What is the “electronic church”? If you turn on your TV, you will find a variety of religious broadcasting, from Roman Catholic masses to traditional Presbyterian services to charismatic talk shows. Some of these programs are rather amateurish local broadcasts of local worship services. Others are sophisticated and expensive programs syndicated all over the world. Some of these programs are produced by honest, earnest people trying to be helpful to others. Others seem to have questionable messages and methods. In one sense, all these programs are part of the electronic church.
Usually, though, “electronic church” is used to refer to those programs distributed beyond a single local area and supported by the contributions of viewers. For the purposes of this article, the “electronic church” will refer to any TV broadcast that becomes a central part of the religious experience and practice of its viewers.
My concern here is to argue that the electronic church at its best can only be a religious supplement in the life of the Christian. There are indeed many useful supplements for Christians today, including Christian bookstores, radio stations, and a host of local, national and international organizations for various educational, evangelistic and welfare goals. But the purpose of this article is to maintain that all those supplements must remain subordinate to and supportive of the Christian’s commitment to the local church.
The necessity of the local church is clearly taught in Scripture and is indispensable for the Christian life. Before we critique the idea of an “electronic church,” we should understand the nature of the institutional church.
The Institutional Church
God has a great redemptive purpose in the world. He intends to save a people from the judgment and wrath to come and has sent his son, Jesus, into the world to fulfill all righteousness and to die for sinners that such people might be redeemed. God’s saving work, however, is not concerned with individuals in isolation. Rather, God is redeeming a people whom he calls the Body of Christ, the church: “And God placed all things under [Jesus’] feet and appointed him to be head over everything in every way.” (Eph 1:22-23)
What is this church about which the Scriptures speak so highly? In the Bible, the word “church” is used in two ways. The first meaning refers to the universal or organic church-all believers in all times who are united to each other and reconciled to God by their union with Christ. The second usage refers to the institutional expressions of that universal church.
Many Christians today seem to assume that all God requires is a relationship to the universal church that occurs automatically for the believer. In other words, it is often said that “the church is people.” Hence, belonging to the church means belonging to Christ, not to an institution. That, however, is not true. The Bible is clear that Christians are also required to be part of the institutional church’s life, particularly the life of the local church, which God himself has brought into being and structured by his Word.
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