Should the Church Practice Online Communion?


I can be an ungracious critic. I am aware of this sin in my life. Some of my closest family members tell me that if God doesn’t get my criticism under control by his redeeming power I will become a mean and crusty man. I know my faults, and I pray God would remove this harshness from my disposition. Therefore, my goal is not to criticize churches or leaders who are practicing the Lord’s Supper in an online format. I am not trying to be overly critical of others or single anyone out in this post. My goal is to provide (or attempt to provide) a theological answer to the question, “Should the church practice online communion?”

From the outset, I am concerned that we are asking the wrong question when it comes to communion in the COVID-19 pandemic. I am afraid that many advocates are asking the question, “How can we make communion happen,” instead of, “should we theologically move our churches to perform this action.” To put it another way, I think pragmatism seems to be the ideology of the day instead of correct theology. As Christian ethicist John Frame once rightly defended, “Ethics is theology, viewed as a means of determining which persons, acts, and attitudes receive God’s blessing and which do not” (The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), 10). Therefore, does the online only act of communion receive a blessing or not according to the Bible? The sufficiency and authority of Scripture must determine our answer.

First Corinthians 11:17-34: “Come Together as a Church”

In Christian ethics, we must begin with the biblical norm (cf. Frame calls this the normative perspective in DCL, 33). Holy Scripture dictates to us the ethical norm we must apply to our situation. What is the ethical norm when it comes to the Lord’s Supper? Paul provides one of the most instructive teachings on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. We must begin by noting that this letter was addressed to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2). When he gets to his instruction for the Lord’s Supper, he continues to exhort this local body by using the phrase “come together” four times (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17, 18, 20, and 34). To help us understand what he means by come together, Paul directly identified the gathering as “when you come together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18; cf. 1 Cor. 11:22). From this brief exegetical analysis, we might conclude that Scripture affirms–as the biblical norm–that communion ought to be practiced within the local church when it “comes together.” In other words, when the body of Christ is physically gathered.

From Scripture, we should all agree that the bilbical norm mandates that communion ought to be practiced in a physically gathered, local church context.

Exceptions to the Norm?

Now, we must move from the biblical norm to the exceptions (if such exceptions should exist). We may all be thinking that COVID-19 has brought a possible exception to the theological norm due to social distancing. The question remains: Is online communion an appropriate exception to this God ordained instruction? A more general way to phrase the question reads, “Is it ever appropriate to practice communion outside of the local body of believers?

John Piper once preached, “We do not forbid taking the Lord’s Supper to someone in a nursing home or a hospital, but that kind of individual celebration is exceptional, not the Biblical norm.” Piper is absolutely right. However, taking communion to the nursing home or hospital may still meet the parameters of the biblical text in order to make the exception valid. Theologian Allen Verhey’s The Christian Art of Dying presents why this type of practice stands on biblical grounds in accordance with the instruction of 1 Corinthians 11. The context for Verhey’s argument is a person on his deathbed or a sick individual who is unable to gather with a local body due to his physical ailments. In this situation, Verhey defends, “The community comes with it, gesturing that the sick and dying are still members of the community” (Verhey, 331). Notice why Piper’s exception meets the biblical norm according to Verhey. The local church comes to the sick or dying person in order to bring them the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, we see a physical representation of the church coming together in order to partake in communion, which “proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

Before moving to online communion, we must acknowledge that the nursing home or the hospital does not exist as the normative ethic. The church does not only gather at these two places in order to participate in the Lord’s Supper. The primary place where the ordinance ought to be regularly observed is in the local church. The nursing home and hospital are exceptions to the biblical norm, but still meet the requirements of God’s people coming together as a faith community.

Is Online Communion an Exception?

To begin our answer, we should determine if an online only worship experience meets the biblical requirements for coming “together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18). We must be careful in how we answer this question because we could be indicating that the online church experience can be a substitute for meeting together, and I don’t think many of us would biblical follow that line of reasoning. The author of Hebrews states:

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, emphasis added

We are encouraged from the author of Hebrews to regularly meet together in physical gatherings. We then must ask, “What are some characteristics that may exemplify we are meeting together as the church? Martin Luther in Luther’s Works Volume 39 helps us when he provided seven characteristics of the church gathering (I am indebted to my mentor for pointing me to Luther’s work on this subject). W. Robert Godfrey wrote a summary of these seven characteristics for Ligonier Ministries in 2016, and I will use his summary to provide you with Luther’s view. Luther’s seven characteristics were:

  1. The Word
  2. Baptism
  3. The Lord’s Supper
  4. Discipline
  5. Biblical Offices
  6. Worship
  7. Suffering

NOTE: You may see Luther’s explanation for each of these characteristics on the Ligonier Ministries blog here.

From these characteristics, we could make the case that an online only worship gathering does not exist as an official model of a gathered church. Do I have the ability to call all the online followers of an online church service to vote in or vote out the pastor on the screen, which is a biblical office? Of course not. Many would call me foolish for such an attempt. Does the pastor on the screen have the ability to ensure that I am a member in good standing with a like-minded gospel believing church–i.e. not under church discipline? Absolutely not. In fact, how is the pastor able to ensure that I am not partaking of the cup or the bread “in an unworthy manner,” which is his biblical duty according to his biblical office (1 Cor. 11:27)? In all reality, it would be impossible because he is unable to observe my physical presence as I come to the table. These questions are only a few out of a myriad that illustrate an online only community does not exist as a gathered church body. As I wrote in another blog post, the online church exists due to COVID-19 as a necessary abnormality, but should not be considered a substitute for the the physical gathering of the saints.

