Despite the challenges, online worship as result of the pandemic has led to some truly nice surprises. Ministers are excited about “seeing” people join a virtual service that had not set foot in their physical location. It is surprising to see how many people show up online that we had been unsuccessfully inviting for years.
Some ministers say they appreciate the willingness of their congregation to try something new. And some are just grateful for the ability to “see” their congregants in a time of being physically distanced.
It has been a blessing to use the interactive nature of live online worship to respond to prayer needs. In some congregations viewers can write prayer requests in the comments section and receive prayer right away. Others keep the live streaming open after the online service, to allow for “fellowship.” These opportunities for members to talk to one another help to keep the experience of community, alive.
But, can it ever be true that we live during an age where people do not need the physical meeting of believers anymore? Is online worship the new normal and the answer to the decline in participation in local Churches? Is this not rather the result of a lack of Biblical teaching by the Church about the Church! It seems that less people know what the biblical teaching about the Church of Christ is. AFTER lock down we must return to fellowship, koinonia and togetherness again.
Interesting research shows that the church is at great risk to experience permanent damage to her very DNA after prolonged periods of fundamental change to her practices and traditions. After World War Two, when the majority of church members in the UK and Europe were unable to attend because both men and women were not in their home towns and were assigned duties where attending church services were impossible, never saw participation with their congregations ever again. It was the beginning of local churches practically being wiped out as a result of non-attendance.
A strategy to bring folks back to physical association with the local church must be in place long before the lock down is over.
An important part of this strategy would be to use the online services where many “new” faces appear, to teach clearly and without excuse what the Bible teaches about who and what the Church of Christ is and how and why we should be part of physical togetherness and fellowship.
Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Tim 3: 15: I write (to you) so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.
This short verse says a lot about the local Church. Paul spoke to Timothy about “the Church of the living God”, about the “household of God” and about the Church as the “pillar of truth”. We need to carefully examine what the Bible says to remain within God’s will when it comes to being part of the Church and about maintaining God’s work through our home Churches.
In our current society we live with a multitude of political, civil, social, environmental, sport and business organisations.
Unfortunately, many started to see the Church as only another option to choose from.
Paul, however, indicated to Timothy that the Church has a special importance in God’s plan for our lives and if we want to serve and worship God, we need instruction on how we are to relate to the Church and plan of God for conducting ourselves as learners and followers of Jesus Christ.
1. The Church is the Household of God.
Many metaphors are used to describe the Church in the Bible, for example a temple, a body, a community and a family.
When the Church is referred to as a household, the emphasis is on the essential need of believers to be supported and encouraged through real relationships with other Christians.
We are interconnected as brothers and sisters, because God is our Father and we have one Saviour, while one Holy Spirit lives in us. We have been initiated into one Body by the same Baptism and as such we were ordained to serve God as part of this community and to share in the same Supper of Christ (Holy Communion) to be strengthened and built up in our most holy faith. The Lord’s Supper is not optional: it is a command of Jesus.
We are to care for each other, to share God’s love and to help those who need support or are hurting.
We all need encouragement and we all need to grow in the knowledge of Christ. We all need to grow in love for the Lord. This happens within the family of God. Being practically part of the family is essential and the Bible says the local Church is where you will experience this.
Our behaviours, choices and participation impact on our brothers and sisters who need us. When we are willing to share in the family of God, we will find that we need their love, friendship and encouragement too. Settling for online worship as sufficient can create a practice of extreme selfishness where our Christian experience is ONLY about ourselves and our own spirituality. Such a view is not Biblical and is NOT the dream of Jesus Christ for the Church he died for – and overcame for through his resurrection.
Let’s be very clear: If we do not see the Church as the household of God and ourselves as brothers and sisters to every other believer, we do not listen to what the Bible says about the Church.
But if we do, we will begin to experience the abundance that Christian living is intended to be.
2. The Church is the pillar and support of the truth.
Learning about the Gospel, about God, in the faith community, safeguards the truth. Anyone can sometimes misinterpret God’s Word and some are prone to over emphasising one teaching of the Bible to the detriment of others. Within the Church of Christ we find the support to uphold the complete truth and full counsel of God.
The Church is a pillar and support of God’s truth, because of the biblical promise that God’s Spirit will be present within this community and will guide his people. Although we know that the Spirit dwells in every individual follower of Jesus, God’s promise to reveal and uphold the truth that has to be taught and learned, is given to the community of Christ, as a body.
In Church we in faith expect God to address his people on the one universal, Christian truth as revealed in Christ and testified to by the prophets and apostles in the Scriptures.
The Church provides the context where we challenge one another to fully live for the Lord on the basis of the truth God has revealed to us in Christ and through the Scriptures. We do this as the household of God, the community of the King, the Church of the Living God.
The Church is composed of people redeemed by the Son of God, brought together by the will of God to live together as the family of God, in order to do the work of God.
This is possible when we share the truth of God, through the guidance of the Spirit of God, because we desire to know the full Gospel of Christ, as the Church of God.
3. Meeting as the Household of God is not optional.
Yes, the Church needs reformation – even a lot of restructuring to be truly faithful to Jesus Christ. And the leaders and members of the Church make mistakes. And the Church sometimes communicates in a way that does not feel relevant and we need to repent of the mistakes and correct them with God’s help.
But the fact that the meeting of God’s people as his Church is not perfect does not make it optional.
Jesus established the Church. He did not only establish individual Christian-living, but a community, called the Church. Jesus said he builds a community on the confession that he is Lord, Saviour and the Son of God. It is this community that the New Testament calls the Church of Christ.
The New Testament simply assumes that people who are believers are part of a local Church where they live by their confession about Jesus and encourage each other to serve and believe as the Bible teaches.
The Church is not man’s invention, but God’s.
Sharing the Word and Sacraments is not arranged by manmade rules and wisdom, by manuals and church orders – but by God our Father, through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives - to the glory of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of his body – his holy Church.