Living Free in the Spirit of Christ

Free The Church

Living in Multiple Communities

Published on: Feb 19, 2009

Shane Hipps discusses his new book, “Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith,” which in this video interview below, he claims that online “virtual communities” are not real communities of Christian faith.

He defines a real faith community as having these four characteristics:

1. A Shared History, that is, one where people have known each other over an extended period of time.

2. A Permanence, that is, still ongoing and will continue in future.

3. A Proximity, that is, one where you are physically close to each other.

4. A Future Hope Together, that is, a community that you are working together for a common future goal.

Watch and listen to the video to hear for your self what he has to say.

There have been a variety of voices who have commented on this opinion. In reading those comments, I have to question all of their ideas of what a community really is. The first disagreement I have is the idea of a single community.

Frankly, when I look at my life, I see that I am a member of a multiple number of communities. To make the distinction of faith communities implies a separation from secular communities. I do not see that as biblical. All is sacred, there is no secular. Everywhere I go, I bring with me the sacred since I am a member of the body of Christ which is the living house of the Living God.

In every job I have ever had, my faith in Christ has been a natural part of my work. For I am instructed that whatever I do, I do unto the Lord (Col. 3:17). So my working community is also a community of faith, for I bring my faith to the community. And the truth is in America we are still a nation of faith, and there are usually believers in Christ at every job that I have ever had.

Likewise I am a member of the retail community every time I go shopping, or the educational community every time I take a course. I have been a member a of a number of professional clergy communities as well as house church fellowship communities. And I am a member of my family community, which is the greatest community of faith of all.

All of these communities contain the first three characteristics of the list that Shane provides. And Shane stated frankly that it is in the “virtual communities” that the fourth characteristic tends to excel, while lacking the first three characteristics.

We all live in multiple communities. The depth of relationships in those various communities will vary in degree depending on the nature of those communities. The clerks at the stores that I see each time I shop will have, by its nature, a shallow relationship with me. Yet, all four of his listed characteristics are there. We have a shared history in the number of items I have bought and they have rung up for me. We have a permanence in that I will continue shopping at those stores as long as they maintain the same discounts and service. We have a proximity in that I am somewhat lazy and have no interest in shopping far away. And we have a shared future in that I hope to continue getting good service and they hope I will be a repeat customer. But this example is one that is really shallow, although I do make it a point to share the gospel by asking if they believe in Christ (they often do) and offering to share a prayer for salvation if circumstances permit.

Shane’s argument is not regarding these other communities, of course, but in terms of Christian fellowship contrasting the physical gathering of the saints against the virtual gathering online. But I must say that in all my professional clergy gatherings, those four characteristics were almost as shallow as the shopping fellowships I just referred to. Even the house church fellowships have not been much deeper, although they are deeper than those in the professional clergy. To give the pro clergy system a fair shake, however, I must include the friendships that I have formed from the variety of clubs my wife and I attended that have lasted longer, and have the second characteristic of permanence in greater depth than the congregational meetings themselves. I have friends from a variety of clubs whose friendships have lasted decades, yet they are not necessarily close by (proximity) nor do we see each other that often.

Which brings me to the real strength of virtual communities. Shame said that shared goals (characteristic number four) tended to be greater in the virtual communities because you can find those who have a like mind easier through that system.

Honestly, Shane, the organic church is not the house fellowships, per se, but the genuine friendships and love that Father God brings to us all individually. Those are the fellowships of community that have the deepest degree of your four characteristics. My relationship to Christ is the deepest of all, and my relationship to my wife is the second deepest of my community relationships, of course, but the friends that I have developed through the professional clubs and on the job that are deep are fewer than those that I have found online.

I have a shared history with many online friends that I have dialoged on those issues that are nearest and dearest to my heart that have lasted many years now, even though I have never been in the same physical room with them. However, even some of the online acquaintances I have met at some conferences. These online friends that I know, (and by the way, I do not use an anonymous name and I know my online friends by their given names, too) share a greater permanence in my heart because we have the same point of views. How is proximity defined by physical presence? Telephones have brought a proximity to people for decades. The voice we hear on the phone is not the voice of the person we are speaking to, but a virtual voice created electronically. But what is the difference? For everyone it is the same thing as being in the same room talking to that person. So with the improvements of technology, we have a greater sense of proximity in chat rooms, video conferencing, and IM’s, as well as a near proximity with bulletin boards, emails and dialoguing through blogs. You have already admitted that the fourth characteristic of shared goals is greater in the virtual world, so I need not elaborate.

So, when I consider what communities I am a member of, I have to admit that I am a member of many communities of varying degrees of depth. But, above all this, we should all remember that the Spirit of Christ is not limited by anything. I have experienced praying over the phone for healings, and heard the response of healing as God answered the prayer. I know that the Holy Spirit touches people with comments made in blogs and forums.

The community of Christian faith is centered on Christ through His Spirit. That community extends everywhere that His Spirit can go, and He can go anywhere.

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