Online, Offline, Connected, Disconnected
By Rev Andrew Tsang
December 18, 2022
In the midst of the pandemic, getting involved in the online world becomes inevitable to us – students need to take classes online; seniors have to learn to use smartphones in order to go to places conveniently and to stay connected with family and friends who are far away; in quarantine facilities, video calls are the only means to see the family; believers can attend worship services, fellowship meetings and Bible talks online… Now, pandemic prevention measures have been relaxed but we still see many empty seats in the worship halls each week. We also think of brothers and sisters whom we have not seen for a long time. That we care very much.
Man cannot see the most holy and glorious LORD with our eyes. That was why in Old Testament times, God gathered the Israelites for sacred meetings at the tabernacle and temple (1 Chronicles 28:2; Hebrews 9:1-5) to let man understand that God dwelled and walked with them through the tough time from Egypt to Canaan. In New Testament times, God has believers unite with Christ through the church, to remember the Lord through various liturgy in worship services and experience the presence of the real albeit unseen Lord. The Bible says: “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing [i.e. their custom], but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). The Scripture contrasts “giving up meeting” against “encouraging one another.” This reminds believers that amid today’s busy, intense schedules and a lifestyle with no rest throughout the week, we still need to gather before the Lord in corporate worship and, from there, encourage one another so we can face the temptations and challenges of the last days and proclaim to the world in worship that we are a consecrated community. But how can we experience this in front of the TV monitor? It is true that it is more difficult to engage believers in active participation in online worship services, let alone feeling the presence of the LORD as well as the companionship, mutual love and encouragement of brothers and sisters.
In the past when I pastored college students and working young adults, someone shared with me the opinion that young people are only interested in the online world. But I found that they are very eager to really experience life and build up real relationships. The last few years have even seen college students fed up with online tuition. Virtual reality and the metaverse may seem attractive but they are by no means comparable to the experience of connection in real life and relationship building. Though my two sons enjoy driving the Mario Cart (a TV car race game), they fell in love with the real sense of freedom and speed once they have learned to ride a bicycle. In quarantine, it is undoubtedly precious that one can see one’s family on the iPad. But this can never compare with holding the hands of the beloved and talking with them face to face.
The “online world” has both advantages and disadvantages. It can help those separated to remain connected to a certain extent and draw attention to the messages shared. If the church uses this medium well, it can certainly help fish for man online effectively and reach those who are otherwise difficult to reach. However, if used inappropriately, it can affect the connection between believers and God as well as others, even leading to deviations in faith. Therefore, unless you are staying online solely for health reasons, I sincerely invite you to come back in person and experience once again the reality of the LORD together with us!