The Embodied Church in a Digital Age

Should we cheer or moan when online churches perform virtual baptisms?

Virtual Reality Church’s first baptism took place in a 3D house with an underground pool and a massive billboard overhead proclaiming “A Special Baptism and Communion service.” Alina Delp, 46—portrayed as a purple, robot-like avatar—stood submerged in the water while Pastor D. J. Soto proclaimed her new life in Christ and her sins washed away. When her avatar floated to the surface, dozens of congregants and family members cheered, their avatars sending heart and clap icons floating skyward.

Delp rarely leaves her house due to erythromelalgia, a rare condition that makes it painful to be outside for longer than a few minutes. Baptism would have been difficult for her in the past. With the virtual baptism, her family members from all over the country were able to witness the event in real time.

“When the opportunity came to me, I just had to do it. I was so excited that church was an option for me, that baptism was an option for me,” she said.

She believes it was a real experience, just like getting baptized in water.

“It was powerful. As D. J. was speaking and I was under the water, I could feel this life I lived before being lifted away, and there was this new, amazing future for me,” she said, getting emotional. “I was there. It counts.”

Virtual Reality (VR) Church is just the newest iteration in a series of digital church trends that have picked up steam in the past few decades—from livestreaming entire church services, to virtual campuses that stream a sermon, to fully digital churches and digital missionaries.

Such technology is increasingly used for evangelism and spiritual identity. More than three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone, and nearly …

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