Dear Internet, Thanks For Ordaining Me For the Low Low Price of $47: Reflections on Community

Dear Internet, Thanks For Ordaining Me For the Low Low Price of $47: Reflections on Community September 12, 2011

In June, my pastoral residency came to an end.  For the past two years, my pastoral license found its validity in the denomination of that church.  But upon leaving, my license expired.  Certainly there are worst things in life, but my issue was that I had already committed to two weddings!  I began to panic when the legal dots connected.

But then the rescue I needed came forth: the Internet.  The World Wide Web fixes all fixable situations when a problem presents. All one has to do is simply “Google it” and everything typically works out fine.  What’s the name of that actor from “One Tree Hill?”  How do you clean a pan when boiled grease is stuck to its surface?”  Who sang that song from the late nineties that wont pop out of my head?  You know… that one tune: “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.” For all these answers and more, Google.

So I Googled to my hearts content.  Get ordained for free!  Ordinations for all 50 states.  Perform weddings. These headlines kept me disappointed until I found what might be the only somewhat professional looking evangelical organization* that ordains.  Something within me refused to get certified by either: a) an organization that had “American” in the title, b) an organization that conflicted with core Christian values.

When my online transaction finished processing, I began to wait eagerly for my ordination pack to show up in my P.O. Box.  And let me tell you… what a glorious pack it was!  Not only did I get a full-size certificate of ordination and a pocket version, but the organization also sent a “letter of good standing!” I’m officially in good standing with a group of people whom I never met.  I’m the real deal… for the first time in my life, I can say that I’m an ordained minister of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – to Him be the glory!  And, for the low, low, cost of $47, you can be too.

But this begs a question.  Why is it that an Internet organization can ordain me for ministry?  Do they know me? No.  Did they lay hands on me to commission and inaugurate my commitment to life-long ministry? No.  Are they a community of faith that I can look to for deep support? No.  They are an extension of the World Wide Web.  They are not my community.

Having involved myself with blogging for a few years now, I’ve wrestled with what I believe about a theology of community. Can true community happen online? Well, before we can answer that question, another question matters: What are some characteristics of Christian community?

The New Testament gives us a beautiful and messy picture of authentic community.  The early church committed herself to the breaking of bread, prayer, fellowship, and the Apostles’ teaching.  In such an environment, the many “one another” passages of the Scriptures were carried out.  The community of faith was a place to be known and to know others. It was a value of participating in a common story and together discerning what that meant for their lives.  As they did so, it became evident that each person had something to contribute to the well-being of the local church and to the culture around it.

As they chose – to love each other, to love those in the margins, to pray and see the sick healed – the world took notice.  As they reflected the reign of God together, true community happened. If I were to summarize my theology of community, it would be: Authentic relationships guided by love can change the world.

Many characteristics of Christian community can indeed be aided online.   We certainly can get to know people through the Web.  Many readers and fellow bloggers are indeed part of my formation and community experience in a deep way. My friend Dan Martin recently wrote about this in a piece called “The Church Virtual,” which demonstrates this reality.  However, I fear with the emergence of Internet church campuses, blogging, podcasts, and the vast resources for Christian experiences accessible from any desk in the world; that if we are not careful, Christian community will fade like a fad.

A primary metaphor for Christian community in the New Testament is “the body of Christ.”  Related to this stands the reality of Christ’s incarnation.  As John says: “…the Word took on flesh.”  Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s impossible to be “incarnational” through a disembodied communication medium.  This is not to say that what happens online can’t make a positive impact in people’s enfleshed situations (if so, I blog in vain!), but that nothing replaces the flesh and blood experience of the body of Christ.

Someday I hope to have a community that will “ordain” me as their pastor (and hopefully it won’t cost $47!).  But what matters more, is that I want to experience flesh and blood community right now.  As I write and interact on the Web, I continue to find that many of your stories and ideas contribute to conversations I have with my local community. I hope that my blog serves that function for my readers as well.  The greatest joy I could have is knowing that what I write is stimulating thoughts and inspiring reflection on how your community will continue to join God’s mission in your local city and world.  The Web serves as a wonderful supplement for community, but if it replaces enfleshed relationships, we may need to reevaluate our Kingdom priorities.




*I’m grateful that online ordination exists for situations like I found myself in. The folks at Christian Discipleship Ministries were kind when I had questions to ask them on the phone.  They said, “God ordains, we just provide legal paperwork.”  If you find yourself in need of a way to be able to marry folks, but are not currently a pastor, I highly recommend them to you.

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  • Kurt, I share your ambivalence about some of the online experience’s effect on community, and I completely affirm the need for fellowship with believers you can look in the eye and take in your arms.  Just remember that ordination of the form that contains certificates and licenses is really itself an intersection between the fallen kingdoms of this world, and church language.  If a community chooses one or more individuals to lead it in ministry, what does that actually mean to the readers & holders of bits of parchment anyway?

    • Notice that being “ordained” is is quotes when I describe it about myself at some time in the future.  Ordination here was solely for the reason of being able to sign a marriage document.

      • Jidian

        Good thoughts about Internet vs. community.

      • Don’t mean to suggest you did the “wrong” thing, Kurt.  What you bought was the permission to marry friends.  What you might not have known is that in the State of California, anybody, minister or not, can pay a fee to the state to be “deputized” to conduct a specific marriage ceremony.  Check out this link:

        I learned this when some friends of mine (not believers) flew into CA and chartered a yacht to be married on the SF Bay…invited a bunch of us, had a close friend with no spiritual training or credentials of any kind officiate, and were legally married.

