Bodily Gathering in His Presence: No More Streaming

Bodily Gathering in His Presence: No More Streaming

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.
-Hebrews 10:24-25

Should we use the live streaming as a means of online church? This is the question that most churches in America have answered with an absolute affirmative. However, is it biblically accurate or plausible? Before COVID in March of 2020, this issue was not even on the radar of most local churches as a ministry outlet. It is a relatively new phenomena that needs to be addressed. As Joe Carter has written, “A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that about a quarter of U.S. adults regularly watch religious services online. The most common reasons Americans give for watching religious services online or on TV are convenience and safety. Around 43 percent of regular viewers cite convenience as a major reason, and an additional 31 percent describe it as a minor reason. Another 49 percent of viewers cite personal safety as a reason.”1  At Christ Community Church the elders have elected to remove the live streaming option to best equip and educate our congregation to be the body of Jesus Christ and fulfill what God has commanded as covenant members.

I’ve heard several reasons why people, even in our congregation, would support live streaming the service. The first reason espoused is “Live streaming reaches people with the gospel who don’t come to church.” While evangelism is essential to the local church, there are many viable evangelistic ministries that are far better at reaching people online with the gospel than our local church broadcast. Furthermore, is not the role of the church to equip and send the members of the body of Christ out into the community to evangelize the lost? Also, considering evangelism, we still post sermons online after the service. People are not saved from singing a song but through hearing the proclamation of the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:13-17; 1 Cor. 2:2).

A second reason advocated is “What about those who can’t come to church, like the homebound?” This thought is more complicated than the others. However, there are only a select number of people who permanently cannot come to the gathering of the church. We should visit them, love them well, and care for them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Is it possible that those that we consider homebound in our churches, simply need a ride or extra time to be a part of the gathering? It is not the elderly among our local congregation that yearn for live streaming. In fact, it is a beautiful picture of the importance of coming together as the body of Christ when I see a 90-year-old woman with her walker make her way down a sidewalk, venture down the aisle of the sanctuary, and sit on the front row of the church to play a keyboard and then continue in worship together.

A third reason proposed is “What about when we are sick or out of town?” It is admirable that we desire to be connected. Nevertheless, those who are on vacation need to find a God-exalting, Bible-believing church, and worship with other like-minded believers. It is mutually encouraging to find such a place to worship. Also, when you are sick and unable to attend, it makes us yearn more for the gathering and not take it for granted.

A fourth reason championed is “I am gathering for Bible study with brothers and sisters physically and watch online for Sunday morning worship.” This rational is reminiscent of a multi-faceted problem. Whether the reason for not meeting as the corporate church is due to an unwillingness to submit to the authority of the elders, fear of being unsafe, or simply a faulty notion of the meaning of a biblical church, a clear explanation of the local church is needed. As the Baptist Faith & Message states,

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its two scriptural offices are that of pastor/elder/overseer and deacon. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.2

As Mark Dever has rightly noted, “The local church is more than a congregation, a gathering, but it is never less. While the New Testament refers to a plural number of leaders in a single congregation (e.g., Acts 20:17), never does it refer to multiple meetings as constituting a single local church.”3  The local congregation, by the definition of the word ekklesia, is “a regularly summoned legislative body, assembly...a casual gathering of people, an assemblage, gathering (cp. 1 Km 19:20; 1 Macc 3:13; Sir 26:5) Ac 19:32, 40...people with shared belief, community, congregation.”4  The coming together as an entire body, or assembly, is to hear the Word preached, partake of the church ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), fellowship, pray, disciple, and glorify God as a visible witness to the gospel.

Now I want to get to the heart of the reasons we are to physically gather as the body of Christ. Online church is a substitute that will prohibit a member of a local church from fulfilling the aforementioned command from Hebrews 10 to “meet together.” Online church or watching a live stream is not church! I will give six biblical reasons for the necessity of in-person corporate gatherings. First, genuine accountability happens better face-to-face rather than digitally. A prime example of this occurs through a variety of social media outlets. People “courageously” post certain thoughts online or in a chat room but are truly masking the real issues in their life. Digital platforms help create the best a person has not the substance of the person that needs to be held to the standard of the Word of God.

Second, there needs to be the rightly administering of the ordinances of baptism and communion. The Apostle Paul wrote of what it meant to participate in the Lord’s command to eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord’s Supper to the Corinthian church who was extremely fractured. He explained that it was when they were to “come together” (1 Cor. 11:17, 18, 20, 33). With an honest reading of the text, I see it very difficult to be fully persuasive that this meant for people gathered in different locations over the internet.

