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Online Church

By Fr George Adimike

A  proper  understanding  of  the  Church  wrestles  with  historical  and  theological complexities that underscore her nature as a mystery in history. Without going into such complex issues, suffice it to say that fundamentally the Church is about Christ.

Hence a Christless Church is as absurd as a Churchless Christian. In response to the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19, Christian Churches translocated their worship online.

The decision to suspend public religious  assemblies momentarily,  which caused discontentment and confusion to many Christians, offered some a needed alibi  to  attenuate  the  value  of  Sunday  worship  assembly.

They  questioned  the rationale  behind  the  insistence  on  Sunday  worship  attendance  since  technology provides an alternative way of worshipping. Consequently, the weakness of the faith of  some  Christians  became  evident  in  their  positions.

They  argued  that  true worshippers worship in Spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23), insisting that religion is in the heart (uka di n’obi) and that the Church needs to adapt to modern development.

These ideas are bandied without an iota of suspicion that they attack the faith from the root, oblivious of the fact that it is impossible to be Church without going to Church. It raises the question of the identity of the Church: what is the Church and when is Church, Church?

From  whatever  perspective  (biblical,  theological,  spiritual,  anthropological, sociological and eschatological), the Church is a body. She is the body and bride of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-14; 2 Cor. 11:2-4; Eph. 5: 22-33); the assembly of believers, the body of the people of God, the temple of the Spirit, a communion. Presence underscores these expressions of bodiliness as an essential factor.

The Church needs real presence to be Church such that being the Church and going to church are not mutually exclusive. From the perspective of spirituality, being and doing are not separated.

It is in doing that being is expressed – going to church is essential to being part of the Church such that absenting oneself from the assembly of the faithful contravenes  God’s law (cf. Heb.10:25).

In that  case, appealing  to the alibi of the Church in the heart manifests extreme lack of knowledge of the corporate nature of the sacred communion, the Church. As the communion of the saved and instrument of  salvation  and  fellowship  with  all  creation,  this  divine  project  serves  man’s ultimate purpose.

The weekly Christian worship, in a special way, demonstrates this corporate nature by our prayer patrimony, “Our Father”, for the Church offers us the opportunity of assuming the filial relationship within fraternal context.

The Church significantly demonstrates human inter-subjectivity. She is always a relationship of “I with You” and the “You” is Christ but since Christ comprises of all he saved, the Church is an encounter of “I” to “totus Christus” (whole Christ) and not “solus Christus” (solitary Christ).

The  “whole  Christ”  is  a  corporate  concept  of  Christ  the  head  with  the faithful. Arguably true, the Church is the most significant possibility of assumption and expression of our identity as humans.

It resonates with the core of our beings expressing both dignity and indigence all at once and letting our poverty encounter the greatness of Christ in whose providence we thrive. In the Church, our brokenness meets our nobility in Christ and submits our poverty to God’s greatness, who by his providence takes over our cares and concerns.

Our self-reserving,  self-referential,  self-congratulating  and  self-idolatrous  obsession makes us feel at the centre of the universe. However, at worship, we begin a journey of self-discovery, which is a real exodus of self-giving that courageously opens us to  the reality of  what  life is and  offers.

It helps  us to see in  the entirety  of  the community  the  meaning  of  communion  in  Christ.  The  gathering  expresses  the human dimension of the Church; the concreteness of the assembly makes it evident that the Church is not just a spiritual reality or amorphous entity not instantiated in‘re’.

Each gathered assembly (the ekklesia of God) is the point of contact that opens up to all other so-gathered communities for the spiritual communion given by God. The disciples gathered in the upper room before the Holy Spirit came upon them and constituted them into a Church (cf. Acts 2).

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The  Church  of  Christ  is  neither  just  an  invisible  spiritual  reality  with  no “fundamentum  in  re”  nor  only  a  visible  physical  entity;  she  is  a  “both  …  and” inclusive  project  of  the  Father.

The  Body  of  Christ  is  a  mystery  symbolically expressed both in spiritual and physical realities with a permanent foundation in Christ  by  the  Spirit.  For  the  Church  to  be  consistent  with  her  symbolic  nature respecting  its  various  ramifications,  she  has  to  be  concretely  present  and encountered.

