Col 2:1-5 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, (2) that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, (3) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (4) I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (5) For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Col 4:15-16 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. (16) And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.
Several years ago, as most of you know, I began to invite any genuine Christian to join us here at Christ Reformation Church (CRC) and even become members online – to make this your church. And I extended (as I still do) that invitation because so many Christians in this day have found it next to impossible to locate a sound, genuine local church in their area. In addition, many victims of abuse were so further abused (even ex-communicated) by their once local church when they asked for help, that continuing in such a place became impossible. Many of you have made CRC through this means your church, and you have been a huge encouragement to me and the tiny congregation here.
Now, more than once we have been criticized for offering such an outreach. Critics claim that nothing can substitute for face to face, in person church. And that to be part of an online church is to violate the Lord’s command to us not to forsake the gathering together of the saints (see Hebrews 10). We cannot “know” one another in an online setting, it is claimed. And certainly none of us take these points lightly. This is not a flimsy excuse not to get out of bed on Sunday morning and have to go to church (as many professing Christians do when they stay home and watch a TV preacher out of laziness and disobedience to the Lord).
But those flimsy excuses for fellowship do not characterize anyone I know of who has become part of our fellowship online. Rather, they are brothers and sisters in Christ who have no real church they can be part of. At least at this time, the fallout from evil suffered causes even walking into a conventional church building or picking up a hymnal to be fearsome.
So we have offered a safe place. I know, I know, there are critics and even some who are actual enemies, who shout whenever they can that we are not a safe place, or a spiritually healthy place. We have heard those accusations for 30 years now, even before we began the online outreach. But in the face of those missiles, we reply that the Lord raised up this ministry and continues to bless it.
Now, a biblical defense of this – is there one? I suggest to you, as seen in the Scriptures quoted above, that real fellowship by distance, even among those who have never seen one another face to face, IS biblical and always has been. Paul wrote letters. That is why we have most of the New Testament. He wrote letters to believers who had never seen him face to face, and he encouraged them to “pass it on” once they had read his words. It was the first century version of email and livestream. Do you think for a moment that Paul would not have used our online tools if they had been available to him?
In person church was much more difficult in the first century (and indeed at many other times in the history of the church) than it might be in the modern era. Think of the times of persecution by Rome when Christians met in catacombs. Or during the Protestant Reformation when Rome once again sought to kill them. What will it be like when that man of lawlessness one day effects his worldwide kingdom and seeks to stamp out the church once and for all? Does anyone think that Christians will get up on Sunday, put on their Sunday finest, and drive the family to the brick and mortar church building on the corner?
What I mean by this is to get us all thinking about real fellowship in Christ? Is it better to be physically in a local church where God’s Word is compromised, where the oppressed are further oppressed, where the wicked are protected, than to be among real believers by some other, perhaps “non-conventional” means? Christ Himself removes lampstands from His presence when they are no longer a church. Will we maintain that God must be worshipped “in Jerusalem” or “in Samaria” – or will we start to understand that the worshippers the Lord is seeking are those who worship Him “in Spirit and in truth”?
My wife, and I know some of you as well, love a church choir ministry. I mean, who doesn’t like being able to go to a Christmas Eve service in a church where there is an organ, a piano, a sizeable choir, Christmas decorations and so on? These things are (can be) wonderful. But again, my wife and many of you, have had to “suffer the loss of all things” in order to gain Christ. And speaking of Christ (as we always should), turn your eyes to Him. What was His experience in this world? Did He enjoy a big cathedral with choir, massive pipe organ, big congregation? What was His church like? George Whitefield, a man used mightily by the Lord, was hammered by the conventional “church” and clergy for daring to preach to the lost sheep outside in fields instead of in a church building.
And so I say to those of you who have perhaps some honest doubts about non-conventional church ministry (gospel ministry is better), think on these things and be encouraged. You really can enjoy genuine fellowship in Christ in ways that are not face-to-face. And by the way, how many members of especially the big local churches really have ready access to their pastor or pastors? I am able to communicate with you regularly – just email me or text me, meet me “face-to-face” when we livestream our Sunday school hour, our worship service, and our two mid-week Bible studies. How is that inferior to being physically present in a local church where evildoers are protected and covered for? (All this in no way is meant to reject the local church where believers can enjoy authentic Christian fellowship and ministry. BUT – how easy is that to find these days?)
My email is [email protected] and I am very happy to answer sincere inquiries about this online outreach. You can find our Sunday morning livestreams on Facebook (Light for Dark Times), sermonaudio.com/crc, and they are uploaded later in the day to Youtube (Light for Dark Times). Mid-week Bible studies are available on those same sites on Wednesday and Thursday mornings either by livestream (ie, in real time at 7AM PST) or by viewing them later. Entire teaching series are available there.
Critics who just want to throw stones? – don’t bother to throw them. They just land in the trash. And besides, yes I will say it – “who are you to judge the servant of another?”