Virtual Sacraments by S. M. Hutchens

Virtual Sacraments

To a friend in the ministry who, with respect to "virtual communion," notes that "we're not physically together online. That makes me wonder . . .":

This unease seems to be pretty much the universal complaint, where complaint there is, and I think it will ultimately kill virtual sacraments among serious Christians. There are always people who will leap upon any new practice (1) that gives them comfort or some other advantage, and (2) for which a logical argument can be confected—like serving gluten-free "bread" at Communion. This case rests upon the question of whether an ethereal electronic connection of persons is in essence the same as a connection across a space of plain air or in a shared meal. (It is raised with artificial amplification of the human voice, and continues with greater intensity in transmission by wires or airwaves.)

The yes or no—and it must be a "yes" or "no"—rests upon a shared pastoral intuition for which there is no strictly empirical demonstration. (In general, the judgment of the Church has been that voice amplification is acceptable for delivery of divine discourse, but this is not a theologically un-laden question, and I would not blame anyone who refused it. I myself do not normally listen to sermons on radio, television, or computer, and admit this is more a matter of taste than conviction—but where does this "taste" come from?)

That we are uneasy with virtual sacraments is all the proof we will have, but the dis-ease points to a reality beyond itself, and before which we also wonder whether we may be bound to appear and give cause. That is why your "wondering" is significant, especially when it is shared by so many men of spiritual responsibility who are collectively making the decision, "This far and no further."

S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.

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