The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about so many different what-if thoughts within the republic of the United States. I know there are many who are out of work and, if you live in Arkansas (as with other states), the schools will no longer hold a session for the 19-20 school year. Many churches (like yours and mine) have been faced with the challenge of now moving to a fully online church *for now.* Instead of being able to gather together and worship the Lord, we are having to post sermons to Facebook and YouTube in order for our people to see them and continue to stay connected to our churches.
Yet, another aspect of this age of virtual church are the virtual ordinances. Many churches have been trying to perform a virtual Lord’s Supper and have familial washing of the saint’s feet (for those of us who are Free Will Baptists). There are a few specific biblical components to church ordinances that I would like to note here, hopefully (and prayerfully) for our benefit:
- First, let’s clarify these two ordinances. Of course, it is fairly obvious what these two ordinances are and how they are enacted within the church. Yet, it is vitally important to understand what they are. As for the ordinances, there are three main passages from which the church takes its reasoning to approach the Lord’s table and to wash the saint’s feet: Matthew 26, John 13, and 1 Corinthians 11 (Lord’s Supper), and John 13 (Washing of the Saint’s Feet). The Lord’s Supper is meant to be taken ” as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup” (1 Cor. 11:26). Though some might be, I am not convinced the Bible gives a certain number of times per year or per period to approach the table. I do, however, believe that we should not neglect observing the Lord’s Supper. Yet, the number of times per year a church does this can be a bit contingent upon the church itself. As for the Washing of the Saint’s Feet, I believe this ordinance should be observed every time the Lord’s Supper is taken.
- Second, the ordinances are, in fact, Church ordinances. The most important feature for the ordinances is that they are the ordinances of the Church of Jesus Christ. This truth has one main implication of which I would like to focus: the ordinances are only for the gathered church. I understand why this may not settle well with some folks, and that is fine. But we must understand that the ordinances of the church are only meant to be carried out in the context of the assembly of believers. Why? They have been instituted by our God for the edification Christ’s body, the Church. 1 Corinthians 11 shows us (on multiple occasions) that the Supper is meant to be taken together as a body of believers.
“The ordinances are only for the gathered church.”Tweet
- Third, the ordinances should only be done in the context of a local church. Once again, this is another biblical principle that may upset some folks, especially during the COVID-19 quarantine. However, even in specific circumstances that prevent us from gathering as believers, we must not forget the biblical mandates in which we have been given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And one of the principles we find regarding the Lord’s Supper and the Washing of the Saint’s Feet is that every time these are mentioned, they are mentioned in the context of a local church gathering. Bobby Jamieson writes: “The Lord’s Supper enacts the church’s unity. It consummates the church’s oneness. It gathers up the many who partake of the same elements together, in the same place, and makes them one.” In other words, the Supper and the Washing of the Saint’s Feet are both means by which the Lord has ordained in order to promote and breed unity within his Church.
Biblical or Unbiblical?
Of course, this question is a bit more difficult than a simple yes or no regarding biblical centrality. In my honest opinion, I don’t believe the question is as simple as one can make it. In other words, I don’t think there is a way to simply say yes or no to a virtual Lord’s Supper and Washing of the Saint’s Feet as biblical or not. It’s just not that simple.
I don’t want to come across as haughty or arrogant by saying a virtual Supper or Feet Washing is unbiblical. However, I do want to stay as close and true to the Bible’s perspective on how we should partake in the Supper and the Washing of the Saint’s Feet. From my perspective, though, and my reading of the text, I cannot look at Matthew 26 and 1 Corinthians 11 and conclude that the Lord would permit us, as His church, to approach His table and Wash the Saint’s Feet anywhere else BUT our local churches. In 1 Corinthians 11, we find the phrase “when you come together” no less than three times, implicitly showing us that the Supper is not meant to be taken apart from the assembled body of believers. 1 Corinthians was written to the church at Corinth. So, Paul is showing his readers the reality that the Supper has only been instituted by the Lord Jesus for the purpose of building one another up in unity and accountability.
More than anything else, I know everyone wants to follow the Lord and be as faithful as they can to Him during this pandemic. However, while we are choosing faithfulness, we must also not neglect exegetical faithfulness. According to all of my findings in the Bible, I don’t find a reason to support a virtual online Lord’s Supper or Washing of the Saint’s Feet. Here are a few concluding thoughts:
- First, I don’t believe the Bible is affirmative of doing anything that should be done in the local gathering of believers. I know this may be a difficult truth to take in, but there is more to church than simply gathering together and worshipping. Church is for unity, accountability, building one another up, singing to one another, and more.
- Second, the ordinances are to be taken in the church. I see no clear evidence for any allowance of something different within Scripture. The only affirmative situation is “when you gather together.”
- Third, we must do what we believe is the most faithful biblically. Ultimately, this issue is about faithfulness to God and His Word. I understand that there is much room for disagreement here. So, this goes with my next concluding thought…
- Fourth, I cannot say a virtual ordinance is unbiblical. Though I cannot say it is unbiblical, I will say it is unwise and unfaithful to the biblical text, according to my interpretation.
- Fifth, I understand these are difficult times. Living through this pandemic has done a lot for me as a local church pastor. This pandemic has made me rethink so many things, including things like Church Ordinances.
- Sixth, and most importantly, we must do what is the most faithful action biblically. Ultimately, I want my life to be known by how faithful I was to the Lord and His Word, and I pray and hope you do, as well.
Is it unbiblical? No, probably not. Is it the best option? No, probably not the best option either. When our local church leadership gathered in the middle of March to evaluate what to do regarding the virus, we decided then and there that we could reschedule our Supper and Feet Washing without any breach of conscience. Friends, there is nothing wrong with not having ordinances on Easter or waiting to partake together. However, I believe it to be most wise if we wait until we can all gather together again to approach the Lord’s table and wash each others’ feet.
 I mention only two ordinances because the church ordinance of Believer’s Baptism really is not an issue when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic of our day.
 Bobby Jamieson, “Can Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Go Online?” The Gospel Coalition, accessed April 14, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/baptism-lord-supper-online/.