Among these were Bethel Baptist Church in Wimbledon, SW19. Bethel is an Independant Fundamentalist Baptist church based on the US model, and therefore KJV only, which is to say utilizing the King James Version of the Bible alone. It operates under the gracious leadership of the American pastor, writer and passionate defender of the Authorised Version (A.V. 1611) of the Bible, Dr Jack Moorman. I was happy at Bethel until one Sunday following the evening service, my train home was severely delayed and I found myself stranded at Wimbledon station for over an hour in consequence. Despite this, I fully inteded to return the following Sunday to see Jack's friend Bro. David Cloud preach at the church, but for some reason never did, and I've stayed away ever since. In addition to Bethel, other traditionally evangelical churches I attended more than once throughout 2003 were Hook Evangelical Church, Surbiton, and Christ Church, Teddington, a Free Church of England fellowship whose rector is a passionately Biblical man with the magnetizing voice of a Shakespearean actor.
By the end of 2003, I 'd begun to make a tentative return to the Pentecostal-Charismatic nation, and since then, I've attended churches both within and beyond its boundaries, among them St Stephens, East Twickenham, a massive evangelical Anglican church, which I found to be incredibly compassionate; and yet, despite a brief period in a home group, I've not been back to the church itself since last summer. Increasingly this year I've been frequenting Duke Street Church, a large Baptist church affiliated to the Evangelical Alliance in nearby Richmond, whose minister is a much respected preacher of the Word of God, his sermons appearing weekly on Premiere, London's Christian radio station. However, despite being urged to do so, I've not sought deeper fellowship within Duke Street.
In Defence of the Cyber-Fellowship
This is as good time as any to return to the subject of the Church of Philadephia Worldwide. As I stated earlier, the church is under the leadership of Pastor Lane Nickerson, an ordained minister from the city of Urbana in Ohio who is clearly grounded in the Word of God and is a Bible-believing man who writes, teaches and counsels in a spirit of justice and compassion. Needless to say, not all internet churches are alike; the CPW, for example, does not hold weekly cyber-services. It does, however, provide pastoral care and prayer, and Biblical counselling on the part of Pastor Lane, who strikes me as having been blessed with a rare concern for his fellow believers, to say nothing of wisdom and discernment.
Typing the words internet church in a browser will result in the search engine in use yielding dozens of virtual churches of every conceivable kind. This fact speaks to me of the very strong likelihood that God is using the internet as never before to reach out to those brothers and sisters in the Lord who for one reason or another struggle to attend church on a regular basis, or for that matter those who attend regularly, and yet might find a degree of spiritual encouragement in a virtual church that an actual one is failing to provide them with.
There may be those Christians who will disagree with all or much I have written so far, and yet for the life of me I cannot understand why. After all, is the internet not the single most powerful and momentous means of communication in history? Of course it is, and therefore I believe that as Christians, we have a responsibility to make as much use of the world wide web as is humanly possible to communicate the Message of the Gospel, and with a fervour befitting the fact that the time is short. For example, Brother Lane Nickerson serves as the Pastor of an internet church, and maintains a regular Christian blog, while I write creatively for the Lord, and have been doing so since, when I posted my very first article at blogster.com during a period of despondancy brought on by ill health. Initially, I was slow to nail my Christian colours to the weblog mast, until Lane urged me to write increasingly in an unmistakably Christian spirit. As things stand, I am on the verge of compiling my pieces into an experimental memoir with a strong Christian message. Serving God via the medium of the world wide web gets more exciting and more challenging by the day.
Recently I was asked to write an updated version of an old piece of mine entitled "Apologia for a Cyber Church" by a Christian friend I've never met in person but whom I respect both as a person and an excellent and challenging writer and speaker on the nuts and bolts of our shared Christian faith.
His name is Claude Lane Nickerson - Pastor Lane for short - and he himself is the pastor of an online church, The Church of Philadelphia Worldwide, which is to be found at the Blogster website. The original "Apologia" was first published by Lane at Blogster, and then at the Church's Blogger website, which - as things stand - is where the only remaining copy remains. I incorporated elements of it into this upgraded version which I've retitled "Meditations on a Cyber Church", its central theme being not so much online churches in general, but the Church of Philadelphia in particular.
Pastor Lane Nickerson hails from the great city of Philadelphia, PA, where he was born some eight months after me on the 15th of June 1956. Like me he has a military background: I trained in the British military school Pangbourne College between 1968 and 1972 as Naval Cadet Carl Halling, before spending five years in the British RNR, first as an Ordinary Deck Hand, then as an Able Seaman, between 1972 and 1977, while Pastor Lane is a Veteran(retired) of both the United States Army and the Army National Guard. He was ordained a pastor (Nondenominational) on February 14, 2006, and became a Licensed Minister of the State Of Ohio a month later, going on to found the Cyber Church, Church of Philadelphia Worldwide.
It was Pastor Lane who urged me to take the writings I'd started posting piecemeal to Blogster in the winter of 2006 towards a more Christian direction, which is to say one more glorifying of God and less of me and my chaotic existence. This I feel I've done to a degree, and my Home Page at Blogster is now manifestly that of a Born Again Bible-Believing Christian, where once this wasn't anywhere near as apparent. What's more, in their present cohesive shape as the experimental spiritual memoir in novella form, "Rescue of a Rock and Roll Child", my writings serve as a powerful testimony of faith where once they were little more than rambling essays on a mispent youth. For this, I'm significantly indebted to Pastor Lane. Credit must also go to other friends who influenced the course of my memoir, but in spiritual terms, it is Pastor Lane I have to thank more than anyone.
