I'm done with online 'corporate worship.'
I detest it. I can't stand it. It makes me want to scream.
I tried to make the best of it, I really did, but I've decided that I despise everything about it.
It is neither corporate nor worship. It is a facade, not even a decent interim solution to our current circumstances. It is 'virtual' in every sense of the word 1. Now, I'm completely open to the notion that the problem is with me, and ultimately this entire post is simply one man's opinion, but I don't think I'm entirely crazy. Here's why...
It it not corporate. By definition, 'corporate' refers to a united group. There is nothing unified about a dispersed bunch of Christians passively watching a 'worship' service on a screen. None of the corporate aspects of worship take place--passing of the peace, responsive readings, prayers of the church, singing hymns, reconciliation with others, Communion/Lord's Supper/Eucharist, Baptism, etc. None. Zip. Nada. Typically, the 'worship leader' or 'liturgist' reads all the parts of the service, including the responses. This is in no sense corporate, this is a spectator sport in which the 'worshiper' is entirely passive, a notion which is self-contradictory.
It is not worship. Maybe it is lecture, maybe it is a pep talk, maybe it is (fill in the blank), but it is not worship. I mentioned that worship is, by nature, participatory and interactive. It is sacramental. Sacraments are not possible via online worship. There are no real baptisms and no true Communion. Worship necessarily involves all five senses. Online 'worship' is limited to two. Even more troubling, in many instances churches are touting the informality and convenience of 'worshiping in your pajamas' as though that it either possible or beneficial. Last I checked, Hebrews 12 was still in play, where we are admonished to worship and serve God 'with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.' I seriously doubt there's much of that happening as we lounge on our couches in our pajamas with our slippered-feet propped up.
So what? Am I just complaining? What alternatives do I propose?
Brothers and sisters, instead of trying to create a new worship form--as 'online worship' surely is--let us instead simply seek to learn how to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5.17).
Easier said than done? I know. Thankfully, the Church has two thousand years of experience in this sort of thing 2. What is it? The Liturgy of the Hours, the Daily Office, Daily Prayer...the practice goes by a number of names, depending on your tradition, but at its core is simply a form of structured prayer developed over time as a means to instruct us in how to pray, deepen our faith, and lead us in continued conversation with God through Scripture.
What role does it play in the life of the Christian? How does it relate to our regular times of gathering for worship? One of the best, succinct descriptions of the difference between corporate worship and daily prayer comes from the introduction to the Treasury of Daily Prayer:
Christians live their lives from Sunday to Sunday. In the Divine Service, you hear God speak, announcing again His judgment against sin and proclaiming the propitiation made for sin and judgment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the assembly of Christ's Church, you hear the announcement that you have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ, and that reality is manifested not only in yout ear but in your mouth as you receive His true body and blood in the bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar. Strengthened in faith and prepared by means of God's holy gifts, we leave the Divine Service to live our our daily lives, our vocations, in relationship to God and to our neighbor. Our daily prayer, our daily devotions, are filled with the echo of what we received in the Divine Service.
Our daily prayer prepares us for the coming Sunday when we will again be in the presence of God in the Divine Service. In this way we live out our lives between Sundays, thirsting and hungering after our Lord's righteousness.
The Daily Office is individual in that it is prayed according to your own schedule. We're all monastics now, in some sense, living in cloistered household communities. At the same time, the prayer office, with its set readings and forms is corporate because it unites us with Christians around the world as we pray the same prayers, read the same Scripture passages, and possibly even pray at the same time--all while physically scattered and meeting only in small, family groups. And bonus points should be given to Sunday School classes or entire parishes who commit to a time to pray simultaneously, adding to the community aspect of the Office as we take heart in the knowledge that brothers and sisters are lifting their hearts to God at the same time...our prayers mingling together in the throne room of heaven as smoke wafts around a room. As one prayer book puts it, "the Daily Office is not an isolated individual endeavor. Instead, it is the way an individual participates in the prayer life of the community, the Church" (Treasury of Daily Prayer).
In a way that virtual 'worship' never can, the Daily Office provides nourishment for us in between those times when we are able to gather corporately for worship. It keeps the Church community in sync with one another and the Church through the ages. It connects us to Christ and his Church in between times of gathered corporate worship, which usually stretch only from Sunday to Sunday but now may stretch for months. Most importantly, it allows us to build the habit of praying without ceasing. All of these benefits are real, tangible, and by no means virtual.
I understand that the whole notion of structured daily prayer may be completely foreign. If you're interested, how should you begin? Next time, I will review some resources to help us learn how to pray the Office and make this traditional time of prayer a part of our daily lives.
Until then, brothers and sisters, let us pray...
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Virtual: existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name (from dictionary.com) ↩
Since the beginning of the church, individuals have withdrawn from the larger society to seek lives marked by solitude, simplicity, prayer, and Scripture meditation. Certainly not everyone who sought this lifestyle did so with proper motives--among others, the great Reformer Martin Luther wrote against the medieval monastic practices current in his day--but many throughout history have done so with right intention. As a result, the Church has a wealth of resources available at her fingertips that we could make use of in these unique circumstances. ↩