By Pastor Jarrel S. Sena
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically turned our way of life upside down. With major cities in locked down or under quarantined no one is allowed to go outside unless it is justified by the declared guidelines of the national and local government agencies.
Consequently, mass gatherings are cancelled until further notice. Amid of this situation, evangelical congregations have opted to make their worship services available online. Pastors are now preaching from homes in order to minister to their congregations so as to fulfill their ministerial duties.
This begs the question: Are we not violating certain biblical imperatives about meeting together?
Hebrews 10:24-25 quickly comes to mind whenever this issue is raised, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Indeed the passage above is written to exhort believers of every generation about their duty to gather together with the goal of ministering to each other. But it also addresses the issue of “forsaking” the mentioned activity which is being done by others. Now, does this text tell us that “online worship services” is not supported by the Scripture?
Let us underscore the fact that the sin mentioned in Hebrews 10:24-25 cites the “intentional forsaking of Christian assemblies.” This is clearly indicated by the words “as is the habit of some.” Although no reason is given but we can surmise that some Hebrew believers have forsaken these Christian gatherings because they have defected from the faith considering the intense persecution directed against Jesus’ disciples in the 1st century (Hebrews 10:32-36). The author of Hebrews directs his readers to avoid such course of action because in times of persecution, believers should still seek to gather together to provide encouragement for each other.
In our time today, we are conducting online worship services because of a global pandemic. To protect ourselves and the people around us, we are avoiding mass gatherings because of the human-to-human transmission feature of the coronavirus. The decision to minister to our congregations electronically is a response to the threat of an unprecedented disease that can harm our neighbor once we assemble together in our respective churches. This is not “intentional” forsaking of our worship services.
Yet another issue surfaces, “Isn’t the government controlling Christians way of expressing their worship? Shouldn’t we applying the words of the Apostle Peter in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men?”
When Peter uttered those words, the Sanhedrin gave them strict order not to preach about our Lord Jesus Christ. There was a clear prohibition to do away with anything that would proclaim the gospel of our Lord. In our condition today, our faith is not persecuted. The government is doing what it can in order to “preserve the lives of its citizens.” In Romans 13:1, the Apostle Paul disclosed that “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
Godly Christians are also good citizens of this world. The online worship services we are conducting today is our way of recognizing the divine authority of our rulers in the government even if they do not worship the God of the Bible.
We can also cite the 2nd Greatest Commandment which is about loving our neighbors. Staying in our homes is a way for us to protect the people around us because we do not want to be carriers of COVID-19, infecting them in the end. Such act can be viewed as an act of love for love leads to protection.
Online worship services give us the opportunity to worship the Lord every Sunday despite being confined in our homes in this time of crisis. It is still possible for us to dress appropriately whenever our online worship service is being premiered. It is still possible for us to give to the Lord despite of the declared quarantine. It is not wrong to utilize the technology available for us to fulfill our duties to the church for the glory of God.
However, there is still no substitute for our physical coming together. It is my hope and prayer that once we get through this situation, we will be more committed to our local church.
Let me conclude with the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”