After spending eleven chapters laying a foundation of the Christian faith doctrine-by-doctrine, Paul turns his attention in chapter twelve of Romans to how the Christian should live out their faith in order to glorify God.
In Romans 12:9-10, the focus is centered upon love. In essence, Paul is making the point that this is what authentic Christianity looks like and the world should see it clearly displayed among the church family. Just as he does when he writes to the church in Galatia and talks about the fruit of the Spirit, Paul places love first in his list here in Romans 12:9-21 as well.
Some years ago, I overheard a person make the following statement about his relationship to the rest of his church. He said, “I am called to love everyone in the church, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like everyone.” I understand the spirit of what was being said, but I simply disagree. Paul writes the following in Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine.”
Genuine love is not hypocritical. It doesn’t wear a mask. It doesn’t display love outwardly while beneath the surface concealing hatred or a strong dislike. Paul uses the Greek term, “ἀγάπη” was not a common type of love among the Greek culture. This is one of the rarest words in ancient Greek literature. It describes a sacrificial love, one that loves in such a way that is not motivated by a return or potential value. It’s a love of the will whereby a person chooses to love. This is the way God loved us according to Romans 5:8 and John 3:16.
Paul goes on to explain in the very next verse (Romans 12:10) that the church is to love one another with a brotherly love. He uses a compound word in the Greek “φιλαδελφία” that literally means “brotherly love.” In fact, two times in this single verse, Paul uses the term “ἀλλήλων” translated one another. All throughout the Bible, the church is called to love one another, care for one another, and support one another.
Regarding the Church’s Unity:
- Be at peace with one another (Mk 9:50)
- Don’t grumble among one another (Jn 6:43)
- Be of the same mind with one another (Ro 12:16, 15:5)
- Accept one another (Ro 15:7)
- Wait for one another before beginning the Lord’s Supper (1 Co 11:33)
- Don’t bite, devour, and consume one another (Ga 5:15)
- Don’t envy one another (Ga 5:26)
- Gently, patiently tolerate one another (Ep 4:2)
- Be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving to one another (Ep 4:32)
- Bear with and forgive one another (Co 3:13)
- Seek good for one another, and don’t repay evil for evil (1 Th 5:15)
- Don’t complain against one another (Jas 4:11, 5:9)
- Confess sins to one another (Jas 5:16)
Regarding the Church’s Humility:
- Give preference to one another in honor (Ro 12:10)
- Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Php 2:3)
- Serve one another (Ga 5:13)
- Wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14)
- Don’t be haughty: be of the same mind to one another (Ro 12:16)
- Be subject to one another (Ep 5:21)
- Clothe yourselves in humility toward one another (1 Pe 5:5)
Regarding the Church’s Love:
- Love one another (Jn 13:34, 15:12, 17; Ro 13:8; 1 Th 3:12, 4:9; 1 Pe 1:22; 1 Jn 3:11, 4:7, 11; 2 Jn 5)
- Through love, serve one another (Ga 5:13)
- Tolerate one another in love (Ep 4:2)
- Greet one another with a kiss (Ro 16:16; 1 Co 16:20; 2 Co 13:12)
- Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (Ro 12:10)
Immediately after baptizing 3,000 people following Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, the early church is pictured as being devoted to the apostle’s teaching. The very next description of the early church is fellowship. The word for fellowship is “κοινωνία” which transcends a fist bump and casual hello on Sunday morning. The idea expressed by the early church’s fellowship was true and genuine love—resulting in close relationships through the gospel.
The idea that we are to merely tolerate one another as members of the same church is simply not biblical. We are called to love one another with a brotherly affection that transcends shallow pretense. Anyone can tolerate another person in a work environment or at a high school football game, but the church is to put on display the love of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ by demonstrating genuine love for one another.
