I had to think about this for a bit, but history agrees with me: media has contributied to (and oftentimes accelerated) the disembodiment of those things we consider “spiritual” and those things we consider “life.”
We look at the term Christian and some see it as a form of language, style of dress, political views, or even just the signifiers of people based on a common location and behaviors on a few days a week. Some see it as all of the above. When the phrase Christian was termed, its was first a slander for a sect within Judiasm who happended to also be persecuted physically, economicaly, and socially. Peter took this title and used it as a point of empowerment (1 Peter 4:16).
From then on, it would seem that the early church saw it as connection – a unity defined by love for one another, demonstrated as love for their world that effectively preached the hope of reconciled unity with God. Location was only part of it. Behaviors were a contentious part of it. They maintained an identity not because of location or behaviors though, they thrived because they werent limited by either. There were various contact points, the Scriptures, letters from disciples and other community/church leaders, meetings places, and events. These were Christians, ever being pushed, pursued, and transformed. Constantly finding their place within layers of life, defining themselves by a layer of a life that reaches beyond.
A recent artilce from CNN throws some fuel onto the discussion. The author postulates that while remembering the democracy and effective changing of the world by the printing of the King James Bible is good, we should also be calling to question whether we have been as present with the faith (as a Body) as the technology has allowed us to be. To borrow from several streams of discussion over the past weeks: are we Christians because of what we do, or because of whom we are connected to?
A person noted on Twitter (and several retweeted) that they disagree with the title and conclusion of that CNN piece. I can see how they might disagree with the title, it takes a strong and pecular-to-the-age kind of faith to agree with the point that a technology is stripping the leaves off of what we might have defined as “Christian” for several generations. However, the fact of the matter is that efforts like YouVersion, BeRemedy, Jesus.net, the Lausanne Global Conversatioins sites, and thousands of others are making the conclding statement of that article a point that has to be understood as an implication to those efforts:
…When Bible study can be done on Facebook as easily as in the church basement, and a favorite preacher can teach lessons via podcast, the necessity of physically gathering each week in the same place with the same people turns remote. Without a doubt, this represents a new crisis for organized religion, a challenge to think again about what it means to be a “body” of believers.
You cannot give people personal access to the Bible (or any tome of knowledge) without it later redefining their relationship to it and to others. If we do not understand this, but hold onto models of Christianity which are imperial/behavioral, then we are the worst hypocrites – plunging digital behaviors into a box they don’t fit, constraining a faith that was never meant to fit in a box (Exodus 20, John 4:21-24).
Lives that are unified (John 17:20-26) and knit by love (Deut. 6:4-8) and identified by love for one another (John 13:34-35) preach the Gospel. The CNN article says as much in that conclusion, as we should all be saying with our endeavors in this digital faith space.
So then, where is the Body? Is it cloistered on this mountain or that mountain (John 4:19-24)? Or, is it knowable by a select few (Mark 6:1-3) and therefore found only in specific social contexts? Or, is it identified only by a certain association (Mark 9:38-40) that’s unable to be recognized unless it runs with the clique? Or, is it Body that speaks to the one who saves (John 17:1-10) that connects where-ever, influencing a world how-ever, espousing the same message (1 John 4:2) no matter the context?
To the discussion that the CNN piece raises, we’ve got to let go of elements of what we’ve used to define Christian in the past. They were layers then, and hindrances now. The technologies of our time can help push those things away, but we shouldn’t let those contact points define who or where Christians are. A life that connects, lives by love defines the Christian. Were in print and digital faith are those contact points?