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VIRTUAL WORSHIP
By Bryan Matthew Dockens

A tremendous advantage of this modern age is that, with the advancement of technology, the ability to communicate is optimal. This advantage applies in many ways spiritually. Exhortations and admonitions, including sermon outlines and articles, appear on church websites and are posted on Facebook and various blogs. Church singings can be recorded and made available on YouTube and the like. Brethren can keep in contact through e-mail, assorted social networking sites, and can visit by video-link on Skype. It is all very beneficial and merits thanksgiving to God.

However, there are limitations. As the word "virtual" implies, not everything done online is entirely real. The apostle John noted the insufficiency of long distance correspondence, preferring personal interaction, when he wrote, "I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face" (3rd John 13-14).

A brother or sister in Christ, isolated geographically from fellow Christians, and unable to assemble with the church as commanded (Hebrews 10:25), may benefit from viewing a church's worship streaming online, may receive encouragement from a group video call with other believers on Skype, and may be edified by reading informative materials on the internet, but that isolated disciple is unable to correctly participate in one of the most meaningful aspects of worship there is.

Prayer, song, and preaching might be accomplished from afar thanks to modern technology, but the Lord's Supper is not, nor can it ever be, a long distance act. "In giving these instructions" pertaining to "the Lord's Supper" (1st Corinthians 11:17, 20), four times the apostle Paul used the phrase "come together" (1st Corinthians 11:17, 18, 20, 33). In order to properly "proclaim the Lord's death" (1st Corinthians 11:26), brethren must "come together as a church" and "come together in one place" (1st Corinthians 11:18, 20). Actual proximity with fellow Christians is as much an element of the Lord's Supper as unleavened bread and fruit of the vine and must not be neglected.

Until the lone Christian either relocates or is joined locally by fellow disciples in establishing a church, that single believer is simply without the ability to eat the Lord's Supper in a manner consistent with the apostle's instructions. The situation is unfortunate and should be remedied as early as possible because "the breaking of bread" ought to be "continued steadfastly in" (Acts 2:42) each "first day of the week" (Acts 20:7).

If diligent effort is put forth and the lone Christian still cannot assemble with a church, God understands. Paul explained, "For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have" (2nd Corinthians 8:12). Although this verse appears specifically in the context of financial giving, it provides insight into the manner of divine judgment, indicating that ability is taken into account.

Faithful saints dispersed throughout the world deserve the constant encouragement of their brothers and sisters in Christ, but they must not be misled into thinking they are accomplishing what they are not. Isolated Christians would be better served to consider the example of those early disciples who were put to flight by the persecution that arose over Stephen: "Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). When preaching results in new converts won, then churches can be established wherein the Lord's Supper may be eaten together each week. This is how God intends it.

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