Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Thou Shalt Not Be Online During Worship"?

Face-booking and Twitter-ing during a worship service? Now that's (surprisingly) a first for me. Text-ing on a mobile during the sermon? Sure. Accessing an i-Bible during the Bible-reading? Why not.

But updating one's online status during the offering and before Communion? Hmm. With a growing percentage of worshippers owning PDAs' and i-Phones and, most importantly, bringing these to church, ignoring the issue would be unwise. Still, loads of reactions in the pipeline.

You can slam it for being disrespectful to God and the church, for invading the sacred with the cyber-secular (and very profane), for not being 'all there' for God, for not being able to give even those 2 hours to the kingdom without being distracted by the world (and its wide-web), for selling our your weekly fellowship with God to the altar of social media cum technology, for being unwilling to shed your worldly baggage to touch the divine, for not, in a word, wanting to worship truly.

Or, you can take an opposite extreme (or, in today's cool-scented parlance, polarity) and say that's what innovation for the kingdom is all about, that's the sacred growing on the secular, that's redeeming FB with the presence of worship (we don't, after all, know what the person is 'doing' on facebook whilst the sermon is on-going), that's 'infecting' technology with the spirit of worship, that's connecting the kingdom with the online community, that's ushering the online community into the Temple of God.

Neither is rock-solid. Who's to say that worshiping in "spirit and truth" (formerly the main criterion of Christian worship now rendered more complex than ever) is forsaken simply because the worshippr is updating his Profile? Conversely, if we can accept face-booking, why not bring in the burgers, the office, the TV and 'worship' at the same time?

Who's to say that unless we follow a precise liturgy we are not worshiping? Since when were all Christians bound by some theology of worship constructed in a specific place (usually continental Europe) at a certain time in the past (usually between the 14th and 16th century)? On the other hand, how would we distinguish a mere social gathering with a gathering of the people of God to worship, since traditional theological categories aren't binding anymore?

How far can technology work itself into the faith before "constructive infusion" becomes "alien invasion"? When does "being connected" become an anti-thesis to connecting with Being?

What will it be? "Thou shalt NOT Twitter during worship"? Or, "Twitter-ers Please Include the Latest Church Announcements"? (Go here for at least one point of view)


Derek L. said...

I've always been against formality in religion. Being religious or being spiritual has always been about how you conduct your life 24x7. It's not about going to church and listening to someone preach for an hour or two, and then going home and being a bitch to your wife. It's not about going to bible study every Monday evening and then being an asshole the other 6 days a week.

As such, I fully support facebooking and twittering during sermons. And yes, bring in the burgers and french fries too! Cos if you're not LIVING your religion 24x7, that one hour in church really isn't gonna make you a better person.

And yeah, I get that there is a respect element involved. And I maintain that you can be fully respectful and 100% engaged with what's going on while munching on a burger.

blogpastor said...

hi Alwyn,

An interesting and relevant post.

There is no way of telling if they are referring to a Bible text in their phone pda or smsing each other, twittering or facebooking or surfing.

Worship is for the gathered people to behold God and hear from Him and a certain inclination of heart is necessary for this.

There is a famine of stillness of heart and silence among worshippers today and I fear that such modern distractions will only perpetuate an already shallow church.

Just one view from the pulpit.

alwyn said...

Derek ~ nice way of putting things (grin) and anyone who cares at all will agree w you about the importance of a 24/7 faith

Kenny ~ I feel almost *every* development can perpetuate either good or bad, either depth of shallowness, e.g. power-points, Bible PDAs', Christian blogs, etc. Very few things are bad 'in themselves', it's how the church and the disciple turns it for good (or the opposite). What do u think? Is there a way to use Facebook during worship 'for the glory of God'?

ph said...

Interesting reflection.

Since you asked, for me the issue isn't so much about form (be that proper liturgical form or traditional rules about do and don't) or formality but about function and purpose.

As one of the comments here makes note "it's not about going to church and listening to someone preach for an hour or two" it is about living. True.

The catch with life though is that it composed of different rhythms and movements, cycles and patterns, ebbs and flows.

Take something as simple as breathing, you can't live by exhaling alone. You need to inhale as well and that (for me) is what worship is about, taking a moment to breathe in the life-giving, grace-filled breath of God.

As a community we are all Gathered in worship (inhaling) and Sent out to the world (exhaling). Both movements are key to the vitality and liveliness of the Church.

I like where you go with the idea of using FB or Tweets to 'connecting the Kingdom with the online community' but view that primary movement and purpose of those technologies as being externally focused and potential means of exhaling . . . something one is better equipped to do only after taking a deep breath in.

There is also the scandal of the Incarnation and a God who was not the Word on paper or on a screen or in the cyber-cloud but the Word made Flesh.

While some postulate about the potential for purely cyber/online worship, again for me, there is something about the basic elements of worship -Bread, Water, Book, (& Other Bodies)- that make manifest the physicality of our God and our Faith in ways that Status Updates and Tweets cannot even come close to communicating. . . but that's a whole 'nother story.

Anonymous said...

I'm a simple person - don't know how to speak using diplomatic and academic terms.

