As even so-called mainline denominations have begun reformulating the Baptismal formula rebaptism will become the norm for accepting converts.
(The Telegraph) - For centuries the key Christian sacraments of baptism and communion have symbolised people coming together in one place.
But under potentially radical plans being considered by the Church of Scotland, the rites could be administered online for the first time in a move to redefine the idea of a congregation in the internet age.
The suggestion, to be debated by members of the Kirk’s decision-making General Assembly which meets in Edinburgh next week, stems from initiatives such as streaming services to enable housebound parishioners to join in despite being unable to be physically present.
A paper presented to members of the General Assembly drafted by the Church’s Legal Questions Committee suggests re-examining issues such as voting rights at congregational meetings to people joining remotely.
But it goes on to argue that it is also time to go further and create what could effectively amount to virtual congregations, by allowing “access to the sacraments” for people are not “physically present in the congregation”.
In Presbyterian teaching, the term “sacraments” refers only to the rites of baptism and communion.
“Even wider questions about membership and belonging are now being asked by congregations whose services, through the internet, are being carried well beyond their parish boundaries,” the paper explains.
“We are living in an age when some of the old rules are fast becoming redundant and, as a result, the [committee] believes that it is time for the Church to undertake a wide ranging review of practice and procedure which is impacted by the use of new technology in church life.”
It adds that the idea of being a member of a congregation is becoming “more and more blurred” as people move around yet keep strong links through new technology.
“As fewer people join up in the traditional sense and as they make choices which include ever greater interaction with the Church through online access and social media, questions arise about online membership and even about access to the sacraments while not being physically present in the congregation,” it explains.
“There are no easy answers to some of the questions which are already being asked, but, in a world where the fastest growing communities are being fostered online, the committee believes that now is the time to open up a wide ranging discussion on these contemporary developments.”
Norman Smith, vice-convener of the Mission and Discipleship Council, said there would be a “proper grown up discussion” about the theological and practical arguments before any specific proposals would be put to a future meeting of the General Assembly.
“The question of the relationship with the Church when someone is online is being driven by a growing reality on the ground,” he explained.
“We have an increasing number of churches with an online component and they are asking questions about what does it mean to belong to the Church.
“And it is not just the Church asking this, all sorts of organisations are. It comes down to what is the meaning of community.”