Unwilling Is Not the Same as Unable
Attending Public Worship or watching online at home?
With all of the panic lately, our church, like many others, have stepped into the world of live streaming our services over the internet. This has been a first for me as a pastor, though one church I served did broadcast our services live over the local radio. As our world returns to normal and the panic is dying down, I have been asked if we will continue to live stream our services. Ultimately, this will be an elders and pastor decision, but I will address some of the pros and cons, which I dealt with when my former congregation broadcasted live over the radio. As to say, live broadcast on the radio or over the internet can be helpful or harmful—it depends on the attitude and ability of the hearer—is it unwilling or unable?
There is a big difference between unwilling and unable, especially in Theology. For example, the question always comes up about baptism. The Bible teaches that baptism saves (Mark 16:16). But, what about the person who dies before baptism? The way to answer this question depends on if the person was unwilling to be baptized (they reject Jesus in baptism), or they would have been baptized, but were unable—like the thief on the cross. Though both the unwilling and unable died before baptism, there is a huge difference in their repentance and faith.
The same is true in regards to the Third Commandment (Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy). If you open up your LCMS Catechism you will find this:
37. Does God require the church to worship together on any specific days? A. God requires Christians to worship together. (Acts 2:42, 46) Hebrews 10:25, “Not neglecting to meet together….”38.“When do we sin against the Third Commandment? We sin against the Third Commandment when we despise preaching and the Word of God. 39. How is this done? We despise preaching and the Word of God—A. when we do not attend public worship. B. when we do not use the Word of God and the Sacraments. C. when we use the Word of God and the Sacraments negligently or carelessly.
Christians are gathered into communities, communions, fellowships, local congregations. They congregate (3rd article of the Creed). They are fed by Jesus through their pastors (Table of Duties). Jesus says where two are three are gathered in my name, there I am among them (Matt. 18:20). There must be at least 2. One to preach and one to hear, one to baptize and one to be baptized, one to give Holy Communion and one to receive It.
But, what about watching our Divine Service on the computer? Well, it is similar to those who are unwilling to obey Jesus’ gracious command to be baptized and those who are unable. Those who are unwilling to obey Jesus’ gracious command to gather together in person with other Christians to be fed by a pastor in
Word and Sacraments and encouraging one another are different than those who want to, but are unable. It is a matter of faith in the heart and not simply in the outward act. Additionally, one cannot receive Christ’s body and blood over the radio. And self-communing at home is not a faithful option.1 This is why I make communion visits to our homebound members so that the 2 of us are gathered to receive the gifts of our Lord, Who is really present.
Yes, the live stream/radio can be great for those members who are unable to attend public worship. But, when we, the able, neglect public worship and choose comfort, fun, or optional duties elsewhere—we must ask ourselves how are our actions affecting us and others–especially the little ones of our congregation. What example are we setting? What do we really believe about public worship? What are we really confessing?
And, the live-stream/radio also can be great for the non-members in the community and beyond, who haven’t heard the Gospel to hear It; but if they could over time come to our congregation or another faithful congregation, but reject joining “organized religion,” that too is dangerous. Jesus wants Christians to gather together. Our sinful flesh, the world, and the devil are too dangerous for us to neglect joining together as God’s Word invites and graciously commands.
Again, please don’t misunderstand, it can be a great thing that we broadcast God’s Word depending on the circumstances and motivations; I simply want to point out some potential dangers down the road that come from our sinful hearts, which want to neglect the Word and Sacraments of God–and gathering with the people of God for mutual consolation. It doesn’t simply hurt the one who skips public worship for something less important, but the absence of any member of the body of Christ hurts the whole congregation. Therefore, I want to encourage us all to, as it says in Heb. 10:25, “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.”
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