We could digitize and codify baptismal records. That way, only certified Christians can use this ‘Christians-only’ internet. We can establish standards for when someone backslides…kind of like points on your driver’s license. Accumulate enough points and one has to exit the ‘online universal church’ and perform penance to be allowed back in. We can anoint online priests to hear confessions and pronounce absolution for said sins. Of course, some sins are worse than others. A plagiarist can expect their penance to be based on being honest and responsible. A spouse abuser can expect their penance to be about peacemaking and ‘giving things to the Lord’. We can have different nodes within the Christians-only internet, this ‘online universal church’. We can have a node for loving God with your mind, where learning is emphasized and the intricacies of creation are praised. We can have a node for ethics, where the conundrums of life are explored and debated. And, we can have a special node for ‘core beliefs,’ an ‘Essentials’ corner for you Wesley fans.
Of course, who gets to decide what is essential? The Christians-only internet would definitely have to be hierarchical…a virtual episcopal system. Unity in essentials, Liberty in non-essentials and Charity in All is a great rule. But eventually one has to decide what is and isn’t essential. Is it possible to establish an ‘essentials’ list can doesn’t eliminate some current Christians? Do I have to believe in the Virgin Birth, or a literal translation of Genesis 1? What if I do well on following Matthew 25, but poorly on following Matthew 28? What about those who are living out the gospel, even though they don’t ‘believe right’? Is there a portal whereby they can participate in the ‘online universal Church’? Even the Temple had a courtyard for the Gentiles.
What if I am unsure about hell? Is there a ‘discernment’ node where one can reside for a time while figuring things out? What about when someone discovers something that doesn’t jive with what others think are essential? Is there a ‘love you anyway’ node for those who can disagree but still love others?
Where would Rob Bell fit? I find his NOOMAs to be interesting, if a little sappy. But I have no problem with a pastor wondering out loud about hell. Is there a node in the online universal Church where Rob and I can just coexist?
This is why we need a Christians-only internet: so that we can disagree in a way that is more gracious and Christ-like than many of our current ‘open-internet’ options. A Christians-only internet would eliminate the public disgrace that is the current debate over Rob Bell’s upcoming book.
Regarding Rob Bell, I have no problem with what he is alleged to have said or written. What I have a problem with is Christians taking him apart over the Internet. HOW we behave on this matter is important to our collective public witness. Who wants to be part of a group that’s always fighting among themselves?
For me, it began with a tweet, a simple critique of Mr. Bell’s “non-answers” in an interview with Martin Bashir of MSNBC. A little research of comments reveals that Mr. Bashir himself is a Christian. I could not have guessed that by watching the interview. Then there are those defending Mr. Bell at the expense of Mr. Bashir’s reputation. Of course, the Internet is a public forum, and that is the point. Some things are better done in private. As it is all parties are playing the part. And now everyone seems to have an opinion.
We have plenty of problems. And we need to debate and perhaps even argue over the core tenets of our faith. But how and where are BOTH very important. We need conversation, not confrontation. We need dialog not diatribe. Our public image need not be perfect, but it ought to be characterized by grace, compassion, hope and ultimately, unity.
Jesus taught us to go directly to people who sin and deal with the matter privately. I’m not even saying that Rob Bell has sinned. I probably agree with him on this matter. (I haven’t read the book, so I’ll withhold judgement.) The sermon on the mount includes a chapter 6,where the hard work of faith is done privately. In that chapter, the topics are alms giving, praying and fasting. I wonder if one can extend the logic of that teaching to how the Christian community is to act. Debating heaven, hell and everything in-between is part of the hard, interior work of the community of God. So perhaps we need a forum where we can do that without sacrificing the public integrity of the church, a Christians-only Internet where we can connect and have at it. The current option seems to hurt only us.