By way of analogy, since there cannot be a marital act without the physical  presence  of  the  couples  irrespective  of  whatever  assistance  the  digital operation  offers,  so  also  regardless  of  the  digital  support  in  times  of  extreme necessities, there cannot be Church properly so-called without the physical presence

of  the  assembly.  This  concrete  presence  symbolizes  a  mystical  communion.  In consequence, sacraments (Confession, Chrismation, Eucharist, Marriage, etc.) are not administered online.

While digital technology creates new relations, communities and cultural praxis that impact the general cultural practices of a people, these realities are, notwithstanding, offshoots  of  the  existing  cultures.

The  digital  anthropology  is  embedded  in  the science  of  man.  It  cannot  be  disconnected  from  anthropology,  which  funds  its development  in  its  study  of  the  socio-cultural  phenomena  within  the  digital interactive space.

As such, a people’s appreciation of religious worship or sacred mysteries will impact how they treat them relative to the online possibilities. This anthropological disposition funds perspectives and conceptions of faith expression.

Worthy of note is that, as the digital technology offers assistance to physically absent couples to sustain their conjugal love, it will in no way replace the physical presence or diminish its value.

In truth, the online reality sustains the desire for communion, creates  and  raises  their  expectancy,  arouses  their  hunger  for  each  other  as  an appetizer and stirs joy for their physical meeting.

Yet the Internet is never a substitute for  real  presence  in  any  conjugal  relationship,  be  it  between  humans  or  bridal relationship of the Church with Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2-4; Eph. 5:22-33; Rom. 7). How can there be a conjugal relationship without the real presence of the bride; how can there be a Church without the actual presence of the gathered assembly?

In the sacred bridal interconnection with the divine Groom, the assembly becomes the real presence of the bride ready for the encounter with the Groom by the Spirit. This assembly  that  is  a  communion  of  shared  beliefs  and  “becomings”  relives  the experience and whets her appetite for the real stuff on the marriage feast of the Lamb on the last day (cf. Rev. 19:7).

Unfortunately, our desire for autonomy from the authorities does  subtly make us promote online liturgy instead of onsite worship. The member-shopping drive where some target a select number of elite or middle-class faithful, who are religiously faithful to the online offertory, digital tithe and  online harvests, aggravates faith crisis.  Ecco!

The  temptation to  these  can  make  us  not  to  explain  to  people  the difference between the ad hoc and extraordinary online liturgy and the weekly onsite worship. Such a lack of profound Catechesis atrophies the faith of the faithful at the onsite worship.

Properly speaking, going to the Church is like expressing the pilgrimage nature of life. Since life is a journey, then attending Sunday worship puts the inner stir in active mode. It is a refusal to be destitute and deity at the same time.

God, who in his all powerfulness could save humanity by his Word or by willing it alone but chose the human way of encounter (bodily process), wants us to meet. He invites us to meet as a people called by his name (cf. Matt. 18:20).

The Church is, therefore, a mystery  of  corporate  existence,  which  abhors  individualism  or  lone-ranger spirituality.  Finally, faith has both private and public dimensions.

The public aspect not only implicates  the  need  for  public  witnessing  but  also  finds  concrete  expression  in liturgical gatherings of Christ’s faithful by which the Church as a mystical body and community of believers is specially demonstrated.

There is no gain writing it in capital letters to make the point that privatizing the faith can only atrophy or kill it. To see digital connection with faith community, which online worship fosters in the face of the pandemic, as a replacement for the incarnated, mystical and sacramental communion which onsite worship enthrones would play into the hands of those who want  the  demise  of the  Christian  faith.

The Tele-Church  does  not  represent  the ekklesia of Christ and does not suffice for Weekly Eucharist assembly because a Tele-Eucharist fails the Incarnation criteria.

Similarly, there is no ekklesia on the Internet, rather virtual worship can serve as “praeparatio evangelica” and indeed, “logos spermatikos”, seeds of grace that prepare the faithful for an encounter with the whole Christ (totus Christus), which the Sunday liturgical assembly represents.

The reality of the onsite worship spells the nature of the Church such that in the moments  of  emergencies,  online  worship  serves  only  as  a  support  and  not  a substitute.

VANGUARD

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