Grace Community Church pastor and theologian John MacArthur has stated that worship held online does not count as genuine Church, as it goes against the biblical definition of proper worship.
In an episode of Grace to You posted online on Oct. 31, MacArthur was asked his opinion of worship or Bible study held online.
“Zoom church is not Church,” responded MacArthur. “It’s not Church. It’s watching TV. There’s nothing about that that fulfills the biblical definition of coming together, stimulating one another to love and good works, coming together.”
“The definition of a Church is crystal clear in the New Testament. We see the picture of it. They came together the first day of the week. They worshiped the Lord, they prayed. … It was fellowship and it was the breaking of bread in the Lord’s supper.”
MacArthur stated that Church involves “coming together” and that “it doesn’t even function unless people” are “mutually using their spiritual gifts for one another.”
“We are only the Church when we are together,” he continued. “The Church is the Church when it corporately worships, when it corporately prays, when it corporately hears preaching of the Word of God.”
He contrasted the concept of Church with “parachurch,” seeing that as an aid to the Church. The pastor cited his Grace to You broadcast as an example of a parachurch ministry that should not take the place of corporate worship.
Last year, the vast majority of churches in the United States halted in-person worship due to government lockdown measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
During that time, most congregations moved their services online, live-streaming worship from most empty sanctuaries via Zoom or other online platforms.
MacArthur and his Sun Valley, Calif.-based congregation garnered controversy when they refused to close down in-person worship during the coronavirus pandemic and defied state orders.
As MacArthur later acknowledged in an August sermon, COVID-19 spread throughout his congregation last winter, as Grace Community did not adhere to public safety guidelines.
After months of legal battles with state and local authorities over the decision to remain open, Grace Community eventually reached a settlement with Los Angeles County and California, in which officials paid $800,000 in legal fees.
“After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that some public health safety measures could not apply to houses of worship, resolving this litigation is the responsible and appropriate thing to do,” stated a county representative, as quoted by the Los Angeles Daily News.
“From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles County has been committed to protecting the health and safety of its residents. We are grateful to the county’s faith organizations for their continued partnership to keep their congregants and the entire community safe and protected from COVID-19.”
Ok, there is a lot to unpack here. But I will focus on some main points. First, they did not have Zoom in biblical times so we cannot conclude one way or the other or compare today to biblical times. 2) They did not wrestle with Covid-19 in biblical times nor did they have the ability to understand viruses. 3) Acts 20:20, often early Christians went to each other’s homes for Temple and these types of gatherings were still allowed (less than 10) even during the shutdown. 4) God is very progressive and has always modified His methods based on the times and directions He wishes His people to go. MacArthur is very locked in one model for a church. While Zoom is not my first choice for a method of worship service, it does connect people in the same emotional and spiritual method if used correctly, but without the physical body presence. And as I see it, it was a great way to slow the pandemic spread while keeping people connected. This man chose his one and only model to violate health restrictions and most likely caused some of his people to get sick and die – which is not taking care of your flock!