Throughout recorded history, the expansion of the Kingdom of God has mostly been in direct proportion to the convergence of the Spirit and technology. Three such convergences have occurred in recent recorded history: the Roman Empire, the printing press, and the World Wide Web. During the first two convergences, established religions—first Judaism and then Christianity—lost ground. Will Judeo-Christianity lose ground a third time?
God made a promise to Abraham that through his seed all of the world would be blessed. With that promise a journey began that would alter the course of human events everywhere. As we read through the Old Testament, we see the struggle of God’s people to fulfill this promise. In all fairness, for much of the Old Testament the times just weren’t right. Travel was difficult and dangerous, with the world fragmented into thousands of tiny cultures, each speaking a different language.
However, as early as the 4th century B.C., the Roman road system made the fulfillment of God’s promise a distinct possibility. By the height of the
Roman Empire, more than 50,000 miles of state-of-the-art roads stretched from Britain to Mesopotamia. These roads were one of the wonders of the world. For the first time, travelers and merchants could avoid many threatening storms, pirates, and navigational problems.
Very possibly the next ten years will either usher in a worldwide golden period in Christianity or signal the beginning of a steep decline in Christian influence in the Western world.
Unfortunately, Israel refused to step out onto those roads to engage the world with the good news that had been entrusted to her. Instead, she developed a fortress mentality and defended her territory—much as many established congregations do today. The day Paul set foot on the Roman roads, Israel was left behind. Without the Roman roads, Christianity might not have spread so quickly throughout most of the known world.
The same convergence of Spirit and technology happened again during the
Reformation with the invention of the printing press. Again, the established Church fought the new technology because it threatened the church’s monopoly on interpreting the Scriptures. The emerging Protestants embraced the new technology, and Protestantism flourished.
Twice now, the convergence of the gospel and new technology has proven to be an awesome power in advancing the Kingdom of God at the expense of the established Church. Could it happen again?
The Third Convergence
The Roman roads made it easier for people to join Jesus on the mission field, and the Internet offers the same opportunities.
Once again, the established Church faces a convergence of the Spirit and new
technology. Like the Roman roads and the printing press, the World Wide Web is opening up incredible opportunities for those of us who have ears to hear and
eyes to see.
When I wrote Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers: Ministry Anytime, Anywhere, by Anyone in 1995, I had just begun to realize the full impact of that sub-title. I knew at the time that quantum physics would literally change everything, including the way people did ministry. But I didn’t realize how thoroughly the Internet would impact every area of my ministry. Very little of my personal ministry was accomplished online in 1995. Today, almost all of my correspondence happens via email, and two-thirds of my resources are
available online. By 2005, my relationship to our new EBA online community
(www.easumbandy.com) will most likely directly impact one-half of all that I do. At the beginning of the third millennium, “anytime, anywhere, by anyone” ministry is taking on a much deeper meaning.
For the first time in human history, the possibility of inexpensive, worldwide
evangelism is at our fingertips. The Internet will allow Christians all over the world to link together in a massive movement for God.
Now, anyone can get involved in worldwide evangelism, anytime and anywhere.
Christian avatars are entering the MUDS, MOOS, and chat rooms as cyber
evangelists, reaching people in all corners of the earth, without getting on a boat, plane, or camel. Now anyone can become a Christian publisher anytime, anywhere he or she chooses.
A truly global/tribal Body of Christ is possible for the first time. Christians all over the world can connect with one another in mission and conversation without worrying about denominational ties, clergy/laity distinctions, gender, or age issues. House churches now connect to each other in a massive, worldwide, small-group movement. A much more universal Church is emerging than we have ever seen before, connected not so much by theology or doctrine as by mission.
All of this and much more is possible right now because Spirit and technology have converged. Will established church leaders put aside their denominational dressings, ecclesiastical turf, and outdated technologies and become part of the convergence of Spirit and technology? Will we join Jesus on the Roman roads of today?
Telling the story of Jesus is becoming as easy and inexpensive as it was in the first century when people communicated the gospel on foot and through oral tradition.
Understanding the potential of this convergence will change church leaders’
attitudes about union. Established church leaders are spending too much energy to bring the various bodies of Christ together around a common table. The issue today is not whether Christians can come together around doctrine and participate in one common table. COCU and all of the present talks on merger or full communion are too small, narrow, and confining. The real issue,
thrust upon us by the convergence of Spirit and technology, is much bigger: Can Christians worldwide join together in a common mission of carrying out the Great Commission in spite of differing doctrine?
Mission, not doctrine or ritual, is the issue before us. Instead of lamenting the fractured nature of the Body of Christ, we should grasp the opportunity of unifying all parts of the Body worldwide around mission, without any part of the Body having to compromise its basic beliefs. What an exceptional time to be alive . . . if we are open to what God is making possible.
The Bottom Line
A whole new community of faith is emerging today. Can you see it? If you are
following it, you know that for the moment, at least, it is a digital community . . . emotional, virtual, holographic, decentralized, empowered, one-to-one, borderless, bottom-up, global/local, and egalitarian. Such a world will play by totally different rules than the rules of modernity. In the 21st century to be without digital power and the knowledge to use it will be the new form of illiteracy. Whoever learns how to play by the rules of this new technology has the opportunity to shape this world either for good or for evil. Christians who refuse to embrace this convergence will appear as stupid as the Apostle Paul would have been if he had refused to use the Roman roads during his missionary journeys or church leaders over the last several hundred years who refused to use printed material in advancing Christianity.
Will historians look back on the first few decades of the third millennium as the beginning of a worldwide, golden period in Christian history? Or will they remember those years as the beginning of a steep decline in Christian influence in the Western world? At the moment, it’s anyone’s guess.
The 21st century awaits those who will shape it. It will be an anytime, anywhere, by anyone type of world. Where will you be in this world? Will you help shape it?
My Hope and My Fear
I pray earnestly for this convergence of Spirit and technology. I pray that church leaders steeped in centuries-old technology will open their eyes to the fuller potential of God’s great work. I pray that Western leaders will avail themselves of the Holy Spirit’s remarkable work around the rest of the world and ask, “Why not here?”
I’m afraid, however, that many within the Christian community with whom I’ve worked and prayed will be left behind . . . wondering if the world has gone mad . . . praying that all these changes will go away . . . longing for the return of “the good ole days.”
I pray for them that they might have ears to hear and eyes to see what God is doing throughout the world. And should they not open their eyes and ears, I pray that God will raise up a new batch of leaders.
My friends, embrace the awesome possibilities that await us all in the convergence of Spirit and technology. It could be a glorious adventure.