Remember Jesus’ words, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently watched a worship service that was livestreamed on Facebook. It was at a different time than our service, and mostly out of curiosity, I clicked the link and watched a good portion of it. What struck me was how it started. With a countdown clock reaching the five-minute mark, one of the musicians stepped into view of the camera and greeted everyone. He made the following statement, “Good morning church! We will begin worship in just five minutes, so go grab your favorite beverage and sit back and enjoy!”
What happens just before the worship service begins communicates much about the church’s approach to the worship of God. Are we arriving late on a perpetual basis for worship? Are we overly casual in our approach to worship? Are we uptight and stressed out as we approach the worship of God? As we consider the call to worship God, we should take our approach and preparation for worship seriously.
Guard Against Overly Casual Worship
To be clear, navigating the worship of God during the pandemic has been difficult. Sometimes, with children it’s like herding cats. One Sunday, I turned to my family and announced that our service is about to begin in less than a minute. My youngest daughter had animal crackers on a paper plate in one hand with her Bible in the other as she was approaching the living room. Once we made our way into the living room, just after the call to worship from God’s Word, my youngest son was on the couch rolling off into the floor with a loud thud.
Attempting to maintain some form of consistency in our approach to worship through the pandemic has been a challenge, but from the beginning my wife and I asked our children to get up at the normal time and get dressed and prepare for worship in order to avoid going into the living room with pajamas and disheveled hair without a proper approach to worship. The heart behind our approach to worship matters. R.C. Sproul once wrote the following:
Our church service begins at 10:30 a.m. At 10:20, we turn the lights down and begin the prelude. This is the signal for our people to begin preparing for worship. By contrast, God gave Israel two days to prepare. He required them to be consecrated and to wash their clothes. These preparations were appropriate for what was about to happen. If I told my congregation that in three days God was going to appear visibly and that He wanted them to wash their clothes for the occasion, I am sure they would do it. It would seem to be an insignificant requirement for the awesome privilege of standing in God’s physical presence. 
From a theological foundation, Dr. Sproul pointed his congregation to prepare themselves to worship God. Needless to say, encouraging your church to grab their favorite beverage and sit back and enjoy the worship is to miss the point of worship altogether. We can be far too casual in our approach. Psalm 2:11 reads, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” George Swinnock writes the following:
Cleanly men wash their hands and brush their clothes every day, but when they are to dine with a king they will wash and scour their hands; they will brush their clothes over and over again, that their hands maybe, if possible, clean from the least dirt, and their garments from the least dust. The true Christian is, in all company, and in the whole course of his life, every day careful to keep his soul clean and his conscience clear—nay, to increase his godliness; but when he drawth nigh to God, then he hath more special care and extraordinary caution. 
Casual worship can lead to a careless worship which devalues something very precious and turns worship into something far less than what God expects from his people.
Guard Against Stressful Worship
When preparing to worship God corporately, we must avoid a stress filled worship. Certainly, from a leadership standpoint, a certain amount of stress is to be expected, but we should seek to be so prepared for worship that we are able to avoid the common stresses that plague families as they enter the campus of the church for weekly worship.
There are some practical ways to avoid stressful worship services such as beginning the preparation for Sunday on Saturday. In order to get a family prepared for Sunday, preparing clothes is essential. Laying out the clothes and having an orderly approach to Sunday morning is a great help. It’s also important to prepare the mind and heart for worship on the Lord’s Day. Reading through the text of Scripture that will be preached on the following day and praying for the Lord to teach you and grow you spiritually will make a drastic difference in how you approach worship.
Additionally, if you’re meeting in small groups or Sunday school gatherings before the morning worship service, it would be wise to conclude your study with enough time to properly prepare yourself as you enter the auditorium so that you don’t feel rushed as you enter the room and unprepared to be called to worship from the opening Scripture reading and prayer. Something as simple as arriving ten minutes early will have a dramatic impact on how you approach God in worship. This approach may allow you to pray and mentally prepare yourself for what unique opportunity presents itself as the gathered church worships God on the Lord’s Day.
