“You’re the first person who taught me the gospel.” Walter Scott didn’t recognize the younger preacher. His name was Moses Lard. He explained that he had read Scott’s book The Gospel Restored years before and it was a pleasure to meet him personally.
The church has always used other avenues of communication besides face-to-face meetings. After all, the inspired writers of the epistles of the New Testament sent these letters to Christians because they couldn’t be present with them. Since that time Christians have used pamphlets, tracts, journals, and books to teach the Truth. Thousands have been baptized because they took a Bible correspondence course from a congregation they never attended. When the internet age appeared the possibilities seemed endless. Articles, audios, videos, and even live streaming created the perfect opportunity to teach the gospel all over the world.
But though these quick, convenient means of communication are good and sometimes necessary, they neither can nor should take the place of personal contact. The apostle John wrote that “paper and ink” was just not the same as speaking “face-to-face” (II John 12). God made us as social creatures. Our soul within reacts to a person’s tone of voice, slight changes in the eyes, gestures, and spacing that cannot be fully captured virtually.
In 1982 John Naisbitt wrote the bestselling book Megatrends. One of the patterns he predicted was that as people became more dependent on technology there would be a greater need for jobs involving “people” skills. He seems to have been right. For all its marvels, the world of instant information and entertainment has come with a heavy price. Husbands and wives, parents and children, workers on the job and even church members have forgotten the value of eye-to-eye conversation. We have relied heavily on the internet and now we are realizing how much we are being manipulated, blocked, and even targeted by those who run it. Isolation, social distancing, and face coverings have made this problem worse.
But there is a great opportunity in this climate of depersonalization. The social nature God gave us will not change. It is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). We need contact with other human beings. We crave it. Our spirit grows weak and weary without personal association. This makes assembling together for worship all the more important and appealing (Heb. 10:24-25). The wrong thing biblically and the worst thing practically is to shut down the services and replace them with “virtual” worship. Many congregations tried this and are now seeing what a huge mistake this is. Our social nature also opens a door to real personal evangelism. In times like these, these words have taken on a new and encouraging meaning.