iCampus – What about the sacraments?

This is a series of responses to questions about an internet campus from a previous series of posts. Do you have any other questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments and I will try to respond to each one. Thanks!

What about the sacraments?

This is a serious question and one of the more significant challenges for an internet campus of a United Methodist congregation. Holy Communion is understood to be a means of grace for United Methodists and should not be ignored. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, encouraged the taking of communion at any opportunity available.

I am not willing to suggest that sacraments could be administered online or remotely in any way. I recognize that others with different understandings of polity and theology will come to different conclusions here, but this is where I am today as a United Methodist. For baptism, I see three possibilities:

  • Internet congregant would travel to a physical campus to be baptized
  • Internet campus pastor would travel to baptize the internet congregant
  • Internet congregant would be baptized at local congregation that was somehow connected to the internet campus (same denomination, pre-arranged plan, etc.)

For holy communion, I would suggest that the internet congregant receive this sacrament in another community of faith close to where she or he is living. Again, some sort of connection to the internet campus would be most desirable.

I recognize that none of these solutions are optimum. However, I do not think that the downsides here would be enough to prevent the possibility to build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.

Without the opportunity to have the “sacraments duly administered” it would not be possible to be defined as a local United Methodist church (2004 Book of Discipline, ¶201). Thus, an internet campus would necessarily be linked with an existing local church.

What do you think about my responses? How would you answer this question?

7 replies on “iCampus – What about the sacraments?”

Here is the limit of online-communities, which in my mind, have community-like characteristics but lack the one primary thing about communities…physical proximity and the ability to stimulate the senses other than sight and sound.

I wonder if on-line “campus” is the appropriate goal. Can it truly be a campus? Or just a virtual, in my imagination place where I can do everything I might do in a church. Can a web site be a means of grace? Absolutely. But it can not ever become a physical place where I am touched and can touch others.

For example, on facebook, or a blog, or other interactive sites, I can communicate, I can offer messages of concern, hope, etc. In this way, the Internet is just a quicker version of the mail, or a printing press. My only real interaction is with my keyboard. Everything else in my mind–I am really interacting with myself and my own emotions, etc. Have you ever gotten an Email where the intended tone was distorted in your own mind? ie. someone typing in all caps and you interact with the emotion in your self that this person is angry. They cannot read your face nor you read theirs. Moreover, you cannot reach out with a reassuring touch, nor they to you. You can communicate ideas, words, and offer messages, but the interaction is limited to what is going on inside of you.

I don’t think this is what is intended in genuiine Christian community. How can then the Internet be used as a means of God’s grace to compel people to come and experience Christian community? Red Lobster can tempt me with photos and descriptions of their tasty plates, but eventually, I will have to go there to taste it for myself. They can’t use the Internet to deliver the smell, touch, and taste of the Endless Shrimp menu. I wonder if the church can really deliver genuine Christian community through the Internet as well.

Is an online presence then really a community or a campus? Or is it a way to compel some to come and experience community on a campus?

Lance – Thank you for your comments. I think that you are absolutely right with the lack of physical presence in an internet campus. What if a small group were to gather together physically to connect with a worship service online?

For an individual connecting by oneself, I do not think that I would want someone’s entire experience of church to be online. I would hope that connecting with a physical community of faith or a small group for discipleship would be the next step.

You raise some good points and appreciate your thoughts. You have helped sharpen my thinking on this topic…

Yes, the group gathering is vital, I think. To view worship is one thing, but for me, the purpose of worship is what Bishop Schnase says is “connecting to God and connecting to others.” (5 practices)

The connecting can be initated online–with discussion boards, etc. But to fully connect is to move beyond words, and includes physical presence.

Thanks for asking the good questions!

I agree completely with Lance’s observations and cautions–the digital world certainly provides opportunities to initiate connections and encourage movement into community (which involves physical proximity, social interaction and holding to seeking common values (though defining the last element is another discussion)).

The two-edged sword of virtual communication, as there are blessings and dangers with all of creation, is that it can fill a need but it cannot fulfill a life. Digital life is for communicating (including communicating caring thoughts); however, we are analog beings made of physical presence, hormones and emotions, and the gestalt that emerges as spirit–this the digital world can complement but not complete community life.

Just me thinking,


Lance – You are welcome. Thanks for your response.

Derek – I appreciate your words “it can fill a need but it cannot fulfill a life.” Very true and a good warning when considering next steps. I appreciate your thoughts…

[…] October 17, 2008 at 8:00 am (ministry, united methodist church) (baptism, internet baptism, internet campus, ministry, online, online baptism, remote, remote baptism, sacraments, united methodist church) While reflecting on the sacraments for an internet campus several weeks ago, I wrote, “I am not willing to suggest that sacraments could be administered online or remotely in any w… […]

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