COVID-19 and the “Cool Church”

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others (Matt 6:5).

What I am about to say is not intended as a judgment upon any decisions being made by faithful pastors all around this nation.  And I certainly have no reason to impugn motives.  I have very close pastor friends who will not agree with all I say here.  They sharpen me.  And I offer these thoughts only to honor my Savior, stay true to His Word, and compel us all to ask good questions during this crisis concerning the essence of the church, her worship, her ordinances, and her mission.  This is not meant to be a rant.  It is, rather, a heartfelt plea to stop and prayerfully think about what we are doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.  For the glory of God in the Gospel of Christ and for the good of His bride, the Church.     

In the last few days, I have attended in-person pastor gatherings, and online pastor gatherings.  We are, of course, all talking about the same thing – how to shepherd well the flock of God entrusted to us through this virus outbreak.  Do we cancel services?  Limit out gatherings to 50 or less (Indiana), 10 or less (Federal), or just love our neighbors enough to limit nearly all human contact for two weeks to see if the Lord will use it to slow the spread?  And then there’s the whole question of how to keep shepherding and teaching and connecting while holed up in our homes (assuming we do cancel and/or quarantine).

The elders here have decided to cancel all gatherings for the rest of this month.  And while we are offering a new podcast, and plan to do some discipleship classes via online platforms, we are not offering “online worship.”  Granted, we have not been a “cool church” ever.  I abhor what Facebook and YouTube as companies support (abortion and pornography).  I cringe to use those platforms, and have for years.  Even the online classes we are now doing make me a bit nervous.  Some churches have been streaming worship, and doing all sorts of online stuff for years now.  This crisis probably doesn’t affect much for them, with the exception of the actual physical gathering.

But that’s precisely the point at which I wish to engage us and challenge us a bit.  I offer three reasons we think it best not to do online worship and/or to live stream a local church worship service. 

  1. The Biblewe have no example at all in the Scriptures of a worship assembly being anything other than an actual worship assembly!  The expectation in the Old Testament is the “whole assembly” of Israel (including children) gathers to hear God’s Word proclaimed and to worship and commit themselves to obeying God.  See for example Deuteronomy 31:9-12 and Nehemiah 8.  That expectation carries into the New Testament.  Consider  the Book of Acts.  A church assembly in that Book clearly anticipates all those who have been baptized into the local fellowship and their children gathering for hearing doctrine, praying, and taking the Lord’s Supper together and meals together (Acts 2:41-47 being the quintessential summary statement).  The Apostle Paul assumes whole families are present together in the church worship assembly (he directly addresses children in Eph 6:1-3 and Col 3:20).  Paul speaks of the Corinthian Church gathering as “the whole church comes together” (1 Cor 14:23).  So, we who hold to the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures should be very, very skeptical and cautious when making claims that we are having “online worship gatherings” or that we are “doing church online.”  We should be more honest, I think, and just admit this actually cannot be done “online” or in quarantine, at least not the way the Lord and His apostles command / prescribe. 
  2. The Doctrine of the Churchto assemble is at the very heart of what it means to be a church.  This is why the Lord forbids us to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb 10:25).  Now, when we are sick or out-of-town or providentially hindered in some way, we are not sinning by being absent from our local church gatherings.  If you go on and read the following verse (Heb 10:26) it is clear the author has a willful neglect of the church assembly in mind.  Nevertheless, we simply cannot pretend that actually getting together as God’s redeemed people in Christ to praise Him, to pray hand-in-hand, to sing in harmony together, to hear the Word and discuss it together, to do the one another’s, is not a significant part of what makes us an actual church.  There is no virtual church!  There is no online church gathering.  Friends, I am not saying we should not try to somehow “connect” with one another in these difficult days.  I am not saying using online platforms is wrong or sinful.  But the way we use them, and the way we market or promote these methods, matters a lot.  We do not want to give our folks the idea that we can actually be a New Testament church online.  Togetherness defines us!  It’s what made the witness of the early church so powerful in their community and made people either avoid them or want to come be a part of God’s work in the church (Acts 4:12-16).  Why not just humble ourselves and admit God is pulling the carpet out from under us right now?  Our idols are being removed (sports, concerts, celebrity preacher conferences, economy, comfort).  God exiled Israel.  He removed their ability to worship Him in the way He had prescribed!  The temple was smashed!  And He did so to create a renewed hunger for worshiping God in God’s way.  The exile periods revived the righteous remnant (Ezra 7-10; Mal 3:16-18).  We have been praying for revival, haven’t we Church?  But it seems we are in danger of only wanting it to come by means of our own choosing.  While I pray all this “online worship” will actually create a renewed thirst to actually worship Christ in the way He has designed (covenantal life-on-life), I fear it may well backfire on us!  Which leads me to . . .   
  3. Our Culture – We already have a large segment of Christendom that think they are going to church or worshiping with the church by sitting in their bathrobes with a cup of java in their kitchens in front of screens.  We evangelicals have for the most part strongly opposed such a view.  We already have churches and whole denominations that do not even believe in church membership (covenant / commitment to a local body).  We Reformed Pastors have stood against this shallow, non-committed, unaccountable, undisciplined view of Church for decades now.  But it seems to me we very easily caved to that very model once a virus hit.  We are potentially and inadvertently contributing to the very mess we have opposed on doctrinal and theological grounds!  One pastor in the online training I attended earlier this week said, “We’ve not seen church-hopping like we’re about to see now.”  Well, surely we all know he’s right.  Not just digital church hopping (which so long as our people are listening to biblically faithful preaching is no worry at all actually), but actual church hopping.  Well, that church has better live streams.  Well, that church’s innovative podcast and rocking worship band (who happens now to be playing their instruments and singing their songs only for the cameras) tickles my fancy more than my more old-fashioned church.  We say we’re not in competition with other faithful churches, but it doesn’t look that way right now, dear brothers and sisters, as we rush to have the best online worship and we all (or at least most of us) preach to empty rooms! 