As we consider the privilege of worship, we are called by God to draw near to the throne of the sovereign God of all creation. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” However, Uzzah failed to understand how to draw near to God appropriately (See 2 Sam. 6). The same thing could be said of Nadab and Abihu. God warned the people following the tragic scene with Nadab and Abihu saying, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Leviticus 10:3). We must draw near to God in worship, for we are called to worship him, but we must do so with both fear and faith. We must approach God with a fear that causes us to tremble and a faith that causes us to serve God with joy.
When athletes prepare for a big game, they do so with great intentionality. Their approach to play is not casual, so why is our approach to worship often very casual? George Swinnock observes:
When thou hearest, in the fear of God give audience to his word, Acts xiii. 16. Poor peasants must be trembling when this prince is speaking. With meekness receive that word which will damn or save thy soul. 
- R.C. Sproul, “Preparing Your Heart for Worship” [accessed 5/18/20).
- George Swinnock, The Works of George Swinnock, M.A., Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1868), 87.
- Ibid., 97.
It should go without saying that Christian worship should be centered on Christ, but sadly many worship services are centered on the additives—and sometimes such additives are carnal attempts to please carnal people who care very little about the Jesus of holy Scripture.
Every church has a specific liturgy that it follows—from a more biblical background to a more contemporary and pragmatic order—every church follows a specific structure. In many cases, the worship service is centered around a pragmatic arrangement in order to guide the emotions of people. In such cases, the worship becomes man centered rather than Jesus centered. When was the last time you examined the worship service of your church and asked honest questions about why it’s ordered in that specific way? Is truth driving the order of your service or is emotion or other man centered pragmatic goals?
The Jesus centered worship service will have a goal of pointing people to their hope in Jesus from the opening Scripture reading and call to worship to the benediction. The Jesus centered worship service is not a rejection of Trinitarian worship. In fact, all Christian worship is Trinitarian, but true Trinitarian worship puts a priority on Jesus who is the true worship leader, the Prophet greater than Moses, the Priest greater than Melchizedek, and the King greater than David.
The Father Emphasizes the Centrality of Jesus
Before the world was created, the decision was made among the Trinity to send Jesus into his own creation as the second Adam—the Messiah—the Christ of God. According to Scripture, Jesus was sent by the Father (Matt. 10:40; John 5:24, 30, 37; John 12:49). One of the greatest verses in the Bible teaches this very truth. In John 3:16, it says, “For God so love the world that he gave his only Son…”
The Father places emphasis on the Son as one who provides eternal life to fallen sinners. This exclusive hope grounded in Jesus necessitates the centrality of Jesus as the focus of our Christian worship. Perhaps this could not be more clear than in John 6:40, when Jesus says, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” When we gather for worship on the Lord’s Day, our worship should be unacceptable in a Jewish synagogue because it’s Christian worship focused on our Triune God with a central emphasis upon Jesus—the Christ of God.
The Spirit Points the Church to Jesus
Many Christian groups have erred throughout history by placing an unhealthy emphasis upon the Spirit of God which is not God’s intention for Christian worship. The Spirit’s goal is to point God’s people to truth (John 16:13-15) and emphasize the work of Jesus Christ for guilty and helpless sinners. We see this clearly taught in 1 Peter 1:2, as Peter describes that we are saved “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”
The Spirit’s role among the Trinity is to point people to a saving knowledge of Jesus (John 15:26; 16:14). This purpose is clearly revealed in the pages of Scripture. In Romans 8:9, listen to the way Paul describes our assurance of salvation in Jesus. He writes, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The Spirit leads us to Jesus and provides us with ongoing assurance as he indwells us—as the Spirit of Christ.
John Calvin, in the opening words of book three of his Institutes, observes, the “Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself.”  As the Spirit unites us to Jesus through the gospel, he continues to keep us in union with Christ by his work of sanctification. The Holy Spirit is more than a soft white dove—He is the third person of our Triune God. He is omnipotent, eternal, and holy. Although we can and should worship the Spirit, it is the Spirit’s goal to point our attention and affections toward Jesus so that we will be conformed to his image rather than the image of this present evil world.
