“DIGITAL CHURCH” VERSES “LOCATION-CENTRIC” CHURCHES
By E.R. Hall
I recently read an article entitled, “Church as we know it is over. Here’s what’s next.” The article describes the rise of the “digital church” and it explains how digital church (streamed worship services and online Bible sermons and studies) will replace the “physical attendance model that is location-centric.”
The internet has provided an amazing platform for Bible study. It provides access to many different versions the Bible in many different languages. It houses an avalanche of Bible commentary, study and resource materials, lexicons and dictionaries. I personally like blueletterbible.org and use it almost every day. I keep a tab to this site always open in my internet browser. Of course, as is true with other sources of Bible commentary, whether written or oral, Bible students must be careful to avoid being deceived by the many religious and doctrinal errors that are propagated on the internet and through religious apps. There are false teachers who deceitfully plot to overthrow faith (2 Pet. 2:1; Eph. 4:14; 2 Tim. 2:18). However, the internet and digital technology can be a tremendously valuable tools for learning the Bible.
The author of the above referenced article is correct that many people do prefer to use their phones, tablets and computers for many things, including spiritual things. However, these devices cannot provide all of our spiritual nourishment. Watching streamed worship services is not a substitute for actually being in and being a part of a worship assembly. This is not a criticism of technology, nor is it a denial of its usefulness, but technology does have its limitations.
For example, those who presume to speak on behalf of God are obligated to speak “the very words of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). Preachers must base their message and their conclusions upon what the Scriptures say and teach. Only the Scripture is “given by the inspiration of God” and it alone is capable of guiding people spiritually (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The preacher is obligated to speak where the Bible speaks whether he writes his bullet points on a chalk board or projects them onto a screen using a DLP projector. He might disseminate his writings and sermons using physical paper or he might do so in digital format via the internet. Regardless of the technology that he uses, he is obligated before God to speak where God has spoken. Ones use of technology does not violate or negate the basic purpose, which is to disseminate the gospel.
Technology and Worship
Christians are commanded to assemble. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
One might walk to that assembly, ride a horse, ride in a horse-drawn buggy or car or fly in some futuristic hovercraft. They may some day invent a Star Trek-like “transporter” capable of dematerializing us and then instantaneously re-materializing us somewhere else! Regardless of advancements that might be made in transportation technology, our obligation to God remains exactly the same—we are to assemble together. We have approved apostolic examples of saints assembling upon the first day of the week—“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42); “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7).
1 Corinthians 14 provides instructions governing worship. It addresses various worship practices as well as the type of attitude and conduct that should be had in worship assemblies. Verse 23 says, “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place…” In order to worship God there must be an assembly, and in order to have an assembly there must be agreement upon a certain time and place. This is, by definition, “location-centric.” Yes, people might reject this concept but they are wrong if they do.
Singing is the type of music that is authorized in the New Testament for worship and it is to be done “to one another” (Eph. 5:19). This requires being together in an assembly. Giving also involves a church assembly—“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come” (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
Scriptural observance of the Lord’s Supper requires eating unleavened bread in remembrance of Christ’s body and drinking fruit of the vine in remembrance of His blood (1 Cor. 11:24-25). It is also to be done when saints “come together in one place” (1 Cor. 11:20 & 33). The Lord’s Supper cannot be rightly observed through a conference call or on Facebook. It can only be done by saints in a church assembly that has come together into “one place.”
While it is fine to use the internet, social media, apps and other technology for certain things relating to spirituality, it is no substitute for the church assembly composed of physical people. Those who are too lazy or too preoccupied with other activities to take the time to attend a church assembly cannot worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Sunday Morning Bible Study
Sunday Morning Worship
Tuesday Evening Bible Study