There are some in the world today who are of the opinion that the future of the church will mirror the apparent future of retail sales as we see it in this country. In this, many have seen retail stores migrate over the years, from locally owned neighborhood stores, into nationally owned megastores, and then finally into what we are starting to see today – online stores that bring the product directly to your own home. Many religious organizations over the years have followed this business model and have also transitioned from small neighborhood places of worship, into megachurches where all kinds of religious opportunities are available, and lastly into what we are starting to see today – religion that is available without ever needing to leave your home. Some feel that in the future, some groups will measure their physical growth not by taking attendance each Sunday morning, but by seeing how many views or likes that they have had online. As we consider this, the transition for some religious groups may be an easier one for those with less individual participation. If people view worship from the point of view of a spectator, rather than a participant, then the transition away from the group to the home may be an easier one for some. But is this what God really intended?
Don't get me wrong. I think it's awesome when you need to purchase something rather obscure, instead of driving around town all day looking for it, you can immediately order it from your phone, and have it delivered to you in 24 hours. But can we achieve scriptural New Testament worship by forsaking the physical assembling of the saints, in lieu of digitally assembling?
Some aspects of our worship can be done not only as a group but also on our own. We can sing praises to God on our own. We can offer prayer to God on our own. There are a lot of really great mp3 and video sermons available online; the number of things like this that we can take advantage of is growing by leaps and bounds each day. How wonderful is it, to have these lessons preserved for us so that we can listen to them over and over again? How great is it to have these things available for those who at times are unable to attend services? Either for shut-ins, or for those traveling, or for those who are ill. Being able to connect when you cannot attend is a wonderful option to have. But I feel that the inclusion of digital information such as this is intended to add to your necessary worship, not to completely replace it. We can achieve things like edification and evangelism without a physical one-on-one contact, but I don't think that this was intended to be a long-term worship and outreach solution.
Words like fellowship and communion convey the meaning that they could not be achieved individually but only as part of a group. And, to take this a little further, the implication in each of these is that it could only be satisfied through physical contact and not remote access. One thing that seems to muddy the waters at times is how some define the word church. In the New Testament, it comes from the Greek word ekklesia essentially meaning the assembly or congregation. In this we are not talking about brick and mortar, but the physical assembling of believers. What about things such as baptism, and the partaking of the Lord's Supper? What about the need for elders to have oversight over the congregation? Would physical observation during the assembly need to be replaced by a constant observation of one's social media accounts? And while people seem very willing to share details of their lives that in previous generations would have been seen as private, there still is a certain connectivity that we can only get when we are face to face with someone. How many text messages and emails have been misconstrued, because the reader was unable to hear the tone of the sender’s voice, or unable to read subtle facial clues? How many of us have received a message that was mistakenly put in ALL CAPS, and then inferred that the person was yelling at us? How many of us have received messages where autocorrect has mistakenly fixed a word and completely changed the meaning of a sentence? These are things that become nonfactors when we take the time to talk to someone in person.
I do feel that changes in technology have made some good improvements in our worship service. People in the pew can have access to multiple Bible versions and resource material that in times past would have been difficult to match. Being able to project maps on to the screen that everyone can see is great. Being able to project two different verses side by side on the screen and compare them is good to have also, along with many other different things. And for those in our groups that are visual learners, having this option can add another dimension into what we are teaching. We can do more and engage more people in our classes with the use of these types of things. We can reach many more people outside of our services, when we have things to offer on our website. But, we can't let these things become the focus of our worship, and we can't let these things replace our worship. At the heart of all of this seems to be the principle of doing things our way instead of trying to see what God wants us to do.
One set of verses that comes to mind is Matthew 22:34-40, where Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is. And in his response, he gives the top two: to love God with everything you have and to love others in the same way that you love yourself. And that if you get these two right, then everything else will fall into place after that. So, the question then becomes, can we satisfy both of these conditions if we are not willing to physically meet with the saints? Am I putting God first in my life if I only consider remote worship? And am I concerned about the souls of my fellow man if I am not interested in meeting with them? Is worship about God and the saints or is it about me?