Additionally, the Lord’s Supper is a time where the local church gathers and preaches the gospel to each other through this symbolic act. Listen to Paul once more, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lords’ death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). If I’m sitting in my house by myself taking communion with a pastor on a screen, who (besides me and the Holy Spirit) am I proclaiming this gospel truth to? No one. The Lord’s Supper exists as a time where believers come together to reflect on the work of Christ and celebrate, as a collective body, his substitutionary atonement. To put it another way, we are preaching the gospel to each other during this act (and any lost people joining our worship service). Therefore, we may conclude that online communion misses the mark of being a gathered body of believers.

From this conclusion, we may determine that online communion does not seem to be an exception that meets the biblical norm.

Now What Do We Do?

Where do we go from here? How might we think differently about the practice of the Lord’s Supper during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here is how I think we should respond in light of the biblical norm. We should respond by praying that God would cease this pandemic. We should ask God to relieve the coronavirus in our society in order that the shelter in place orders will be lifted and the church can once again physically gather together. Coming together as the body of Christ should be what all of us (pastors and church members) long for in these unprecedented days of social distancing. And when we are finally able to physically gather together on our first Sunday after the pandemic, we should joyfully celebrate by coming together as the church united to the table.

Online Church Is A Necessary Abnormality: A Warning for Christians Post-Coronavirus

Shelter in place. Practice social distancing. These are the recommendations rightly being passed down by our government’s leaders during an unprecedented time in our nation’s history. COVID-19 has caused many institutions, businesses, and churches to rethink the way they operate in order to relieve stress on the health care system and protect those most vulnerable to the virus. My post intends to discuss the latest trend with many churches moving to online only formatting in order to “equip the saints for ministry” in a time such as this (Eph 4:12; Est 4:14). My goal is to warn all believers to not let these online experiences become the new normal of our lives (even though it makes Sunday super easy), but rather to express the biblical importance of physically attending a local church when this pandemic ends.

To be completely honest, doing church online is weird. I’m a pastor who is posting worship services on the internet in order to protect the vulnerable and honor our leaders, and yes, I think this to be a strange method in an even stranger time. Is an online only worship format a necessity during this season? Yes. Is there any other way to do a corporate worship gathering and still practice social distancing? I’m sure there are, but online seems to be one of the best options available to a majority of people. However, this form of internet worship seems to be unnatural.

Why does worshiping online feel so abnormal? Here is one reason online worship feels odd, and some incentives on why I am looking forward to getting back into the church with brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray these reasons will be a sound caution for you to do likewise in the near future as these guidelines become lifted when our government officials think it is safe for us to carry about business as normal.

We should first start with a theological presupposition: people were made for community (Gen 2:18). I have seen many posts on Facebook that discuss how this virus has caused the church to “go be the church.” In some aspects, I understand what they are trying to convey, but let’s not throw the importance of a local gathering out by only focusing on the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). Believers, we need to be active in both. We need a time to gather together as followers of Christ in order to be equipped to go be the church (Eph 4:12).

At the beginning of creation, God created man and woman in his own image (Gen 1:27). However, before he created woman, he created Adam–the first man (Gen 2:7). The only time in creation that God declared that an aspect of his creation was “not good” was when he looked and saw that the man was alone (Gen 2:18). Therefore, he brought the woman to the man, looked and saw all that he had done and declared, “It is very good” (Gen 2:21-22; Gen 1:31).

From the creation narrative, my reason for declaring online only gatherings as abnormal is that online communities are not ideal for biblical community. Yes, it allows us to see and speak with each other, but physical presence makes our relationships bud into authentic means for discipleship. Physical presence allows us to interact with one another in ways that the online format does not and cannot. Here are four incentives for going back to church when it is safe to do so.

First, we can physically bond with one another at the church. We can shake hands, give hugs (I’m a huger), and put an arm around someone struggling as a few examples. Gestures that acknowledge someone as a person and connects with their feelings, fears, concerns, and lives in a real tangible way. You can’t get that type of connection in an online only experience.

Second, physical presence at the local church allows us to sympathize and empathize with one another. Have you ever been in a situation where you could literally feel the emotions of another person pouring their heart out to you? Have you ever been in an environment where you could feel the tension? These emotions come when we are in close proximity with one another. These feelings cannot be replicated in an online only format because online is, by all intent and purposes, one way communication. Physical presences allows us to minister the presence of Christ to one another in our times of need.

Third, we can have social interaction during our worship gathering. I love to hear everyone singing. It doesn’t matter if the person behind me is off pitch, on key, or ten decibels too loud. As they are worshiping Jesus, they help me to get my heart and mind right to worship too. I love hearing a hearty “Amen” or watching light bulbs click on when a preacher (typically me) exegetes a biblical text and reveals a truth some have either never thought of before or are hearing for the first time. We were created for community, and the church is designed to worship in person as a family.

Fourth, corporate gatherings produce a sense of order for those in the congregation. Our God is a God of order. Look at creation. Everything functions in an orderly fashion (of course, our sinfulness creates chaos in Gods creation, but Christ is in the process of redeeming that). Worshiping at home can create a disordered environment because our homes are places of relaxation and comfort. I think many of us come to these online worship experiences at home with a different posture than if we were part of an ordered corporate gathering.

Therefore, I know we have to worship during this pandemic differently– for many of us that is online, but since we were created for community, I am longing for the day to worship in person with my brothers and sisters in Christ. My prayer is that after you read this post you will as well. Few things compare to the gathered community each week as we corporately praise Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior like we will for all eternity (Rev 5:11-12). So, when the doors of churches all across this land open again in the near future, I pray you and I will be there anticipating what God is going to do as we gather together as his redeemed bride (Eph 5:25-27).