Needless to say I also have Pastor Lane to thank for urging me to get to work on a second major piece of writing. I'm not sure how many there will be in total, but I'm glad that my short memoir will shortly have a companion piece in the shape of these "Meditations".
It was ten years ago in 1999 that the emergence of the cyber-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. He also contended that as the internet grew progressively more prominent in the lives of ordinary Americans - and presumably by extension Westerners as a whole - Americans would become "isolated from the traditional church format."
This as far as I know - and being British I am not in a position to do so to any degree of accuracy - has not occurred, which is surely a blessing given that the Bible urges all professing Christians 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). I recently listened to a long series of sermons at a web-based ministry which made a deep impression on me. The webmaster there stressed the vital importance of safeguarding one others' souls, and I agree with him 100%: there are times when we all need to be encouraged, helped, healed, ministered to, and the internet can be a wonderful tool for the cultivation of Christian friendships...of course, they are only Cyber-friendships, but if God is in them, what's to criticise about them? For my part, I'm eternally indebted to Pastor Lane for safeguarding mine at a time it was most necessary, by urging me - some three years ago now I'd say -to write for the Lord at a time I was mainly writing about myself.
It's recently come to my attention, though, that some debate exists among Christians as to exactly what "assembling" entails. What I mean by this is that listening to an audio sermon recently - and I'm paraphrasing here - the speaker suggested that while he continues to attend church on Sunday, it is from his daily fellowshipping that he gains the most spiritually. Words to that effect. Certainly, this is more possible than it's ever been, thanks to the internet, which teems with Christian websites, weblogs, articles, audio sermons, videos, songs and, of course...E-churches of every conceivable hue and kind...enabling the average Christian walk to be a daily one, and a thrilling one at that. That said, God sanctified the Seventh Day, and to view it as anything other than sacred or holy is deeply dishonouring to God and dangerous to the individual Christian soul. In other words, the Cyber Church phenomenon should never be used to replace Sunday church attendance unless the latter is for one reason or another exceptionally difficult or impossible.
I'm a member of two or three Cyber Churches, but the one dearest to me is the one I joined first, which is of course Pastor Lane's Church of Philadelphia Worldwide, and I'm pleased to say that his ministry is expanding, thanks largely to You Tube where he regularly uploads his video messages, but also through Face Book, which is surely the social network phenomenon of the late 2000s.
It is my desire that anyone reading this meditation who is touched by it should seek fellowship at the Church of Philadelphia and with Pastor Lane, whether at the Church itself, or at his You Tube or Face Book site. 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 his stance on Baptism. He does not 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 sound, but some many not be of this mind. To them, I can only say...go to his sites, debate this point with him, fellowship, join in.
You may rather find yourself in disagreement 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 stance is known by some who uphold it as Conditional Security, as in the book "The Believer's Conditonal Security" by Dan Corner.
Then again, it may be his stance on the Rapture that you take issue with. For my part, I'm in agreement with Brother Lane in that I maintain that the Saints will be raptured, or caught up in the air to meet Christ in the clouds at some point in the future prior to the period known as the Tribulation depicted by the Lord in. That makes me a believer in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, or a Pre-Tribber for short.
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, globalization, marriage, politics, repentance, salvation, even sport...
Lane and I became friends at Blogster over three 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 that 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. However, the OSAS stance is now dominant among Evangelicals even though there are still some conservative Christians within what could be called the Wesleyan tradition who continue to oppose it.
By the Wesleyan tradition I mean that arising in the wake of the writings of the great English preacher John Wesley and including Methodism, the Salvation Army, the Holiness churches, the Church of the Nazarene and Pentecostalism. It was Wesley who revived Arminianism after the Dutch theologian Jakob Harmenszoon, 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. Wesley only agreed with Total Depravity, but even at that, he didn't believe that Man is so totally depraved that coming to saving faith is beyond his will. Wesleyan theology is widely known as Arminian by Calvinists, although it is as much Wesleyan and it was Wesley who could be said to have salvaged Arminius' reputation given that his doctrines were declared heretical at the Synod of Dordt of 1618-1619.
Many Evangelicals today would neither consider themselves to be Calvinist nor Arminian, which is understandable, given that both Calvin and Arminius were mere flawed human beings such as we all are. What I will say though is that great preachers of the Gospel exist on both sides of the Calminian divide.
Talking of great preachers, Pastor Lane has uploaded several videos of sermons to his website at Blogster, including the now famous so-called "shocking youth message" preached to about 5000 young people in 2002 by Paul Washer, as well as sermons from Living Waters Ministries, which is that of Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, John MacArthur of Grace to You ministries, and others. Again, viewers may not be in agreement with Washer, Comfort, Cameron, MacArthur etc. on various points of doctrine, but there is still surely much to be learned from them, even if it's to make one more convinced than before of one's own beliefs. As I've stated before, the important thing is that all true born again blood-bought believers are united by adherence to the belief that there can be no salvation without Christ, which comes through Grace by faith.
As a final word, I'd like to once more thank Pastor Lane for asking me to write this short piece, which has served to enhance my as yet still small body of work as a writer, while being the first exclusively Christian work I've ever completed to my satisfaction. I've written other Christian works, but none of them have been in my opinion worth keeping, and that includes the original "Apologia for a Cyber Church", which has been entirely superceded by the present work, which marks my true beginning as a purely Christian writer, and the first of many I hope for Pastor Lane.
I pray this Meditation blesses all who read it...that it takes them to the Church of Philadelphia Worldwide...and that souls might thereby be saved to the Glory of God. Do I hear some Amens?
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