By John Hanson
Virtual Reality is the latest in high technology and is soon to be a craze in the games and entertainment industry. It is a new family of hardware and software designed to provide the user with encounters so much like the real world that it will be difficult to tell the difference.
Virtual reality, abbreviated VR, is sometimes referred to as “cyberspace” and is a concept that has been around for twenty years but has only recently been sufficiently developed and refined to the point that it can be introduced to the general public.
Meyer and Dunn-Roberts (1992) conveyed the objective of VR when they wrote, “Imagine for a moment that you are a child with a magic box. You can climb in and go anywhere you wish to go, or do anything you wish to do. The laws of physics have been suspended. If you wish to walk upside down on the ceiling, or on the moon, or under the sea, you can.” This is the kind of technology that parallels the invention of TV, and it will soon be available in local computer centers.
“A typical VR system includes a computer for producing images, a head-mounted display for viewing images, and a data glove for interacting with the virtual world” (Meyer & Dunn-Roberts, 1992). “Various shape-changing devices have been used to simulate textures and the slight pressures of surfaces against the skin…. For some researchers active in the development of this medium, the ultimate goal of the technology is nothing short of the amplification of human perception and cognition” (Biocca, 1992).
So, donning eyephones, earphones, and a data glove or data suit allows the user to step into an imaginary, three-dimensional environment that has been programmed to act like, or unlike, the real world. Such technology will allow surgical students to practice surgeries in mid air without human cadavers or real people. VR will make it possible for customers to walk through a home that has not yet been built. It will provide people with opportunities to visit jungles, fly planes, shoot guns, interact with people, and an endless number of other experiences. The possibilities are mind boggling, and frightening in the light of the things for which other recent inventions have been utilized.
What’s the Worry?
One major concern that has surfaced as this new dimension of high technology is ushered in, is the question of whether or not people will be able to separate these VR experiences from reality. Will a man who experiences war on a VR machine experience postwar traumas? Will individuals who engage in immorality on VR be more likely to carry out the same actions in real life? Worse yet, what about those experiences that will be created that are not paralleled in the real world?
People in our society are crying today because their soap opera hero or heroine is crying; they already have trouble separating fiction from reality. What will it be when loyal fans can talk with and touch their favorite VR star? After interacting with a VR world, will the real world be satisfying? Will people prefer relationships with VR to relationships with people, since relationships with people are imperfect and take much more effort?
In the religious world this phenomenon of virtual reality has been around for a long time, and the ramifications are at least unsettling as those just mentioned. Satan is the designer of VR in the religious world, and he does not necessarily rely on high technology to achieve his goals. Satan has generated experiences for hungry souls that seem like reality, but they are nothing more than bait for the unwary and a temptation for those looking for a less committed, more accepted, and, “more exciting” Christianity. These spiritual shortcuts destroy the mind, emotions, body, and eternal soul. They are cheap imitations, illusions, and sleight of hand in the religious world. They leave people believing they have genuine experiences with God when they have merely had exciting experiences with religion.
For Israel these experiences in virtual reality took the form of idolatry and witchcraft. Instead of bringing a spotless sacrifice and offering true repentance to God whom they could not see, they made sacrifices to gods of stone and wood. Rather than living according to the law as God delivered it, they soon disfigured it by the rules and commentary of men. Rather than trusting in God as their King, they chose to be led by human kings, as were other nations. These less than genuine spiritual practices left Israel destitute and void of true religion.
For our modern-day world, virtual reality has emerged to look like many of the things our society and even the religious world are embracing as spiritual enlightenment. Some of Satan’s oldest tricks are masquerading as new and innovative social and religious experiences.
We have seen meditation substituted for prayer, psychic surgery has become the cheap imitation for divine healing, and mother earth is worshipped in lieu of worship of the sovereign Creator. Hungry hearts are seeking trances rather than experiences of being “lost in the Spirit.” The promise of world peace becomes the hope of people instead of the peace that passes understanding and the promise of the soon return of Christ. In modem-day spiritual VR, fortune-telling is preferred over prophecy, alternate lifestyles replace godly marriages, and the list keeps going. These philosophies and experiences parallel the real things but leave their victims disillusioned and spiritually devastated.
VR in Churches?
Cheap imitations of spirituality are not far from any of us; we must guard against virtual reality in our churches. God’s people cannot afford to close their eyes to ideas and practices that can creep into Pentecostal doctrine, practice, and worship to strip us of the genuine articles as modeled in the Book of Acts. If we become careless, we will try to transform a “dry” service with fast songs and loud music, attempting to generate what appears to be a move of the Holy Ghost. In an effort to obey Scripture, well-meaning Pentecostals might stress outward appearance without encouraging saints to develop inner holiness; both are vital to genuine holiness.
We cannot afford to make the mistake of substituting style and flair for anointed preaching. Programs and crusades must not take place of genuine one-on-one soul-winning, which should be a characteristic of every church member. We must guard ourselves so that popular and exciting speakers do not displace Spirit-led pastoring and biblical teaching. Sugar-sweet smiles and charismatic hugs need to be recognized as imitations of real brotherly love and Christian joy.
All these impostors are virtual reality. They are less than genuine, yet tempting because they are easier to attain and are more acceptable in the religious world. The horrible truth is that these shortcuts leave people thinking they have experienced the real thing, thus robbing them of the deeper, more substantial experiences and growth processes God has provided for His people. Let us be real, or we will lead a host of people into a relationship with yet another unsatisfying religion and not into a relationship with the real, live God.
Tragically, a great many churches that appear to be Pentecostal will leave in their wake a host of spiritually deceived people because they are not the real thing. They lack the distinguishing characteristics of Pentecost in the Apostolic tradition. They have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. A real relationship with Jesus Christ requires real prayer. Real commitment can happen only with biblical holiness. Apostolic preaching starts with fervent prayer, and a godly burden: Christian singing comes from dedicated hearts of people who are bearing spiritual fruit. Real soulwinning starts with burden and travail.
“It’s real, it’s real, I know it’s real,” and it is worth the extra effort to keep it real. We can believe God for the miraculous and trust Him if He chooses not to do the miracle. It is VR to claim a miracle when no miracle occurred.
We can still pray for Holy Ghost revival where people are so filled with the Spirit that they fall prostrate before God. We can still live in such a manner that we have holiness in speech, habit, deeds, dress, home life, and in every other way. We must not tolerate virtual reality in the church-the results are disastrous.
When Jesus returns for His church, only believers who have genuinely repented, obeyed Him in water baptism, and are filled with the Holy Ghost will be changed and caught up to be with Him. Virtual reality will have no part in that event.
The Above Material Was Published By The Pentecostal Herold, September 1994, Pages 14, 16, 17. This Material Is Copyrighted And May Be Used For Study & Research Purposes Only.