Metaverse Church

A False, Misleading Dream

In a recent article for the Salvo blog, Joshua Pauling explains why VR (virtual reality) “church” is not church at all:

While God could certainly use any means to achieve his purposes, the real question is what he has chosen to use — where he has promised to be, and where we know he is for us. The biblical picture is that God has not just ordained the message of salvation, but also the means for delivery of that message. And this is the historic Church’s confession: that through the means of grace — words spoken, water poured, bread and wine taken — that Christ gives himself in his very person to you.

There is more, and the entire piece is worth your time.

But even without Pauling’s clarifying analysis, anyone who has spent any time in a real, flesh-and-blood church knows that, when it comes to being part of the Body of Christ, virtual “church” can never compete with the real thing. Belonging to the one, true church means encountering God where he has promised to be and interacting with one’s fellow redeemed in ways that are impossible in a virtual setting.

In a virtual church, you can’t:

  • Hold a baby for a parent who needs a break.
  • Place your own child into the aching arms of someone who doesn’t have one to hold.
  • Lift your voice in song with the unique blend of singers who are part of the Lord’s family in a specific time and place.
  • Smell the flowers on the altar and the wine in the chalice.
  • Receive Christ’s Body and Blood on your tongue.
  • Take your baby to the font to be baptized with water and the Word.
  • Dip your fingers into that same font as you remember your own baptism.
  • Receive the ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday.
  • Enjoy coffee and donuts in the church fellowship hall.
  • Taste a dozen different chili recipes at the annual chili supper.
  • Share a hymnal with the person next to you.
  • Take a meal to someone who is sick.
  • Get help from a church member when your car is in the shop, you need a babysitter, or your basement is flooded.
  • Take your child to a Sunday school class that has a teacher who can give her a hug and wipe her nose.
  • Get a visit from the pastor when you’re in the hospital.
  • Confess your sins to your pastor and personally hear from him Christ’s forgiveness.
  • Know that, when your last days come, your pastor will pray you to Jesus, commit your body to the ground and minister to your family after you’re gone.

The list could go on. “Virtual reality church” is an oxymoron. It is, to real church, what a robot is to a human being: a man-made creation that is a pale imitation of God’s creative work. Remove it from its earthly power source, and it ceases to exist.

The true church, on the other hand, does not depend on man-made technology. It depends on the God who instituted it, and he has told us in his Word that it can be found wherever two or three of his children are gathered in his name. To gather in God’s name means to come together in the flesh because that is how he comes to us. We gather to receive him in Word and Sacrament, trusting in his love to us, and he in turn enables us to be his hands and feet for one another as his love flows through us.

A headset, computer screen and avatar don’t enable church; they impede it by keeping God’s people chained to devices and preventing them from actually seeing, hearing, touching, and serving one another.

“VR Church,” an online group that describes itself as “a spiritual community that exists entirely in the metaverse,” says that “the future of the church is the metaverse” and that “the possibilities are endless because we control space and time.”

Therein lies their key error. In our sinful humanity, the possibilities are not endless. In fact, to the extent that we depend on ourselves, they are nonexistent. People don’t control space and time; God does. Human beings can devise a “spiritual community,” but that does not equal “church.” In fact, it might equal the exact opposite.

The church is where Christ is. He has told us where to find him, and it’s not in the metaverse.  

is managing editor of Reporter, the official newspaper of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. She has written for a variety of publications, including The Federalist, Touchstone and The Lutheran Witness, and is a contributor to the book He Restores My Soul from Emmanuel Press. She has degrees in English and music and enjoys playing piano in her spare time.

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