“If a church gathering is so watered down to suit the non-Christian attendees and/or the main portion of the time spent together does not allow for God to speak, either to you or through you, then there is no biblical reason for being there!”
I am aware at the time of writing this (Jan 2003) that there are many Christians in the U.K. (and probably the West generally) who are currently ‘unchurched’. That is to say, they do not belong to/attend any existing established group in their area. This does not mean that all such are without any form of Christian fellowship entirely. Indeed it should be noted that for many who do attend a regular local church their chief source for meaningful spiritual growth is still often found outside of that situation in the ‘small’ opportunities of fellowship they have with the ‘ones and twos’. The reasons for these Christians being in such a position undoubtedly vary, and it must be said that not all have good, that is to say genuinely conscientious, reasons for their circumstances. Of those who do consider that they are in such circumstances for conscience sake there are still a further variety of reasons why they are not gathering with a local fellowship.
At one time most ‘evangelicals’ would have understood and agreed entirely with their forerunners in the Reformation era when a genuine Christian, blessed with both understanding and conscience, could not attend the local ‘church’ (i.e. when their only choice meant a Catholic one). Sadly, we are today entering a phase of development where so much of what is called ‘the church’ is so directly opposed to so much New Testament truth that once again it requires a stand to be made by those who refuse to reject the goal of New Testament Christianity – in favour of whatever it takes to keep in the mainstream.
This is not the moment that I want to use to enter into discussion on all these many matters; suffice it to say that there are trends in our day relating to gross compromises of The Faith that was once delivered us. Many are seeking to establish an ‘outward’ unity based on all kinds of human reasoning and compromises. The simple truth is that all those who are genuinely ‘in Christ’ are already spiritually united. We cannot be anymore joined than we are already. All that leaves to ‘unite’ is the many man-made institutions that have all developed ‘church systems’ in contrast to the simple New Testament practices. Those who have no intention of signing up with this majority are increasingly swept aside as being flies in the ointment. Some Christians have come to a place where the choices are such that they, for one reason or another, have drawn aside from attending any of the ‘established churches’ altogether.
Such folk must now answer a direct accusation from the Scripture: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb 10:25). Any serious-minded and concerned Christian in this position must at some time wonder “how can I be walking with God and yet not be part of a local body?” (Note: that is a ‘local body’ not The Body of which every Spirit-born child of God is in permanent membership). So, how does one answer such a straight, Scriptural accusation? Does God lead someone in a path that is contrary to sound written instruction in The Word? No! So what is the answer? My answer is threefold, but first we need to see a little more of the context of these words:
“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another:” (Heb 10:24, 25)
1. The first point to make here is that any such accuser needs to be extremely cautious before levelling such a charge directly. The word ‘forsaking’ implies ‘negligence’. In fact the verse could just as easily use the phrase ‘not being neglectful…’ Neglect is first and foremost an attitude of the heart. I am not saying that there are not any negligent Christians in this matter. Indeed, doubtless there are. If any man or woman who professes the name of Christ is quite unconcerned about the need for Christian fellowship then I would say that it is either a case of never having been truly born of God’s Spirit or much worse, a serious backsliding has taken place. If it is a case of the latter then such a one would do well to read the whole of this Hebrew epistle and pay heed to its most serious warnings. However, as I have already outlined above, I believe there are many in these circumstances for no other reason than that the Holy Spirit has exercised their consciences and they cannot be party to the many serious compromises that are being made. Let all be cautious in making judgements. Even if a Christian was behaving wrongly in some matter we must always remember that motive is of the utmost importance. Only God can clearly judge a man’s innermost motive.
2. Next we come to the phrase “assembling of ourselves together.” The Hebrew’s writer was not concerned about ‘religious’ observances or attendance at ‘services’. His exhortation was to not forsake the ‘assembling together’. I have already detailed at some length how churches met in the context of a proper New Testament ‘assembling together’ in the study entitled ‘His Church’ (in the Bible studies section on this site). ‘Services’ – be they of the traditional reformed nature or even most of the modern charismatic style DO NOT biblically constitute an ‘assembling together’. It may be that in the ordinary sense you have a number of people gathered together in one place at one time, but as with all things spiritual, the physical aspect of things is not the point. Biblically speaking, an ‘assembling together’ does not take place in the vast majority of those buildings that people call ‘churches’ (this may even include many of the meetings held in homes!). Even in many of the more ‘liberated’ places there is still an ‘order of service’ observed, along with man-led (that is, usually musician-led) ‘worship’. You’ll notice that this exhortation is in the context of ‘one another’ and ‘together’, if a church does not operate on this ‘one another’ level then it is not biblically speaking ‘assembling together’.
3. As has also been shown in the ‘His Church’ Bible study the purpose of the local church is neither evangelism, nor worship. I shall not cover the same ground again here, but it is of the utmost importance to realise that the local church meeting was not usually attended by unbelievers and the biblical reasons for establishing the ‘assembling together’ are so that the Christians (those born of God’s Holy Spirit) might edify (build up) one another. If I am not spiritually built up by the activities of an assembly, and I myself have no liberty to edify my brother (either by the structure of the meeting or by being spiritually restricted because of a persistent resistance to the Holy Spirit) then the whole gathering is nothing more than a religious rite (essentially this is more of the Old Testament order). There are no ‘brownie points’ for simply being there.
In summary of 1: To ‘forsake’ means to be in a state of neglect. Only the individual concerned and God alone can ultimately make that assessment of someone’s heart – Romans 14:4.
In summary of 2: Those who may accuse someone of not ‘assembling together’ frequently never do so themselves. They mistakenly believe that the ‘services’ they attend qualify for what the Hebrew’s writer is talking of. They most certainly do not!
In summary of 3: If a church gathering is so watered down to suit the non-Christian attendees and/or the main portion of the time spent together does not allow for God to speak, either to you or through you, then there is no biblical reason for being there!
I shall at the moment refrain from further comment and speculation about why this whole situation has arisen. There is so much that could be said! However, my simple aim in this article is to give courage and confidence to those who love God with their whole heart and at this present time find themselves to be one of the many ‘unchurched’ contending with Hebrews 10:25.
Related Reading ~ Bible Study: His Church (study on Biblical Church)