What Doesn’t Translate
Virtual church is an oxymoron. The biblical vision of church is seen in Acts 2:42—47. You see food, you see fellowship, you see teaching, you see prayer. And some of that is certainly possible within a virtual context. It's good at facilitating things like teaching and music. And I'm grateful that we've had opportunities during the pandemic and afterward to be able to fellowship through those means.
But virtual church can't deliver a lot of these other things. And especially, virtual church cannot deliver the ordinances. Virtual church cannot deliver the water of baptism. It cannot deliver the body and the blood, the bread and the wine of Christ's body broken and his blood shed for us. It can't do those things.
Also, at a fundamental level, virtual church falls short of the biblical ideal because it takes a current problem we have and makes it even more difficult. We know that when we show up to a gathered assembly that it's still easy for people to fake it. It's still easy for people to be able to put on, maybe not so much of a literal mask, but that virtual mask about how they're really feeling and what they're going through.
But just imagine how much more difficult that becomes to shed that mask when it comes to virtual church because we're only presenting those parts of ourselves that we're willing for others to see or partake in with the gathered assembly.
The gathered assembly gives you all sorts of opportunities to be surprised by how people notice and care for you.
When you’re with others in the church, sometimes a certain song elicits an emotional response or tears. You come in from a difficult situation with your kids and people see that. You come in late and you sit in the back and you're by yourself. So the gathered assembly gives you all sorts of opportunities to be surprised by how people notice and care for you in an environment that’s just not possible through virtual church. That's why I say that virtual church is an oxymoron and we need to focus on the priority of the gathered assembly.
Collin Hansen is coauthor with Jonathan Leeman of Rediscover Church: Why the Body of Christ Is Essential.
Do multiservice and multisite church models run counter to the pattern for the local church we see in the New Testament?
How should Christians think about political disagreements within the church and how much should politics be shared from the pulpit?
What problems with our lives, priorities, and even theology do we not recognize? What would it look like to wake up to our own blind spots and to lovingly engage with those with whom we disagree?