Purely Online/Mental Christianity?

I recently had the experience of someone who reads and comments on my blog regularly – and who understands what it means to be a Christian and a variety of matters related to that differently than I do – acknowledge that they have no actual church connection.

I probably should not have been surprised by this as I was. The idea that being a Christian means believing certain things and defending those beliefs against challenges is widespread today, and it is an understanding of Christianity that allows one to consider oneself not only a Christian but a “defender of the faith” while interacting with like-minded people and challenging opponents from the safety and comfort of one’s own home.

Rather than comment at length, let me just ask whether the fact that one can be that sort of “Christian’ in a purely virtual, online fashion is in itself enough to demonstrate that that understanding of and approach to Christianity must be misguided?

  • Anonymous

    If we hold that being a Christian is not simply a matter of committing a thought-crime but requires an outward change, can you follow Jesus’ commandments – loving they neighbor, clothing the poor, visiting prisoners – in a purely virtual world.  Admittedly it would difficult to anything to your neighbor from the safety of your own home but once online, you have many opportunities to interact with other netizens in a Christian way.

  • http://lowerwisdom.com JSA

    Is the idea that someone who is in solitary confinement in an atheist prison cannot be Christian, since he is not in communion with the body?  Or is it just that someone who has the opportunity and doesn’t take it, is not a Christian?

  • Anonymous

    Forgive me if I’m a little off the subject here. I was an evangelical/fundamentalist Christian for over a decade before entering dogmatic skepticism and agnosticism.  However, this question came to my mind the other day.  Let’s say John Doe strongly doubts the penal substitution theory and the resurrection, but deeply appreciates many of the sayings attributed to Jesus and the way Jesus treats people as is presented to us in the canonical gospels.  Let’s say this person basically says, ” I doubt the blood atonement and resurrection stuff, but I sure am inspired by what Jesus said and how he treated people and I’m going to do my best to emulate his teachings in my life.” Here’s my question.  How is this person NOT a Christian?  Is he or she REALLY not a Christian because although he or she models their lifestyle after Jesus, they do not believe in the atonement or resurrection?  Christian means follower of Christ, does it not?  This person is following Christ, is he or she not?

    • http://twitter.com/historicaldavid David Russell Mosley

      I would note that Paul would say not believing in the resurrection (I’ll say nothing about penal substation for the moment) would make Christianity false.

      • Anonymous

        David, you are right. Paul basically does say this in 1 Corinthians 15.  However, I am not a biblical inerrantist, and therefore I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that Paul was mistaken.  That’s right. I believe Paul may have been wrong. Gasp! :-)  

        But seriously, though, I hear Christians mimic this attitude when they say or imply that if Christianity in general, or their particular brand of Christianity, is not true, then they have no motivation or reason to live an ethical and moral lifestyle. If your main motivation to live an ethical life is because a “holy book” says so, that’s a TERRIBLE reason to live such a life.  If that is one’s main motivation to live a moral life, I would say they are not far from doing something really horrible.  

        Forgive me for sounding sensationalistic, but there are parts of the Bible that ordain genocide, are there not?

        • http://twitter.com/historicaldavid David Russell Mosley

          1. I would not say I am an inerrantist either, though I believe the Bible to inspired and agree with Paul on the issue of the resurrection.

          2. You make it sound as if the Bible in multiple places says kill all people who are of a different “nation” or religion (a word we really can’t use of the OT people groups but since many of them were ethnically similar, semitic, I can’t say based on ethnicity), which it does not. Are the people of Israel in the Bible told to kill certain groups of people, yes.

          • Anonymous

            David, I really can’t add anything to Dr. McGrath’s response to your post, but I don’t see how your response rebuts my claim that the Bible ordains genocide in several places. Yes, it tells only the Israelites to commit genocide, but it’s still genocide, isn’t it?  

    • Paul D.

