With the advent of streaming video and audio services online, churches are joining in to this technology and posting their services. You can now watch a service from anywhere within the Internet connection! This is a wonderful gift, but is it being abused?
This new service is available to those who are shut-ins or sick, or even on vacation for a week. Those who can’t physically make it to church benefit from this availability. Unfortunately, a growing number of people have made Internet church there only church. They don’t attend a local body of believers.
At the Bible gives at least five reasons every Christian should be part of a local church that meets regularly. Media has always been part of the cutting-edge of the Church. Churches have been involved in technological advances from the beginning.
From radio to TV, the church has used technology to further the message of the gospel. But the Internet has given a great advantage of interactive media and ways to interact with groups within the church.
Many people make the case that there is no need to physically go to church. They cite that church consists of believers, not a building. They are biblically correct. But I disagree that they don’t ever need to meet with other believers physically. And I don’t just disagree because I get paid to preach in churches.
All of these viewpoints and approaches beg the question, “What is the church?” Do we need to physically gather together? Do we lack anything if we virtually go to church online? We need a biblical definition of the church to answer these questions.
First, there is the church composed of all of the saints everywhere in the world, even those who have already passed away. We call this the Invisible Church, or the Universal Church (not to be confused with the Universalist Church).
There is also the Visible Church, or the local church. This is the gathering of local believers you can see and touch. The size of the church doesn’t matter because it is part of a larger whole. The Church is the gathering of like-minded believers who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and hold to the truth of Scripture.
Every church must demonstrate certain criteria mainly from the example of the first church in Acts 2:42-47. The first church met together regularly to worship God, hear God’s Word, show compassion, fellowship together, and evangelize the world.
The church is not a building but a glorious building of believers gathered together to form a holy house for God to inhabit (1 Peter 2:5). Church buildings facilitate relationships and action by the church of believers.
The original word for “church” explains this even better. The Greek word ekklesia means “assembly, or “gathering.” From the word for church, it is clear we are not to practice our faith completely alone. The word for “saint” means “holy, unique, separate.”
So the church is the gathering, the group, of holy and separate ones. We are separate from the world but welcome amongst one another. How we need together differs in different situations. Some meat and houses, others in public buildings, and others in designated houses of worship.
So what can we do when we are physically present in church that we can’t do alone? We can donate online, here and watch the sermon, watch the worship music, and participate in discussion and small groups. But here are five reasons I believe the Bible teaches we need to be physically present in a local church and deeply involved:
- Fellowship. The word “fellowship” means “to have in common” or “to share.” To fellowship, you must be part of a community. You can’t fellowship with yourself. That’s like a yourself, and that’s weird. Fellowship is one of the most important parts of going to church (Scriptures on Fellowship: Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 6:14; 13:14; Gal 2:9; 1 John 1:3, 6, 7).
- Corporate Worship. You can personally worship God through prayer, Bible study, and guidance from the Holy Spirit. But 1 Corinthians 11-14 describes corporate worship. The ministry gifts are for others. You can’t prophesied to yourself, for example. When you join a chorus bigger than yourself, it encourages you in hard times to worship the Lord with the further you see in others.
- Living the Christian Life. How do you practice the Beatitudes by yourself? It is implied that none of us can practice the Christian faith alone. We need each other for encouragement, discipline, teaching, and so many other things. Some of Jesus’ teachings can be personal but without others, many of them don’t make any sense. We can’t live in isolation.
- Body Ministry. The human body is used as a metaphor for the church (1 Corinthians 12:27). We are here to serve others. The Holy Spirit gives us ministry gifts to use for others. You are a gift to the church along with the spiritual gifts you have been given to steward wisely. You benefit from the Ministry of others as they benefit from you.
- Discipline. Many churches shy away from godly discipline of their members. But Scripture is clear on guidelines for discipline (Matthew 18). If we are to stay on track in our walk with Jesus, we need accountability and discipline. We have blind spots and weaknesses that others can help us shore up. One example of discipline is a young man who is sleeping with his mother-in-law, kicked out of the church, and reinstituted after his repentance (1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11).
John Donne is credited with the often used for his, “No man is an island to himself.” We are social creatures by nature. And we need each other. What would your walk with God look like if you could only demonstrate your own resources?
For instance, no Christian has all the spiritual gifts. When we combine our ministry resources, we can accomplish so much more for God’s Kingdom. You weren’t meant to go this alone. You were meant to contribute to a team.
The ability to access church services and resources online is of great benefit. But it must not be our sole connection to God’s family. Joining God’s work requires that we rub shoulders with one another. You will enjoy yourself. Come and grab a seat at the table!
What are your thoughts about the virtual or Internet church movement? What are some of its benefits and drawbacks? Leave a comment and let me know how you feel about virtual churches.