What are some other incentives that you are looking forward to experiencing when it is safe to do so? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

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4 Ways to Share the Gospel During Social Distancing

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

The Great Commission Explained

We need to remember that Jesus gave all his disciples this commission right after he paid the price for our sin, and rose again on the third day–to prove he defeated sin and death on our behalf. In this text, we see him commissioning his disciples and every disciple who puts their faith and trust in him before he ascended back to the right hand of the Father. This truth is why many theologians call this text the Great Commission.

How does the Coronavirus impact the way current disciples carry out the Great Commission? After all, many of us are confined to our homes in order to prevent the spread of the virus and to restrain overloading the health care system. Therefore, I will argue that it doesn’t impact our mission, but does impact our methods.

To begin, we should be comforted to know two truths Jesus tells us in his commission: 1) Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and 2) Jesus promises to be with us “always.” As believers, the Coronavirus should not scare us because as the text asserts: 1) Jesus has dominion over this virus, and 2) when we continue to advance the gospel during this global pandemic, we do so knowing he is with us wherever we are and go.

Notice in this text that our gospel witness is sandwiched between Christ’s power and his presence. His power and his presence give each believer confidence to share the gospel with our neighbors, community, and the globe–even in times of a viral crisis.

Carrying out the Great Commission During the Coronavirus

Once we understand that the Great Commission is sandwiched between Christ’s power and presence, we are in a better position to share the gospel during this season of uncertainty. Believer, just because we are in a global pandemic does not mean that our witness must be put on hold nor does it mean that we should not use biblical wisdom in how to go about sharing Christ with others. Our church history helps us to think through both aspects of being a biblically discerning gospel witness.

Our church history reveals that believers still took care of the sick and vulnerable even to the detriment of their own health. However, our history shows us that they didn’t engage in foolish activity to bring about an early death. I think we need to have a balance between both extremes in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. We can help people in their time of need by dropping things off at their doorsteps, giving them some toilet paper, or mowing their grass. These activities allow us to help the sick and vulnerable while simultaneously practicing social distancing.

While the church can take care of the needs of others in some of the ways listed above, one question we should be asking is “How can we continue to share the gospel with our families, and neighbors in obedience to the Great Commission?” Here are four ways to share the gospel during social distancing to help us think through an answer to that question:

  1. Call them on the phone. This form of communication seems to be nearly archaic in a world of texting, emailing, and Facebook messaging. Nevertheless, a phone call allows you to connect with others on a more personal level. Call people in your neighborhood to check in on them, and ask them how you can pray for them or if you can share a message of hope with them. Then, openly share the good news of Jesus Christ.
  2. Setup an online face-to-face meeting. We live in a technologically advanced society. We have the ability to use platforms like Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangout to connect with people in an online community forum. This allows you some time to see each other and to build relationships without being in close proximity. During this session, make a point to either pray with or share the good news of Jesus Christ with the person on the other end of your computer.
  3. Write and email. Email is another great way to communicate with others quickly and efficiently and still practice social distancing. Write an email to your neighbor, family member, or friend. Tell them about how this social distancing is impacting your life in a positive way. Maybe you can attach a picture of what you and your family have been up to these last few days. At some point in your email, share your testimony or just share the good news outright. Be sure to include at the end of your testimony or gospel presentation a sentence that says something like, “If you would like to know more about how you can put your faith in Jesus Christ, email me back and we can setup a time to talk via phone or on an online face-to-face platform” (see points 1 and 2 above).
  4. Publish a testimonial. The internet is filled with people giving their thoughts and advice about what is taking place in our country during this global pandemic. Why not join the growing online movement by posting a video of your testimony for people to see? The internet has distanced us, but in this season of viral pandemic, pretty much everyone is online. Two great advantages to an online testimonial is that while you are not online your video can still be viewed, and this means, number two, you can reach more people for Christ. Be sure to add something at the end of your testimonial about how you would be willing to talk more about you testimony and what Christ has done for you if they desire or that you can help them find a local church in their area to connect them with if they live far away.

Concluding Thoughts

Just because we have been advised not to leave our homes to help flatten the viral curve, does not mean that we have been advised to stop obeying the Great Commission. In fact, we can still fulfill the mission God has given us by thinking of creative ways to share the gospel where we are and by using the technology God has given to us. In all reality, now is one of the best times to share the gospel because many people are worried and afraid. What better time to share the only hope this world has, God’s one and only Son–Jesus Christ? As Jesus’s words started this blog, I think it only appropriate that his Great Commission should also end it.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

What are some other creative ways we can share the gospel during this time of social distancing? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Teaching Your Children to Pursue Holiness by Reading Scripture

Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC, recently published his reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic. One of his reflections was encouraging believers to take time during social distancing in order to grow in personal holiness. From the outset, I am in complete agreement with this reflection. However, I think this reflection could be more broadly applied than simply on a personal level. My purpose in writing this post is to provide a resource to assist parents in helping their children grow in holiness during this time of school closure.

What Is Holiness?

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:14-16

The Apostle Peter provides us with three answers to this question. The first answer is God is holy. When we think about holiness, our minds should begin by contemplating God through his Word. John Frame commented, “His personality shows his kinship with us, but his holiness shows his transcendence, his separation from us” (DCL, 20). Everything God is, does, and says, is holy. Therefore, he is our standard of holiness.

Our second answer is that we are not naturally holy, but are able to be redeemed in Christ. The fact of the matter is we are the polar opposite of holiness. We are sinners and separated from God due to our wickedness. So how can we pursue holiness if we are sinful people? The answer is found in Jesus Christ. When we believe in the work of Christ, this text says we become children or as the Apostle John states, children of God (1 John 3:1). In other words, we are covered with Christ’s righteousness in order to be brought into a relationship with God.

