BY DR. KURT TRUCKSESS – LEAD PASTOR, CROSSWINDS CHURCH
This past spring, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the nation shut down. Businesses were shuttered. Masks became common place. Schools were closed early for the summer. As the size of gatherings were limited, churches were also closed. In an attempt to maintain some sense of normalcy, the world went online. Zoom calls became a daily occurrence. Church also went online. While many churches already had a digital presence, others scrambled to enter the digital universe.
In many ways, the pandemic was good for the church. Churches that formerly limited themselves to in-person gatherings were forced to the internet. They could now reach beyond their walls and the limitations of the church building through technology. Churches of any size could establish a global reach. Another COVID benefit was that Christians who restricted themselves to in-person teaching began scrambling to find Christian content online. On the internet, they found massive libraries of great preachers from the past and pulpit titans of the present. There was limitless Bible teachings that spanned hundreds of years available to them at the touch of a button. Like the printing press, radio, and sound amplification equipment, when Christians embraced technology, it enabled the gospel to go places it had never gone before.
In other ways, the shift to internet-only church posed a spiritual danger. While Christians can be spiritually enriched by online church, that cannot replace what happens when God’s people come together for in-person worship. We experience things differently in community compared to isolation. Imagine the difference between experiencing a Saturday night concert at the Green Space in Arnolds Park standing in a cheering crowd seeing the musician in front of you compared to watching the same event at home on your phone while sitting in your basement. It is a completely different experience. We are not just spiritual creatures. We are social creatures. We were made for community. There is a big difference between experiencing things with people compared to experiencing things when alone. One cannot replace the other.
On Sunday mornings, when it comes to the pastor and his teaching, there is a big differece between a pastor that is on a screen compared to a flesh-and-blood pastor you listen to on Sunday morning and talk to after the service. Many people have told me an in-person sermon is more helpful to them than watching the same sermon online. There is also a big difference between experiencing corporate worship in church when you hear the voices of your brothers and sisters singing praises to Jesus with you, compared to watching your church sing apart from you on YouTube.
When a church gathers, they celebrate baptism together and the Lord’s Supper together. Baptism without the cheering of believers celebrating new spiritual life is different. It is not a joyful celebration and public proclamation of faith in front of others. The Lord’s Supper is also incredibly difficult to celebrate digitally in isolation when it was intended to be celebrated corporately when God’s people are gathered together. Originally, it was intended to be celebrated with one loaf of bread (1 Cor. 10:17) and the wine was to come from one cup (Mark 14:23). That cannot be done digitally.
A little research reveals that the New Testament has at least 30 “one another” commands. These commands instruct Christians on how they are to treat one another. If a church never gathers, it is difficult to carry out these commands. For example, we are told to build one another up, admonish one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, be patient with one another, encourage one another, stir one another up to love and good works, confess our sins to one another, and to look out for the interests of one another. It is difficult to do these things digitally when we have no idea who else is with us while watching church online.
The Bible also tells us God gave Christians spiritual gifts. Those gifts are needed by the body of Christ. Those gifts were not given for us to serve ourselves. They were given to us to serve others in the body of Christ who need the help of our gift. It becomes difficult to follow the Bible’s instruction on using our gifts to serve others in the church when we limit ourselves to stay-at-home digital church. We do not know others in the church body. We don’t have the same kind of opportunities to physically connect and serve others in the church.
Maybe most devastating of all is what we teach our children by choosing to stay at home and worship digitally when we could be worshiping in person corporately. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 reminds us we are to raise our children in the instruction of the Lord. The primary teaching tool parents have at their disposal is the life they live in front of their children. Children imitate their parents. Showing our children the importance of making a sacrifice so we can attend corporate worship rather than caving in to the convenience of digital worship is an important lesson for us to teach our children. In an increasingly digital world, where everything in lives of our children is moving online, it is the job of parents to teach their children that while digital church is a good thing, it cannot replace corporate church where God’s people come together.
Are there those who should continue worshipping digitally at home? Of course! Those in high risk categories should limit their exposure and worship from home. While we celebrate the blessing of technology to keep us connected, let us not be misled into thinking digital church is an equal swap for flesh-and-blood corporate church. One cannot replace the other. Jesus did not come digitally. He came physically. A digital preacher will not perform your wedding. He will not perform your funeral. When Christ returns, he will resurrect us physically, not digitally. While we are grateful for technology and how it helps the church share the gospel and stay connected, digital church cannot replace physical church. They are not the same.