In John 16:7-11, Jesus said the following:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
It is the Spirit’s role to convict guilty sinners of sin, because they have rejected the gospel of Jesus (John 16:9). Secondly, the Spirit convicts sinners of righteousness, specifically the righteousness of Jesus. In order to be saved, we must look away from ourselves to an alien righteousness of Jesus—the true and better Adam who kept the law in totality and never sinned in one point. Finally, the Spirit of God convicts sinners of the coming judgment that will consume Satan and anyone who is deceived by him into rejecting Jesus.
Jesus Receives the Worship of His People
Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, we find people worshipping him. For instance, in John 9:38, the blind man who was healed by Jesus believed in him and worshipped him. We see a similar scene in Matthew 1:1-2 as a leper approached Jesus and worshipped him. In Matthew 21:15-16, as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, the crowds worshipped him. Perhaps in one of the most striking scenes of worship, we find the apostle John falling on his face before Jesus in worship and awe as he sees a transcendent and glorious vision of Jesus.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:17–18).
It’s clear that Jesus is the center of worship for the Christian Church. What better place to see this truth than when Jesus himself led in the final Passover meal and instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples just prior to his crucifixion. Paul describes this scene to the church at Corinth:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:23–25).
Jesus was more than a good teacher or an influential rabbi—Jesus was God in human flesh and remains so to this very day. He did not reject the worship of people as we see the angel rebuking the apostle John in Revelation 19:10. The angel spoke to the confused apostle and said, “worship God.” As people bowed down to worship Jesus he received the worship of his people. This includes the fulfillment of the Passover celebration and the institution of the Lord’s Supper which points directly to Jesus’ substitutionary death, atoning blood sacrifice, and triumphant return.
Needless to say, Christian worship places Jesus at the center. If your worship is focused on the personality of a preacher, the entertaining music of the band, or the programs of the church community—you’ve missed Jesus and he remains unworshipped. The Scriptures provide ample evidence as to why Jesus should be worshipped, but tragically Jesus remains unworshipped within the contexts of many churches from week-to-week.
Think about your worship service and ask an honest question. Is this service centered on Jesus and organized by truth or is it arranged in such a way that pleases carnal people who care very little about truth and worship a Jesus of their own imagination? Bryan Chapell in his book, Christ-Centered Worship made the following statement:
Worship cannot simply be a matter of arbitrary choice, church tradition, personal preference or cultural appeal. There are foundational truths in the gospel of Christ’s redeeming work that do not change if the gospel is to remain the gospel. So, if our worship structures are to tell this story consistently, then there must be certain aspects of our worship that remain consistent …We cannot honor the gospel and, at the same time, worship in ways that distort it. 
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; 2 vols.; Philadelphia: Westminster 1960), Institutes, 3.1.1.
- Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 85.
- Ibid., 100.
A line on social media recently read, “Join me and my church for our virtual worship service this week.” Still another one read, “You are invited to our special Easter service filled with passionate music, relevant preaching, and virtual communion.” Such marketing lines make me nervous for several reasons—but for the sake of this article, we will focus on the aspect of virtual church.
Certainly we have learned much regarding the secret providence of God during this pandemic. Yet, there are things that perhaps we will never learn that are not intended for us to know about God’s purposes during this season of life. One thing that can be said of God’s church is that we’ve been stretched to think critically about very important matters during this time of social distancing. One good question to answer is this: Is a livestream service really church at all?
Several weeks ago when the rise of the COVID-19 virus began to spread throughout the world and across the United States, it became clear that we would need to make swift and wise decisions as pastors regarding the care of our local church. In discussion with our elders, it was clear that we thought it would be best during our season of social distancing to provide an online livestream service. Interestingly, we don’t typically provide a full worship service through livestream. We do livestream the Sunday morning sermon, but that’s simply provided as a service to sick members and those who are hindered from attending and desire to stay on track with our current study. However, during this pandemic, we decided to take it up a notch and provide singing, corporate prayer, and Scripture readings too.
In doing so, we have rejected the idea of having virtual church. What we are doing as elders is providing the church with opportunities to worship together as individual family units, but we are not calling it church, because it is our conviction that it’s not church at all. While our livestream helps us to literally worship, it’s not literally church. Instead, we are calling it worship, because it’s quite possible to worship God even when the church is unable to assemble due to the providence of God.
When we consider the subject of worship, we must not bypass the vein of Old Testament worship whereby God’s people brought sacrifices to the altar to be consumed as an offering to God. There was always something tangible and real about the worship of God and as we read Scripture it’s apparent that God designed worship in that manner.
Our worship is not virtual or symbolic—it’s literal. When we sing it must be real and genuine. If you’re being forced to sing in your living room when in the past you’ve been sitting in a room with dimmed lights, fog machines, and really enjoying the Sunday performance—you’re going to feel very much unfulfilled during this season. When we engage in the reading of Scripture, there must be something that’s real and genuine whereby we bridge the gap of the original audience to our own heart and life. When the preaching of the Word takes place, there must be a desire to engage in the preached Word—in the sermon in such a way that personal application during the preaching brings about a proper learning, worship, repentance, and devotion to God.
It is possible to worship God without the gathered church. God has designed us to be worshippers, so we worship God on a regular—even a daily basis. Therefore, during a pandemic we are able to engage in the worship of God without the gathered church. The decision of our church to livestream our worship service (in part) is to provide a healthy means by which families can gather together and worship God in a somewhat orderly manner for his glory.
Why Virtual Church Is Not Literal Church
Virtual reality (VR) is the use of technology to create a simulated environment and experience for the user. During this time of social distancing when churches are unable to gather together—many churches have been offering up what they call virtual church. Although virtual church is not true virtual reality, we must see the similarities. They both are seeking to provide a virtual environment that delivers a specific experience to the audience or user. This not the goal of our livestream service.
Rather than providing a simulated or virtual experience for church members, we are striving to provide an opportunity for our members to engage in the worship of God by using the same songs and hearing the same sermon while at the same time feeling the constant limitations of impersonal technology. Yes, we aim to do everything (even a livestream) for the glory of God, but we do not aim to replace the physical church with a virtual church. That is simply impossible.
The English word church is the translation of a Greek term, “ekklesia” which means, “a called out assembly.” The term can have a couple of meanings in reference to God’s people. For instance, it can be centered on the universal church (or as the Apostles’ Creed refers to it: the holy catholic church), or it can be a reference to a local assembly, such as the church at Ephesus. By the very definition of the church, assembling is part of what the people of God do on a regular basis.
This is why we have made the decision to not engage in the observance of the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) during this season. There are limits to technology, and the interpersonal elements of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper require real in-person engagement together as a church body. You cannot reduce the gathered church into pixels on a screen and audio waves from speakers.
If this pandemic has not caused your heart to ache for the reassembly of God’s people—your virtual experience has clouded your understanding of the doctrine of God’s church. We live in an age where everything is being reduced to a virtual environment. We have online banks, online restaurants, online medical services, online shipping companies, online legal services, and for a while now we’ve watched a trend to reduce the church to a virtual online community.
If your worship is virtual rather than literal—it will cheapen the worship of God. Virtual leadership and pastoring is truly impossible. Virtual communion is not real communion. While you can watch someone’s baptism through a screen—is that real and genuine baptism? In the early days, the church gathered together in public for baptisms. The church was there to receive the new convert as he or she would be marked as a follower of Jesus in the eyes of the watching community and the gathered church. How is it possible to engage in church discipline—virtually? If a person is excommunicated from the church, is it less sobering to see your name threatened from being removed from a Zoom list or a literal church family assembled together for worship and service of God? When fencing the table for the Lord’s Supper, is a visible pastor standing before the table a more sobering scene than him merely pointing to a cup and a cracker through the lens of a camera?
Consider the fact that worship is to be orderly. In fact, God has organized and ordered his worship to be carried out in a specific way. Even the word “ordinance” has in mind a specific order of worship whereby we carry out the mechanisms ordered by God in order to publicly identify with the crucified and resurrected Christ. Virtual church models can never communicate the gravity necessary to engage in both baptism and the Lord’s Supper—and for that matter—worship in general.
The community of the church needs to be in person to live life together, break bread together, serve together, engage in mission together, and to worship together. In short, when you take your children to a funeral home, they need to know more than this is @Tom_Smith_5689 from your virtual church group who always had the really cool virtual backgrounds. They need to have rubbed shoulders with Tom and witnessed Tom persevere in the faith to the very end. In fact, more than the children, even the adults need this as well.
This is the way God designed his church to function—visibly. Consider what chapter 26 and paragraph 7 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith states:
To each of these churches thus gathered, according to his mind declared in his word, he hath given all that power and authority, which is in any way needful for their carrying on that order in worship and discipline, which he hath instituted for them to observe; with commands and rules for the due and right exerting, and executing of that power. ( Matthew 18:17, 18; 1 Corinthians 5:4, 5; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 )
Notice, the language of “gathered” which is common through this chapter of the Confession. The idea of a simulated gathering simply does not measure up. God has designed the worship of God’s people in such a way that the limitations of technology cannot properly fulfill it.
So, when this pandemic comes to a close and we are able to once again reassemble together as a church—pastors must do the work of properly disassembling the virtual communities, turning off the Zoom virtual backgrounds, and assembling together in a room where we will be capable of engaging in worship the way God designed it from the very beginning.
Until then, remember words matter. Virtual church is not real church at all. Until we gather again, let’s engage in literal worship and long for the day when we can meet together as a literal church.
We are living in unique days as a human race as we navigate through this global COVID-19 pandemic. The church of Jesus is likewise faced with added challenges and obstacles throughout this entire pandemic. Whereas bars and restaurants are not mandated by God to assemble—the church has received such a mandate. So, during a season of social distancing, we must recognize the challenges for God’s people—and especially the leaders of local churches.
Unless your pastor is asleep at the wheel—it’s quite possible that he has logged far more hours each week during this pandemic than normal as he seeks to overcome the challenges of membership care and the use of technology to reach out to the people of God under his care. Can you imagine Martyn Lloyd-Jones thinking through the use of technology to preach during a pandemic? Pastors, who were never able to take the COVID-19 pandemic preaching elective are being forced to overcome challenges on a weekly basis.
Throughout this last month, you’ve probably watched another church’s livestream, if for no other reason, out of curiosity. It’s quite possible that you had one of two common reactions. You were probably very impressed with the level of production or you experienced a feeling of embarrassment for the church due to the lack of quality and proper use of technology.
Most pastors do not have a professional production team who have the capabilities and equipment to pull off a proper livestream of great precision and quality for their local church. In some cases, the pastor is using his smartphone as he stands in front of a wall decorated with family pictures in his home. In many cases, the quality of the video is poor—filled with a grainy image or extremely pixilated. In other cases, depending on his upload speed and Internet connection—your pastor may be simply recording the audio of his sermon on his iPhone and uploading it to a free audio service where the link can be e-mailed to the church. Yes, it has very poor audio quality, but it’s the very best he can do at this time.
During this season of social distancing as we navigate through this pandemic, allow me to encourage you to turn off the mega-church pastor with super vivid quality HD video and a professional production team laboring to monitor his livestream bitrate. I want to encourage you to listen to your pastor’s words very clearly during this season in church history. Don’t worry about the pixilated video or the squeaky audio that can be distracting at times and hard to follow. Sit up on the edge of your seat with your Bible opened and labor diligently to hear your pastor’s words. Your pastor is laboring to take seriously his calling to feed the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-5).
