An extract from letter to congregation, reflecting on how we feel about plans to meet together …. ‘We know that ultimately all these terrible things happen under God’s sovereign will (Amos 3:6). We trust that His purposes are ultimately good and despite our weaknesses His church will not be defeated (Mat. 16:18). As your minister I am grieved by the pressures I know you are facing (2 Cor. 11:28). I pray for you by name with thanks for your faith (Col. 1:4) and confidence that ‘He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion’ (Phil. 1:6).
For the first time in over 800 years England has had a season where no Christian worship services have been held. It is a remarkable and tragic situation, which cannot but fail to have spiritual consequences for individuals and our nation. Our relationship with God cannot be isolated from our gathered worship of God. Just as the gift of salvation required a physical embodied incarnate body (Jn. 1:14), so our feeding on that redemption requires a physical churchly body (1 Cor. 12:27, Eph. 5:30).
At Emmanuel we have spent 16 weeks worshipping solely via Zoom. We have sought to grow our faith in God and love for one another by making use of Sunday services, youth club, weekday services and prayer meeting – all mediated via zoom. This has been helpful, and I am glad that we made use of this format rather than some even less relational alternatives we could have opted for. Nevertheless, we are feeling weary of the online meeting format – ‘zoomed out’ – to use the current phrase. At the zoom youth club last week I asked the young people how they felt about the online meetings, and all of them said they felt really tired of it, though they appreciated it as better than nothing. When even teenagers say they are weary of technology, you know that a tolerance limit is being reached. The Bible instructs us to engage in worship in ways that simply cannot be done via zoom – and the more we rest satisfied with the current situation the more we will train ourselves to accept what is ultimately a gnostic spirituality – a vision of life that downplays the significance of our physical embodied life together. That gnostic approach to life was common in the ancient world and was resisted by the apostles (1 Jn. 4:2). Our culture increasingly denies the significance of human embodied existence; so it is our responsibility to show we believe physical face to face relating is uniquely valuable. If we feel comfortable with the current situation, that ought to be a warning to us that we have already unwittingly begun slipping from a Biblical outlook.
This guidance gives us the responsibility of deciding how we change our situation in regard to gathering together. God commands Christians to meet together (Heb. 10:25) and if we ever are prevented from doing so, we feel as Paul did:
‘Since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face.’ (1 Thes. 2:17)
Let’s all pray and encourage one another as we move towards embodying God’s instructions about how we should gather for worship…’