An Urgent Plea to Not Call Your Livestream Service ‘Church’ Tomorrow

We don’t all see eye-to-eye on church cancellations tomorrow. We are told by a government that lets Planned Parenthood stay open that to be good citizens, our churches must close. But not all churches are canceling services because they are willing to render unto Caesar that which belongs to God. Some are personally convicted that canceling services is wise and prudent, and that being wise and prudent is more important than the Lord’s Day assembly.

Obviously, I disagree. At the same time, we’ve raised more than 3k dollars (and given away another 2k from our reserves) to send nearly a hundred webcams to churches in need. Despite our disagreement on treating coronavirus like the Black Plague itself, we understand the health concerns and no matter how grossly inflated they are, they should still be treated seriously. Churches with a disproportionate number of stubborn old people, for example, might need to make a judgment call that’s unfortunate.

But please, hear me out on this even if you disagree with closing churches in a time of cultural desperation.

For the love of all that is good and pure, please do not refer to your livestream tomorrow as “online church.” Please do not tell your church members that it will be “just like going to church, but in your pajamas!” Please do not tell your church members that they will be doing church “in their homes.”

Not only are these promises lies, but they will irrevocably damage your church.

We – that is, the Christian church – already suffer from a malady of churchy pseudo-Christians who only occasionally fill our pews whenever it is convenient to them. And these churchy pseudo-Christians are staying home already to watch the Steven Furtick livestream, deadening their conscience to the commands of God to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25) under the misconception that watching that ranting lunatic is “church” for them.

But what if they weren’t watching Furtick or any one of the many TBN charlatans who explicitly sheep-poach by intentionally building “online campuses” to keep people out of church and instead glued to the bluescreen? What if they were watching our beloved John MacArthur, or Alistair Begg, or reruns of Adrian Rogers? Would their misconception that watching services on the computer screen is “church” be any less tragic if they were watching decent preachers than if they were watching Furtick have bodily convulsions sequenced to ‘preacher chords’? I would suspect that MacArthur, Begg, and the late Rogers would consider it tragic enough, either way.

The state of the visible church is such that it is quickly melting into an invisible church. Thanks to charlatans who already encourage people to join their church remotely, pay tithes on their seed-faith app, and sing along to Hillsong karaoke, people have been gradually fading away from the pews.

The “Internet church” is much more conducive to a churchy pseudo-Christian lifestyle, anyway. Furtick’s stage-prancing image doesn’t know if you’re watching or not, and it doesn’t care if you skip a week to golf. The whole ‘church in your pajamas’ thing is appealing to people who are already quite content giving God their absolute worst (dressing up is for Tinder hook-ups, apparently). The lady on the other end of Furtick’s prayer-and-donation hotline isn’t going to rebuke you for those Tinder hook-ups anyhow.

We orthodox-type pastors have been busy pleading with people for years that watching church services online is not the same as actual church. You’ve heard all the arguments…

  • A church is an “ecclesia” and an “ecclesia” is an assembly; staying in your home is not “assembling.”
  • You can’t – or at least shouldn’t – be observing the ordinances (communion and baptism) by yourself. These are ordinances given to the church, not to individuals. And by the way, if these things can’t be observed, you don’t have a “church” at all.
  • The power of the preached word is somehow special in the assembly. It is more effectual than that which you see on screen. And no, we can’t explain that. But we believe it’s supernatural.
  • Lord’s Day worship is corporate in nature. Everyone engaging in private worship at the same time is still not corporate worship. It’s just time-coordinated individual worship.

Those are all good, and true, arguments. But here’s the thing, those rules don’t change because of a pandemic.

Watching the computer at the same time in individual homes doesn’t magically become an “assembly” just because coronavirus exists. A contagious virus doesn’t somehow make a Bible study with no right to observe the ordinances into a “church.” If we are serious about what is, and what is not church, then we have to admit that logically, coronavirus doesn’t change any of that.

Please, please be careful about how you advertise your livestream church-substitute. Keep in mind that however you advertise your livestream will be used as a reason to stay home from church after the coronavirus threat is over.

After all, if watching the livestream in your PJ’s is “church” during coronavirus, it will be church after coronavirus. And they probably won’t be watching your livestream by the time it’s over; they’ll be watching Furtick’s.