I am currently residing in South Korea, a country that was unfortunately hit pretty hard by Covid-19 due to our close proximity to China.
As the number of confirmed cases started spiking up, the government took aggressive measures by closing down public facilities such as schools and even coming up with innovative testing ideas such as drive-through testing, where you can drive in and in minutes quickly get yourself tested for Covid-19 free of charge.
The government has been extremely transparent, providing extensive details of all confirmed cases, where they reside, all of the places they have travelled since presumed time of infection and so on. All this information is available at your fingertips using the Coronavirus app.
The government has been quite successful in getting everybody actively involved in monitoring the continuous updates of information, so that they can avoid hazardous areas and self-isolate, minimizing further infection and creating an atmosphere of extreme caution.
A sense of strong unity has even been formed as people encouraged one another in such times of crisis.
Religious institutions (especially churches) started getting criticism!
As strong as this sense of unity became, there was also a strong culture of criticizing and blaming those who weren’t cautious enough or behaved in an unwise or selfish manner.
For example, patient #31 was this lady who was a member of a huge infamous Christian cult (their leader claims to be the resurrected Christ – that he is God incarnate).
Even though doctors made more than three recommendations that she gets herself tested and isolate herself in the meantime, she refused to listen and participated in her cult church services multiple times for good two weeks.
This resulted in hyper-infection amongst other congregation members, taking the infected cases at an unprecedented exponential rate.
This sparked a tsunami of criticisms from the public toward the churches for not suspending their weekly services, and even the media started hunting down on churches, broadcasting them as irresponsible, selfish hypocrites who are not at all concerned for the welfare of the general public.
Theological view regarding online worship
We are required to keep all moral laws (i.e. the 10 commandments) even though we no longer need to keep any ceremonial or civil laws in the Old Testament.
The fourth commandment clearly says: “Keep the Sabbath Holy”, which is applicable to the New Testament saint by keeping the Lord’s day Holy, and this at its minimum level of obedience is attending the weekly public service.
When we worship God at church, we are not mere spectators nor are we the focal point of the worship, God is the focal point and we are there to worship and glorify Him. Therefore, physical presence is absolutely non-negotiable given the usual circumstances.
However, we are not really in the usual circumstance, are we?
“As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp” (Leviticus chapter 13, verse 46)
This commandment does not only serve the purpose of keeping the congregations ceremonially clean, but God in His awesome wisdom, intended to keep the Israelites safe by keeping the infected outside the camp in order to prevent a massive breakouts of diseases (remember at this time in history, people had no clue about bacteria/viruses and how they spread).
Is it not only loving and wise, but the church in fact has the moral obligation to keep the congregation safe by preventing spread of infections that are lethal enough to kill your members.
This is not your everyday cold or even a seasonal flu; more than 10,000 have already died and WHO has declared it to be a pandemic, whilst numerous countries have already closed down their borders and declared national emergency and curfews.
It would be a far stretched argument to suggest that the churches who are conducting online-services for the time-being are acting out of disobedience. We are to be cooperative in tackling the disease and demonstrate our love for our neighbours by keeping ourselves safe so that we can keep our neighbours safe.
The church however, needs to emphasize that this is only temporary!
The church leaders must not slacken or give any room for our sinful hearts to change our perception of public worship, the importance of physical presence and real person-to-person fellowships.
Even in midst of our online worship, we need to instruct and exhort the importance of public worship and in fact encourage the congregation to pray continuously that God would help ease the circumstance so that one day we can all come together and freely worship our God again face to face.
Public worship indeed is a moral command; you cannot claim to love Christ and not His commandments.
“Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew chapter 5, verse 19)
Richard Kwon is from Auckland, a regular lay person who just loves the Lord.