(PD) Joshua Pauling–After Zoom Church: Restoring the Real in Christian Worship

Embodiment’s centrality in the human experience has implications for the Church. Certainly since its earliest days the Church has gathered, whether in secret or public, in catacombs or cathedrals. Perhaps the most frequent rationale for such gathering comes from Hebrews 10:24–25: “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.”

What is so vital and unique about gathering for church that God commands it? The answer lies in the historic understanding of Christian worship as sacramental; that is, God communes with man through tangible means that deliver God’s work in Christ to humanity. Gospel. If this is what happens in church, streams or downloads just won’t cut it.

Perhaps then, a faulty understanding of worship lies behind why so many churches rapidly turned to online church and consider it a viable option. And, contrary to what seems a logical assumption, it has not just been low-church Protestant traditions embracing online worship. High-church traditions from Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy to Anglicanism and Lutheranism—even with their elevated view of the ministerial office, the sacraments, and liturgical worship—have not been immune to digitalization. In my denominational home, the LCMS, which takes seriously historic orthodoxy, worship practice, and Christ’s bodily presence in the Eucharist, online communion was endorsed in some quarters, though the Synod officially dismissed the practice.

What this reveals is that experiences of digitality in every other life domain have seeped into worship practices and are superseding longstanding theologies of worship and their doctrinal underpinnings. Couple this with the widespread understanding of humans as “thinking things” or “feeling things,” and no matter one’s denominational affiliation, no longer is worship primarily sacramental and theological; it is individual and anthropological.

Read it all.


Posted in Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology