The Danger of Forsaking the Assembly

The Trigger

With the occasion that a question by a dear sister brought, I would like to shed some light in this much quoted and much misunderstood issue, of assembling of ourselves together. The scripture that deals with this is taken from the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10 and verse 25: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Usually this scripture is used by members of traditional (after men) organizations, to “chastise” the “apostates” or “backsliders”, as they call those who have decided to leave the institutional “church”.

I can say it has become much of a shaming tool by those individuals, who knowingly or unknowingly use it as a weapon, rather than the light it is meant to be. If you don’t believe me, and you attend regularly what is called church services, try missing a few Sunday morning services, say, 3 or more. Never mind the weekday services, Sunday morning (or Saturday or Sabbath for the Sabbath believers) ones bear a different, special weight about them. For those who believe in the necessity of attending those services, the Sunday morning assembly is a must, and not to be missed, save for really compelling reasons, such as severe illness or other similar events. Believers worldwide (mostly in the western world) are made to believe that it is a sin to miss those services. So we see many who find excuses when they miss them. Others (mostly children) are literally forced to “go to church”, without a satisfactory explanation given to them by their parents (in the case of children). Even for many who force themselves to attend, the practice has become more of a chore rather than a blessing. Does it mean, then, that a sound Biblical exhortation has become more of a curse than a blessing?

Backslider

At the root of all this mess lies a misunderstanding of the scripture. This is one example of how scriptures have been taken out of context, twisted and manipulated, to justify some false teachings and conniving of men, whose aim is not to do God’s will, but to satisfy a human, corrupt system, which holds in captivity many souls for whom Christ died to set them free. The word says, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32, KJV). The only course, therefore, that we need to take into full freedom, is to know the truth about that scripture.

The correct course of action

When we read parts of the Bible, we should always follow certain actions:

  • Read in context. Many a cult have been created from taking scriptures out of context and putting them together, to form a teaching that contradicts God’s will, or, as I will call it, the cut-and-paste The original texts were written without separations, no chapters or verses, and even the words were all connected together. That is how the Holy Spirit inspired people to write, and that is how we ought to read.
  • Know some of the historical facts that surround those scriptures. As it happens with any given point in time, there are details such as culture, national and international standards, perceptions, and other particulars that characterize that specific era. For example, electricity was unknown in the first century after the birth of the Lord; so if someone from that era had somehow managed to come to our time, he would have been thoroughly astonished of everything he saw. Conversely, if we could somehow manage to go back in time to that era, we would wonder how people managed to live without many things we consider necessary today. It goes then that both the writers and the recipients of the New Testament letters were “ancient-minded”.
  • Allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the written word in our spirit. This is what sets the Bible aside from every other book written. It is God’s word that has been put on paper, but unless the Holy Spirit makes it a revelation in us, it remains mere ink on paper.
  • Know God’s overall purpose. God never did or said anything in a vacuum. He has an intention, a purpose for everything He did and does. No chapter or verse in the Bible is independent from, far less contradictory to, the total of the Bible. We need for the Holy Spirit to open our eyes so we can see what God’s eternal purpose is, and then even reading the Bible will take on a new life.

The Application

Now that we have settled this, let’s see how these points apply to our scripture. First, if we read the verses before and after it, we are being urged to hold on to our faith, because it is possible for someone to experience God’s grace and miracles and still go ahead and deny Him. This truth is confirmed by another scripture: “Therefore, having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, and throwing off everything that hinders us and especially the sin that so easily entangles us, let us keep running with endurance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1, ISV). It is easy for one to get deceived by sin, and that is why we need to provoke one another to a fruitful faith. Unless there is fellowship among believers, how could that happen?

As to the second point, the idea of fellowship or getting together in those times had a very different meaning to the contemporary times. Believers in those times did not have any buildings that they called “churches”. Only at first they would visit the Jewish temples, and that with the purpose of preaching the good news to the unsaved, not to have fellowship with one another. For the purpose of fellowship, they would use any available space, such as their homes, open air locations, and other venues, just like today’s persecuted believers do. The idea of religious buildings as special places of gathering was created by a pagan Roman emperor, Constantine the “Great”, in 330 AD. He was the one to convert pagan temples into “Christian” places of worship, and then they started calling them “the church”. The writer of the letter, then, did not exhort the readers to assemble in any buildings, but simply to ensure they meet one another regularly. The idea of gathering into “churches” was foreign to that writer.

Pretty-Church

Having seen those two points, it will be impossible to presume that the Holy Spirit would tell anybody today that they need to gather in a specially designated building. It is not what the word says, and anyone open to the guidance of the Spirit can see this. So if it is not the Holy Spirit who guides people to necessarily meet in a building, let alone for a set day and time of the week, who does that? I will leave it up to the readers to draw their own conclusions.

And the final point, anyone who knows the Father will also know that He never compels anybody to follow, obey, or love Him. The Bible is full of calls to willfully follow the Lord, spelling out the consequences both for obeying and for disobeying Him. Yet we cannot find a single occasion where God forces anyone to obey. So if God does not force us, who does? Again, I will leave this up to the reader to decide.

Conclusion

And now that we saw that we are not compelled to gather in specially designated buildings, neither on specially designated days or times, does it mean that we don’t really need to meet together on a regular basis, or that we can do so whenever we feel so? Absolutely not, and we will see why.

jesus-small-groups-3-24-15

If there is one thing we can be sure about, concerning our theme scripture, is the urgency that the writer hopes to imprint in the readers’ hearts about assembling together. “Not forsaking…”, he says. “…to provoke…”, he says. This eliminates the idea of “lone Christians”. There are 58 “one anothers” in the New Testament, hardly a number to be ignored. God knows how easy it is for us to get deceived and carried away, as long as we live in this flesh, and He guided the writer of this letter to exhort us to stay connected. His intention is for a universal, united body of believers, to be His family, and Christ’s body. His intention is for unity, not for denominations, doctrines, or any other humanly devised separations that aim at mutilating that body. He has given each believer a special calling and unique abilities, in order to edify the body, the church, and to bring His ultimate intention into completion. This is what we all need to pray for and to keep in sight, as we seek God’s kingdom to be established on earth as it is in heaven.

