This past Sunday I sat at home with my family during the Lord’s Day gathering. The reason: I was sick. Technically, I was feeling much better and no longer had a fever, but my eldest daughter was very much still running a fever. So, we stayed home.
And it was my first-time livestreaming into our church’s service.
During the six weeks that we didn’t meet toward the beginning of 2020, our church did not livestream but sent out a recording of the sermon with some hymns to sing as a family. But my family didn’t sit down and watch that recording of me, we had a Spanish study of the text instead. The other times that I have been absent were because I was visiting another church, so this was the first actual time that I was at home, streaming into the service as it was happening. I was, therefore, tremendously grateful that my family and I were able to observe the Lord’s Day gathering as it was happening.
However, I use the word observe very intentionally. You see, as wonderful as it was to have something of a connection on Sunday morning, we were not actually a part of the corporate gathering. Our sickness kept us home, and in a very real way, we missed out for a week on the blessing of being with Christ’s church.
Some may recoil at such a declaration that livestreaming into the service was not the same as actually being there, and it is largely for those very readers that I am writing these thoughts down. The discussion, typically, turns very fast to how great of a blessing livestreaming is for those who are physically unable to be present on the Lord’s Day, and I agree whole-heartedly! However, in our zeal to be loving, we make a mistake whenever we suggest (or directly say) that streaming in is just as good as physical presence.
A wheelchair is a tremendous invention for those whose legs to do not function as they should; however, it is no exact replacement for functioning legs. A paralyzed Christian might rightly give joyous thanks to God for the invention of a wheelchair and its easing of the hardships of paralysis, while also lamenting the lack of leg function and yearning for their resurrected body upon the new earth.
It is the same for those who are, for whatever valid reason (note: not catching up on laundry, sleeping late, or any number of other invalid excuses), unable to gathering physically with God’s people. They may certainly rejoice in the ability to livestream a service, but it is still right for them to lament their physical absence and to yearn for the day when God will gather His church together once and for all.
This is becoming an increasingly important point to make clear because the culture around us is looking more and more gnostic each day. Gnosticism was one of the early church’s first great threats, and, although it is notoriously difficult to pin down exactly what Gnostics believed, one of their chief beliefs was in the innate evil of all physical matter and the goodness of all things spiritual. Therefore, Gnostics saw our bodies as prisons to be liberated from, and they would often dive into either strict asceticism or unrestrained licentiousness. Christians answered these errors by noting that God formed the physical world and called it good, that Jesus took on flesh and remained without sin, and that Satan is a purely spiritual being yet is utterly evil.
Sadly, Gnosticism is not solely a historical phenomenon; rather, that ancient heresy is ever so slyly coming back into the forefront. Indeed, the prevalent acceptance of transgenderism requires a certain Gnostic assumption that the body is unimportant for determining identity, that it is little more than a machine to be adjusted as we see fit. Yet there is also an increasing rise of Digital Gnosticism, which simply replaces the spiritual realm with the digital world. This often also goes hand-in-hand with the so-called transhumanist movements, which often look to technology and the digital world as avenues for allowing humans to transcend their bodily limits. The goal is most often to conquer death, as seen in people’s hopes of uploading their consciousness into a computer.
While all of this may sound like science fiction, to those who have jettisoned their hope in the eternal God, it is a matter of life and death. They feel the ache and existential dread of death and yearn to break free from its bonds. And they are now increasingly looking to technology for that hope.
This is also why Facebook’s Metaverse announcement is nothing to scoff at. It is merely the first, admittedly awkward, step toward transcending the limits of our bodies. Gone will be any limitations of distance. We can finally all interact with one another in the same place, even though our physical bodies are scattered across the globe. Since these interactions will be in the digital sphere, we can anticipate any language barriers being a thing of the past. And, of course, as COVID has brought viruses into the forefront of our thought, Metaverse gatherings will pose no risk of illness! Finally, perfectly clean and sterile ways to interact with one another!
Life.Church recently announced that it would offer Metaverse services, saying, that “The metaverse is an extraordinary and unmatched opportunity to connect with people around the world, and we hope you’ll join us at Life.Church there.”
Or maybe not.
In fact, I’ll say probably not.
To be fair, I value Life.Church’s zealousness to meet people where they can. However, attending church within the Metaverse is not attending church. Sure, it might be a valuable tool for connecting with those who cannot meet in-person, but it is nothing more than a more interactive version of livestreaming. Presence in the Metaverse is still not real, genuine, physical presence. And it never will be.
As God’s people, we should take care to place a proper emphasis upon corporate worship during the Lord’s Day, remembering that corporate derives from the Latin word for body, corpus. Our Creator made us as physical creatures, and the corruption of our flesh did not derail that reality, for our eternity will be spent with our Lord and with one another in glorified and sinless bodies of flesh and blood.
Our physicality will one day be redeemed but never transcended. And every time we gather together, we have an opportunity to give a bodily testimony to that belief. Each physical gathering is a protest against the oncoming false hope of Digital Gnosticism and transhumanism. It is, therefore, only becoming increasingly more important for churches to strike down all excuses for canceling services and resolve to meet together as long as two or three are able to still do so.
Furthermore, each physical gathering is an opportunity to show, rather than simply tell, the world around us that there are realities that are far more precious than physical safety. The COVID pandemic, like all moments of crisis, has revealed exactly what we valued, and for most of the world, the supreme virtue has been revealed to be safety and survival. Unfortunately, those are Darwinian virtues rather than biblical ones. Indeed, Jesus told us the very opposite reality: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
We are each dying. Life is a full-contact sport that will leave each one of us spent and lifeless, regardless of how careful or safe we try to be. Risks must be taken; the only question is which ones are worth it.
Gathering together with other brothers and sisters on the Lord’s Day physically is a risk worth taking.
Gathering together physically proclaims to the world that our brothers and sisters are not the walking petri dishes that the world wants us to see them as. Instead, we are redeemed children of God who are being rescued in Christ from a disease far more virulent and deadly than any physical disease. Is it not also interesting that it is precisely through a physical presence that we best display a reality that goes far beyond the physical?
Again, I’m not saying that livestreaming and even Metaverse services are wrong or sinful. In fact, they can be quite a blessing (I’m presuming about the Metaverse thing, of course). But they are NOT the same as actually gathering with God’s people in a local congregation on the Lord’s Day.
If you are providentially hindered from gathering as I was last week, I pray that you enjoy the benefits that technology affords us; however, I also pray that you feel the bitter taste of being bodily disconnected from God’s people. Let it build in you a greater yearning for the glorious day when our bodies will be redeemed, and we will be forevermore gathered together with one another and our Lord.
 Another important consideration that really didn’t seem to fit the flow of this article but is still worth noting is that reliance upon digital platforms means being more exposed to the threat of censorship, which is an increasing possibility as many countries toy with the idea of making illegal any speech that calls homosexuality or transgenderism sin. The only way to censor physical gatherings is by physically disrupting the gathering in some way, whereas in the digital sphere an account can easily be suspended.