Metaverse Church & the Necessity of the Body

Last month I wrote an article called Livestreaming, Metaverse Services, & the Dangers of Digital Gnosticism & Transhumanism (catchy, right?). In that post, I argued that we can rightly rejoice in the technology that makes livestreaming possible, but we must also keep in mind that it does not replace the physical gathering of God’s people each week. I only briefly mentioned metaverse church services as essentially functioning like a more interactive way to livestream a service, so the same basic thought applies to both. Recently, however, I read a news article from Euronews that has led me to writing this follow-up article.

I suppose I should begin with this admission: I have a gut-level hesitancy toward the very idea of a virtual reality church service. I would imagine that many would agree with me. However, if a metaverse service was treated as livestreaming ought to be (that is, as a way of ministering to those who cannot gather physically but by no means as being equal to the physical gathering), then I do not see any reason why churches should not take advantage of that particular technology. Any given technology can be used well or used sinfully. Let us keep in mind that making bricks is not a sin but making the tower of Babel certainly was. Thus, despite my reservations, I can see metaverse services being used as a more interactive way of livestreaming when forced to be apart from the physical gathering of brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, I believe that metaverse services could be used well by churches.

Virtual Reality Ekklesia?

Sadly, that does not appear to be how they are presently being used. The Euronews article cites DJ Soto, the pastor of VR Church (a fully virtual reality church), as saying,

We have all the functions of, of how you would think a physical church, or how you would define a physical church, we’re expressing that here in the metaverse… We are no different than any other church, whether it’s physical or if it’s in the metaverse…

This is deeply problematic. A virtual reality church is not a biblical church, and as Christians, what Scripture says ought to shape and define our faith, both in theology and in practice. After noting that the Greek word for church, ekklesia, also means gathering or assembly and after surveying the New Testament references to how the church gathers, Matt Merker concludes the following:

What’s the picture? A church is a blood-bought people, devoted to the worship of the one true God. They’re set apart from the world. They’re committed to serving one another and loving their neighbors. And they do all this by assembling together in space and time.

A church is more than a gathering, of course. It gathers, then scatters, then gathers again. Its members continue to be part of the church throughout the week, as they serve and represent the church in their homes, their workplaces, their neighborhoods. But a church is never less than a gathering.[1]

Gathering virtually will never be the same as gathering physically. In a recent episode of their podcast, Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt made a valid point about the importance of physical presence by asking who on their death bed would like to have their family and friends gathered around them virtually as avatars. Just as virtual reality can never be a sufficient replacement for reality itself, a virtual church can never be a sufficient replacement for the church itself.

However, advocates of metaverse churches will likely make the argument of how many people they are able to reach now that they are not limited by physical space.

First of all, it would do well for us to remember that what we bring people into is just as important as actually bringing people in. Inevitably, just as much harm as good will be done whenever people with an unbiblical view of church seek to bring others into their church.

Second, who said that physical limitations needed to be broken? Indeed, by becoming flesh and dwelling among us, Jesus shows us just how mightily the kingdom of God might expand in spite of our physical limits. Our Lord could only teach and serve those near Him, yet we are still beneficiaries of the time and energy that He particularly invested into the apostles.

You see, limitations are actually needed. We like to distract ourselves with big abstractions because ideas are easier to affirm than actually doing something. It is easier to say that we love humanity than it is to actually love all of the fellow imager-bearers that we encounter on a daily basis.[2] Another example, it is easy for Christians to affirm the idea that children are a blessing. It is far more difficult to enter into just how messy God’s blessings so often are, especially now that technology promises to make “opting out” of children an option.

Yet this is all precisely the point where the use of technology becomes no longer helpful but sinful, when it attempts to break beyond the creaturely limits set upon us by the Creator. Again, that was the sin of those at Babel. They wanted to make a name for themselves, to transcend their limits by becoming collectively what they could not be individually. Whether we attempt to separate sex from having children or the gathering of the church from our actual bodies, such denials of our limits are tantamount to crowning ourselves as deities.

