Cody Ramer

Can the Church be Better Than Your Internet Friends?

Cody Ramer
Can the Church be Better Than Your Internet Friends?

Our present world is growing increasingly anxious over the idea that we are not our authentic selves, and the best response might come from the community found in the local church.

I understand if this may sound too simple. The alarming sense of self-alienation due to modern technology and our appropriating mass culture looks a little too complicated for steepled buildings and Sunday School classes. How is it, then, that the Church, thousands of years and miles removed from its ancient origins, can offer a shelter of authentic joy in today’s technology-driven world? The answer, I believe, rests in how the Christian notion of service profoundly impacts the friendships formed in the local church. Furthermore, the Christ-centered love shared amongst believers and driven by the Holy Spirit provides insight beyond the capabilities of technology.

Service and Worship

The word “service” often encourages many different thoughts. Public service may come to mind,  service at a restaurant, or needing to get your car serviced. Though these particular instances of the word “service” come from a variety of backgrounds, they all have this in common: the object of service is not the one doing the serving, but the one being served. Within the Christian faith, service always has at least one persistent object, God.

If our notion of serving other people fails to include orienting ourselves towards God, we fail to serve others truly.  To this point, the often quoted Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (NASB). Service, then, in the Christian sense, necessarily denotes worship. While Paul calls us elsewhere to count others more valuable than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), we can only do so if we see ourselves as not only loving the people in front of us, but serving and worshipping God Himself in order to truly love others.

How, specifically, does this affect the information and insight shared amongst church-going Christians? Any teaching, guidance, or advice shared amongst Christians ought to be done with both reverence for God and esteem for a friend. United in Christ’s love, Christians obedient to scripture’s  charge find discipleship and material care for one another a priority above personal gain, just as Christ Himself devoted His life to compassion towards all, regardless of circumstance or standing. We find, then, that the Christian way of relating to the world entails a radical sincerity which seeks to give not only care and guidance, but creates and invigorates friendships. Because God loves all people deeply and at all times, God calls Christians at all times to love others in worship of Him. In this way, any information or insight, from how to deal with pain and suffering to how to change a flat, should be given in a friendly and honoring way.

Christian Insight Versus Technological Insight

In “The Question Concerning Technology,” Martin Heidegger describes modern technology in relation to the individual in terms of “standing reserve.” This relationship, in every way different from the Christian idea of friendship driven by worship, operates as technology always waiting to reveal the world in ready and precise information. The essence of modern technology, then, is calculative. Read through Heidegger, all of our typical daily uses for technology, from simple Google searches to making our coffee, declare the glory of immediate gratification. In comparison with the oft-given biblical commission to search out the difficulties of life and the things we are yet to know through prayer and discipleship, technology offers us immediate and supposedly exact solutions to the complex human issues.

In direct contrast to our modern dependency on technology, the New Testament highlights the day-to-day importance of worship-driven community. Willingly, the early Church gave up material belongings to “share all things in common” (Acts 4:32, 2:44)—not on the basis of a precise ideology or with the knowledge of an immediate and exact reward, but on the basis of their common worship. And we know that they, and the modern Church as well, share not only in caring for one another materially, but share as partakers of the immaterial gospel. As co-heirs with Christ, Christians share not only in the resources of the Church, but in the wisdom of God.

For this reason, the sharing of information—particularly wisdom, guidance, and understanding, often imparted through discipleship—amongst local church bodies is fundamentally different than the same insight gained through technology. While the Internet might be able to offer tips on how to be a better friend or eleven ways to a less selfish life, the information lacks both the aroma and effectiveness of human companionship. At a fundamental level, when many of us seek guidance, we are also implicitly seeking to be loved.

Thinking of companionship this way, one might consider the Church not only as an instrument of furthering and declaring God’s glory in the world, but one of the tools by which the Spirit sanctifies believers. Christians learn about how to live through discipleship. Christians learn about their place in the world—the lowness of being frivolous and vain, and yet, of their impossible responsiblity as men and women in God’s image and as stewards of grace—through serving others. And these insights occur best within God’s plan for community: the local church.

In these ways, the local church equips humanity with the tools to resist the appropriating nature of technology. In deed and in word, technology lacks the ability to love. But the love shared amongst Christians, first found in Christ, shows works otherwise utilitarian or pragmatic to be worshipful. Though technology can unite humanity across the world in the form of social media, the Church, united by God’s love, brings together men and women from every tribe and tongue over Christ’s body, broken for us, and His blood, poured out for us.

Technology heightens our need for love: We scroll social media when we’re alone, searching for acceptance and for answers in idleness. The Church, in contrast, unites people in and with purpose. We attend the services, the Bible studies, and the home groups to worship God, and we leave with the common purpose of continuing our worship in the world by loving others. Through the time its members share with one another, the Church organically generates conversations about jobs, connections, and personal interests, as well as about wisdom, understanding, and God’s will. But in all of this, God’s Spirit gives, through His Church, the love that each of us craves and that our relationship with technology lacks.

Cody is a churchman and a student of literature and philosophy. He is driven by a desire to see the divine and the beautiful in the midst of the earthly, especially in writing and in music.