Once we understand that God is holy, and that faith in Christ saves us and covers us with Jesus’s holiness, we are able to provide the third answer to this question. Our faith in Christ propels us towards holiness. Peter tells his audience to pursue holiness by turning from their former sinful passions. If we are turning from our passions, what do we turn towards? We are to turn to God who is holy and conduct ourselves according to his revealed standard. His revealed standard is his Holy Word.

Pursing Holiness by Reading Scripture

After we have explained these answers about holiness to our children (in a way they are able to understand), we now have an opportunity to help them learn who God is, the standard of holiness he expects from his disciples, and the power of the Holy Spirit to help his children become like him. Parents, we have an opportunity in this season of social distancing to teach our children about holiness by helping them read the Bible. We have an opportunity to take intentional time to train our children while we are confined to our homes. Therefore, I would like to provide you with a way to help your children pursue holiness by reading the Bible.

STep One: Pick out a passage of Scripture

Pick out a passage that your child or children would enjoy reading. This week one of our children read Ezekiel 37 (The Valley of Dry Bones), and another read John 1:1-18 (John’s prologue). The Bible is filled with interesting historical narratives that will make your child’s imagination light up with biblical truth. Before they read the text, teach them to pray and ask God to help them understand what they are about to read.

Step Two: Ask these three simple questions

After they read the text (or before depending on your child’s personality), ask them:

  1. What does this passage teach you about God?
  2. What did you find to be the most interesting truth in this text?
  3. What is one question you would like to ask me about this reading?

Notice what these questions are designed to do. The first question helps the child comprehend that the Bible is first and foremost about God. We need to help our children understand that this is how we come to know, love, and understand who God is. The second question guides the reader to think about how a biblical truth either connects him or her to God or outlines what God expects from his people who follow him. The third inquiry allows the child to ask questions without fear in order to allow the parent and child to have some time interacting with the text together. We want our children to talk about what they are learning about God, but we also want to train them to be comfortable to ask questions when they read something in God’s Word they don’t understand.

Step Three: Pray with your child

Take a moment to ask the child what you can pray about with them. Thank God for this opportunity to grow closer to him with your son or daughter. Ask God to continue to reveal himself to you and your child through his Word. Request that you and your child will continue to pursue a life of holiness as you both read God’s Word together.

My encouragement to all parents is that we not squander this social distance time together with our children. We should look at this time of isolation as a great opportunity to connect with and disciple these little image-bearers God has given us for a temporary amount of time. Remember, mom and dad, the words of Paul in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Yes, I know it says “Fathers,” but we can infer that it is our responsibility to train and instruct our children into pursuing personal holiness by reading Scripture.

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3 Reasons Facebook Is Destroying Our ‘Real’ Lives

Almost a decade ago, I was deployed to a combat theater while serving in the military. My wife and I had just been blessed with our oldest daughter two weeks before I left the country. It was a challenging time in our marriage because here was my wife with a newborn baby living five states away from our family, and her husband was off to serve our country. It was a challenging time for me because I was leaving my wife and newborn baby. By the way, I only had two weeks with this little girl before getting on a plane to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom. By God’s grace, I am writing this blog post, and our daughter is approaching ten years of age.

Why do I tell you this story? One of the ways my wife and I stayed connected was through Facebook. Social media technologies like these can help in some situations of geographical separation. However, a danger looms in the background of such technologies that are impacting many people–especially women–on an emotional level.

During my deployment, I was convinced that our baby girl never cried, threw temper-tantrums, nor made any messes. I believed this little girl was the perfect baby. Why did I have such beliefs? The only pictures my wife would send me through Facebook were ones of her smiling, eating her first bites of baby cereal, and laughing. I was being fed images of what seemed like this perfect child although the reality at home was completely different. By the way, I want to be fair to my wife in this post. She posted these types of pictures because I was already in an intense combat environment. The last thing my wife wanted to do was to make me think that all was not good at home. I think what my wife was doing intentionally to me is what many people on Facebook are doing to themselves and others unintentionally.

Through this experience, I believe that Facebook has created a harmful false reality for people who engage in its use. I would argue that the false truths presented on Facebook are truly harming marriages, families, and individuals more than helping keep people connected. Why do I think this is the case? I would like to provide you with three reasons:

  1. Many Facebook Posts Create a False Reality. The Facebook “wall” seems to exist as an social media forum where people can create their own “online” life. Many users predominately only post the “good” things that are happening in their lives. Rarely, if ever, does anyone post the realities of their actual social lives. Not many users post the various marriage problems they are experiencing or the rebellious child in their lives or the insecurities they feel as a mom, dad, wife, husband, student, etc. However, on Facebook, they don’t have to because they can develop their “happily ever afters” in online social space. Facebook allows us a place of escape to post the lives we wish we were really living, but when we turn off the screen, we come back to reality that our lives do not reflect what we are putting online. This displaying of false reality contributes to the hurts of both the user and their “friends,” which will be addressed in the next two sections.
  2. The False Reality Fuels Desires for Perfection. When people create unreal Facebook posts, they may not realize that they are revealing the desires that they have within themselves. People are actually posting their “dream lives,” for the world to believe they are truly living. When many Facebook users post these false realities of their lives, they look at their online profile and realize they are not living this dream in “real time.” Therefore, many users begin to experience two types of realities: insecurity and obsession. People experience insecurities because they realize how imperfect their lives are compared to what they are posting on social media. Some people post these images to overcome their real life insecurities. These insecurities lead to obsessions. In other words, they obsess over making everything in their lives a reality of their online posts in order to control their insecurities. They hold their children, husbands, wives, and friends to the level they portray on their walls. Ultimately, this type of false reality weighs heavily on those who engage in this type of online lifestyle.
  3. The Danger of Comparison. While the last reason highlights what happens in the individual user, this reason looks at the many people who observe the lives of their Facebook “friends.” As people promote “filtered” or unrealistic realities of their lives, many of us review these realities and compare their fake realities with our own actual realities. I believe this is where many of our women are greatly impacted by the duplicity of social media. We look at these Facebook narratives and desire what we see other people “pretending” to have. Many of us make these comments in our hearts and minds, “I wish my husband was that sweet.” “Why can’t my wife look like that?” “Why don’t our children act like theirs?” On and on these comparisons go, and as we engage in such thinking, we begin to impress these unhealthy thoughts on people we actually have relationships with in real life. We can become so deceived by the “false realities” of others–we are deceived because we buy into the lie of social media comparison, that we put our real life relationships in serious jeopardy. The danger is that we try to make those in our lives live up to the expectations that we see being promoted in the lives of our online “friends.” In turn, this could destroy the real relationships we have.

