In this age of social distancing it raises some questions about the new normal. Is it possible to do church with people you never have contact with? This is one I have been thinking about.
I would say no. There were people who in the past who thought that radio, tv, cassette tapes and phone conferences could replace church. That was because they confused church with only two elements, music and preaching. Church is a group of people supernaturally called out to serve God together. We are parts of the same body. A body can’t work if the parts are permanently separated.
It is true that we have had a lot of cool times with cool gadgets in the last few weeks. Webcams and Zoom meetings have helped us through this time. It is difficult to be a family and not see each other and be able to have casual conversations that fill in the cracks. To weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Communion is not the same without the confession of the people you can see and touch. We haven’t tried baptism, but that public confession of following Jesus would not be the same virtually. It would be like seeing a movie about WW2 and feeling you knew what it was like. It is just not the same.
Think to of the commands to not forsake the gathering of ourselves together, the holy kiss (now a days holy hug), laying hands on the sick and the casting out of demons. How exactly do you do that with your camera and microphone. The commissioning of new ministers and praying for people to receive the baptism of The Holy Spirit. The list goes on.
I would challenge us to be resilient. Forms do change, but the substance does not. In the form we find the flock, bless and be blessed by the other sheep. Cherish the leadership (they are Jesus’ contribution to the church). Exercise the gifts, including the judging of them (both of these are almost impossible at a virtual distance). Finally, remember the church exists to be Jesus in this time and place. We are growing together as Holy Stones to build the temple of God. In that building we are growing up into the fullness of Christ our savior.
Virtual is a bridge. People are the reality. Jesus is the substance.