This last week I received a newsletter from someone who was encouraged by a so-called 'internet church'. This comment was made:'Almost every night a zealous Christian has meetings with his "internet church". Scores of his members come on line at the same time; they can see him as he teaches the Bible and prays with people. Unbelievers also come and he answers their questions. He is planning soon to celebrate Holy Communion with his members. He will explain who is eligible to partake in the sacrament and then following his instructions, all will share in the bread and wine together'.
How do you react when you read this? This comment regarding the 'internet church' raises questions as to 'what is a church?'; 'who is eligible to be a Christian minister?'; and 'what are the marks of a true church?'. The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to his disciples and he explicitly told them: 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Matthew 16:18). One of the confusing things at the moment is that many groups of people use the word 'church' but they may not meet the biblical requirements to justify the name 'church'.
The Reformers had to contend with this matter due to the rampant falsehood and idolatry that was flourishing (and still does) within the Roman Catholic Church. They argued for three marks to identify a true church. These marks are:
1. The preaching of pure doctrine, that is heard and loved.
2. The right administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper).
3. A well-ordered and disciplined church (and this includes a biblical pattern of church government).
The necessity of a reformed confession was seen as vital for the ministers to adhere to, be trained by, and to uphold, the Apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42). It may be easy to set up an 'internet church' but what is the doctrine of such a preacher, what are his doctrinal standards that he adheres to, and who examines him to see if he is qualified to teach the people of God?
With respect to administering the Lord's Supper, it is requisite for elders to examine people and not just to leave it to an individual's conscience. What then of baptism for an internet church? Will these internet leaders get people to baptise themselves? To do such a thing would be heretical. God sends men, in the flesh and though we may benefit from the internet, the internet is not a church. We worship a personal God and personal relationships within a living community of the people of God is the plan of the Triune God. Regarding the third mark of the church, how can a radio-pastor, or an internet-pastor administer church discipline? It is safe to conclude that the whole idea of an 'internet church' is on a slippery foundation and it is indeed not a biblical idea. If these things are not clear then, let us pray and ask the Lord to help us all by the grace of God.
Let all things be done decently and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:40.