As I mentioned at the outset of my post, Facebook was a helpful tool when I was deployed, but we should be cautioned that it can have a harming impact on our hearts, minds, souls, and real life relationships. I was amazed when I came home from my deployment. This little girls who I had seen only smiling and enjoying her life suddenly was a real person. She would cry in the early hours of the morning. She would sometimes not eat her food or try and get into areas of the house that could harm her so I had to be keenly aware of her surroundings.

One time she wasn’t feeling good and she regurgitated all of her breakfast directly onto the front of my body. I was covered from head to toe. I thought to myself that this can’t be the girl I had seen in all those “happy” photos, but her mom tells me she is just like her daddy. It was in that moment, I knew she was mine. Even in all of her imperfections, I would rather have the real flesh and blood girl than a false image I saw for all those months on Facebook. Why? A real relationship built on good times and bad times beats a false reality every time!

Rethinking Pastoral Ministry in America: How Pastors Should Start Thinking About the Future

Ken Myers, the founder of Mars Hill Audio, once said in his Epiphany Lectures that he does not like to be prophetic. By prophetic, he does not mean that he has been given some special word from God similar to that of the Old Testament prophets. He is not claiming a “Thus says the Lord,” type of truth. Rather, he is arguing that he sees a problem in the area of music, and presents a seemingly unpopular theological view about this topic to his audience. I can relate to Myers’s sentiment about being prophetic, and yet, I seek to be prophetic in this blog post. My article seeks to look at the current trends about the church in America, and propose that pastors need to think about and discuss this topic more deliberately in order to prepare for the future.

Current Decline in Attendance

The church in America is declining. Statistics are indicating–like those at the Pew Research Center–a downward spiral of both professing believers and church attendees. People are less committed to a local church, and those who are committed are attending less and less. The reasons for such a decrease are numerous, and in some ways, unknowable. One factor for the decrease in numbers is due to the increase in people who are identified as “Religious ‘Nones.'” “Religious Nones” are people unaffiliated with any form of religion or religious organization. The rise of this group reveals a telling truth: the impact of the church in our American society is weak at best, and non-existent at worst, therefore, we are not reaching people with the gospel.

If you will permit me, I would like to make a brief observation about what has been called “Cultural Christianity.” Many believers think America used to exist as a Christian culture. I have argued that America has never been truly Christian, but rather existed as a culture that attempted to live out Judeo-Christian values on a societal level. The church used to be the social construction of society, but many people attended church to “save face,” or build on their relational connections. Therefore, many people in these eras seemed to be “Cultural Christians,” Christians out of cultural obligation, instead of actual Christians. When new ideologies started to pop up in culture like the Sexual Revolution, a new way of thinking was introduced and “Cultural Christianity” began to wane because a new way of life was being not only permitted, but also adopted. Today, Cultural Christianity is nearly obsolete, and a new way of life has been adopted by American society so that people can identify as a “Religious None” without fear of societal degradation.

The rise of the “Religious None,” and I don’t mean that to sound negative, indicates that it will take the church longer to reach this group with the gospel. As Mike Breen once said to me in his huddle, “Christians will have to disciple people before reaching them with the gospel.” To put it another way, many Americans do not have a foundation of biblical knowledge in which a witness can draw on in order to point them to Christ. Believers living in a post-Cultural Christianity will have to explain terms, the biblical narrative, and other truths about Christianity in order to point people to Christ as the only means to be forgiven and saved. The consequences of this cultural reality portray that it will take longer to see people come to Christ, and the time needed to reverse the decline will not necessarily be a quick fix.

Current Decline in Finances

Have you ever played the game “Wack-A-Mole?” When you play this game, you hit a mole with a padded hammer and another one or sometimes two moles raise their silly heads to be hammered down quickly by the gamer. This same concept applies to the church. The decline in attendance and the rise of people who are growing away from any form of religion means that the local church will take a financial hit. If it takes longer to reach people with the gospel, it will take longer to disciple people towards biblical giving as well. Plus, many pastors are already experiencing a decline in giving according to this article in the Christian Post. Smaller churches, which make up the majority of my denomination, are also currently burdened by financial crises. In other words, the current financial decline already exists in many local churches.

Many factors seem to be contributing to the financial decline. Of course, attendance is down and this reciprocates into a decline in tithing. People are not giving to charitable organizations including religious entities like in the years past. Some generations who were faithful tithers are beginning to pass away, and the generations replacing them are so steeped in various forms of debt they couldn’t give even if they had a desire towards Christian generosity. While Christians struggle to influence the American culture, the church in America is increasingly struggling to maintain the massive overhead that “Culture Christianity” produced.

