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Oooohhhh, my head. My back. My joints. My everything. Sick, sick, sick. No way I’m getting to church today. No way I’m even getting out of bed. Thank God — so to speak — for wireless Internet access. Drag the laptop into bed. Google “online church...”

First result: ChurchofFools.com, powered by the Methodists. A 3-D online church (very traditional — stone, pillars, arches, etc.) that allows you to “choose a cartoon character, enter the church, walk around, sit in a pew, explore the sanctuary and crypt, key in some prayers, and even ring the church bells.” However, the entrance page noted that it was open “for individual visits only.” Turns out that group worship was a three-month experiment held back in 2004, and that development money for “major changes to the software” is needed to keep the project moving forward. At least one problem was hinted at in the farewell letter: “Our wonderful team of highly motivated wardens saved the church from going under several times while we were being ‘raged’ by trolls during the difficult middle weeks of the experiment.”

Clips showed the trolls at work. A chat in the church’s crypt opened with someone saying that Jesus “is even more human than we are because we’ve lost parts of our humanity in our brokenness and sin,” then skipped to a bunch of attendees falling down in worship before a row of vending machines. Visitor “Iluvchurch20451” jumped in during night prayer to proclaim, “RELIGION IS FOR FAGS!” This seems to be what Bishop of London Richard Chartres was getting at when he said, in Church of Fools’ opening sermon, which took cyberspace as its subject, “We shall encounter forces of destruction and negativity, but the Spirit has been brooding over the ocean since before the beginning, and we shall discover that love is Almighty.... Let us use this gift that has been given to our generation to heal and not to hurt, to open spiritual ears and eyes and not to add to the noise of self-justification and the rhetoric of hate. We do this in the name of Jesus Christ who commanded us to ‘put out into the deep and let down our nets for a catch.’”

Next click: online-churches.net. A newsfeed on the left — among other stories, I learned that “Churches’ Greatest Critics May Be Their Own Followers.” Also, “Unchurched Americans Turned Off by Church, Open to Christians, Lifeway Study Says.”

On the right, a link: “Live Church Service — Click Here.” So I was off to Fountain of Life Bible Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, Dr. Victor C. Young presiding. Young was every inch a biker — burly, bearded, and long-haired, wearing sunglasses and a heavy leather jacket as he roamed about the pulpit. But one of the rings on his right hand testified to his doctoral work at Oxford, and he told how he’d been invited back more than once to present a paper at the Oxford Round Table. “Why would they want a big hairball there?” he remembered wondering. “I thought they wanted me for comic relief or something.” What they got was straight up preaching: “I started to tell them about my Jesus, about the hell He brought me out of.... I believe that these 40 world leaders that they call together in academia and in ministry, once they hear the Gospel, they gotta go back home.... Who knows what will trickle down...about my savior, Jesus Christ?”

Besides Oxford intellectuals, Young went on to set himself against preachers who sounded and looked “clergical,” who made him think, “If I wasn’t a Christian, I wouldn’t become a Christian, just because of you. You’re everything that I detest.” He lamented the spiritual chill over his wife’s childhood church: “Oh my, it was so cold in there you could hang meat.... I would get so excited talking about Jesus; the passion was overflowing in my heart and my mind...and I had one old man say to me, ‘Son, you can’t put new wine in old wineskins.’ And I thought, ‘How sad, how very sad....’ I used to fantasize saying, ‘What’s the matter with you people? Don’t you know what Jesus has done for you? What’s it going to take for you to wake up?’”

Young’s tone meshed with that of the newsfeed headlines: All is not well with American Christianity, and it’s the Christians who are saying so. Clicking

on “The Religious Machine” took me to internet-churches.com, which featured an article from Chip Brogden entitled “Escape from Churchianity.” “Organized religion,” wrote Brogden, “cannot impart Life... ‘He that has the Son has Life, and He that has not the Son of God has not Life.’... Contrary to popular belief, the Lord Jesus Christ does not live within the matrix of Organized Religion.... Can you join a ‘church’? Yes, if you meet their requirements for membership. Can you join the Ecclesia?” (The Ecclesia, wrote Brogden, is “the True Church.”) The answer: “No. You have to be born into it. Or, to be more correct, you have to be born-again into it. It is...a question of having Life versus not having Life.... Organized religion can bring doctrine, teaching, and belief.... Only Jesus can give Himself as our Life.”

Another link led to lostinchurch.com. “Week after week you sit peacefully in church. You think everything is okay. But do you really hear the groaning of our lost world? Can you hear the cries of young girls with unwanted pregnancies, the hateful words from the couple who once vowed to love one another, the tired excuses of the overworked, the driven, the defeated?” An essay on “The State of the American Church” noted that “a recent poll conducted by the Barna Research Group revealed some startling facts: 52 percent of ‘born-again’ Christians denied the existence of Satan...33 percent denied the Biblical doctrine of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone...35 percent denied the physical resurrection of Christ. In short, a large percentage of professing Christians in the American Church are not Christians at all.”

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