Are Live-Streamed Services to Be Considered Public Worship?

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Knecht Christi

Puritan Board Freshman
Greetings brothers,

In light of COVOID-19, there are many cancellations of public worship services and/or at risk Christians that ought to stay at home. As such, many of us will be watching live streamed services with our families.

This is categorically difficult for me, and there aren't a lot of reformed resources on the matter (obviously this was not a question the puritans or reformers would have written much about directly).

My question: when participating in a live stream service, is it proper to consider as participating in public worship? Are we in the presence of the angels in our living room, tuned into the service?

I am asking this question in all earnestness, as I want to be able to instruct myself and my family in how we are to consider such a matter.

Thanks,
Joshua
 

Hamalas

whippersnapper
Ordinarily, choosing to live-stream a worship service out of convenience (when you have the possibility of attending in person) would not be considered as public worship.

But churches in America are live-streaming for a very different reason and for a very limited time. So in this extraordinary circumstance, I would say: yes; treat it as public worship.
 

Knecht Christi

Puritan Board Freshman
No, but in certain cases there isn’t anything better.
Thanks for the response, could you elaborate a bit more on the principles and how you are applying them to reach that conclusion? I already have gotten conflicting responses (as I expected to), and need to understand where you are coming from. Also something I thought about, would this be in the same category of a mother's viewing room?
 

Knecht Christi

Puritan Board Freshman
Ordinarily, choosing to live-stream a worship service out of convenience (when you have the possibility of attending in person) would not be considered as public worship.

But churches in America are live-streaming for a very different reason and for a very limited time. So in this extraordinary circumstance, I would say: yes; treat it as public worship.

Hmm, appreciate the response. So you are saying that watching a live stream normally isn't participating in public worship, but if it is a necessity, it is? What categorically changes such that it was not public worship, but became public worship?
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
If you are not at public worship, you are not in pubic worship. Folks, stop turning a serious situation, if not a catastrophe, into something to split theological points over or contend over. Thread closed until Monday (any Mod or Admin feel free to open this then).
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
Thanks for the response, could you elaborate a bit more on the principles and how you are applying them to reach that conclusion? I already have gotten conflicting responses (as I expected to), and need to understand where you are coming from. Also something I thought about, would this be in the same category of a mother's viewing room?

Very simply, public worship is the gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s day. Hebrew 10 says don’t forsake the assembling together of yourselves. And there are many more verses in Scripture that detail the corporate, being actually present, worship that cannot be done via video feeds.

A plague or pestilence from the Lord does not change that. This isn’t saying not to take precautions and use means we have, but answering your question according to Scripture not our own minds or by what makes one feel better.

This was written awhile ago but still applies: https://biblebased.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/is-a-virtual-church-really-a-church/
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
I don't argue that online worship, when one is providentially hindered from gathering with the saints and would do so in proper person if possible, is the same as public worship with a visible local manifestation of Christ's mystical body.

I do, however, think it heartening and challenging to point out a couple of things. Spurgeon responded to a distressed saint unable to attend public worship for some time with the proper encouragement that the desire to attend public worship on the Lord's Day, though providentially hindered, counts as an acceptable act of worship on the part of said would-be public worshipper.

Similarly, one's mere presence in public worship, or any acts of religious devotion, absent a heart for God, is not pleasing to God. The prophets in any number of places make it clear that drawing near to God outwardly while remaining far from Him spiritually involves a failure to render an acceptable sacrifice and is no true worship.

Take heart, then, if your church is closed to attenders (you can't help that), live-streaming instead. Your desire to worship in person and your heart's devotion to the Lord put you in a better place than one who goes to the sacred assembly but whose heart and life make clear his distance from God. It is not optimal, but there are many things worse spiritually than not being able to worship publicly when you wish that you could.

Peace,
Alan
 

WRB

Puritan Board Freshman
Along these lines, would it be acceptable to have a communion service live-streamed?

The leadership helps the housebound prepare the elements with proper instruction and the Pastor fences the table with encouragements and warnings on-line.

Or, would it be more proper to just delay communion until we can gather?
Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

His peace,

Bill
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
A church could livestream its entire service, including the service of Holy Communion. Nothing wrong with doing so or watching it if providentially hindered.

Ought folk at home to take bread and wine and "eat along" with the folk at church? No. Would it count as communion if they did so? No. You must be present there for communion. "Communing online" is not the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Peace,
Alan
 

Delahunt

Puritan Board Freshman
Psalm 42:4-5 is worthy of our meditation as we face the real possibilities of being prevented from gathering for public worship.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
A church could livestream its entire service, including the service of Holy Communion. Nothing wrong with doing so or watching it if providentially hindered.

Ought folk at home to take bread and wine and "eat along" with the folk at church? No. Would it count as communion if they did so? No. You must be present there for communion. "Communing online" is not the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Peace,
Alan
This reasoning is absolutely sound, but I would find it heartbreaking! The loss of fellowship in this time is daunting.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
Personally I would argue against live streaming and intstead encourage people to have extended private or family worship as an alternative: singing of psalms, prayer, reading the word and listening to a sermon. That would seem to me to be a more Biblical response to the extraordinary situation of public services being cancelled than using live streaming which isn't really one thing or another.
 

B.L.

Puritan Board Sophomore
Personally I would argue against live streaming and intstead encourage people to have extended private or family worship as an alternative: singing of psalms, prayer, reading the word and listening to a sermon. That would seem to me to be a more Biblical response to the extraordinary situation of public services being cancelled than using live streaming which isn't really one thing or another.

I'm struggling to understand your thinking here. How is skipping your church's live-streamed service, which very likely includes song, prayer, scripture reading, and preaching, in favor of individual/family worship more biblical?