A Possible Way Forward

Pastors should be noting these current trends, and possibly rethinking ministry for the future of the church in America. At a minimum, this post should encourage discussion, but also cause us to think of ways to influence an increasingly anti-Christian culture with the gospel in the days to come. I would like to provide you with two possible ways forward:

First, think of ways to reduce the church’s overhead now. Every church is different so this thought will have many implications. Pastors should think about leading their churches towards being debt free in order to reduce the budget overhead and free up money for missional purposes. While finances may be strong, get rid of debt fast. Also, churches that are growing or running out of space should consider only building or renovating in a debt-free mentality. A church may be growing, but one decision or economic disaster could take a church of 200 down to 100 almost instantly. Just because the attendance or tithes decrease does not mean the bank will decrease the loan amount each pay period as an extension of economic grace. In fact, they won’t. Therefore, the loan amount gets spread to less people, and will financially hurt the church and their outreach in the long run. Churches should consider some of the thoughts outlined by Francis Chan in his book, Letters to the Church. Maybe one way to reduce overhead is to get rid of the church buildings all together and look more like the church in the book of Acts–meeting together in homes and reaching people in closer proximity.

Second, and here is me being prophetic, maybe pastors should prepare to become “tent-makers” in the future (cf. Acts 18:3). Tent-makers are pastors who work a full-time job and are either part-time or volunteers at a local church. When I type those sentences it really hurts as a pastor who gave up a stable career and earned two (almost three) theological degrees in order to think about getting out of “full time vocational ministry.” If you are church member, it might bother you to think that your pastor might have to give up full time ministry in order to support his family, the church, and reach more people with the gospel. However, the reality of the declining numbers may demand this possible future for pastoral ministry. Therefore, maybe pastors should start thinking about what type of careers they can work in order to embrace this consistent downward trend and create more time to spend with unbelievers.


One truth we should walk away with is that God is still sovereign. Yes, we may note the trends and think about how these declining numbers may impact the future of the church in America. Pastors, church leaders, and church members should think about and discuss what measures need to be taken in order to sustain a gospel presence in the American culture. However, our planning should never circumvent our need for prayer. May we pray that God would open the pathway to another spiritual awakening in America, and the Holy Spirit will bring people to Christ in droves. May the church be ready to disciple them faithfully according to God’s Word in order to strengthen the church’s resources to reach more people for the glory of God.

Instagram Is Capturing the Souls of Our Girls

Instagram’s creators promote this social media tool with these words, “Bringing you closer to the people and things you love.” This phrase makes a great marketing slogan. It makes users and potential users feel like they are going to really grow in their personal and professional relationships. However, interacting with someone’s picture rarely (if ever) ignites a fiery relationship between two people. Could you imagine saying to a potential future spouse, “Hey, we are not going to spend any personal time together, but here is a picture of me that you can interact with, and I promise it is going to bring us closer together so that we will fall in love.” We have to admit that would be a pretty silly thing to say. Yet, Instagram seems to be promoting this same type of mentality through their social media platform.

As a father of two girls, I think Instagram’s platform is doing something far more dangerous to our young ladies besides promoting a false narrative. This social media outlet is capturing their souls. By capturing their souls, I mean that many young ladies are attempting to find their identity in the pictures they are sharing. Our young girls are coveting the “heart” while at the same time destroying their own spirits. They are valuing their self-worth in the number of followers, and we, as Christian parents, are just standing aimlessly by letting it happen. We are letting it happen because we have not truly sat down and thought about what Instagram in particular and all social media in general could be doing to our young ladies. My article is an attempt to, at a minimum, incite dialogue and discussion with other parents and our girls about this platform’s impact on their souls. Therefore, I want to expound how Instagram might be capturing the souls of our girls before our very eyes.

Three Points for Consideration

  • Finding their identity in Instagram. Instagram is a platform that idolizes the self. Look at these three comments from their website with my added emphasis: “Express yourself in new ways with the latest Instagram features,” and “Connect with more people, build influence, and create compelling content that’s distinctly yours,” or “Share and grow your brand with our diverse, global community.” Do you see it? The implication seems to be about creating “your” identity, but implied in this freedom of expression is the idolatry of “self.” Our girls are picking up on this, and posting pictures to create their own egos. This mentality is anti-gospel. We must teach our girls that their identity is not trying to look like a model or post provocative pictures or show their latest life stage for a group of followers they barely know. We must show them their identity needs to rest in Christ, and Christ alone. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20a). Instagram feeds on the idolatry of “self,” and our girls are buying it. Therefore, we must fight against it.
  • Coveting the “heart” to feed their image. Instagram has many ways to interact with content, but one of the most common ways is liking a post by clicking the heart button. This means our girls are finding their identity by what gets the most likes from their followers. This coveting of affirmation by the click of a “heart” on Instagram implies that their followers are actually influencing their identities. Our girls are monitoring what they are posting to get more likes, and thereby, seeking the approval of others to build up their idol, which is the self. Coveting the “heart” seems to impact the dangers of cyber bullying and certain disorders in our girls (Instagram has a policy for both of these threats that can be found here). When certain types of pictures–i.e. provocative, filtered, or life milestones are posted on Instagram, the “likes” fan the flames of the hearts to seek more “hearts” in the future by posting similar or more exposed pictures. Instagram is all about the image. The images of our girls are being fed by “likes,” and for many of our young ladies, this thirst for follower approval is becoming an obsession. Thus, this feature is capturing their souls by feeding the goddess of self-image with little “heart” buttons.
  • Collecting followers increases their self-worth. Up to this point, we have observed that our girls are seeking to define their identity through Instagram, and their identity is being fed by the coveted “heart” button. However, one of the most dangerous aspects of this type of media, for our girls, is that it opens their lives to more people–many of whom they probably do not know. In order to feed the idol of self, they need more people to follow them to obtain more “likes.” Instagram knows the danger of such a diverse community of people on their platform because their policy states that users must be a minimum of 13 years of age to obtain an account. Parents, do you know the people following your young ladies? Instagram’s Community Guidelines acknowledge, “Instagram is a reflection of our diverse community of cultures, ages, and beliefs.” With such diversity, means people from all over the world can see the images our ladies are posting. Not only can they see their images, but people can also interact with those images to feed the identities of our girls. How many young ladies accept followers or have open accounts that allows all types of diverse people peeping into their lives? The idolatry associated with this form of media seems to expose our girls to a larger crowd of people that we probably wouldn’t want them to physically be around in person. Nevertheless, the idol must be fed, and our girls are open to a vast array of unknown followers.

