Can Christians Go to Church Online?

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us 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.”

This passage is fresh on my mind because I just preached on it last Sunday. Two things come to mind here. As a Christian, you should be considering the people in your church that you might stir them up to love and good works. You can't do that if you don't know the people in your church and you can't know the people there if you're watching church from home. You can't go to church digitally. Part of being in church is being under the oversight of pastors and elders, and so if a person watches church online but doesn't go to an actual gathering, they're not technically functioning as a part of the body. Furthermore, you can't take the Lord's Supper on your bed with toast and milk. 

If we could commune ourselves, as it were, then things like church discipline, which Jesus instituted in Matthew 18, would be virtually impossible, no pun intended. It just couldn't work.  God intends for you to be in the church hearing the word preached, praying together with the body, submitting to your elders. This is just what you see everywhere in the New Testament. 

Irritate People Out of Love and to Love

It's actually really an interesting word there, “stir up.” It's usually used negatively. It means to irritate or provoke. You know when you really get to know someone you find out those things that irritate them—finishing a food item and then putting the empty container back in the fridge or cupboard. You go to retrieve the Oreos and there aren't any left because someone ate the last one and then you pick up the empty box and find out that you got nothing there, it's irritating. 

Here the pastor [to the Hebrews] says, let's know each other well enough to irritate each other in ways that create love. You know how a pearl is formed? A small irritant, usually a parasite and sometimes a grain of sand, finds its way into a clam. As a defense mechanism, the clam secretes a substance called nacre over the irritant coating it over and over again until a beautiful pearl is formed. The pastor is saying, look, let's be irritators in that sense. You got to show up. Cause the pearls of love and good works to form in the people around you. And if you don't go to church, that's just not going to happen. I think that's one of the big things we lose. But even more fundamental is the fact that God is the one who calls us to gather together with his people. 

If we don't show up then we don't receive His gifts. That's where he's promised to meet us in safety, and he's given us such wonderful precious promises. 

I think of the picture in Life magazine, right after victory in World War Two, and you've got the sailor picking up a woman on the street in New York City, Times Square, and swinging her around. When a wonderful event happens and an announcement is given, you hear it over the loudspeaker or you see it on TV, and you get the news, it can be so great that you just grab any person on the street and hug them. Why? Because it's a shared event. The event, the announcement makes a community of people who feel bound together by that announcement. And that's exactly what happens when we go to hear the King stand on the balcony and give his announcement. It turns atomistic individuals into a church, into a body, and that body is not just invisible, it's visible in this world. You go to a particular place to be with that body.

There was an ancient heresy known as Gnosticism that said, basically, physical things don't matter. It's only our inner spirit that matters. And I think there are a lot of Gnostics in America today, people who think that you can do all your “spirituality” online, it can all be digital because our bodies don't matter. But, you look again and again to the role of the body in the New Testament, Paul, for example, saying in Romans 12, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice,” it's not just our souls that are saved, it's our bodies. And so we have to bodily show up and be part of the body of Christ that is a visible local community.


Adapted from an answer given in Episode 220 of the Core Christianity Radio Show. 

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