God help us slow down and think more carefully about what we are doing and why.  His glory in the Church is worth it, right?  Remember, as a pastor-mentor of mine used to say, “What we win them with is what we have to keep them with.”    

Now, all that said, I pray and trust Jesus will save many sinners through this pandemic.  Our God brings beauty from ashes.  Jesus will save sinners who hear the gospel online.  And I pray and trust those truly born again, that the Holy Spirit will move them to be baptized into a local fellowship as soon as possible.  I pray faithful churches who just want to shepherd their people and not miss evangelistic opportunities will be given God’s wisdom and power to exalt the Risen Christ.  I pray we will all be kind to one another as we critique and challenge each other in these trying times.  Again, I reiterate, I respect those making different decisions than we are.  And I am open to hearing a critique of my critique!  Most of all, I pray our Triune God receives all glory, every ounce of it, for both His acts of righteous judgment and His acts of saving grace! 

My own view of preaching and legitimate church worship assemblies may not be yours.  Preaching is not precisely the same thing as teaching in my view.  Our church is doing some online teaching.  But to preach to an empty room is not in line with God’s design for the preaching / worship event, in my humble opinion.  I am not against live-streaming a sermon so long as it is actually being preached to a live, in-the-flesh church / audience.  I can see the benefit to shut-in members or those providentially hindered.  But right now that’s all of us!  And while some may argue this is precisely why their online worship method is acceptable, I am arguing it is best to just say, “Church, we actually cannot have a worship gathering right now.  Let’s fast and pray God will reunite us soon!” 

Every Sunday gathering is unique and unrepeatable.  God shows up among His people in covenant with Him by Jesus’ blood, and sacrificially committed to one another, in ways that simply are not likely to be duplicated with online “gatherings.”  You may worship God in spirit and truth with your family or even your small group in your homes, and in front of an I-phone.  In fact, we are praying for a revival of Family Worship in our church!  And we are praying for a revival of true fellowship among smaller groups in our church!  But you may not, from a New Testament viewpoint, call that in home gathering a church, nor a church worship assembly.  The church is the whole body . . . together.  And when one member is missing, we all suffer (1 Cor 12).  O, that God would revive a true ecclesiology among us during this time.  

More questions – What is the benefit or upside to offering a live stream sermon with no actual church gathered to hear it, compared to just encouraging our people to go listen to the years’ worth of archived sermons we all have on our church websites already?  Do we seriously think our church members were all present for each one of those sermons?  Do we really think they remember them?  Are there no good truths or lessons or life applications from those past sermons that will serve them faithfully now?  Is it absolutely necessary that church members hear a “fresh” word or sermon this Sunday?  This crisis has reminded me just how susceptible I am as a Pastor to pride and the notion that I am somehow indispensible to the local church, so much so that they cannot even go a week or two without me.  God forgive me and us.  If we have fed them the whole counsel of God over the years, they can go be refreshed by a sermon from three years ago!  Our church has encouraged this among our members – to go listen to an old sermon.  And we are also telling them if they want to hear an online sermon at this time, why bother with us local small fries?  Log onto John MacArthur, John Piper, Alistair Begg, Steven Lawson or HB Charles, Jr.  Seize the opportunity to hear from these uber-gifted preachers.  Praise God, if our people get more exposed to God’s Word coming through these men! 

