Monday, April 20, 2020

Virtual Worship Assemblies More Viral Than Virtuous

A word to brother pastors.

I sympathize with the desire to provide the worship experience, as closely as possible, for those who cannot physically assemble. Hopewell had been doing this, long before covid made it cool, for just a few shut-ins or frequently providentially hindered (feeble, distance drivers, etc.).

This is because we know that besides being an irreplaceable activity, the holy assembly on the Lord's Day is a place where the Lord grows us together, in Him and toward one another. Being able to tune in keeps you from growing distant from the Lord and from one another. Folks who miss rather easily, usually aren't making an effort to keep up, but for those who genuinely wish they could be there, it's a blessing to be able to have this (poor) substitute

And, I'm glad that the substitute is poor. We are fleshly, after all, and could grow rather easily accustomed to church on our own terms—complete with pajamas, snide remarks, checking around on things on your phone, and just turning it off if the sermon is too long or too convicting. Oh, you can do this there too: lax internal attitude (pajamas), passing notes or whispering to your little brother (remarks), checking around on things on your phone (ok, that one's the same), and internally tuning out the sermon are all outlets for the flesh during public worship. But connecting virtually just makes it that much easier to do, and your conscience burns less, when you realize that the people in the pew behind you and the pulpit in front of you can't see you do it. (although it should probably be noted that there are some people who seem oblivious to how easily I can see them misbehave from the pulpit, and how much this affects me while preaching).

So, it's not a terrible thing that virtual worship be not even close to actually assembling. It helps us restrain our flesh.

But for those whose congregations are not assembling at all, I think that it's actually harmful to ape the assembly. You should be mourning, and your people should be mourning. You've made a decision, and you are convinced before God that it is the right one. So, perhaps you are not forsaking the assembling (remember 1Cor 4:4 though). If not, then the Lord has taken His assembly from you. In whatever else you lead the flock entrusted to your care, you should be leading them in mourning

One of the most (among a great many) disturbing things about the present circumstances has been the "we got this" attitude of the politicians, and the seeming willingness of many believers to follow them. "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish" (Psalm 146:3–4). And civil authorities aren't just incompetent; they're also sinful. While this has been most apparent in the frightful rise of tyranny over other men, it has actually been most egregious in the frightful level of arrogance before God. The "we got this" attitude indicates that the deification of the state is quite advanced in our culture. "Arise, O LORD, do not let man prevail; let the nations be judged in Your sight. Put them in fear, O LORD, that the nations may know themselves to be but men." (Psalm 9:19–20)

So, let citizens whose civil authorities are failing to lead them in humiliation before God at least be spiritual flocks whose undershepherds are leading them in humiliation before God!

One way that I suggest that this be done is: if the congregation is not assembling, and you are going to lead the flock technologically, do it in such a way that is as clear as possible that it is not the assembly. Lead devotions from a chair. If you're going to preach, don't give your congregation a half-hour video selfie; record audio without your face on it. Don't do the music at all. Just don't. That's supposed to be Christ singing His Father's praise in the midst of the assembly (Heb 2:12) and using us to address one another in singing His Word as a means by which He fills us with His Spirit and makes His Word richly to indwell us (Eph 5:18–21, Col 3:16). They can get better sing-along time with their playlists, anyway.

I read where someone wrote that virtual-assembling was not non-assembling, just irregular-assembling. If we are really understanding the "holy convocation" as Scripture calls it, and especially the form of it that is presided over by a Great High Priest in heaven, we must not allow ourselves to think that way. And, if we are going to lead our flocks wisely according to the mind of Christ, we will find ways to help them resist such thinking as well.

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