Church Services – the new (ab)normal


Unsurprisingly our Canadian sister churches have also moved to live-streaming the church services. I pass on (below and slightly updated) a pertinent pastoral letter about this from Rev Rodney Vermeulen to his congregation following their first live-streaming church service. His message is of relevance to us all. May the Lord bless us all in these abnormal circumstances and continue to strengthen, comfort and guide us by His Word and Holy Spirit.

Rev. Rodney Vermeulen

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” Hebrews 10:24-25.

Yesterday was different. Our reactions to the experience of participating in the church services via live-stream are undoubtedly varied too. Probably not unlike the various responses recorded in Ezra 3:12. The returned exiles laid the foundations of the temple and Ezra records how some wept with sadness as they compared this new temple foundation with the magnificence of Solomon’s temple. Others, however, shouted with joy simply because the temple was being rebuilt. Some of us were just thankful to be able to worship yesterday, others of us were a bit sad … it just wasn’t the same.

Which it wasn’t! It wasn’t the same at all! And nor was it the way God designed it to be. And so it is our desire this morning, under the guidance of God’s Spirit, to use this opportunity to refresh our memories as to why it is that God would have us physically meet together in worship. And having been reminded of that let us pray that God would use these very different Sundays on which we can’t meet together to rekindle in us a love for corporate worship.

Throughout history God’s people have worshipped together. In the Old Testament worship centred around the tabernacle and later the temple. In the New Testament we read of the body of believers gathering together ever since Pentecost. Toward the end of the Pentecost chapter we read this: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). And when you read the rest of the New Testament you find many descriptions of people gathering together for worship. So, the norm for God’s people is to worship together as a body of believers gathered together in one place.

So, let me ask, what did you miss most about yesterday? Even if you tend to be one of those people who comes to church but leaves right away after the service, did you miss something? Did you miss that sense of togetherness? That sense of community? God created us for relationships. First of all, a relationship with Him through Christ but then also for relationships with each other. Because, if we individually belong to Him, then by virtue of that vertical relationship we also have a wonderful horizontal relationship together. The church is the body of Christ – 1 Corinthians 12:27. See also Lord’s Day 21 of the Catechism.

In the first place then, when our text speaks about meeting together, that physical act gives expression to the unity that we have in Christ. We are all different—different temperaments, varied characters, range of gifts—but gloriously one! And when we are blessed to come together for worship that is beautifully obvious for all of us to see and experience. More, when we physically come together to worship Him it gives glory to our God as He is the one who has made that oneness possible in Christ!

But then, when we compare yesterday’s services to what we are used too, we also realize that the power and impact of each of the parts of the liturgy is that much greater when we worship together in one place.

Notice that about our text. The author of Hebrews has just expounded the wonder of who we have in Christ and how He is the once-for-all fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system. That’s a wonder that speaks volumes to each of us as individual believers. But it’s also something that we share together, especially when we come together for worship. Because, what’s the context for the author’s exhortation not to neglect to meet together? It’s verse 24: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…”

Being physically gathered together when we hear the preaching is that much richer than listening to the sermon at home. The presence of the Spirit during the worship service (1 Corinthians 14) means that as we listen together to the preaching we also respond together. That others are focussed helps you focus. That everyone else has gone quiet as the preacher makes a particularly pertinent point means you go quiet too. It also means that we, without necessarily meaning to do so, hold each other accountable to focus and concentrate. And when the service is over there’s something very special about being able to reflect together, face to face, on what God has said to us through His Word. What a wonderful way to be able to “stir up one another to love and good works”; what a wonderful way in which to be able to urge each other to apply the sermon to our own lives.

And what about the singing? Don’t you find it that much easier to sing together? But more importantly, how much richer it is to raise our voices together in praise to God. What’s more, there’s one important function of singing that we miss entirely when we worship at home. It’s that element of edifying each other with our psalms and hymns, “… addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual song, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19).

And then we’ve not yet mentioned the public prayers, the collection of the gifts, the listening to the law, the communal confession of faith in the afternoon service and all the other elements of our liturgy. And how beautiful it is to be greeted by our God at the beginning of the service after we have collectively confessed our dependence on Him. And what a gift to depart with His blessing. We could go on but I pray that we get the picture.

Our God’s design is that we physically worship together. And His design is good and perfect. And so a time like this, when we can’t physically meet together, makes us, or at least ought to make us, long for that time when we will again be able to come together in worship. May that Sunday come sooner rather than later. Especially when we consider the final words of verse 25, “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”.

The day of Christ’s return is ever drawing nearer. The Lamb of God is opening the seals and working towards the full redemption of His people. And so it is for us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” even as we pray that we may soon resume normal worship services.

In the meantime we express our deep thankfulness to God that the technology is available to do church the way we did it yesterday. Praise Him for making that possible.

And remember, the day is coming when our worship of our King will never be interrupted again. Come Lord Jesus, Maranatha!