But at the same time, just know that if/when you are lying sick in the hospital, it will not be John Piper who risks his own well-being to come pray over you.  It will be that local shepherd, called by God to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2).  And THAT is a stark reminder of church God’s way.                                             

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RBG Logic Applied to Abortion

The Supreme Court is hearing a pivotal case to determine whether to uphold Louisiana’s law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.  This is, of course, a reasonable safeguard to both the health of the mother, as well as the health of the baby if born alive (and yes we are now learning that happens more often then we might imagine).

But reason and logic do not accompany the pro-abortion side of this debate.  Never have.  Never will.

Exhibit A in this illogical hall of fame is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  She recently commented that “among medical procedures, first trimester abortion is among the safest, far safer than childbirth.”

Safe for whom?  Safest for whom?  Safer for whom?  And do you really prefer women to have abortions, rather than to just give birth to babies, which you say is so unsafe?  Talk about fear-mongering!

And that, my friends, is the very essence of this matter.  When we reduce one person to a “choice” or a “medical procedure” based simply upon that person’s physical size, or physical location, or supposed abilities, or inabilities, it is ethical discrimination and moral insanity.  Abortion is definitely not safe for babies!  And, several research  organizations would refute RBG’s assessment of just how safe it is for mothers regardless of which trimester.

Would we consider it a simple medical procedure to hack off the limbs, causing death to a Parkinson’s patient who has lost most physical abilities?  Would we talk about how safe the procedure is to puncture the skull and penetrate the brain of a 5 year old Down’s Syndrome child?  Would we commend a 19 year old girl who, in the name of “my body, my choice” decided to cut off her arms and legs, or to chemically poison herself to death?

Can we not see where this “my body, my choice” worldview has lead us?  To a place where parents now think it loving to allow their 11 year olds to physically maim and chemically alter themselves permanently.  Where a man running for President sexualizes a 9-year old boy and thousands cheer that Presidential hopeful and that boy for “coming out” as gay.  We are running the risk of allowing our entire culture to live in perpetual dysphoria!

O, dear pro-life champions, do not fear.  Logic and reason are on our side!  Keep exposing the insanity of these pitiful, self-centered attempts to justify killing a baby.

Most of all, remember God’s truth is on our side.

Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward (Psalm 127:3).


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A Proper Burial

Let me tell you where Mayor Pete Buttigieg is not today.

He is not at the burial ceremony for 2,411 aborted babies.  That ceremony is being held in his city, South Bend, IN.  But I feel sure he’s not planning to attend.  His radical pro-choice agenda simply could not stand up to the actual reality of tiny babies with faces, arms, fingers, ears, toes, brains, legs, hearts.  Many of them dismembered and disfigured.  Stored in a late abortion doctor’s garage like they were nothing more than cobwebs or roofing nails.  You can read more about it here:

America must decide if this callousness towards life is going to continue to define her.  If we decide wrongly, sinfully, and continue to tolerate the murder of babies, then God will no doubt keep giving us leaders we deserve.  Socialists.  Marxists.  Godless agnostics or those claiming religion, even Christianity, while pushing an agenda that is Satanic.

But I, and many thousands of others, are praying and crying out to God to have mercy on us!  To give us leaders with the moral spine to finally end this scourge.  If slavery is a stain on America, and it surely is, then abortion is more so.  To forcefully enslave another human, made in God’s image, is to denigrate his very personhood and limit his potential.  To slaughter another human in the womb, is to permanently destroy his personhood and potential.

When will we finally demand an end to this butcher shop?


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If You Are Thinking of Leaving a Church . . .

God is adding to our church family.  We are seeing new faces and families every week.  We are regularly celebrating new members who covenant with us to make Christ known in the world.

Hallelujah!  The “word of the year” for CBC is Multiply.  

We are praying for God to multiply us.  For God to use us to multiply disciples.  To multiply pastors and teachers and missionaries.  To multiply life groups and Bible study friendships.  To multiply children by births and adoptions.  Maybe even to multiply churches!  Most of all, we are asking God to multiply His glory in the gospel of Christ in and through us this year.

But we also know we will inevitably have to say some goodbyes.  Some due to deaths or more accurately “home goings.”  Some due to members moving away.  Some due to members deciding for any number of reasons (whether we agree with those reasons or not) that they should find another church home.  So, at the beginning of 2020, it is a good time for us to think on the subject of leaving well.  To help us in this task, I want to paste a recent blog, which is actually an excerpt from a book, from Mark Dever.  He says it about as well as it can be said.

