Is the dictionary the best source?
When an author is trying to convince you that something means what you know it doesn’t, they’ll often go to the dictionary for support.
How can a virtual church be [a local church]? Glad you asked. If you look up the word local in the dictionary, it means “belonging to or existing in a particular place,” or more specifically, “of or belonging to the neighborhood.” […]
Local churches are local not because of geography but because they are one specific group belonging to a place of seeking after God together.
By this point the author has already redefined place in a way that includes “virtual spaces”, like a neighborhood in Second Life, so by saying that local is about place, he can reasonably conclude that a congregation that exists only in cyberspace is a true “local church”.
But is the dictionary definition really the best way to go about this? It seems problematic to me, and I expect others are uncomfortable with it as well. The trouble is that the term “local church” is a label put on to an concept that existed long before the word “local” (or “church”, another word he attempts to deconstruct).
When someone goes to the dictionary for a definition of a term you should put your guard up, because one of two things have likely happened: (1) they didn’t put much time or effort into producing their work, or (2) they’re trying to squeeze by on a technicality.
With this argument Estes establishes the possibility that an virtual church could be a local church, but we all know that it is different in kind from a true local body of believers. All this creates is a two-tiered definition of local church: virtual and physical. Who will argue against the premise that the physical is superior? And on what grounds?
If this were a full-on, honest and open discussion of the difficulties of virtual churches, it would be more intellectually honest to tie the term local to the term location (etymologically sound, I believe); of course, that makes it harder to argue for “synthetic space” as a site for a local church. But it would certainly be more realistic, and serve the purported purpose of the writing (a “more measured, less sensational, deeper dialog on the merits and demerits of virtual churches”).