After in-person services were canceled last year during “two weeks to flatten the curve,” pastors turned to “online church.” Motivated by love, they recreated Sunday gatherings as best they could, even sometimes encouraging Christians to attempt “communion” with whatever crackers and juice they had in their kitchens.
For weeks under lockdown in Washington state, I tuned in. I sang the worship songs along with my children. I paid attention to the sermon. But no matter what well-meaning pastors called it, it wasn’t church. Scripture makes no allowance for being a participating member of a church body from arm’s length. Administering the sacraments isn’t possible without physical presence.
Although the vast majority of churches are finally open for in-person services again, many continue to maintain an “online church” for members who don’t “feel comfortable” rejoining in person. A welcome to “those joining us from home” is now a routine addition for pastors greeting the congregation.
Many churches streamed their Sunday services years before the pandemic began, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with letting a wider audience peek into the life of your church and benefit from the worship and preaching. I’ve watched recorded sermons from other churches more times than I can count. Those bedridden and otherwise indisposed can also benefit from participating with their congregation through streaming in addition to the traditional private pastoral visits.
But to pretend streaming the service in pajamas is actually gathering as the body of Christ for the rest of us not only rejects our biblical calling, it also enables those who’ve struggled with anxiety over the last 15 months to feel comfortable and validated in their fear rather than encouraged to lean on Christ and be courageous. How can we “stir one another up to love and good works” or “encourage one another” by singing, praying, and hearing the message in isolation?
The writer of Hebrews encourages us not to “throw away your confidence,” pointing out how believers have suffered, been publicly afflicted, and had their properties plundered, yet held fast to the belief they had “a better possession and an abiding one” in
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