ShipofFools.com, subtitled the Magazine of Christian Unrest, recently launched its latest project at ChurchofFools.com. This innovative virtual community is attracting much attention from both the media and the general public. Simon Jenkins, the head of Ship of Fools stated in a recent interview, “Not many churches have Satan hijacking the pulpit or over 8,000 visitors per day.”
Does Church of Fools hold up to the requirements of a New Testament church though? I am concerned that their attempt to become a genuine church will prevent a potentially constructive site from doing more good than harm. Church of Fools.com is no more a “church” than the already countless number of web sites offering open discussion on all things religious. By claming to be so, it misrepresents the true identity of a church with innovative technology that could be much more beneficial to Christianity as a virtual coffee shop.
Scripture has much to say about the character and structure of the bride of Christ. Church of Fools.com violates many of the foundational elements that Christ left behind as characteristic traits identifying His body of believers.
1 Tim 4:6 “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.”
A true church of Christ will be grounded in Scripture and teach Christ’s doctrine without apology. Although the Methodist Church of Great Britain sponsors Church of Fools.com, there is no statement of belief or doctrinal creed one must hold to be an active participant of the online church. The site attests to the Ecumenical decrees, yet they offer no guidance to what those may be. They openly invite individuals from all faiths to join them in worship and debate. While the true church is commanded to be open to all people and to refrain from prejudice or disrespect, it is not permitted to water down Christ’s doctrine in the hopes of bringing additional members inside its walls. Church of Fools.com has stated that their purpose is to reach those that wouldn’t regularly attend a church meeting, yet they provide no structure to point the people that come to the one true God.
Acts 2:42 “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
The early church met with likeminded believers to fellowship, encourage, and to instruct one another in the truths of their faith. This was important because their week was dedicated to encountering nonbelievers in the midst of their day-to-day routines. Anyone who visits Church of Fools.com for more than five minutes will quickly discover the all too familiar presence of endless argumentation, bickering, provoking, and name calling that prevail in religious chat rooms across the web. This behavior can be found in both the crypt and the sanctuary. It has escalated to such an extent that “wardens” are needed to “smite” those who behave inappropriately. Even with these Holy Ghost figures that see and hear all, conversation remains offensive and foul. This is a problem that the church admits to and seemingly accepts: “The church is partly intended for people on the edges (and beyond) of faith, so please be aware that the language and behavior in church is often colorful and occasionally offensive. Church of Fools is currently not suitable for children.” The true church of Christ gathers together to worship, encourage, and learn from one another; this includes the children!
Mat 18:15 “And if your brother sins go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother…”
And what would a true church be without the capacity to provide accountability and discipline for its members? Scripture makes it abundantly clear that both are needed in the community of believers. This becomes an obvious problem as members of the Church of Fools may visit under their own conditions. Upon arriving at the site, one is first given the option to enter the church as a “solid” (able to interact with others) or as an “observer” (invisible to everyone but himself.) Even if they wanted to, those who choose to enter as observers, have no opportunity to seek out questions or counsel with those around them. Furthermore, even the solids are anonymous when it comes to their true name, identity, or beliefs. The accountability and discipline Christ commands His true church to uphold is (in all senses of the phrase) “virtually impossible.” If one is uncomfortable with what another person is saying, all he must do is turn off his computer. No questions, no excuses, no further contact. It’s safe, non-threatening, and ineffectual. Church of Fools.com holds no means of conducting biblical accountability or discipline with those who enter its “walls.”
As far as online chat rooms go, Church of Fools is innovative and extremely successful. I enjoyed creating my own character, exploring the different areas, and intermingling with others. If one wishes to evaluate the idea of a church however, one will find that Church of Fools leaves much to be desired. By labeling this project a “church,” it gives countless individuals a deepening misconception of what it means to be involved in a community of believers. Because Scripture has set forth such specific purposes for what church meetings should entail, Church of Fools will continue to do more harm than good as long as they package their community as a “church.”