        You (and the company you paid) are right that it is God who “ordains” (I would say rather that God calls and his assembled people commission or ordain, but that’s partly just semantics).  And hey, you and I both know we’re *all* called to minister Jesus’ gospel and the Father’s reconciliation…and there’s no special ordination to that except maybe baptism.

        If I were in your shoes I might have hesitated to contribute to the profit of a somewhat-questionable enterprise, but that’s the only real concern I might have had.  It certainly doesn’t get my knickers in a twist to know you chose differently.

        Blessings bro!

        • @dwmtractor:disqus … I read the this on a website talking about the California “Deputy for a day” program:

          NOTE: The deputization is for just one ceremony for one couple at
          just one location at a specific time. Religious wording is not allowed
          during the ceremony.”

          Thats why I went ahead with online ordination.  Add to that the hasstle of going to the county office and waiting in the long lines that lead to nowhere and waste so much time.  I’d rather pay a little money and know that no matter what I could say what I wanted and do as many marriages as I wanted.

          anyway… have a good one my friend!

    • Tim Archer

      Someone pointed out to me not long ago that the church experiences many problems because it allows the State to be involved in the sacrament of marriage. Glad they don’t get to decide who is really baptized and who isn’t.

  • Very thought provoking, an excellent piece, thankyou.  So how do those who are not known in a community be Church?  Those whom we do not wish to know, those who are outsiders looking in?

    Mr CatOLicck

  • Clark Bailey

    I know someone who “ordained” someone over the phone whom they had never met. I thought that was insanity to me.

  • JM Smith

    “God ordains, we just provide legal paperwork.” 

    I like that. I’ve done a half-dozen weddings, but the couples had to go to a Justice of the Peace beforehand to do a quick “legal” ceremony. I didn’t know there was a group out there that had this mindset, but I may have to look into them, as I’m not ordained by my denom (UMC).

  • I don’t have a problem with “internet ordination” or “internet licensing.”
    Only God truly ordains.  And only the government licenses.  God never did, nor does He now need a certificate to ordain anyone.  The government gives license without regard to God.  A license and/or “legal” ordination is totally an issue of the state, providing certain rights and privileges to individuals, such as hospital and prison visitation, and rights to perform marriage.  They don’t need to know me, or know my “heart.”
    You can be God-ordained, AND be licensed by the state.  OR you can have one without the other.
    SO, if the government wishes to give those privileges to whomever, that’s fine with me.  If someone gets an online ordination so they can visit hospitals, perform weddings, etc., why not?My only concern is that we’re careful not to confuse what God does IN an individual with what the state does FOR an individual.For the record, I too had a “church” ordination until I left institutionalized religion.  Now I have one from online.

  • Nikki

    I for one am grateful for the resource! 

    Did you ever get a chance to search for the Christian communities that reject the state’s authorization of their marriages?  They are married in the eyes of God during religious ceremonies, but refuse to be legally married.  I’m thinking that’s just a little too radical for my intended to agree to, but I can relate.

    • @6ab47acf05b70f1d25c786b03623b9c3:disqus ! yes, can’t wait to get you and Brandon hitched!  But no, I didn’t get a chance to find out about that community… I could understand what they are saying… but if we are going to pay taxes anyway… why not get the benefits gained from being married?  Now, if they refuse taxation as well… then that view might be a bit more consistent… not with Jesus’ words in Luke 20, but consistent in thought patterns.

    • Steve

      I once spoke to a Pastor in a University town in the UK.  He told me it was quite common for couples in his church to go to their home towns and get married in a civil service with their families and then return a few days later for him to marry them in church.  He said that he always counselled them that they weren’t properly married before God until he said so in the church service and so they weren’t to sleep together in the interim!

      He also said he was uncomfortable doing it the other way round (church service first, civil ceremony a few days later) “just in case”.  In case of what, I never discovered.

  • We can ordain you tomorrow night, Kurt. 😉

    • @f10d247a5f7425c7996425db2ddf34eb:disqus … if I was going to be ordained for “reals” I sure would hope folks like you and Nikki and the rest of the gang would be part of it!

  • Here is the monkey wrench in the works question–and based on a point raised with “and hopefully it won’t cost $47!”

    Purchasing an ordination is called simony. It is something we are supposed to be against.  

    • So @d13e3dc0c015bca909939895d85f202d:disqus … should I have let the empire win?  I do not count this as my real ordination… that was also the point.  I had to use this to meet a legal obligation, not a spiritual one.

    • Also, to be ordained was free.  the cost was the processing fee, materials, and shipping.

  • I’ve often thought about taking a look at the online church services, mainly out of curiosity. But my fear is that if I enjoy it, there goes any hope for me actually caring about finding a church at all. One thing I do love about online interaction is the ability to interact anywhere with anyone. One of the things I really crave in a church community is a small group of people to argue and debate ideas over, and online groups have provided that in ways that a small group at church never has for me.

  • One of things I love the most about Sacramental Christianity (besides the deeper reality it makes present) is that it requires that everyone be in the same physical space. I felt this way as an Anglican and I still do as a Catholic. I can always watch a sermon or a prayer service or even the Liturgy of the Hours (which I love, BTW) online, but I have to show up to participate fully in the Eucharist.

    Great post, Kurt. And I love the photo.

  • Have you been following Tony Jones’s series on marriage?

    His latest post relates directly to your post – challenging stuff to us who perform the dual function in officiating weddings (state and church ‘stamp of approval’):

  • Rev. Jimmy Smith
    Get Ordained Online