The first mission given to humankind was this:
“Be fruitful and increase in number;” (Genesis 1:28a NIV)
They couldn’t do this over Zoom.
Jesus told us to wash one another’s feet (John 13:1–17). Can’t do this over Zoom either.
At least four times in the New Testament we are told to greet each other with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16a; 1 Corinthians 16:20b; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; see also 1 Peter 5:14).
For members of a congregation to kiss one another was not simply a show of affection; it was the affirmation that the church is the true family. (Gary S. Shogren, 1 & 2 Thessalonians [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012], 234).
So we have to find ways of connecting physically that make sense in our respective cultures. Can’t do that over Zoom too.
There is much discussion over what the church is going to be like as a result of the present crisis. Some draw parallels with how the rise of Amazon resulted in the death of many brick-and-mortar bookstores, and therefore the church needs to be seriously in cyberspace in the “new normal”. They point to how the church, unable to meet physically, is now connecting online, and that in many ways this will be the norm going forward.
I agree that there is no going back to a way of doing church that ignores social media. I have always been a late adopter of new technology and I still find Zoom meetings tiring, but I have come to appreciate the things that communication technology has allowed us to do. Indeed, there are some things that are better done on platforms like Zoom than in person. Going forward, we must embrace new ways of doing things. However, I am disturbed by the fact that many of the discussions about the future are done phenomenologically and pragmatically with little reference to the Scriptures. Obviously the discussion is a complex one and we need to resist reductionism of any form. But any discussion about how we do church and ministry now and in the future must take into account biblical anthropology.
One thing that the Bible teaches us is that humankind was created to be embodied beings, that we are souls with bodies, and we live out our lives through our bodies (Genesis 2:4b–7). We must be constantly vigilant against any Platonic influence that would lead us to believe that the spirit is more important than the body and that salvation entails leaving our bodies behind. Paul is adamant that while we have to leave our present bodies behind at death, what awaits us is a new and perfect body, one able to live out our lives in the new heavens and the new earth (1 Corinthians 15:35–58; 2 Corinthians 5:1–5). So, from creation to the new creation, it is utterly clear that to be human is to be embodied and that we live out our lives as embodied beings.
Compare this to something like the X-Files episode, “Kill Switch” (season five, episode 11), where, for some, to be immortal is to leave our bodies behind and upload our presence into cyberspace to live forever online. A biblical response to this would be the rejection of any notion of life without bodies. And while the X-Files may be science fiction, connecting only online without actually meeting up is a real temptation. But it doesn’t respect how God has made us.
I do need to say too that Cain couldn’t have bashed the head of his brother Abel through Zoom either. One of the most disturbing statistics of the present crisis is the steep rise of physical abuse — people beaten and battered at home. So, while we await the time that we can meet up in person again, it is not enough to say that we should meet up in person. We need to ask why we meet up. As followers of Jesus we are to live out the twin commands to love God and to love neighbour. So when we meet up it must be for the purpose of loving God and loving each other. And we can express that love in our online encounters as well. Every time I have a Zoom meet-up I ask the Lord to help me love the person(s) I am seeing on-screen.
Things are changing and we need the agility and humility to ask how we do life in the present crisis and going forward. But some things do not change. We are embodied beings. We are called to love God with our total lives. And we are called to love our neighbour.