A False Hope for the Suffering

Now I certainly sympathize with one of VR’s pastors, whom the article explains is homebound with a neurovascular condition, when she[3] says:

When you become chronically ill and you can no longer participate in what everybody else is doing, slowly but surely people fall away. So it’s been just myself, my husband, and our cats… Suddenly you’re empowered again. Suddenly you matter again. Suddenly you’re human again… Suddenly it just feels like you could do anything in the world again where you were just told over and over and over again you couldn’t do anything.

While I sympathize with how devastating such a debilitating chronic illness must be, virtual reality is simply not the answer to her plight. She rejoices because the metaverse has provided her with an avenue of transcending her very felt bodily limitations.[4] The difficult reality, however, is that virtual reality cannot bear the heavy weight of such hope. Ultimately, only the resurrection of the body that is to come, which VR Church claims to affirm via the Apostles’ Creed, will fully and completely resolve such aches, when the physical bodies of all followers of Christ will be raised and glorified to be with Him forevermore.

Her condition is lamentable, but thankfully, the Bible is full of lament. The Scriptures never promise that we will be healthy and whole in this life; in fact, they very often warn of the exact opposite. Indeed, the afflictions and losses that we experience in this world are meant to make the great gain that we have in Christ ever clearer to us. That is why Paul wrote:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:8–11

The Gnosticism Behind It All

The article concludes by saying that “Soto explains that it’s not about the avatars, or what they choose to look like, it’s about the real spirit-to-spirit connection being made in the metaverse and in its spiritual spaces like VR Church.”

Soto hits the nail on the head here. The problem with a metaverse church is not about interacting via avatars; the problem is the deemphasis upon the body. It treats us as nothing more than spirits that need to be connected in some way. Therefore, it claims that a church does not need to gather physically so long as it is gathers spiritually.

The article also quotes Jeremy Nickels, founder of Evolvr, a meditation space in the metaverse, as saying:

Many congregations – and this is all denominations, religions – think the building matters… They think the church is the building, or the mosque is the building, or the temple is the building. It’s the people, it’s the stuff you do together, it’s the way you change the world together that is the church, or the temple, or the mosque, or the synagogue. And so we don’t have that illusion.

The church is certainly not any particular building. Amen! The church is the people of God. Amen again! But people are not spirits trapped in unimportant bodies. That’s Gnosticism! God made us flesh and blood, God redeemed us by becoming flesh and blood, and one glorious day He will fully renew our flesh and blood. Our bodies matter. We cannot divorce ourselves from them, and we should have no desire to do so. Let us remember that Paul wrote these mighty words:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19–20

Apparently, we don’t know that stunning fact. Maybe we have simply forgotten it, or maybe, deep down, we want to ignore it, pretend it’s not there.[5]

Being embodied is hard. It means having real bones that ache, real organs that fail, and also real hearts that break. Yet it is through, not in spite of, our bodies that Scripture calls us to glorify God.

And doesn’t the whole notion of a metaverse church, like everything else in this life, come down to this one question: Is the glory of God our highest aim?

If so, then we will joyfully strive to honor Him within the creaturely limits that He has established for us. We will also be joyful even in the midst of suffering because we know that our Father uses our afflictions to make more and more like His beloved Son.

If not, then we will use technologies like virtual reality as a false hope to mask the ache of eternity that lies within every heart, and they will perpetually be superficial balms to afflictions and suffering.

Virtual reality church is not a biblical replacement to the in-person gathering of believers. Simply put, our bodies need to be with the Body.

[1] Matt Merker, Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People, 48.

[2] We should remember that the Scriptures do not command us to love the world in general, yet the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor. Jesus, of course, told us who exactly our neighbor is through the Parable of the Good Samaritan: those near us. Humanity is too broad of a concept for us do anything truly loving, but if we look upon those around us, we find opportunity after opportunity to display the sacrificial love of Christ.

[3] Just to be clear, I do not believe it is biblical for women to serve in the role of pastors.  

[4] A better solution would be for her to belong to an actual local church that loved and cared for her. She could certainly livestream service each Sunday morning, and since she could not come to the gathering, she could be willing to have the elders, deacons, and members of the church come to her. A small group led by a pastor could even come to observe the Lord’s Supper with her.

[5] Possibly because we care more about our own happiness more than we care about the glory of God.


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