Church Criticisms Day 1: Online Church Is Easier – A Change in Fellowship
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).
For the small sum of about $1, I can make a quick run to McDonald’s and get an 1/8th-pound regular hamburger. On said hamburger, of course, are the requisite dill pickles, onions, ketchup, and mustard. It’s easy, fast, and tastes decent. A more costly option would be a sit-down restaurant, which might set you back 45 minutes to an hour of your time, and maybe $10-15 for a burger meal. Or, finally, you can buy all the ingredients, grind the meat, and prepare it yourself. Done right, this is pretty costly, especially from a time perspective. However, it will be far superior to the $1 McDonald’s alternative. As is proven time and time again, easier and faster doesn’t mean better.
So, yes, online church is easy (at least for the people that are only tuning in). From the comfort of your living room and pajamas, you can “get your church on” (another ridiculous phrase). During the height of the 2020-21 pandemic, it was the only option for some places. Other workarounds were constructed, including drive-in services. But for the most part, online church thrived and expanded over the past 12 months. With it came the temptation to say, “Hey, this is so much easier! Why not do this all the time?” Most importantly, because it is unscriptural! And yes, I know there was no internet when the Bible was written. Still, it is unscriptural to cease physical meetings altogether and shift to all-online services. Consider the words noted above: the writer of Hebrews tells us about the danger found in “neglecting to meet together.” He even notes that it was “the habit of some” then!
I’m not sure how it went back in biblical times, but you can hear the justification today: “I have to get dressed, drive to church, and drive back home. Think of the time I would save!” Of course, the perceived benefits we conjure up will be mostly self-focused (aka selfish). But consider the losses. By meeting with other believers face to face, you are better able to “stir up one another to love and good works” and to “encourage one another.” Do you notice the shift away from self to others (“one another” used twice)? Being together helps us better focus on one another. Isn’t it the same way with family? Which is a better way to spend time together: FaceTime, or actual face time? And just maybe, this is where the heart of the problem lies. As we spend less time with other Christians, the less they are what they should be to us: family. There is plenty of biblical support for this truth, but think in the simplest of terms: as fellow Christians, we are brothers and sisters; as forgiven sinners, we are the children of God. We are family, whether we like it or not!
Online church can also encourage spiritual detachment, distractions, and other related issues during a service. If you’ve joined Facebook Live, YouTube, or other streaming options, your line is muted and the video is one-way. Nobody can see or hear what you’re doing, which makes tuning out all too easy. But even in a Zoom setting, your line can be on mute the whole time. In both of those settings, how much fellowship is had? Fellowship is something that Luke said the early church “devoted themselves to” (Acts 2:42). Online church is inferior—I’m sorry, but it is. It’s easy to access, and it’s easy to be invisible. It is scripturally deficient and discourages building close relationships. I love being with fellow Christians! It isn’t a chore, a waste of time, or anything like that. I enjoy the fellowship, the ability to help one another, getting to truly know each other, and being able to really interact, all of which are significantly hampered (or virtually eliminated) if a move is made to go fully online.
For nearly all of human history prior, God dealt with humans from a distance. But then Jesus, our Emmanuel, came here: God with us; the distance was eliminated. He interacted face to face and had fellowship with His creation. If you read through Hebrews, the new covenant Jesus established is summed up in one word: better. But again, better was not easier; His suffering was far from easy. This new covenant is commemorated each week across the globe, as Christians meet face to face and obey His command to break bread together. He wants us to be together! So let’s be sure to make it happen.