During the past year and a half in the midst of the pandemic, we have had to do a lot of things online. Many of us had to work or study from home staring for hours at a computer screen. We have had to use Zoom, Facetime, or Skype just to visit with our loved ones in the hospital or in nursing homes. In so many ways, our lives shifted online for a time. But if there is one thing that this pandemic has taught us, it is that the virtual cannot serve in anyway as a sufficient substitute to being in-person. Zooming with Grandma is nothing like visiting in her home and hugging her. Watching the ballgame on your phone does not compare with being in the stands and rooting your favorite player on. Sitting at home in a room by yourself in front of your laptop is nothing like sitting in class next to your friends in front of the teacher him/herself. And watching “church” online is nowhere near the same as being in the building with God’s people singing and praying together as well as listening to the preaching of God’s Word.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the technology that we have available today which enables us to be so connected to each other across the miles and in a time when it was not safe to be together physically. It certainly helped us weather this storm in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. How people handled the shutdowns that occurred during the Spanish Flu outbreak back in 1918, I’ll never know. But there is a potential danger with the “online” that, if we are not careful, we can begin to become so accustomed to it that we start to become comfortable or complacent with staying home instead of making the effort to get up out of bed, get ready, and head out to join the saints for worship on Sunday mornings. After all, it is so convenient to remain in your pajamas and watch the service while in bed on your laptop or phone. But, we need to realize that what happens in the worship service on a Sunday morning is not something that can be replicated at home alone with your family through the means of a phone or computer screen. Somethings will inevitably be lacking in not being present in person at the service.
For one thing, a reason Scripture tells us that we are not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together each week is the need of encouragement. The author of Hebrews tells us to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (10:24-25). It is impossible to stir up other believers to love and to do good works perched on your sofa just with your family. You have to presently be with other believers in order to do so. As it has been put, “you can’t serve from your sofa.” You cannot obey all the “one another” commands of Scripture (59 of them in all) unless you are regularly with other believers. And when we are absent from the fellowship consistently on Sunday mornings, we miss out on both receiving and giving that encouragement. Usually through the livestream, you cannot hear other believers singing the hymns. Just the song leader and maybe the pastor when he belts it out too loud. There is something powerful when you have a group of Christians singing the same truths of the gospel together for God to each other. Something that brings a great encouragement to those who hear such while being present for it. And it could be that your very presence on a Sunday morning might just very well be what a fellow believer needs to encourage him or her on that day. Opting to stay home to watch online robs that person of the encouragement that you otherwise could give them.
It is also easy to have the idea that what goes on in the worship service is something that you can just be a spectator of rather than needing to participate in when you are accessing it through a TV, computer, or cell phone screen. Watching the service online puts it more in the category of a TV show or movie that you sit back, take in, and enjoy instead of an experience where you are called to actively contribute and be a part of. But when we remember how the Bible speaks of corporate worship on the Lord’s Day each week, we must realize that it is not something that we are called to observe but to actively participate in. Not what we tune in to get something out of but something we seek to give to the Lord and others as we are there with them. The early church recognized this and it is why Luke highlights them as being together and daily attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, receiving their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:46-47). They saw the need to do such together rather than apart. I’ve heard it mentioned that watching “church” online is like watching a fireplace on TV. It’s there, but there’s no heat or life to it.
When we started the livestream at the beginning of the pandemic, we were clear that it was just a temporary supplement to keep us connected together for worship on Sunday mornings which could never serve as a sufficient substitute to actively being a part of the worship service in person. With the threat of COVID being minimized right now, the livestream is no longer needed. It is much safer to gather in person as the Lord has instructed us to in His Word. For those who are homebound and physically unable to make it out on Sunday mornings to join us for worship and have appreciated the livestream, we want you to know that we are continuing to record the audio of the services and burning them on CDs. If you like to have one of those CDs delivered to you each week, please let me know. We would be glad to send one to you so that you can listen to the services.