The Church of Scotland wants to increase membership by letting worshippers attend online. The Presbyterian state church is also considering allowing “access to the sacraments” for people are not “physically present in the congregation.”
It isn’t clear what this would look like. I believe this has been done for communion in other “virtual churches” by streaming the words of institution to consecrate elements in front of your computer. I would think baptism would be harder. Baptism wouldn’t have to be part of a church service anyway, so people could be baptized at home by a pastor or even a layperson, but my impression is that members of a virtual congregation would not like even that much human contact. So can you baptize yourself?
You pastors, if someone were to transfer into your congregation from the Church of Scotland who had an online baptism, would you consider that a valid sacrament?
Even if you draw away from virtual sacraments, do you see any possibilities for online worship, as described here? For shut-ins? For other members? For visitors? Or does online church fall short of the Biblical exhortation to “meet together” (Hebrews 10:25 )?
From John Bingham, Church of Scotland ‘to introduce online baptism’ in bid to boost membership, London Telegraph:
For centuries the key Christian sacraments of baptism and communion have symbolised people coming together in one place.
But under potentially radical plans being considered by the Church of Scotland, the rites could be administered online for the first time in a move to redefine the idea of a congregation in the internet age.
The suggestion, to be debated by members of the Kirk’s decision-making General Assembly which meets in Edinburgh next week, stems from initiatives such as streaming services to enable housebound parishioners to join in despite being unable to be physically present.
A paper presented to members of the General Assembly drafted by the Church’s Legal Questions Committee suggests re-examining issues such as voting rights at congregational meetings to people joining remotely.
But it goes on to argue that it is also time to go further and create what could effectively amount to virtual congregations, by allowing “access to the sacraments” for people are not “physically present in the congregation”.