Worship does not mean following a liturgy but it does mean that the time dedicated to corporate worship is just that - DEDICATED.
Must God share that time with others 'gods'? Yes, even if it is to connect to the rest of the Kingdom - an excuse if you ask me! Puhhlease! I wasn't born yesterday and I have been on the internet a long time.

Assuming one is serious about attending classes, would you connect to your frens while in class when the lecturer is teaching? I am talking if you are serious about the course and passing it. Would you connect to your friends when you finally get that date with your dream girl/boy? Would you, as a lecturer, believe a student is really focussed on the lesson, if he is at the same time, connecting to the rest of the world?

Just because it involves new technology does not make it cool or radical. How about doing my pedicure or getting my hair cut, reading comics, doing my homework, writing my love notes, texting my friends (connecting?), during worship. All these can wait - including updating your fb status.
God must come first before His Kingdom. Jesus is our friend but he is also God. I really cannot even imagine putting Him as equal to our fb friends. If you recognise his Kingdom, you need to recognise his Kingship first. He is King - not President. You did not vote for Him. It's not a democracy. He does not have to accept what we dish out and tell ourselves it's OK.

Dedicated - How does the dictionary describe it? Would you twitter during your quiet time?

The medium (new tech) does not make it OK. All the "why nots" I've seen here - are all trying to rationalise.

Yes, it's no use paying 100% attention and then going out to be a ***hole the rest of the week. But it does not validate the reverse. Twittering and fb-ing during service does not guarantee that you won't be ****hole either.
At least, if I listened to the sermon and follow through, I'd probably be less of one.

alwyn said...

Anon ~ I like your phrase, "It's not a democracy" :)

alwyn said...

I know I left my own 'view' out from the original post, so here goes:

If there's an increasing number of folks getting online in the midst of a *traditional* worship service, I'd be (one of?) the first to talk about it on the pulpit i.e. dedication, non-distraction, 'stillness of heart'/rhythms of life (thanks, Peter) and so on. This is because certain categories require specific forms of respect - you don't go boogeying smack in the center of a Chinese funeral(!). That's just disrespectful *for that particular category*.

But this is not to say that I agree entirely w Anonymous about going online as being more or less synonymous with 'non-dedication', non-seriousness and so on. I'm a lecturer and some of my best students are online all the time in class. Are they 100% 'with' me? Probably not. But does this mean they are not learning or not concerned about giving 100% to the course? Definitely not, too. They're "there" which is, really, as good as it gets because not everything I say MUST be paid 100% attention to.

Why don't I stop them and demand that all notebooks be closed? Because I recognise that 'learning' has to be redefined to fit a generation not easily comfy with authority, non-connectedness, formality and such. I recognise that should I 'force' the issue, everyone loses.

So back to tradition and categories. Yes, in a traditional worship to go banging in the notebook in the middle of prayers could be *unnecessarily* jarring, awkward and disrespectful.

But a traditional worship (traditionally) doesn't "smile on" a whole lot of other things too:

a) a sermon in drama form
b) multi-directional discussions as part of the sermon
c) seating arrangement in banquet style
d) a non-robed pastor!? :>)
e) drums (for some churches)
f) energetic 'concert-style' worship (for some churches, again)
g) speaking in tongues! (AOG yes, non-AOG no!)

The point is, again, a traditional worship has its own 'categories' which, yes absolutely, has to be respected. The issue then becomes whether or not traditional worship is the ONLY 'category' of worship worth doing/living/performing?

E.g. a 'faith-community' of Christians in Ireland called IKON gather on a Friday night in a pub to talk, connect, trade FB links, read poems, sing hymns, listen to messages and pray together. Spontaneously. No liturgy. No pastor. But this is the only 'church' they have. Sure I know more than a few who will state that what IKON is doing is NOT 'worship' but is that their problem or ours? Are we contented to judge or can we work a little harder to take some adaptive-learning points for home?

So that's the question back in the court. Is "traditional worship" the only category/form worth doing business with?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous here.

It has nothing to do with what form of worship. Worship is worship - what I am saying does not apply to other gatherings - the pub, the cell, the whatever other names gatherings can carry.

You hit the nail on its head when you said your students are probably not paying attention fully when they are online during your lecture. BUT the major difference is that
a) you are not God
b) they are not there to worship you.
c) they are on the receiving end during your lecture, in worship God is on the receiving end (but a the end, we receive too - strange isn't it.)

In worship, it's not about you (the worshipper). It's about HIM. We sing the song but our self centred self still doesn't get it. Just 1-2 hours a week is all He asks of our time - even that we cannot give fully? Some even complain that it's unfair for Him to expect that time that He is first given us.

And so we turn around and tell him - "Hey, I go online - it's is for your Kingdom, you know. You should be happy."

I just even see that dotted line between worship and other forms of gatherings, discussions, studies, etc, etc. What is OK during those other types of functions is not OK during worship. And the sermon and all the other didly-dos are part of worship - I know some may not agree with me, I know.

Anonymous said...

Oops : Typo
"I just even" should have read "I just cannot even"

alwyn said...

Thanks for the thots, Anon.

"What is OK during those other types of functions is not OK during worship" - good topic for an Adult Bible Study workshop? ;>)

Derek L. said...

Speaking of being online in church...