I mean no disrespect, but I am bemused by this. If your advice were to be acted upon how would this not undermine the shepherds out there who are struggling to feed their sheep during these extraordinary times?

If I am misunderstanding you please let me know.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
I'm struggling to understand your thinking here. How is skipping your church's live-streamed service, which very likely includes song, prayer, scripture reading, and preaching, in favor of individual/family worship more biblical?

I mean no disrespect, but I am bemused by this. If your advice were to be acted upon how would this not undermine the shepherds out there who are struggling to feed their sheep during these extraordinary times?

If I am misunderstanding you please let me know.

Because I don't consider live streaming a legitimate form of worship. I also think it violates the fourth commandment (utilising the internet for unnecessary work). But even without taking the fourth commandment aspect into consideration, I don't think remote preaching is in accordance with Biblical worship. If worship cannot be public it should be private and limited to that locality (a house). I don't see the difference between live streaming a minister "preaching" to empty pews and the stuff you get on "Christian" TV.

I don't see how it undermines ministers. Their ministering to their flocks during this time would surely take on a more pastoral role, i.e. visiting their flock. If they are reluctant to do that due to the risk of spreading infection then fine but I don't think speaking in an empty church and broadcasting it over the internet is a viable alternative.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
I'm struggling to understand your thinking here. How is skipping your church's live-streamed service, which very likely includes song, prayer, scripture reading, and preaching, in favor of individual/family worship more biblical?

I mean no disrespect, but I am bemused by this. If your advice were to be acted upon how would this not undermine the shepherds out there who are struggling to feed their sheep during these extraordinary times?

If I am misunderstanding you please let me know.

This boils down to, is the physical assembly essential to it being public worship?

If we want to go by the RPW, it isn’t. Sure no one had the technology in Bible times to telecommute to church, but still you see no substitute of any kind in the NT. It is always described in Scripture as assembly or gathering. The fellowship and unity presented in public worship is part of the nature of the event, and the only context in which blessings applicable to public worship are promised. God may bless a livestream, but the same promises are not there. The blessings specific to public worship are reserved for the very means of grace called public worship.

And personally, I do not enjoy livestream. Tech issues, and it feels artificial.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
Considering our current context, if live-streamed services are not considered public worship would you then consider those who participate in it to be engaged in a form of private worship?...and since we are providentially hindered from public worship would this act of private worship be pleasing in God's sight?

That's an interesting thought. Speaking for myself, I now realize that those few times when we had to stay home because of travel conditions (very icy roads and a 80 mile drive), I tended to think of the livestream from our church as "guided private worship" rather than an inclusion in public worship. I'm not saying that's the right perspective but looking back, that's how I unconsciously treated it.
 

B.L.

Puritan Board Sophomore
That's an interesting thought. Speaking for myself, I now realize that those few times when we had to stay home because of travel conditions (very icy roads and a 80 mile drive), I tended to think of the livestream from our church as "guided private worship" rather than an inclusion in public worship. I'm not saying that's the right perspective but looking back, that's how I unconsciously treated it.

Thanks Logan. I deleted that post while you were responding to it. I felt it might lead the discussions further away from the OP.

Irrespective of the adjective one uses (public vs. private) before the word worship, I believe God is pleased and I pray the reach the internet provides will serve to build up the church and draw those he has called to himself during this season. The notion that an online service, given our current circumstances, isn't worship at all or that it somehow violates the 4th Commandment seems like fundamentalist nonsense to me, but I'm willing to learn and correct my thinking in this area. I truly mean no disrespect to anyone...just being open.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks Logan. I deleted that post while you were responding to it. I felt it might lead the discussions further away from the OP.

Irrespective of the adjective one uses (public vs. private) before the word worship, I believe God is pleased and I pray the reach the internet provides will serve to build up the church and draw those he has called to himself during this season. The notion that an online service, given our current circumstances, isn't worship at all or that it somehow violates the 4th Commandment seems like fundamentalist nonsense to me, but I'm willing to learn and correct my thinking in this area. I truly mean no disrespect to anyone...just being open.

It is a deeply relevant question. I don’t hold that you may not tune in to a livestream. I don’t prefer it, though it falls to me in the category of reading a printed sermon. It’s allowable, but doesn’t constitute preaching. More like guided private worship if anything, as said above. So with livestream where public worship is never separate from gathering together.

But there is historically and biblically a great distinction between public and private worship. I think it was Owen who said that public worship is always to be preferred before private. If you examine Scripture in concerns to public vs private worship, the sheer amount of data on public worship vs private will show how significant one is above the other as a means of grace. Neither should be neglected, but one is clearly more prominent than the other.
 

B.L.

Puritan Board Sophomore
But there is historically and biblically a great distinction between public and private worship. I think it was Owen who said that public worship is always to be preferred before private. If you examine Scripture in concerns to public vs private worship, the sheer amount of data on public worship vs private will show how significant one is above the other as a means of grace. Neither should be neglected, but one is clearly more prominent than the other.

I agree 100% with this brother. Not sure what your situation is, but I'll likely not be able to gather for public worship for the rest of the month and possibly much of April as well. Definitely not my choosing. I'm just trying to make due in the interim. Regardless worship in my house will continue.

Blessings to you my friend.
 

wcf_linux

Puritan Board Freshman
This reasoning is absolutely sound, but I would find it heartbreaking! The loss of fellowship in this time is daunting.

It truly is daunting and heartbreaking. It’s like being on restricted rations for a long journey on foot. It is a comfort, however much smaller than the comfort of word and sacrament, that many of our pastors will still be able to reach us with something to guide our private devotions at home and a reminder that our regular fellowship will be resumed in due time.
 
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