Providence In Quarantine – Part 1
As mentioned in our letter last week, the session wanted to inform the congregation of the rationale behind the way we have proceeded during quarantine in hopes of encouraging and equipping you during this season. There are several areas I plan to address, but for this week I want to start with the most obvious, Sunday worship. For two months, we have not been able to gather for corporate worship due to the stay-at-home order. Maybe you are wondering, “why we have chosen not to livestream worship services?” Early on, I saw one church go from holding four live online services to holding six, because attendance was so high (I’m still trying to fully wrap my mind around that one). So why did we decide to not have any live Sunday services at all? In short, it is because of what we believe about the nature of a public worship service.
In our denomination’s Directory for Public Worship, it describes worship in this way: “Public worship occurs when God, by his Word and Spirit, through the lawful government of the church, calls his people to assemble to worship him together.” I want to draw your attention to the final phrase of this description. According to our standards, public worship can only take place when, by the call of the elders, people “assemble.” This language is lifted from the book of Hebrews where the church is warned to “not forsake the assembling together,” or as the ESV reads, “not neglecting to meet together.” One of the most obvious prerequisites for having a worship service is being able to gather together in person. Paul states it this way in 1 Corinthians 11:18, “When you come together as a church…” Coming together physically is an essential part of what it means to be the worshiping church and it is why the session has been unwilling to call the congregation to online worship services. What was true about public worship before quarantine is just as true during quarantine; if we are unable, for whatever reason, to assemble then we are unable to have public worship.
While we are grateful to God for technology and the blessings of online community, we should not be duped into thinking that face-to-face, in-person interactions can be replaced wholly by virtual experiences. While the church can still do many edifying things through the blessing of technology, it cannot change the nature of worship. Just this week I heard one minister say their church was “wide-open… online”. While I understand the sentiment and have some sympathy for what that church is trying to communicate, it just is not true. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ, unable to assemble physically for Word and sacrament, is far from wide-open.
For this reason, we as elders have not attempted to create an online service where the whole congregation meets at once and replicates what we normally do on Sundays because we can’t replicate it without being physically present with one another. That doesn’t mean we cannot worship on Sundays, we can, and we should. We can worship as individuals and we can worship as families. This is different from corporate worship, but it is still an edifying way to grow in grace, especially with the current restrictions. A Roman Catholic friend of mine suggested one of the advantages the Reformed churches have during this time of quarantine is their rich heritage of family worship. I agree. To this end, the church has been sending out the weekly liturgy to help facilitate and guide your private or family worship. I am sure you have noticed that there are many things that are identical to our normal Sunday liturgy, while also noticing there are several things that are quite different. It is those differences that we will be highlighting in this series in hopes of keeping you informed and, more importantly, keeping you longing to gather together for public worship.