I thank God you can exhort me and E-gather with me every day even though we are 2000 miles apart.
I appreciate the fact that my writing has exhorted Jeff and others. That is one of the reasons that I write.
Jeff’s comment inspired me to think about “e-gathering”. Is it fitting to consider an electronic medium (such as a blog) a gathering of believers? Is the encouragement that we receive from one another through electronic mediums the same as, or similar to, the encouragement that we receive from other believers when we meet face to face? (Please note that I am not saying that Jeff meant this in his comment. I am simply using his comment as an impetus to think further about these issues.)
The writers of the New Testament recognized that their correspondence (written letters) would have to take the place of face-to-face meetings. In some letters, the authors expected to see the recipients again soon and would continue their relationships face-to-face at that time. In other letters, the writers did not expect to see the recipients again. In some letters, the author already knew the recipients well and had spent a considerable amount of time with them face-to-face. In other letters, the author had never met the recipients face-to-face.
However, in all of these circumstances, it seems that the authors recognized that the words that they wrote were similar in importance to the words they would speak face-to-face. For example, while the author of Hebrews instructed his recipients to “exhort one another every day” (Heb 3:13), he also recognized his own letter as a “word of exhortation” (Heb 13:22). Thus, at least for the author of Hebrews, there was something comparable between the day-to-day and face-to-face communication between believers and his letter. In fact, it seems that in both cases, the result of the communication should be the exhortation of other believers.
Similarly, there are many ways that believers can communicate today even when they are not face-to-face. If I tried to name them all, then I would leave off a few, and the list would be obsolete in a few months because of the advances in personal communication. The type of communication is not important. What is important is that any communication between believers should have the purpose of exhorting one another – that is, encouraging one another toward maturity in Jesus Christ. Thus, blogs and comments and emails, for example, are valid types of communication between believers, just as letters were valid (and still are valid) during the first century.
This does not mean that either letters or electronic communications are a substitute for face-to-face communication between believers. In fact, in many of the letters in the New Testament, the authors expressed their desire to communicate face-to-face instead of through letters. Some authors withheld some communications until they could see the recipients personally.
Similarly, while it is beneficial to communicate with other believers using different mediums in order to encourage one another, these communications do not replace meeting with other believers face-to-face. Remember the letter to the Hebrews. Although he recognized that his letter would be a source of exhortation to his recipients, he also recognized the necessity of day-by-day exhortation that would come through face-to-face meetings with other believers. Both are important.
I do not think that anyone commenting on this blog has suggested that this type of communication and exhortation should replace personal, face-to-face words of edification. I would encourage readers to continue to meet with other believers face-to-face whenever and wherever possible in order to edify one another. This does not negate the benefit of other types of communication as well, including blogs and comments.