Each Sunday, three or four of us gather at Rudy’s in Torrance, CA, enjoying scrambled eggs and dreams. Each Tuesday, four of five of us gather in a living room style space on the church campus, savoring Isaiah and sharing life via tangents. Once a month, eight or so gather at Il Fornaio, dining on good Italian fare and friendly conversation.
These gatherings are important, but insufficient. The relative infrequency allows for too much of life apart. Our conversational tangents, though they are many, are insufficient to carry our stories. At this point, time and geography hinder more frequent gatherings.
So, what are we to do?
Connecting in the New Testament
The NT describes many ways of connecting with other believers. They gathered face-to-face (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15), connected through letters (2 Cor 13:10; Phil 3:1; Col 4:18), and through intercessory prayer (Rom 1:8-15; Phil 1:3-11). Whether in the same house church or across the Mediterranean Sea, the soul-to-soul connections were very real.
Because we have bodies, face-to-face connections are primary. Just as NT Christians gathered in homes (Rom 16:5) and temple porches (Acts 2:46), so Christians today gather. Physical presence and face-to-face communal practices are necessary for spiritual growth as persons and as community (see body, building, bride metaphors; Eph 4:15-16).
But what about connections that are not face-to-face? Are texting, email, Facebook, and Twitter valid ways to connect with fellow believers?
While we are physical, we are also spiritual. In fact, personhood seems to be anchored in the immaterial, rather than the material (see theological anthropology). We see glimmers of this when we sit in a crowded room of strangers, talking with a friend on the phone: the connection with the strangers is likely minimal, while the connection with the friend is stronger. Another hint is seen in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration: somehow, the three disciples knew Moses and Elijah, presumably without ever having seen them before: they knew their souls. Soul-to-soul connections are real and valuable.
Given the reality and value of soul-to-soul connections, what should communal distance-practices look like?