To be candid, we’ve seldom been on the forefront of technological innovation. For there’s something about the church that seems to find its comfort zone more in the past than in the present sometimes. More than half a millennium ago, for instance, the citizens of Paris were said to have loudly complained about a “new innovation” in Notre Dame that seemed out of place indeed, marring the cathedral’s native beauty and requiring far too much maintenance and labor to justify its installation.
It took a while for folks to thus accept the addition of the Grand Organ with its 8000 pipes and no doubt, some of the older folks probably complained about it initially as simply being “too loud” for worship. What’s more, it’s said that during the French Revolution, the only reason that organ survived being vandalized and its pipes melted down to make bullets was because the organist played “La Marseillaise” repeatedly for the revolutionaries!
So likewise, when it has come to embracing the digital dimensions of life, many churches have kept right on insisting that the “old-time religion” is good enough for them. Those with a Luddite liturgical life, however, have now figured out that God may have indeed provided more than one way for His people to gather. For on-line streaming has now expanded to thousands of congregations with rather staggering results. On Sunday, for instance, Harvest Fellowship in California had over 230,000 devices tuned in and Lakewood Church here in Houston is said to have drawn in more than four and a half million viewers.
And in terms of church meetings—a vital component of the faith since apparently the days of the apostles—Zoom, Facebook Live, You Tube and Go to Meeting technologies are now making a lot of folks rethink if getting together in person was ever actually needed in the first place! We even had confirmation class via Zoom here this week and you will be happy to know that the youth could be just as uninhibited online as they are in person!
All of which is simply a reminder that though the coronavirus may have caught most of us off guard, it came as no surprise to the Lord. For even despite our reluctance to ever change, God made certain that His Word could go forth into this world and that “it will not return to (Him) empty.” (Isaiah 55.11) In fact, before almost every church’s doors were shut, God was already building a technological ark when we didn’t even know it was going to rain.
Whatever comes in the days ahead, thus, we can have confidence that God will have His Church. We just have to be ready to do it in a new way, just as John Wesley had to finally accept “to be more vile” and embrace field preaching in England in order to reach the masses.
For to put it as Kate Shellnut has so wryly observed, “when God closes a church door, He opens a browser window.” And of that we can be virtually certain.