Summary: After more than six months, our congregation enjoys the convenience of online services, would that create a new habit that will continue even after the pandemic ends? Can on-line replace in-person Sunday service?
“Online Versus In-Person Service”
A 2019 survey published by Erin Duffin on Jan 17, 2020, showed 23 percent of Americans attend a church or synagogue every week, 10% almost every week, and 12% at least once a month. So, 45% of Americans go to church or synagogue at least once a month. Because of the pandemic, most churches have been closed since March this year, and they do their Sunday services with Zoom or YouTube. Many Christians enjoy joining the service online so much. Because of that, after more than six months doing the online service, some pastors worry that this would create a new habit that will continue even after the pandemic ends.
Would it be okay if, after the pandemic ends, those who can go to church choose to do online service? Some Christians support the idea. Here are some of their arguments: Online service is more convenient because they do not need to leave their houses and drive for 20 minutes or more. It is also more comfortable for them because they can sit on their sofa, enjoy their morning cappuccino, or lie on their beds while listening to the sermon. It is cheaper because we do not need to have or rent a place. And doing online service can reach more people to join (people from all over the world can participate). From the biblical perspective, they say, according to Apostle Paul, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit who is in us (1 Cor 6:19). So, we are the church! We do not need to go to a place called a church. Based on John 4:24, we can worship God in the Spirit and in truth, wherever we are. They also argue that the New Testament does not require us to attend a public service at church. A pastor of a mega church said not long ago that the Lord does not command us to meet. Is that true?
We are thankful for YouTube, Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet that have helped us a lot, especially during this pandemic. God gives humans intelligence to invent modern technology of communication. We, of course, will not despise it. Online service indeed has many benefits as they argue. I think churches still need Zoom and YouTube after the pandemic ends. But online service should not replace the in-person Sunday service. We can do Bible study or seminar online, but we need to have real meetings with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Why? Let us see what the Bible says about the importance of attending public worship:
1. Jesus and His disciples did it. It was the custom of Jesus Christ and His apostles to attend Sabbath services either at the Temple in Jerusalem or a synagogue if they were away from Jerusalem.
- Mark 1:21 - “Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.”
- Luke 6:6 – “Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught.”
- Acts 17:1-2 – “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went into them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures....”
The New Testament records more than ten occasions on which the ministry of Jesus took place in the synagogue. Jesus, and later also apostle Paul, used the synagogue to teach the word of God. Synagogues are consecrated spaces used for the purpose of prayer, reading of the Tanakh (the entire Hebrew Bible, including the Torah), study, and assembly (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synagogue).
2. The early Christians worshiped God at the Jerusalem Temple, the synagogues, and different locations. At first, they worshiped at the Temple and the synagogues. Acts 3;1 says: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.” When they realized that they were not welcome to worship there, they began to meet for Sabbath worship and non-Sabbath "Bible studies" and meetings in other locations:
- At rented rooms: “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying” (Acts 1:12-13a).
- At homes: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” (Acts 2:46a). Likewise, greet the church that is in their house (Rom 16:5). The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house (1 Cor 16:19). “to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Philemon 2).