Virtual Worship and the Picture of a Broken Body

The COVID 19 virus has shaken up the world, and its effects can be seen and felt in many ways.  And frankly will be for sometime.
One of those effects is on the worship.  Many people were not allowed to gather for worship thanks to government orders, and many more thought it unsafe because of the danger of the virus.  And so the church “virtually” worshiped. With the aid of the internet families watched and sang along as the sermons and services were broadcast.  Tim Challies documented this through photos from his many friends and contacts around the world.  His images show largely the same thing around the world, families watching a television or computer, participating as best they can, but doing so in isolation.
Tim doesn’t make much comment upon this other than it was extraordinary, but the post has a ring of interest or hope to it.  It fails to mention that this will be ordinary for the next several weeks at least.  He seems to post the pictures with interest or delight, but when I see them, I want to cry.
What these pictures show us is a church fragmented, perhaps even severed, or at least separated. The church is not worshiping together. Can we even really call it worship if we don’t gather together physically? I’ll leave that for another post on another day. Yet, it is clear that one of the main pictures of the church is destroyed. The church is called the body of Christ. Paul has a whole discussion on how the body is many members, many parts, but one whole in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. It is pointed out how bad it is if the eye is disconnected from the ear, and the ear from the nose. By themselves the parts are lacking. In fact, Paul makes sure we understand we have ‘need’ of one another (v.21). But each in our own homes how can we be one body? How can we bestow honor on other members (v.23)? Yes, we are still the body of Christ when we are not all together, but right now the hand is in front his computer and the nose is in front of her TV, and the feet are alone in their rooms on their phones, and it is not good, not good at all. What can we really say about all of this? What does this show us?
What we can say is that with some sitting or standing at home and others appearing on a screen that the church has been exiled from one another, and that should give us pause. Exile is a very serious picture in the Scriptures.
I am not arguing that people should violate a shelter in place order in this post. I am arguing that we must stop and think about the fact that a virus, clearly under the control of God, came and stopped the public worship of Jesus Christ around the globe. Read Psalm 42. The Psalmist is separated from the gathering of the saints to worship, which is so important it is compared to drinking water (v.1), by the oppression of enemies (verse 9). Worship that is equated with “appearing before God” (v.2). The Psalmist is not denying God is with us all the time, but is affirming that worship is something special he went and did, like appearing before a King. We are separated from worship because of an act of God too. When the Lord does this we ought to cry out “Have mercy on us O God!” and “How long, O Lord?” and even “Why?” The entire church ought to stop and search its soul. Time on our knees, on our face, in prayer and repentance is a must. For God does not stop His worship for no reason.
This is a day for mourning and sadness. It is not a day of interest or excitement. It is not doing something different. It is a day for our tears to be our food night and day just like it was for the Psalmist. The pictures do not show us a fascinating retrospective on a really interesting time. They do not show us how the church just adapted to its new circumstance. It shows a church in exile around the world. Exiled and its body parts severed and dispersed to their own living rooms.
Tim Challies has a follow up post about not being worried that the church will turn into a Face-time Church, and he strongly supports and sees the importance of physical gathering together of the saints. But the enormity of the church stopping public worship world wide because of the providence of God still does not seem to have permeated his writing. When the Lord did this in the Exile, the people of Israel did not take photos or think it was interesting to be in Babylon, but rather they mourned. Days of mourning were set up to remember the day they were taken and the day the temple was destroyed. The importance of what God had done was not lost on them. Then he used the Babylonians to accomplish the Exile, today he uses a virus. But it is still God at work.
Like Habakkuk, we must live by faith during this time. But perhaps we ought to see this a little more like God Exiling Israel during Habakkuk’s time and a little less like a unique event that makes a good photo essay.

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