In contrast to the homeschooling endeavor I have pursued for more than a decade—where we are able to take the good parts of education and create a whole that far exceeds its constitutive parts—”home-churching” has proven to have quite the opposite result: Most of the parts are present, and yet they fail miserably to create a superior whole.
It has been six long weeks since my family and I have been able to worship on Sunday morning with our church family. In our state, gatherings of more than 10 to 15 people have been banned and stay-at-home orders have been in place for several weeks. As such, every Lord’s Day morning, we have dutifully printed off the worship bulletin from the church website, set up our computer in our library, and sat around my children’s school table to stream the service.
In contrast to the homeschooling endeavor I have pursued for more than a decade—where we are able to take the good parts of education and create a whole that far exceeds its constitutive parts—home-churching has proven to have quite the opposite result: Most of the parts are present, and yet they fail miserably to create a superior whole.
Here are six reasons why:
1. Digital cannot replace incarnational. Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics all agree something divinely appointed is happening when the Body of Christ gathers. This is lost when we are gathering at home, even if (in my case) I am worshipping alongside five other covenant members—my husband and four children. As a member of a PCA church, I believe the divinely appointed pastor is exhorting, encouraging, and shepherding God’s people as he preaches the Word of God. That preaching still happens via live-stream, and I thank God for such redemptive uses of technology, but it simply cannot happen in the same way. I have listened to sermons from various pastors I will never meet in person, via podcast, for 15 years now as a means of spiritual growth and edification. . . . but never once have I confused that with me attending their church or being part of the flock under the care of those pastors.
2. The absence of the Lord’s Supper. Again, my Orthodox, Lutheran, and Catholic friends all place spiritual priority upon partaking of the elements, albeit in different ways. I am squarely in the Reformed camp and affirm Calvin’s understanding of the sacrament as the visible word of God, from which my union with Christ is strengthened, so the absence of the bread and wine have been a significant loss for each member of our family. In the irony of all ironies, I happen to bake all our church’s communion bread, so in the most technical (but certainly not spiritual) sense, I could make communion happen right in our kitchen. And yet, that is inconceivable because my kitchen table is not, in fact, the same as the Lord’s Table.
3. The immediate and jarring transition back into family life. The moment the benediction is given, we stand up, shut down the computer, pet the dog, and walk back into the kitchen. What a letdown. Setting aside all of spiritual nourishment that happens on a Sunday morning, what cannot be replicated at home are the once-a-week opportunities for a series of quick hugs, brief check-ins, and all the rest of the physical hubbub that happens only in a large family gathering in the local church. Staring at the same screen as my fellow parishioners who live across town is simply not the same as sitting next to them in the sanctuary. Anyone who tries to dispute that need only ask a married couple with one spouse deployed overseas whether Facetime across time zones is equivalent to dinner together in the dining room.
4. Singing as a body. Singing is part of our corporate worship, and there is much lost when we cannot sing alongside our fellow church members. This is why concert-style worship is such a disservice to congregants, but that’s an evangelical-disaster issue for another article. These past six Sunday mornings, I have been fortunate to have my favorite singers in the whole world help lead us in song; believe me when I say there are no singing voices I would rather listen to than those belonging to my children.[*] But I would far prefer to listen to my children sing next to me in our row at church, where 125 other folks are singing as well. Sure, we could even muster up our violins, cello, harp, and piano if we wanted to. But it would never replace what is happening physically, emotionally, and spiritually in corporate singing.
5. The anchor of the Sabbath. Shortly after I became a Christian 15 years ago, my husband, newborn daughter, and I began attending a broadly evangelical church with short sermons and multiple services. Thus, we (and a few thousand others) were shuffled in and out in short order, and we would attend church and arrive back home by 9:30am. I had very little understanding about the Sabbath, but I knew instinctively that it felt wrong to be back home and out of our church clothes before most of our neighbors had eaten breakfast. All these years later, our whole week revolves around the Lord’s Day—corporate worship, our family rituals and habits, and rest—and the upcoming six days of work/study/play depend upon it. Losing the gravity of that anchor (not helped at all by the ever-evolving and destabilizing nature of the COVID-19 crisis) has created a feeling of listlessness. The great irony is that while we have more time at home for rest, there seems to be less of it.
6. The artificial separation of life and death. I remember when our family visited a historic church in South Carolina several years ago, and we had to walk through the graveyard to get into the sanctuary. I nearly rejoiced out loud (but thankfully didn’t, as the organ music was already playing) that this was the way to enter church. Our spiritual forefathers knew it, of course, and constructed buildings and liturgies to draw our hearts, minds, and souls to remember and proclaim spiritual realities. Darkness may be present, but the Light of the World reigns. Our bodies are but dust but will be risen one day. Life on this earth is but a vapor, while eternal life with the Lord Jesus Christ awaits all who believe in him. Not being able to worship alongside older folks and younger folks and all the ages in between diminishes the incarnational aspect of the Body of Christ. We are physical, palpable reminders—with our ailments and our bodies slowly declining—that this is not our home, that we were bought with a price, that we are simply pilgrims on a journey. Every aspect of secular American culture (and sadly, too much of evangelical culture) artificially blinds us to the fact that physical death is sure. The very nature of the physical gathering of the church beautifully and paradoxically reminds us of what is truly life and what is truly death.
My commitment to homeschooling remains unchanged in this current disastrous economic, political, and cultural climate. And praise be to God, my commitment to the local church remains unchanged. As an introvert’s introvert, not even the temptation of less social interaction supersedes my desire to worship together as a body again. Whatever your view of the government edicts shuttering places of worship, the cost to the health of the body has been great. Pun intended.
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The featured image is courtesy of Unsplash.