Online, Yet Yearning to Be Together
The heavenly Father has blessed us with amazing technology. Especially during this unprecedented time of COVID-19, believers marvel how the living Word is preached perhaps more widely than ever before. The Good Shepherd has not forgotten His sheep, but rather He has led them to green pastures where He feeds and nourishes them – even in remote corners of the earth. It’s almost unfathomable how services have been held locally, nationally, internationally, and even inter-culturally.
Gathering remotely on such platforms as GoToMeeting and Zoom, our eyes have been opened to see new possibilities in communications technology, all put to use and propelled by pandemic-related challenges. Yet, along with these new opportunities come some key questions: Do these online services replace in-person services? How did online services come about? Why do we listen to online services?
It seems important to consider the primary reason for online services. The use of online services increased for the benefit of those who cannot attend in-person services. These service occasions have been of special help to those who are sick, those who are in localities where there are few believers, those in remote locations in service to our country and to those in other faraway places where attending in-person is not possible.
It is always important to hear God’s Word. The Lord Jesus taught that “Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:28). However, in terms of hearing the Word of God, it is important to consider the place of online technology in one’s own life and in our relationships with other believers. Regarding actual fellowship, the writer to the Hebrews provided relevant instruction in his time about gathering with others. The Jewish congregation’s members had become tired on the journey. They began to drift. They needed encouragement, support and teaching through in-person fellowship with other believers. He wrote, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). This instruction, addressing the conditions of the times, was relevant then and is relevant yet today.
In our time, believers still carry the old portion, that is, our human weakness. Our old portion can get in the way, such that choosing online services could become our primary way of hearing even though we could gather in-person. The flesh is weak in terms of faith. Do we choose those kinds of speeches that our ears like to hear? Do we choose speeches only from certain speakers? Do we choose them from other countries, such as Finland, thinking that it’s a better sermon? These are important considerations related to listening online.
Online services are not intended to supersede the value of in-person services, especially when we are so richly blessed with the opportunity to attend in-person. In our human frailty, we can easily decide to stay home and make a habit of listening to Sunday morning services online. If one begins to feel that online services from different localities, for example, fit his or her lifestyle better than attending in-person services, one may no longer value traveling in-person, hand-in-hand with our fellow escorts on the narrow way. Furthermore, if we no longer attend services, we cannot be escorts to others who live and believe nearby.
It is implicit in the word “congregation,” that we physically gather together in spiritual unity, helping each other on the journey. In fact, the original Hebrew word for congregation means company assembled together. God’s Word teaches that the children of God should gather and that in doing so we serve one another.
Yet, we understand that if one is unable to attend services in-person it is always good to listen online. The same Spirit that preaches the gospel in-person can also be heard online. When listeners hear the gospel and believe sins forgiven in Jesus’ name and blood, they understand that possessing peace with God is reason for joy. In turn, this joy fosters a desire in the hearts of believers to gather with God’s children in-person.
We may also ponder whether a person is able to believe all alone or with his or her family in some remote locality? Yes, they can! God protects and guides. But again, these believers desire in-person services and gatherings whenever opportunities arise. We’ve noticed how when believers move to a new locality they often request that services might be held in their place of watching. The same ardent request has come from lone foreigners who, after receiving the grace of repentance away from home, beg for services upon returning to their homeland. In this way God has accomplished His mission work in our time.
The evening devotions that we enjoy hearing at the end of a busy day have been one of the blessings of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the close of the day, the comforting Word warms hearts and relates God’s promises to listeners. I personally feel that if it were possible we would all desire to gather together each evening to sing the songs of Zion and hear the preached gospel. It will come, when time has ceased, that the children of God truly will all be gathered together to sing the praises of our Lord and Savior!