What are the theological questions involved in our new normal?

I’ve noticed a few people asking what are the key theological issues that need thinking through given our inability to meet together as usual. So, without offering any specific answer on these questions, here are some of the key things we now need to consider.

What is church?

This is probably the biggest question that will inform most of the others. Our view of just what the church is will impact how we respond to not being able to meet. If you think of the church principally as your building, then this time is going to much more trying than for those who are inclined to say church is your people. But, even if we do hold the latter (as most seem to do), are we necessarily ‘church’ whilst we are all separate or are we only church when we come together? If we remain church when we are separate, what are the boundaries that make us a church rather than others – who we recognise as believers – who do not belong?

How do we function as church?

A related question is how we function as a church. If there are essential things that are required to be a church (e.g. meeting together, taking communion, preaching the Word, etc), are we able to replicate these things from a distance meaningfully? If we are not able to do these things, but we believe that we nonetheless remain ‘church’ at a distance, how do we square the circle?

Service elements

Then there are the practicalities of our view on any given thing. Are we congregationally singing if we aren’t actually present with each other, merely singing at the same time in our respective places? Our views of the ordinances need to thought through as we meet from a distance. Can we take communion while we’re apart and, if we can, how and on what ground? If not, why not? Should we waive baptism under the circumstances so somebody can join the church or perhaps do an irregular baptism under the circumstances? If so, what would that look like and, equally significant, what would be baptising somebody into and for what particular purpose? (I wrote some thoughts about these particularly questions last week).

New forms

The other question we need to reckon with is whether the new tech we are all jumping on is valid for what we are trying to do. Is it legitimate to ‘meet’ online? If not, what exactly are we trying to achieve by live streaming services? Can we recreate community through a zoom conference call? If not, again, what exactly are we trying to achieve? Given what we are trying to do, are these good and godly things? Moreover, are they things that scripture would encourage or discourage?

I’m not proposing any answers to any of these questions here. You can look at what we are doing as a church and have a fair guess where we come out on them. You might know less why. But I would say these are the questions that need properly thinking through given that our current circumstances are clearly not going to be shortlived. If anything, they are liable to become more draconian. If we have to operate as we are for 6-months or so, rather than cobbling together desperation measures without thought, it probably pays to think through just what and why we’re doing it now.

Perhaps you can think of others issues we ought to be thinking about too.