I hope this article will serve as sort of a vaccine for spiritual protection. As churches get used to experiencing church services online via livestream, recognize the dangers of getting used to such a thing. We need to inoculate ourselves against this. I suspect that after this current crisis blows over, we will have many more people content to stay home, or travel and feel ok to go to “church” online. It is not ok.
God has commanded His people to meet together in an intensely personal and spiritual manner. He brings His people together – person to person, face to face. Biblical local church life engages the whole being. This method which God designed, cultivates personal relationships, stimulates the mind and stirs emotions. It is intellectually stretching and relationally enriching.
In Acts 1:4 the saints are “assembled together in one place.” In fact, the Biblical word, “church,” (ecclesia) means “assembly” or “congregation” of people who gather together. The early church gathered together, in cities where the first local churches were established (Acts 2:42-47).
Paul assumes that the church will meet saying, “when you come together,” (1 Cor. 14:26). Luke documents meeting on the Lord’s Day (Ac. 20:7).
Heb 10:25, speaks, to the imperative of meeting together but it is not referring to temporary pauses for emergencies. Rather, it refers to people who are “forsaking.” They are avoiding the gatherings because they don’t prefer them and would rather do something else, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Earthquakes, fires, snow and ice storms and other emergencies may require pausing the meeting. This is legitimate. In other words, it is not sin to pause meeting for unusual situations.
Don’t lose your love for the meetings of the church. Innoculate yourself against it.
There are many things that happen in personal face-to-face meetings that are impossible in online experiences. When the church meets together it is exposed to dozens of beneficial forces.
Simply driving to church prepares you to meet people and experience the moment and activates your mind. Hopefully you are saying in your heart, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps 122:1). The anticipation of being in the same room with your brothers and sisters changes the whole relational dynamic. When we meet in the same room, there are things that happen in our thinking and our feeling that shape us. It is multifaceted.
When we arrive at church, we are met at the door by happy greeters. We are appreciated. Enter the door and we see smiles on faces. We may detect sorrow in an expression and compassion wells up within. We greet visitors and inquire about their lives. We realize that we missed seeing our brothers and sisters and we ask how they are doing.
We hear a member of the body read the Word of God. We hear the sounds of the voices singing – my favorite sound. The whole congregation sings off the same page in unity, drawing us all together with one voice.
We are affected by the different kinds of people we meet. For example if you are seeing a new Christian or someone who is a godly or knowledgeable or holy, it affects you. We relate to them in a particular way. If we encounter someone who is living a worldly life we recognize that and we interact with that person thoughtfully and prayerfully. We relate with children differently than we do senior citizens. We relate with females differently compared to males.
This is totally different compared to seeing a talking head online. We sense that one person might be depressed, or another might be happy. We are forced into uncomfortable situations being alongside brother who may have offended us. There are children and old people, singles and marrieds and all of these interactions are designed by God to supply something that is lacking. There is the subtle impact of sitting next to another person and hearing the sound of their voice.
These online methods are terribly substandard methods of meeting. They simply do not compare with meeting together physically.
So during this present crisis, get on the livestream, but vaccinate yourself with the knowledge of God’s will. Remember what you are missing. Fill your mind with the beauties of meeting face to face to experience the “one anothers” as God designed. As you listen or watch online, remember this is temporary. It must be temporary. Resist the drift in your thinking that this is adequate.
Scott T. Brown is the president of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches and elder at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He gives most of his time to local pastoral ministry, expository preaching, conferences on church and family reformation. Scott helps people think through the two greatest institutions God has provided — the church and the family.