Parental Guidance Required

When we as parents think about what this form of social media is doing the souls of our girls, we should seek all means necessary to remove the temptation and the social strain Instagram may cause. Christian parents should seek to discuss with their girls how their identity is not found in likes and followers, but rather in Christ. We should graciously remove such propaganda from their lives in order to guard their hearts from seeking to walk down the wrong path. Nevertheless, if you have reservations about such an action, I would highly advise you to review Instagram’s “Know How to Talk with Your Teen About Instagram: A Parent’s Guide.” While I may disagree with our girls using this type of media platform in the future, Instagram has rightly attempted to open the lines of communication between parents and their teenagers on ways to protect themselves in this social media arena.

After reading this post, I hope you will be more open to discussing this type of social media outlet with others in order to think about recapturing the souls of our girls and pointing them to Christ.

Why I Deleted My Twitter Account

It was a tough moment in my life. The message on the screen was begging me to stay. After a series of attempts to delete my account, this was the final plea from Twitter to change my mind. “Are you sure, Jeremy? Once you hit this button, your account will be permanently deactivated and @jeremybell06 will be gone!”

I had a variety of feelings in this moment. The fear of missing out on all the “news worthy” stories that flooded my Twitter feed. The insecurity that now my platform for “gospel advancement” would be over, and I would no longer reach celebrity pastor status. The excitement of being a rebel, and the ability to smugly say, “I don’t have a Twitter.” Those few moments were intense as I stared at that button to officially deactivate my Twitter. As the beads of sweat poured down my brow, I quickly hit the button. It was finished!

Immediately, I felt relief, freedom, and disbelief. “Did I really just do that?” I said to myself. I did, and it felt amazing! Why did I do it? Why did I delete my Twitter account (for-ev-er–Squints from The Sandlot)? The main reason was that Twitter was deteriorating my soul. I couldn’t stand the negativity and harsh criticisms that were being posited in 280 characters in politics or the evangelical community. As I would scroll through my feed, I would feel times of intense anger, frustration, and disappointment. These emotions were heightened when I would see evangelical leaders being completely cut-throat in their tweets towards others. Is this new dog-eat-dog in the twitter-verse the way we as evangelicals understand the Imago Dei? Obviously, our evangelical leaders are similar to the politicians they criticize more than they may realize.

I despise that Twitter is unable to disconnect a proposition from a person. People living in America are soft. We can no longer attack a position without everyone taking it personal. When an evangelical leader attacks a position of another, everyone took it personal and rushed to the aid of the “victim.” What really happens in Twitter-world is a consistent barrage of ad hominem Tweets, which does not build up anyone, but rather destroys people. Again, my evangelical community is just as bad if not worse than the American culture. Just thinking about the use of verbal assaults on Twitter makes me nauseous.

Many people are speaking out about the harm social media is causing in the area of civil dialogue (cf. Antisocial Media by Siva Vaidhyanathan or Jaron Lanier’s article, “Four Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”). Twitter frustrated me because I couldn’t dialogue with people who disagreed with me or vice-versa. In fact, people find it easier to put out a tweet that blasts a person rather than sitting down and having open and honest dialogue. The current MacArthur verse Moore fiasco only perpetuated to unhealthy levels from both sides because no one had any actual discussion about it in person. How many other issues are unresolved or further divided because we subvert verbal communication for irresponsible tweeting?

I know that some of my fellow believers might disagree with me because they might be tempted to think that we can “reach more” people through Twitter. Many assume the Christian community can use Twitter for “gospel advancement” and getting our Christian worldview disseminated to larger groups of people. However, I would like to respectfully push back on this notion with these two questions: How many people have been led to Christ through Twitter? How many people have changed their view to a Christian one because some Tweet, packaged in 280 characters, presented a biblical worldview with such precision and persuasion? I am fairly confident that the numbers are slim if they exist at all.

Honestly, Twitter has divided our evangelical community, and I don’t see any chance of us coming together to reconcile our differences. Isn’t this anti-gospel (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20)? Have we, evangelicals, even thought about what the world sees in our trigger happy Twitter slander? I don’t want you to think that you have to get rid of your Twitter, but I think we should be aware of what Twitter is doing to our faith communities. By the way, I don’t think these concerns only apply to Twitter, but could apply to all social media platforms. At this time, I have deleted both my Twitter and Instagram, and pretty soon, Facebook, you might be next.

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Sorry Luke Bryan, “Most People Are NOT Good.”

My family and I took a road trip to Texas over our summer break. Seventeen hours crammed into a minivan will definitely bring people closer together–both figuratively and literally. We talked, slept, watched movies, and listened to music. When it comes to music in the Bell family, we enjoy listening to a variety of styles. Our children want to continuously listen to Disney soundtracks. My wife enjoys country music, but when she hears Texas country, she gives me that look of “Take Me Out to the Dancehall” (Pat Green). For me, I listen to pretty much anything and everything.

