Dr. Ben Witherington, New Testament scholar at Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote a poignant piece about online or virtual worship. He challenges us to be faithful in the midst of pandemic and fear. He calls us to be mindful of what worship is and does in a culture that is self-absorbed and twisted by radical consumerism. Here's a tease:
In the wake of the spread of the corona virus, many, perhaps most churches, out of an abundance of caution, have either canceled worship services entirely, or live streamed a performance by the worship team and pastors to an empty building, but with watchers online. This may be an example of making the best out of a bad situation, but what it is not is congregational worship. Worship is not supposed to be the performance of a few on the platform for the couch potatoes for Jesus in the pews or watching at home.
It is supposed to be…. wait for it, congregational worship… an act of the whole community whenever two or more are gathered and Jesus shows up. The congregation is supposed to come together to sing the hymns, to say the prayers, to recite the creeds to share in communion and so on. The ministers of various sorts are supposed to be facilitators of congregational worship. But alas, in this narcissistic and consumeristic society we live in, too many people approach worship as consumers not producers of worship. You see this in various forms and ways. I’ve stood in mega-churches with the millennials and others while they gawked at the performers on the platform, and frankly, most of them were just watchers, not singers or prayers. Some were too busy drinking their coffee, some were swaying a bit to the music…. but congregational worship was frankly not really happening. And furthermore, it’s quite impossible to do congregational worship when you are watching at home, alone. There are other tell tale signs the congregation isn’t getting it— for example when the congregation applauds a performance on the platform, as if they had gone to a Broadway show or a concert. Worship is not an appropriate venue for human glorification. ONLY God should be glorified, praised etc. in genuine worship.
Go read the rest of his piece here as we prayerfully consider how Covid-19 will affect our corporate worship in the short and long-term.