So it seems there is "closed Communion," "open Communion," "open, open Communion" (Communion without baptism) and then there is "World Wide Web open Communion." While "Communion without baptism" seems to be a development on the theological left in progressive oldline Protestant churches, the WWW Communion seems to start with a free-church Protestant understanding of the Lord's Supper and then swings all the way across the spectrum to, well, what you might call open-source theology.
Lisa Miller took a look at this in her latest "Belief Watch" column at Newsweek, a mini-feature that contains lots of reporting this time around and little or no opinion-based snark. Here's the crucial thesis paragraph in "Click In Remembrance Of Me," which then moves into a Protestant application of the innovation:
As technology reshapes our world, as our "friends" become the people we know on Facebook as well as the ones we invite home for dinner, the definition of community is taking on radically new meanings. Nowhere is the concept of community more crucial than in religion. In the West, people traditionally worship together, in a group, in one room; that togetherness has theological import. In Christianity, the sacrament of communion underscores the unity of the faithful; consuming the consecrated bread and wine binds Christians with each other, with the saints in heaven and with the Lord. Now, at the farthest corners of the Christian world, a few people are applying new-tech concepts of community to this ancient rite. The example above is among the most avant-garde. The celebrant, Zeph Daniel, is a musician who preaches online to a group of Christians disconnected from the traditional church. One of his slogans is "Leave religion and find God."
The experiment is underway in more mainstream corners of the Christian world as well. Two Methodist ministers have (in unrelated efforts) put communion services online. The Rev. Thomas Madron, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Nashville, says he was moved to build an interactive communion site (holycommunionontheweb.com) to help people get what he calls "spiritual buttressing" when they need it, regardless of whether they regularly go to church. A former technology-company CEO, Madron is convinced that religious institutions need to rethink the way they deliver their services.
The key, of course, is whether it is possible to have a sacramental community through electronic pulses, rather than in face-to-face Communion. In the ancient Churches, of course, this Communion would also have to be rooted in other Sacramental practices -- in the flesh. Take Confession, for example.
Then again, online Confession is another trend out there. Remember?
Miller knows what is going on and -- sit down -- she even ends with an affirmation of church history.
Can a Christian community be authentically replicated online? For Roman Catholics, especially, who believe the communion wafer is the body of Christ, a disembodied ritual makes no sense. Anne Foerst is a professor of computer science at St. Bonaventure University. She is also a practicing Lutheran who has a doctorate in theology. The whole point of religion, she insists, is embodiment -- the being together, physically, with others and with God. The sacrament "cannot be simulated. The experience is not about you and the eucharist. ... If you can't make the time to experience the community, then why do you need the sacrament?"
OK, then there is a tiny bit of snark:
To those who say they feel alienated from the traditional church, Foerst invokes the message of Jesus. Nobody's perfect, she says. Get over it.