In the March 25th editorial for Christianity Today, the progressive rag known for giving a platform to every weird and liberally insidious bent, Editor in Chief Daniel Harrell made some unflattering comparisons and chastened Christians who are still deciding to have church services in these trying times, writing:
Even if we do practice stringent hygiene and social distancing, coming together as congregations in the face of this pandemic actually mars our witness. Rather than looking courageous and faithful, we come off looking callous and even foolish, not unlike the snake handlers who insisted on playing with poison as a proof of true faith.
Later in the article, Harell commends the notion that instead of physically gathering as a body, we should be practising “online church” and “the virtual body of Christ,” ostensibly to not look silly or foolish to the unbelieving world who will view our gatherings as dangerous and destructive to our witness. (As if many things we currently do in our services aren’t already considered foolish or strange to the unbelieving pagan- think what happens during communion, or the fact that we worship as God a man they believe has been dead and rotting in the ground for 2000 years. )
In fact, we reached out to Harrell and asked what he would say to the belief that far from having church services in these times making us look silly, they reinforce to the unbelieving world how serious and important our services and ordinances are to us? Or the fact that snake handlers are abusing and twisting the scriptures to propagate their hucksterism, whereas congregations meeting on the Lord’s day are not.
We will update this post if and when he responds.
In contradistinction to this viewpoint that we might as well be snake-handlers for refusing to give up our services in exchange for interwebs church, we wrote in An Urgent Plea to Not Call Your Livestream Service ‘Church’ Tomorrow of how the two cannot be favorably compared as if they are equal. JD writes:
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.”
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.
Update 1: Daniel Harrell responded, to the question ” As it pertains to this article, what would you say to the belief that far from church services in these times making us look silly, they reinforce to the unbelieving world how serious and important our services and sacraments are to us?” with ” If public worship didn’t unnecessarily and unintentionally endanger others who don’t share our faith… “