Remember, the celebrity pastor or conference preacher can be a means of bridging the gap and serving as a supplement to your spiritual diet during this pandemic—but you need to hear your pastor preach during this pandemic. You need every pixel on the screen – every squeaky word—poor quality and all. You need to hear from the man God has placed in your life to care for you and your family, to shepherd your soul, to watch over and guide you spiritually, and the man God has placed over you in the context of your local church. Your pastor is preaching to you and your church—not a church down the road. So, naturally he understands your needs and the needs of your church as a whole.
In Acts 20:28, when Paul was preparing to leave Ephesus to go away, he called a meeting with the elders of the church at Ephesus and charged them with their pastoral responsibilities. He said, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” This is difficult to do through the lens of technology, but nevertheless, as your pastor seeks to shepherd your soul through the Word—even through the limitations of technology—do your best to engage and listen closely to his heart for you as a member of the church God has called him to lead.
Consider the fact that your pastor has been given the charge to protect you from wolves. In Titus 1:10-16, the role of the pastor is to silence those who violate the truth and trouble the church of Jesus. As your pastor seeks to care for you during this pandemic, part of his calling involves keeping you protected from the many wolves who are seeking to harm God’s sheep through the Internet. Always watch videos and read blogs with a careful eye of discernment. The Internet is not a safe place. So, listen closely to your pastor and his preaching even if he can’t compete with the level of production of another church down the road or a celebrity pastor with a large media production team. His words matter—and you need to hear from him during these days.
Remember, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). We never outgrow the grace of God and our need for the gospel. So, as we live in times of discouragement and fear—don’t allow your hearts to be overcome by fear. Fear not. Let not your hearts be troubled, have faith in God through Christ and allow your faith to be strengthened by the ongoing hearing and receiving of truth that comes through the preaching of your pastor during these difficult days.
Is your pastor seeking to preach the Scriptures through a livestream opportunity? Is he leading Zoom prayer meetings with the church family? Put in the effort to make the necessary connections with your pastors and your church family during this challenging season of social distancing.
May it be that when you are finally able to reassemble with your local church you will have a greater affection for your brothers and sisters in Christ and a greater affection and respect for your pastor as a result of being forced to disassemble for a season in order to protect the wellbeing of the church during this pandemic.
One of the most intimate services we will hold until we dwell in the presence of our God in eternity is the Lord’s Supper. It points us to the body and blood of Jesus which unites us together in love and directs our attention to the promise of Jesus’ triumphant return when our King shall descend in glory. So, what about COVID-19 communion?
Needless to say, the present COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great disruption on the worship of God’s people around the world. I have friends high in the Andes mountains in Ecuador who are worshipping in their home without the gathered church. I have friends in Zambia, Africa who are gathered with their family members worshipping the Lord, but yet without the assembled corporate body of their local church. This pandemic has a widespread effect that has impacted us all.
During this pandemic, people begin thinking of solutions to problems. Politicians are trying to organize communities for the safety of the people, medical professionals are trying to treat the sick with this disease while others are laboring for a vaccine, and church leaders are trying to minister to their local church while remaining disassembled. During this strange and discouraging season, some pragmatic leaders are beginning to use the phrase “virtual church” which has been around for a while, but now it’s gaining a bit of traction during this season of social distancing.
It didn’t take long before pastors began to press the limits of technology. Pastors are beginning to lead their local churches in the observance of the Lord’s Supper—virtually. Why does the Lord’s Supper require more than technology can provide for local churches to worship together?
Virtually Connected and Literally Disconnected
The intimacy of the Lord’s Supper was put on vivid display in Jesus’ final Passover meal and inaugural Lord’s Supper celebration (Matt. 26:26-29). The disciples were present with Jesus and he spoke directly to them after breaking the bread and served it to them with clear directions. Jesus defined it clearly and served his disciples in an intimate gathering preceding his cruel crucifixion.
