This may seem like I’m “preaching to the choir” when I say this, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought some hard times upon the whole world. But maybe rephrasing this way will catch your attention: in His meticulous providence, God brought COVID-19 upon the whole world to reveal several issues in not only American culture but throughout the entire world. Set aside the growing fault line between evangelicals on both ends of the political aisle, God also revealed another problem underlying Christianity: there’s a growing number of professing Christians participating in worship online rather than in a local church body.
At first glance, some of you may want to raise some legitimate concerns, such as, “But what about those that are homebound?” Or, “What about families that are sick?” Or perhaps, “I was hurt by several members of my last church. Why should I ever interact with others when I’m still feeling hurt?” Some of you may even use Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 that we’re being “all things to all people” when we encourage online church.
Except for being homebound, my hope is to briefly sketch why you need to sign off of online church and sign into your command from Christ to get involved in the ministry of His body..
Hebrews 6:23-25 is one of the clearest passages in Scripture on the importance of regularly gathering together to worship Christ. The writer exhorts, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And 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.” Hebrews 6:23-25
Before we look at our Hebrews passage, we should consider a few other key passages in Scripture to give context. When we look at God’s intention for humanity in the early chapters of Genesis, we were meant to be in community with each other. As God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:1-7 highlights, God intentionally planned to make a community of faith in the promised Seed. Jesus, the head of His body, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 6:18). Paul says that both the creation and his fellow apostles, those with “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” also “groan” for the fullness of the body of Christ, which will be revealed when Christ returns in glory (Rom. 8:19, 23). Simply put, God’s people need to commune together regularly because it’s God’s design and desire.
Now that there’s some context laid down, let’s examine our Hebrews passage. When we don’t faithfully obey the call to commune with other believers by using excuses to “do online church,” we do more than just neglect meeting together; we forsake several blessings.
One of those blessings is to not be stirred up “to love and good works” and not stirring others up to do the same. Holy love is contagious because it’s what sets apart the body. Why would you want to forsake that for the comfort of your La-Z-Boy chair?
Another blessing of God’s people gathering together is that as the days until Christ’s return are growing shorter, we’re able to encourage each other through every season of life. Christ promised that the intensity of the afflictions and sufferings God’s people face will grow (Matt. 24-25) before He returns; however, we’re not left without any consolation. In Christ, we can comfort each other.
A third blessing is that Christ ministers to us when we’re involved in the local church body, “for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 6:23). As the symbolism in Revelation 2:1 discloses, the Spirit of God actively and completely ministers to his people. In doing so, he convicts us when we are neglecting the assembly of those in Christ, and works within us the desire to be involved in the body of Christ.
Our sinful tendency is to isolate; online church makes it easy to do so. Online church encourages seclusion from the body of Christ, not inclusion. Online church encourages “Lone Ranger” Christianity; God’s word prohibits it. You need the body of Christ. If you’re hurt by past trauma, that pain will never be resolved by doing online church. Only intentional reconciliation and active participation in the body of Christ will bring healing and restoration.
Participating in the ministry of a local church body is God’s design and desire. Christ bought you with his precious blood in His atonement, and in doing so, you’re brought into an entirely different community, a holy community. May the Holy Spirit convict you to sign-off from online church and to sign into a local church body to fulfill Christ’s design and desire.