Sometimes, when I think about modern technology’s incredible impact on all of life, I’ve wondered: can we live out our Christian faith relying on technology instead of meeting face-to-face? Put another way: can we obey the New Testament’s emphasis on community without prioritising meeting in-person together, in both smaller and larger settings? Do digital means of speaking to each other remove the need for physically meeting together?
Can we live out our Christian faith relying on technology instead of meeting face-to-face?
Technology is both important and unavoidable. It makes life easier, in countless ways. But are we missing something? We judge people based on their social media posts. We relate to each other, even considering people we’ve never met to be friends. From celebrating happy events to crying over losses, much of our interaction is now online. We deploy the vast array of emojis in an effort to convey feeling. And the Christian community is not that different, in this regard. We’ve created virtual Christian communities, offering church online and speaking about digital discipleship.
Looking at Acts 2:42-47, in this article I’ll argue that these digital and disembodied means of community are radically unlike the early Christians. If we rely too heavily on technology to mediate our relationships and discipleship we’ll forfeit fellowship. Community is so much more than merely connecting online and through screens.
The Early Christians were Meaningfully Connected
The early Christians shared their homes and lives, not merely highlight reels.
Acts 2:42-47 is a description of the early Christians’ community. Luke uses the present continuous tense (“continuing”) to show the life of the early church (Acts 2:42, 46). Thus Luke isn’t describing some fleeting moment, but a way of life among early Christians. They were connected, sharing each other’s lives rather than merely liking each other’s posts. They shared their homes and lives, not merely highlight reels. If we’re going to live according to our Christian tradition, consistent with the Bible and our faith through the ages, we must resist the urge to move everything online.
Luke records: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common. They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
True Community Means Truly Knowing
Online is rarely who we truly are. It’s all posture and portrait, less person.
The passage starts by saying: “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). This devotion shows steadfastness, going in one direction despite difficulties, endurance, remaining firm. The early Christians were seriously committed to the apostolic teaching. Devoted. Unwavering. This raises an important question: can we witness to the life of someone solely through social media? Through a screen? Are these small windows into another’s life really enough to truly testify to one another’s devotion and commitment? Let me ask these questions differently: how much of a person do you really know, relying on technology and their well-tailored online image?
If we long to know one another to the extent that we can testify to their faith, we need much more than digital spaces or devices. In order to witness to each other’s devotion we must meet together, regularly. We need to connect, personally. This requires coming together, physically.
I can remember a preacher saying: ‘If you want to know who I am, ask my family.’ In a way, this is true. Most people are their fullest selves at home. This is who we are. By contrast, we can be anyone we want to be using social media. Online is rarely who we truly are. It’s all posture and portrait, less person. The more time we spend with people, the more familiar we become with who they truly are.
Real Fellowship Happens in the Flesh
The passage continues to say that they devoted themselves to “fellowship.” Fellowship shows community. Sharing of life as Christ’s people, to connect both spiritually and physically. This is expressed in their “breaking of bread and prayer” in the temple courts, sharing with the needy. The early Christians shared their lives with each other. They gave their time, concern, and energy. And they did it in-person.
The early Christians gave their time, concern, and energy to each other.
We must do the same. We are to share communion and pray together. How can we share with the needy among us (James 2:15-16), if we aren’t gathering? As the early Christians met physically, we are to congregate as a community (see Hebrews 10:25).
Of course, we can do some of these things virtually. But others are complicated, even impossible. At the risk of being too obvious: we can’t have communion or eat together online. Furthermore, sitting behind my screen it’s easy to either hide my own wealth or ignore the needy around me. But when we visit each other it becomes harder to deny financial gaps or serious need and suffering.
Technology has Limited Benefits
In conclusion, I’m not denying the many benefits of technology. Nor am I suggesting we shouldn’t utilise it. However, it shouldn’t replace our physical meetings because it cannot create meaningful community. Meeting in-person to share our lives is where we can properly witness to each other’s lives. It’s how we can be increasingly devoted to fellowship. May the Lord give us the grace to meet and to do so often.