We thank God for Alexander Graham Bell. We thank God for Zoom. We thank God for the ability to connect with friends halfway around the world with the click of a button. In this global pandemic season, video-telephonic communications technology has enabled people to remain connected, businesses to remain open and worship services to remain accessible to the saints. But, while we must not underestimate the value of such technology, it is just as important that we not overstate it. Online communication for the purpose of Christian fellowship, however indispensable, is ultimately insufficient.
Biblical anthropology will not allow us to reduce our beings to a digital image on a screen combined with audio from a speaker. We, as human beings, are created in the image of God, and by his Spirit, we are being restored into the image of the Son, Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh.
Gnosticism, the 2nd Century dualistic religious philosophy held that matter (i.e. the flesh) was evil and temporal, and only the spirit was good and eternal. So, our true selves have nothing to do with the body, which is merely a “vessel”, and is wholly bound to our inner being, the “soul”. We see this ancient philosophical tenet rear its head again in contemporary conceptions of sexuality. “My physiological make-up”, the transgender movement says, “is irrelevant to my true sexuality. I am what I think and feel I am, regardless of what my body appears to be. My inner being is true, my outward appearance is false.”
Christianity, in contrast, does not entertain such mind-body dualism. Just as Christ is the embodied Word, we are embodied souls. We are either
body-and-soul, or we are not human beings. For example, “God grants his beloved sleep” (Ps 127:2), not because our soul needs it, but because that’s how our physical body repairs itself, and therefore the human being needs it. Likewise, Paul implies that sexual sins pose greater harm to our souls because our bodies are so greatly involved (1 Cor 6:18). And in the eternal kingdom of God, we will not exist as disembodied souls floating about, but will be granted glorious heavenly bodies in the Resurrection (1 Cor 15:35-49).
In short, we are as much our bodies as we are our minds, and our hearts and our souls. They may be distinguishable, but they are inseparable. Our moods are affected when our physical bodies are ill, our thinking is impaired when we are sleep-deprived and our souls are in danger when we commit sins in the flesh.
So, Christian fellowship over Zoom, however large your screen, however high your definition, however powerful your speakers, ultimately falls short of the genuine article, because it is missing our physical presence. Authentic Christian fellowship must include our bodies.
When the coronavirus swept through Europe, football matches were suspended. And when they re-opened to play in empty stadiums, the customary shaking of hands between players was scrapped. Social distancing, as far as possible, was to be observed. But here’s the irony: the moment someone scores a goal, his teammates instinctively and eagerly run up to him, crowd around him to hug him, wrap their arms around him, and give him a pat on the back or a rub on the head. That’s because this is what human beings do when they celebrate as a united community – joy is expressed and unity is consummated in physical presence. Anything less would be strange and deficient.
Likewise, as we celebrate the Lord’s day and express the glorious unity that we have in the Spirit, let us be mindful that anything less than our physical gathering is abnormal and deficient. This is a point made in our text today. Paul is not just writing letters but sending people to the church in Colossae, and he expects them to welcome, receive and encourage these men in the midst of their physical, gathered community.
Let us, as the church in Hermon, ever strive to be the embodied body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
– Ps Luwin Wong