The Wiki Church

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Wikipedia, one of the largest websites there is. Then there are the hundred of other “wiki” sites of every variety imaginable, from fan sites, to computer repair sites, to pornography. And they're all based on the “wiki” format. For those of you who don't know, a “wiki” is a database that isn't built by any one person, but is run by a community. Any person who wants to be part of that community can join, and then edit anything on there. Any person can add or subtract from any article in the entire database. If something got left out, you can add it. If there is a mistake, remove it. If there is an entire article missing on a subject, make it up.

That is the beauty of “wiki's”. They draw on the strength of a community instead of an individual. Everyone has input and participation, no one has complete ownership. In many ways it's like what the Jews had with regards to the Bible. One person would interpret the Bible (write the article), and then everyone else would talk about it, and over the years throw out portions of the interpretation they didn't like and add some parts that worked. Each person got their say, but no one could overrule anyone else. They arrived at their beliefs and their practice through an ancient “wiki” church.

The Reformation had some of this too, in their idea of the “priesthood of all believers”. Everyone was equal, and could preach and interpret equally, but this concept lost some of the community aspect that kept the Hebrews on track. So today we have individual pastors spouting garbage from their personal perspective, and entire churches shutting off their brains and buying it, because “they read it from the encyclopedia of faith” to continue the analogy. They accept the pastor because they think that church and faith is something written by one person and handed to them, they are “laypeople” and so don't have any say in working through what faith looks like, what truth is.

I was talking to a friend still in school who is having to write a paper about plagiarism in the pastorate and people using other people's work. But that only even applies if we think we individually have the authorship of truth, or when we think that one person's opinion should be valued higher than any other. Then copying that person is wrong.

But what would happen if we reclaimed the Hebrew notion of a community sitting down together to work out over time what faith looks like? What would happen if church became a “wiki”? You can't plagiarize in a wiki as long as you don't copy another page for your own work. But no page is only one person's work. It is a group of people, refining each other, helping each other. Every person has input, no person has the right to call it their own work.

We didn't create this faith. And if we write an entire “article” ourselves, something is seriously wrong. Instead, our faith is based on generations of people who have gone before us. And if we all think like our church is a “wiki”, that our faith is a “wiki” then what is the problem if I take what was said a thousand years ago and tweak it a little? And what is the problem if you take what I say and delete a little, add a little? I am not “higher” than anyone else, we're just trying to arrive at the truth together. That's not plagiarism as long as neither of us say it's ours, but recognize most of what we do is edit other people's documents of faith that have been edited for thousands of years. We are allowed to do that in a Wiki, welcomed in fact. We just need to tweak it before we use it for ourselves. And then we can all say that we have had a part in forming each other's faith, in guiding our church. No one with a copyright everyone else has to buy without editing, no one person who can lord their thoughts over everyone else, but people working together for truth.

But what would a Wiki church look like? What would our Sundays be if we truly lived this out? What would happen if the pastor spoke, but everyone could add or subtract, and could help shape the message into the faith of the community and not the thoughts of one person? It would look like the priesthood of believers.

We pastors have had a monopoly on doctrine and preaching for so long that this concept seems like poaching on our turf. There is so much fear that if we let other believers guide the Church then the Church will go in the wrong direction. That is because they are untrained. In a wiki Church, the pastor becomes guide, trainer, teacher, and not sole authority. We would train people how to think about matters of faith, and then all would decide together. We pastors need to step down from our pedestals and begin the process of admitting that we are not the authors of our faith, we are merely minor editors in a much larger and longer article.

For a longer and more in depth presentation on wikis and the Church, see Media:Wiki Church Presentation.pdf