Christians can listen to all kinds of styles and forms of music. Music is purposed for our enjoyment, but believers need to listen with a critical ear. Francis Schaeffer encouraged his readers to judge art on the basis of its content because the content “reflects the world view of the artist” (Art and the Bible, 64). In other words, music should be thought of as a medium for conveying a message. Believers need to hear and measure the message with our Christian beliefs. When we listen, we should ask not only, “Do I like this song?” but also, “What is this song trying to tell me about the world we live in?” These questions are important because, whether you recognize it or not, music has the ability to shape us.

On our seventeen hour car ride, I heard “Most People Are Good,” by Luke Bryan. From the outset, Luke Bryan–in my opinion–is a decent country artist. My post is not designed to take away his singing talent and musical gifting. I just disagree with the worldview he sings about. The song repeatedly promotes his belief that “most people are good.” When he sings these words, it intends to make us feel good about ourselves. Who doesn’t want that repeated in a chorus? Plus, “good” rhymes with “sainthood,” which is important for any song. However, is this belief really true? Are “most people good?”

The Reality: The Bible seems to paint a very different picture of us as human beings. Luke Bryan might make me feel good, but the Bible tells me I’m actually evil and condemned. For example, David prayed, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). We see the effects of sin in us when Cain murdered his brother Abel after the Fall (Genesis 4:8). Jesus calls us sick people who he came to heal when he states, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). One of the most scathing realities of our condition is from Paul who wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). I could go on with other passages, but I think you can see that the Bible sings a different tune about our condition. In other words, the human canvass is not as good as we think we are.

The Consequences: By telling people we believe “most people are good,” we might actually be harming our fellow man. We are harming people because they will not see the depths of their sinfulness in order to see their need for the Savior. Many people will begin to believe they are “good people,” and this belief will push them away from their desperate need to believe in Jesus Christ.

To Believers: The gospel requires us to critically analyze the content of our music. We can listen to any musical genre available, but we need to hear the words and understand the message of the artist. Then, we need to measure what the artist is singing about with Scripture to determine if we are able to accept or reject their worldview.

What does this mean for the believer who hears Luke Bryan’s “Most People Are Good?” It really depends on you. Maybe you should change the station because you could be influenced by this message. Maybe you can listen to the song with a vocal disclaimer that this song is theologically inaccurate to others who are listening. I would have no problem dancing to this song with my wife in the kitchen while changing the words to, “I believe most [aren’t] good!” My post is not designed to tell you how to live your life, but to show you how to think critically. Therefore, listen with a critical ear, and decide for yourself, your course of action.

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Why A Divorce Will Not Doom Your Future

The statistics on divorce in America might be alarming at first glance. While the divorce rate among Christ followers may be slightly lower than the national average, the church still sees its fair share of broken marriages. Many people know that divorce leads to a wake of hurt, brokenness, and confusion in the lives of the divorcing husband and wife, but children who experience the splitting of two parents are also negatively affected by such actions. Some statistics present a vivid reality for the possible discouraging future of children who experience this traumatic event. However, this data only paints one side of the equation, and misses how the gospel can impact people who have suffered from a divorce.

We need to first understand that this situation happens both inside and outside the church because we live in a fallen and broken world (Rom 3:23). Sin makes us messed up people, and in our raggedness, marriages fall apart due to a variety of issues like unfaithfulness and/or abuse. Yet, many people think because their marriages have been broken them and/or their children are doomed. On the flip side, many children who have experienced this scenario may feel insecure in life, their current marriage, or their future marriage.

While this post is purposed to be one of encouragement, divorce does have negative consequences for everyone who is involved. So please don’t leave this post thinking that a divorce will not adversely effect a family. Nevertheless, the repercussions from a separation should not stigmatize anyone as being a “child of divorced parents” or “a divorced person” for the rest of their lives. In other words, people should not be given an identity based on their past breakup or parents’ actions. For example, this identification could make kids believe, “Well, my parents are divorced so I guess I’m not going to be successful in life or marriage.” That type of insecure thinking is not true because many children who have experienced this scenario were able to move on and become successful adults, husbands, and wives.

If you are a parent or person who has suffered a divorce, be encouraged that you and your children are not doomed. Additionally, children of divorced parents, know that your future is not as bleak as some statistics might suggest. One’s fate is not sealed due to a divorce because everyone can experience hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, the world is broken and divorce happens, but Jesus came to save and redeem all people and things (Col 1:19-20). The gospel gives anyone who experiences a divorce a new identity in Christ. Faith in Jesus makes a person a new creation, and he will give all people the ability to live out that new life regardless of their past experiences (2 Cor 5:17). Therefore, children, parents, and adults who experience divorce do not have a hopeless future, but rather can have a hope filled future in Jesus.

While everyone involved will be emotionally, physically, and spiritually effected by divorce, Jesus Christ desires to give everyone hope to overcome these effects. In other words, there is a gospel hope that will prevent anyone from becoming a negative statistic in the wake of a divorce. Everyone should recognize from this post that a relationship with Christ changes the way we endure, understand, and overcome the negative circumstances of our lives (Phil 4:10-13). Christ, and Christ alone, provides the only hope for all our futures.

Therefore, be comforted if you have experienced the separation of your mother and father. You still have a future and hope in Jesus Christ. If you are a parent or adult who has painfully experienced a divorce, find rest knowing that Jesus Christ will take care of you and your children. We all must remember that Jesus died on the cross in order to save us from our brokenness. Moreover, when we reflect on the empty tomb, we are guaranteed a future hope regardless of our past and current circumstances. Believe in Jesus, and truly begin to live life to the fullest for the glory of God.

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Readers, I would like to hear from you. Please feel free to share any comments or insights in order to encourage others or the author.