Third, submission to church leadership (Heb. 13:17; 1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1; 1 Pet. 5) is an essential component of being a part of the body of Christ. How are covenant members to submit to their spiritual authorities when they are not personally present for accountability? As RC Sproul wrote, “to be a shepherd over the flock of sheep means that it is the shepherd’s responsibility to lead the sheep. If anyone has observed the behavior of sheep who are left unguided, without the care and constant supervision of a shepherd, he is aware that sheep tend to move willy-nilly in all directions without any order to their movement. They are prone to getting lost, getting injured, and being left in a state of vulnerability unless they are cared for by a shepherd. So it is with the flock of Christ. It is the chief responsibility of the pastor, who is the shepherd, to lead the sheep.”5  As noted from Capitol Hill Baptist, “Now, how would this work if everyone was just a church consumer, hopping around from one place to another?  Which leaders are they to obey?  And pity those poor church leaders!  How are they to know which souls they’ll give account for someday?”6

Fourth, church discipline is not a digital practice. After thoroughly reading Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5, it is difficult to see how you can “go to a brother” who you are not able to see as personally present. Zoom chat rooms are not the protocol platform to engage straying sheep. As Capitol Hill Baptist wrote, “As fallen people, we’re prone to self-deception.  And the main thing that God has set up for us to deal with self-deception is the local church.  The church is kind of like an assurance of salvation co-op.”7

A fifth reason is the presence of God specially known among His gathered people. For example, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Paul is not merely speaking to individuals (1 Cor. 6:18-20), but the collective church body (Eph. 2:20-22). And the reason this is important is highlighted by Ronald L. Giese, Jr. in his article “Is “Online Church” Really Church? The Church as God’s Temple.” He writes, “Part of the biblical theology of “temple” is that in all three periods—the time before Christ, the new covenant, and new Jerusalem—God’s presence, even though everywhere, dwells in a different, deeper, special sense in a place. In these “last days” (taking this expression as the days from the first coming to the second coming), that place is the local church. And in these passages in Paul God’s new “temple” is the local church and not the universal church.”8  In other words, as God’s Spirit is certainly in all believers (Eph. 1:13-14), but He also chooses to be particularly present among His gathered children in the local church as He was in the temple (1 Kings 8:13; Ezek. 40-48; 2 Cor. 6:16).

A sixth reason is the significance of embodied souls. We are not Gnostics who chalk up the body to evil. Rather, we believe that God created us with a body and soul. Jesus had a body and soul. The meaning of the body in Christianity is extremely substantial. We will be granted a glorified body one day (1 Cor. 15:50-58; Phil. 3:20-21). How do you experience the true expression of the local church with just your soul and not your body? As Giese writes, “It is not only assumed, but often stated, that online church can do discipleship, fellowship, the “one another’s,” even the sacraments, just as well as physical church. But the Bible nowhere teaches that we can commune, fully, with God in our ‘soul’ only, without our body. In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite, that physical bodies are an integral part of God’s sanctification and redemption.”9

Seventh, we are to be for one-another. There are 59 one-another passages mentioned in the New Testament. It can be argued that they are fulfilled without being in person but try to imagine how that works in your most intimate earthly relationship, namely, your spouse. Would you be able to adequately fulfill your marital vows via Zoom? Jonathan Leeman accurately writes, “And yet we wonder: What goes missing when your ‘church’ experience is nothing more than a weekly livestream? For starters, you think less about your fellow members. They don’t come to mind. You don’t bump into them and have the quick conversations that lead to longer conversations over dinner. Beyond that, you remove yourself from the path of encouragement, accountability, and love.”10

The gathering of the local body of Christ is ultimately for the glory of God. Let us seek to corporately worship God in a way that has been instructed to us through His Word. Our Lord descended to earth nearly 2,000 years ago and became a man. The eternal Son of God added humanity to Himself (John 1:1-3, 14). This wasn’t a virtual experience. Jesus really made Himself known in the flesh so that we could know God (John 17:3; 20:30-31). Jesus truly died on a Roman cross, rose physically from the grave, and is literally seated at the right hand of the Father. May we not seek substitutes for the real thing.  

Cited Sources:
1 Joe Carter, “Why We Need to Hear Sermons in Person,” TGC, July 13, 2023,
2 Baptist Faith & Message 2000, VI. Church, paragraph 1,
3 Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition).
4 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 303.
5 RC Sproul, “What Does it Mean to Be a Shepherd Over the Flock?” Ligonier, Oct. 4, 2017,
6 “Class 3: Why Join a Church?” Membership Matters, Mar. 8, 2019, Capitol Hill Baptist Church,
7 Ibid.  
8 Ronald L. Giese, Jr. “Is “Online Church” Really Church? The Church as God’s Temple,” Themelios (TGC, Vol. 45: Issue 2),
9 Ibid.
10 Jonathan Leeman, “There’s No Such Thing as Virtual Church,” TGC, Aug. 18, 2021,

Other Resources:
Davis Jim & Skyler Flowers, “Why Our Church Will Unplug From Streaming,” TGC, May 27, 2021,

Dever, Mark, Alexander, Paul. The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel . Crossway.

Dever, Mark, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. Crossway, 2004. 

1 Comment

Michele Bates - February 12th, 2024 at 1:38pm

Those are excellent Biblical reasons for discontinuing streaming our church services. The elders have made a wise decision. Thank you to all the elders for their service to our church family and their dedication to God's holy word.