Technology has a wonderful place in our world and is providentially given to God’s people during this pandemic for the purpose of being connected and spreading the good news. I personally love using technology for the glory of God—especially since I was converted while listening to a sermon online. I likewise have an undergraduate degree in business information systems. However, it’s quite possible to be connected virtually and disconnected literally at the same time. That’s where we find ourselves in this season of social distancing.
Consider the word of Paul to the church at Corinth. All through the eleventh chapter, Paul points to the church being called together. In fact, Paul references the togetherness of the people some five times between 1 Corinthians 11:18-34. Jesus modeled the togetherness of the meal in his earthly ministry with his disciples and gave specific instructions to continue eating and drinking in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19).
Logic alone should tell us that it’s impossible to use technology to enjoy an intimate meal with a friend or spouse while separated—much less the entire gathered church family. The special and unique assembly of the Lord’s Supper cannot be reduced to pixels on a screen. Technology can only bring people so close, but it cannot ultimately bring people together. However, logic is not the basis for our position on the Lord’s Supper—theology is our foundation.
The Lord’s Supper, like baptism, is not a private event. It’s public and is one of the two ordinances given to God’s Church. In 1 Corinthians 10:17, Paul writes these words, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The church publicly gathered in the presence of one another are called to be served together from the same bread—indicating their unity in Christ. This cannot be accomplished as a pastor looks at a camera and gives directions to people in their homes. The assembly of God’s people is necessitated in order to fulfill God’s plan for the Lord’s Supper.
Fencing the Table Matters
Before serving the Lord’s Supper, it’s essential to provide clear directions to the people in order to protect the sacredness of the ordinance. The Lord’s Supper is one of two ordinances of the church and is not salvific, but there is an element of uniqueness and sacredness that needs to be upheld in the Lord’s Supper. It’s a time where we remember the body (Jesus’ incarnation), the blood (Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice), and long for Jesus return. It’s also a time when we are called to remember sin and confess our sin properly before engaging in the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Corinthians 11).
Furthermore, such fencing provides clear directions regarding who is welcome to partake of the Lord’s Supper and who is not invited. The unbelieving family member who is a guest of our worship service and the person under church discipline must understand that they are barred from the Lord’s Table. This should be made clear. The person who has unbelieving children should manage their household well and prevent their children from partaking. The Lord’s Supper is a solemn act of worship. The special presence of the Lord among his people in a unique manner carefully and intentionally overseen by the elders of the church is simply not possible through the screen of an iPhone.
In short, the church needs faithful pastors to look them in the eye across the table and provide both clear instructions for this joyful celebration and stern warnings for profaning the Lord’s Supper.
Providentially Hindered for a Season
Persecuted Christians in a prison are providentially hindered from the Lord’s Supper. Is God dishonored by their inability to worship through the Lord’s Supper? We must exercise wisdom as we think through the work of God and his providence in this season of a pandemic that has created many challenges to God’s Church around the world.
As we seek to overcome the many challenges to our worship during this pandemic that has brought the entire world to a stop—we can use technology to bridge the gap, but we must remember that it’s not virtual church. The church is not virtual. The church is literal. We must not seek to reduce the church to pixels on a screen. It simply cannot happen. We are providentially hindered from gathering together during this season of social distancing, and God is not caught off guard by this. God is very much active and ruling over this season and will accomplish his purpose.
If a local church has concealed their low view of the Lord’s Supper and other aspects of Christian worship, the present COVID-19 pandemic will likely unveil it for everyone to see. When the man on the cross next to Jesus embraced Christ by faith—he was providentially hindered from being baptized. God ordained it. Rather than redefining the Lord’s Supper to a virtual meeting that turns it into something other than the Lord’s Supper altogether—we must remain patient and remember God is sovereign over this season and desires to be worshipped properly and with order.
God’s design of the worship of his Church transcends pandemics and culture. This season shall pass and local churches will once again assemble together, embrace one another in Christian love, and celebrate the body and blood of King Jesus through the Lord’s Supper as we long for him to return and make all things new.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
—Come, Thou long expected Jesus