      @Mikail2:disqus Agreed.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Mikail2:disqus , I think that if being placed in solitary confinement does not in any way seem to involve losing something important with respect to the expression of one’s faith, that faith may be too individualistic, to say the least.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1244404019 Tom Bartley

    It makes sense to me…wondering sometimes about the mode for practicing faith in Christ that can be the most combative is the actual church itself.  However, this does not release a believer from the idea of existing in community.  It may just simply redefine our concept of church.

  • Robert Fisher

    It doesn’t really matter where any of us draw the line between Christian and non-Christian. I can draw lines that would include me and other than would exclude me.

    Is not participating in a church an indication of a misguided faith? Now, that’s a much more interesting question.

    No, I don’t think so. The person could be misguided, but not necessarily so. (And whole churches can be pretty misguided as well.) Having a fellowship to help keep a follower accountable, honest, and on-track is an invaluable resource, however.

  • Gary

    A non-church member, appearing to be anti-social, not participating in organized church services, feeling that the existing churches are corrupt, complaining about corrupt church leaders and corrupt government leaders….wandering around in the wilderness eating locusts and honey, John the Baptist – antisocial non-Christian?

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    Maybe the answer is as simple as he is not a practicing Christian anymore. Does that make him ineligible or misguided to express his opinions on what a Christian or Christianity should be, based on his past experience and knowledge? What if he is simply seeking the truth? Is this not possible without association with other Christians, who may very well be believing in things that are not the truth? Let me get this straight, someone can have doubts about many things in the Bible, believe there are many mistakes, but as long as he meets with other Christians, he’s okay. But if someone believes the entire Bible, but does not meet with other Christians, his approach must be misguided? :-)

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  • Howard Mazzaferro

    James, how do you interpret this?

    Luke 9:49-50 “And John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to hinder him because he does not follow along with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @google-2e495af83153bef01b686a6c2268489d:disqus , I view it as contradicting Matthew 12:30/
    Luke 11:23  :-)But seriously, it is saying that there were some who were not formally part of Jesus’ group, but who were to be viewed as allies because they were not opposed to his mission and activity.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @jamesfmcgrath:disqus I don’t know if you were serious about the contradiction part, but I see no contradiction here. The contexts clearly show two different situations. In Matthew 12:30, Jesus was pointing out that no one could enter a strong man’s (Satan’s) house and seize his goods unless he had the power to bind the strong man. The false charge on the part of the Pharisees prompted the warning about sin against the holy spirit, since it was by God’s spirit that Jesus expelled the demons, and in speaking against this work, the Pharisees were not merely expressing hatred of Jesus but were speaking against the evident demonstration of God’s holy spirit. “He that is not on my side is against me, and he that does not gather with me scatters.” The Pharisees clearly are against Jesus, demonstrating themselves to be Satan’s agents. They are scattering Israelites away from him.

    In Luke 9:49-50 its discussing that how some who did not accompany Jesus Christ when he was on earth, but showed by their actions that they were ‘on his side’ and would not quickly be joining those that would oppose him. This was the situation with a certain man who expelled demons on the basis of Jesus’ name, evidently having been empowered by God to do so. John and others concluded that this man should be stopped, as he was not accompanying them. But Jesus said: “Do not try to prevent him, for there is no one that will do a powerful work on the basis of my name that will quickly be able to revile [literally, speak badly of] me.” (Mr 9:38-40) At the time Jesus made this statement the Jewish congregation still had divine recognition and the establishment of the Christian congregation was yet future. (Mt 16:18) Also, Jesus did not require that all believers follow him bodily. (Mr 5:18-20) Therefore, the performance of powerful works by a Jew, one of God’s covenant people, on the basis of Jesus’ name would have been a proof that this man had divine favor. However, as soon as the Christian congregation was established, individuals desiring God’s favor had to be associated with it as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @twitter-15995540:disqus, would Deuteronomy 7:1-2 not represent a command to kill everyone of a particular “ethnicity” and “religion” – allowing for the problems with applying those terms to that different historical and cultural context?


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