While there are a lot of helpful things we can do online as members of Jesus’ Church, it can never be the local church. I personally love writing and blogging, but make no mistake about it, nothing can replace actual human contact. Technology is great for processing and sharing information, but it’s terrible at making real human connections.
We already suspect this is true by how unsociable social media has become. For instance, a Psychology Today article cited a study that linked social media with negative outcomes like relational conflict, jealousy, break-up of marriages, and depression. And there’s a rather chilling psychological reason for this negative behavior when there’s no physical face-to-face relationship involved.
Stanley Milgram did an experiment on obedience at Yale University in 1962 that’s now famous. The experiment measured the willingness of study participants, men from a diverse range of occupations with varying levels of education, to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. Here’s how it was set up:
“The experimenter (E) orders the teacher (T), the subject of the experiment, to give what the latter believes are painful electric shocks to a learner (L), who is actually an actor and confederate. The subject is led to believe that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving actual electric shocks (increasing the voltage with each wrong answer), though in reality there were no such punishments. Being separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level.” (source: Wikipedia).
It’s a fascinating study, but the point I want to bring out here is what motivational speaker, Simon Sinek, observed. Here’s an excerpt of what he said about it in a TEDx Talk (emphasis mine):
“What ended up happening was that when the student could see and hear — when the teacher could see and hear the student, they would scream, he couldn’t go very far before he quit, he said, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m hurting the guy” and he would quit the experiment….”
“When he could see him but not hear him, he could go further but still not very far before he quit. And the authority figure would stand over him every time he would say, “But I’m hurting the guy”, the authority figure would say, “It’s imperative that the experiment goes on.”
“And then when they could hear them but not see them, they could go further still, but they still couldn’t go all the way. But when they could neither see nor hear the impact of their decisions, 65% of the teachers were able to kill the guy.”
And here’s what Sinek added about the 65% who were willing to kill the guy:
“And you know what the people who had ‘killed the guy’ what their biggest concern was? ‘Is anything going to happen to me? Am I going to get into trouble?’ There was no concern for the person they just potentially killed.”
This ought to chill us to the bone. Sinek concludes that what Milgram was trying to show was that normally caring and decent human beings are capable of committing horrendous atrocities, like with Nazi Germany when people said, “I’m just following orders. I’m just following orders.” They had this mantra to justify their behavior of hurting somebody.
This is just one of many examples showing where non-personal contact eventually leads us. We begin to rationalize and objectify people rather than actually know them as fellow human beings, which is one reason why our society has become so polarized. We don’t actually know where people are coming from, we’re fed soundbites from talking heads on 24-hour news channels instead.
Contrast this to Jesus’ Church, which is a culture, a living community. A culture is a group of people with a common set of values and beliefs. The Greek word for “church” (ekklēsia) means “an assembly of called out ones.” We can certainly share ideas in cyberspace, we can encourage each other and even make some level of relational connection, but the one thing we cannot do is be the Church. Jesus’ Church is made up of real people in real relationships, living real lives together in community for a common purpose, following Him the best way they know how.
46 Daily they met together in the temple courts and in one another’s homes to celebrate communion. They shared meals together with joyful hearts and tender humility. 47 They were continually filled with praises to God, enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord kept adding to their number daily those who were coming to life. (Acts 2:46-48 TPT)
25 This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning. (Heb.10:24-25 TPT)