It’s been six months since most of us were able to gather in our churches physically. Due to the quarantine requirements, churches were forced to stream their sermons online and many realized the comfort this brings.
Imagine, we no longer need to wake up early in the morning, no traffic going to church, and no additional expenses for gas or fare for commuters. Instead, we get to watch at our own time, whether in bed or in the living room, and watch as many sermons as we can. Pretty convenient right?
Before you and I get convinced of the convenience it offers, it’s important to remember that an “online church” is not church. The term “Online Church” is an oxymoron because it contradicts itself. This truth is greatly emphasized by its name and activities.
The Meaning of Church
The word church comes from the Greek word “ekklesia” which is a combination of the words “out of” (ek) and “to call” (kaleo). This literally means that church is “called out of” or “the called-out ones.” We see a clear expression of this in Peter’s letter where he says that God’s people were “called…out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9) showing that “church” refers to people God saved from sin.
However, in biblical times, the word ekklesia also meant public assembly. We see this in Acts 19 where the people in Ephesus gathered and began a riot against Paul’s preaching. After two hours of riot, the city clerk quieted the crowd and after saying that there’s no justification for their commotion, Acts 19:41 says that he “dismissed the assembly (ekklesia).” This shows that the essence of the word also expresses an assembly of people.
But we also see this applied in the people of God. Stephen called the Israelites “the ekklesia in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). In the Greek Old Testament, we read that Moses referred to the day when God gave the Ten Commandments after saving Israel as the “day of the ekklesia” (Deut 9:10). While in the New Testament, an ekklesia is usually founded after God calls His people to salvation. This teaches us that the essence of the word church emphasizes a physical assembly of the people of God.
The Activities of the Church
However, the physical aspect of the church is not only emphasized in its name but also in its activities. We read in Acts 2 that when Peter preached the Gospel at Pentecost, those who heard responded in faith and were saved (2:37-41).
After being saved, we see that the believers did not go their separate ways. Instead, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers…day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes” (2:42,46).
All these activities emphasize a physical gathering of God’s people and require face-to-face interaction. And it is in these activities that the church greatly expresses itself to be a light to the world. We see that in Acts 2:47 as they continue with their gathering, they not only found “favor with all the people,” the Lord also “added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
But favor from people and salvation of others is not the church’s chief end. When God commissioned Moses to call Israel out of Egypt, the goal was not just their salvation. God said that it is so that “they may serve (worship) me in the wilderness” (Exo 7:16). Like Israel, the church is also called out of slavery to gather and worship God, as a city set on a hill, going against the darkness of this world.
As much convenience the so-called online church brings, it is in the assembly of sinners who were saved by grace that the church starts to live out its purpose. However, our present reality and other circumstances hinder us from gathering and our only option is to watch sermons online. But rather than being satisfied with it, may this make us yearn more to gather in worshiping God together with His people, being driven by the Gospel, declaring and living out His forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ crucified.