Forsaking the Assembly?
We live in very strange times - on that most are agreed. Sessions are locked in debate about best ways to run church. I agree with brother Etheridge that we need to go deep in Scripture. One text cited by some in favour of staying public is Hebrew 10:24-25 which I want to consider now.
Stirring Up is Urged
A careful look at the original shows that "assemble" is not the command. The exhortation urged is to "consider carefully" how to "stir each other up" to love and good works. We are told to give careful consideration to stirring that yields love as the end-product. I don't think we compromise that by live-streaming an on-line service. Rather we encourage it, as we assemble with angels and saints, by our Mediator Christ, through the means of grace, relayed in a live-streamed service (or even one that is recorded). It might even be argued that putting life at risk by public spread of Covid-19 is contrary to love and defeats the aim of good works!
Meeting Is the Method
Another look at the Greek reveals an interesting fact: "not neglecting" the meeting of ourselves is not actually a command: it is a participle whose meaning is determined by the idea of the main verb which precedes it which, in v24, is an imperative "consider how to stir up". Context is key to the tricky task of pinning down what force a particular participle has (Kostenberger, 327: footnote 15): here it is not imperative, unlikely to imply circumstance, but probably signifies means or method by which "stirring up" is achieved. "Meet" is a noun which refers to the last days church as an epi-synagogue.
All of this is to say that, almost always, God's people meet in public. Yet Luke-Acts shows saints may, if required, assemble behind closed doors without risk of being unchurched. If means of grace are used and the flock stirred in love to works, we should be slow to insist this text precludes safe-play during plague. Few believers insist this verse means we must meet in public in blizzards, twisters or Tsunamis if doing so puts life at risk? Invisibility of Coronavirus does not excuse recklessness. If Magistrates God appoints attempt to keep us safe, then hiding from the plague, while using appointed means, honours this text and generates love that works. If we lack an imperative to negate commands 5 & 6 (indeed the whole 2nd table of the Law), and a good (if suboptimal) solution practices Hebrew principle, live-stream is a good way (at this time) to build flocks with Word-food. Perhaps it flags up that something is amiss (a logical mis-step) if we set 1st table love-for-God at odds with 2nd table of love-for man.
Persecution is the Context
The risk of Hebrew-converts forsaking church had nothing to do with hiding from plagues. Believers were pressurized by error, enticed by ceremonies, threatened by authorities, and ostracised by friends. It would be seeing "reds under the bed" to view Covid-19 as some conspiracy-theory plot to privatize the church: even if that was actually the case (which thesis I very much doubt), it would be impossible to prove, without the authority of God's book, and not basis for faith to act - we must proceed on Sola Scriptura. Our context today is different - we are not afraid to die, for Christ has destroyed death, so if Corona takes us it will be better by far for us. We are not scared in any way to meet together in public - but there are no extra marks for running into Tornados, worshipping in Tsunamis, or standing out in the open when God's bowl of wrath pours out. The Bible rather tells us that there is a time for everything - including running for cover, and shutting our doors tight, like on Passover night, until the plague is past. The irony is that there may well be a few more visitors who tune into the sermon this coming week - live-stream may let some dying strangers try-out church for the first, and help them flee to Christ from the plague about to strike.
What I think I am saying is this: Hebrews 10:24-25 should not be applied to this circumstance as implying we should meet when pestilence is about! I hope if you are troubled about worshipping on-line that this will ease your mind that you are not letting your Lord down. At this time of crisis Christians should be seen to be sane. It would be a great pity to reduce a great Gospel opportunity to distaste or disdain, in some well-meaning insistence that we must meet boldly and bravely in the midst of plague in order to honour our Lord - this is what I am sure is what all my brothers intend, even if we disagree!