Editor’s note: The following is from page 57 of Mark Dever’s What Is A Healthy Church?


1. Pray.

2. Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel.

3. Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant?

4. Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships.

5. Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life—places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matthew 7:3-5).

6. Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt).

​IF YOU GO . . .

1. Don’t divide the body.

2. Take the utmost care not to sow discontent even among your closest friends. Remember, you don’t want anything to hinder their growth in grace in this church. Deny any desire to gossip (sometimes referred to as “venting” or “saying how you feel”).

3. Pray for and bless the congregation and its leadership. Look for ways of doing this practically. If there has been hurt, then forgive—even as you have been forgiven.


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Reflect and Refocus

Well, I slept through yet another New Year.

Hit the sack about 11 p.m.  TV off.  Spent the last hours of 2019 reading the last few chapters of Revelation with my family.  Answered questions as best I could regarding all the wild symbolism of that Blessed Book of the Bible.  Reminded ourselves of the main thing – Jesus wins!  He reigns forever and ever and those who have been saved by His grace will reign with Him and enjoy Him forever.  And His enemies will be judged forever.

So we must soldier on.  So we must carry His name to neighbors and nations.  So we must not lose heart.

New Year’s is a time for Resolutions.  At least in our culture.  But it’s also a time for Reflection and Refocusing.

I have reflected this week on 2019.  Although the Lord gave me so many unmerited blessings, the big theme of this past year for me has been pain.

Debbie Downer.  I know.  That’s me!  But stick with me.

Pain is real.  Hurt hurts.  Sin has wrecked this world and trashed our hearts.  I attended 6 funerals in 2019.  Preached four of them.  Stood over the dead bodies of three beloved saints whom I had the immense privilege to pastor.  I loved them fiercely, and wish I could have, would have, shepherded them more faithfully and more effectively.  But by God’s grace I did my best, and now I miss them horribly.  The congregation of CBC misses Daryl, Jay, and Martha.  Holes in our hearts now.

I also preached the funeral for my wife’s step mom.  We miss her sorely.

Members in our church have had to bury their grandchildren and young siblings this year.  So much pain.

Hurts and breaks in relationships have also marked my 2019.  Friends lost.  Sometimes despite efforts at restoration.  My own sins and shortcomings highlighted.  Reasons for the losses, however, ultimately not known.  Perhaps never will be understood.  At least not in this life.  My family and I have hurt deeply, and we know our former friends have also hurt.  We are sorry for it all.  We minimize none of this pain.  We grieve not just for ourselves, but for others too.

Preaching through Hosea this past Fall has been just what Doctor Jesus ordered.  I cannot begin to tell you the impact Hosea 6:1 has had upon me as I reflect on 2019.

Come let us return to the Lord!  For He has torn us, that He might heal us; He has wounded us, and He will bind up our wounds.

Truth is, 2019 has simply made me long ever-more deeply for the return of Christ Jesus.  God has refocused me on eternity.  Given a gospel-driven ache to my soul for all things to be made new.  Fixed my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith.  Reminded me of the light momentary afflictions that will, some grand day, produce an eternal weight of glory!

While I aim by God’s sanctifying Spirit to strive for more holiness, more peace, more restoration in 2020, the pain of 2019 prods me not to live for this world.  Not to expect my best life now.  To know sin is not yet eradicated in my heart, nor in the hearts of those around me.

Pain is merited by me.  By you.  By everyone.  Except Jesus.

Unspeakably, Christ came as “a man of sorrows acquainted with grief” and was “pierced for our transgressions.” And in Christ Jesus our Lord, all things are reconciled and restored (Col 1:20).  Jesus even redeems our pain.  “By His wounds we are healed.”  And yes, He even redeems it sometimes in the here and now, but one day perfectly in the new heaven and earth.  Singer / songwriter Laura Story has so aptly called us to account in this matter:

 ‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life-
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

Well, amen!  “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 123).  Pain will not get the final word.  Jesus is too great a Savior to allow it.  And Jesus is so great He turns hurt into healing, gangrene into glory.  O, that in 2020 I might have the vision to see it.

As I refocus now for the New Year ahead, I pray with Susanna Wesley:

Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such wise that they may unite my heart more closely with Thee.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigour in the pursuit of true happiness.

Amen.  Happy New Year!

P.S.  As I write this, I battle the pain of shingles.  “Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

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