6 thoughts on “The Danger of Forsaking the Assembly

  1. Here’s what I find difficult. I agree that Christians ought to be regularly seeking God themselves for a proper understanding of His Word and that true revelation must and does come via the Holy Spirit. This we know. But along this particular journey such a soul will find themselves more and more isolated as they attempt to follow His lead as few have really counted the cost of being His disciple- of wholehearted allegiance to Him and nothing more.

    I left my last formal fellowship many years ago, primarily because God showed me the sectarian spirit that flourished through the practice of naming a group of Christians. I wrote a 23 page article called “The consequences of a name” and gave it to the local elders to review. Their response: We don’t agree with you- with not one single bible verse to prove my points were either wrong, misguided or unscriptural. That’s sad.

    Ultimately I had no choice but to leave, not leaving them altogether or my willingness to serve them where God directed, but leaving meeting formally with them and risking others calling me out based upon my own convictions from God. It was imperative that I lived what I understood to be true despite what that cost me.

    The process above is ongoing. All I have ever wanted as a Christian was to follow Jesus, to walk daily with Him, with others and to do that as He leads- momentarily, daily and with abandon. But so little remains of what was once known as His ekklesia, and exchanged for lesser things, even old things that were superseded in Christ. I can’t live that way, won’t live that way and I’m not alone.

    Sadly, many have relinquished their hope of being a part of a local group of believers and along New Testament lines. Others are no longer convinced such a fellowship of Christians as described in 1 Corinthians 14 can ever even be a reality again. I find this sad too. It seems many have tried, but most have given up. So where does that leave each of us?

    I appreciate those who write and encourage over the internet and these people do help others. Sadly though, God calls us to much deeper interaction, the kind of cross-bearing that only results from personal interaction with others. This has to be a regular pursuit for a Christian regardless of whether one participates in a particular group though it rarely is. Too many things like my job, my home and my desires cloud the way if not obscure altogether the real meaning of the gospel lived out among those who profess him.

    If I am truly His, I have been purchased with blood and I no longer have a right to myself but have relinquished this right and indeed all my rights. The only thing that remains is His will be done, and despite these oft quoted words very few who profess Him have ever deeply considered the ramification of them.

    Yes, let us continue to find fellowship where we may, including these online venues. But may we never forget God’s ultimate desire and manner in which that is accomplished, in a local fellowship of believers whose only allegiance is Christ. This is not one option among the many for the establishing and disseminating of truth, but His very heartbeat and the manner we shall be fellowshipping with Him and each other for all eternity. Indeed, may His will be done on earth, as it is, and will be in heaven.

    Great article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I prayed, and eventually the Lord brought me together with other believers who were also seeking Him in spirit and in truth. Sometimes though God will take us through the desert, to refine and prepare us, and then takes us right back to the “system” to bring the truth and freedom to others who long for it. Pray, my sister, and wait on the Lord.

      Like

    2. Clarissa, if I may, your answer sparked my attention. This is a concern many have about leaving the church system. They still crave relationships and want fellowship with other true believers, but they can no longer tolerate the status quo of organized religion. What to do?

      The answer, in my view, is perhaps easier (and more difficult) than I think most folks realize at first. The simple answer is stop being anxious about this. Give yourself to the Lord completely. Trust Him entirely. Put the whole business of churchianity out of your mind. If you believe He is alive, that He loves you, and that He has your very best interests at heart, don’t you also believe that He is big enough to handle this area of your life as well? Trust Him.

      I believe most all of us who have been involved with church world for any length of time have become entirely conditioned to the feeling of necessity for some form of church experience. We’re taught that such is what constitutes “fellowship”. We’re also taught that not attending some kind of meeting amounts to “isolation from the body”, rebellion, lone-rangerism, etc. We know the Lord is dealing with us about the error and distraction of churchianity and we want to step away from that, but we fear that we may travel down a path of isolation, sin, or even simply loneliness in our choice to separate ourselves. This is especially hard if we have loved ones that are not “on the same page” as us or a lack of close friends around us who understand and can walk with us through the experience. For those in this situation, leaving behind the comfortable routine of church-going can be a terrifying choice.

      But let me assure you… GOD IS FAITHFUL! Sometimes… No, I would say VERY OFTEN, for those of us who have spent years in church world, we haven’t often learned what it means to walk with Jesus and find Him as our sole sustenance, our complete foundation, and we often find that we really don’t know how to even hear His voice as well as we once thought we did. It was so much easier when there was a figure like a pastor to “bring us the Word of God” and we were emotionally lulled in comfort by the beautiful songs of worship, the prayers, and the activities we participated in. With so many other “voices” around us to tell us what God wants, what He’s doing, and what He expects of us, that apparent lack of those voices creates a certain level of anxiety.

      Thought not a comfortable place to be, I believe it is a necessary place to be. We must find our footing on the solid rock of Christ Jesus alone! He must become our all in all. He must truly become our Lord and our closest companion. We must grow in our ability to listen and hear the voice of His Spirit. He must become our life.

      The good news is, as this occurs, the anxieties will fade… and God is ALWAYS faithful. He knows what you need and how to prepare you for what He has in store for you. That might mean an apparent lack of so-called “fellowship” for a season of your life. For some that season will be short. For others long. But God has His own timing and if you trust Him and put in the time to draw close to Him, HE WILL DRAW CLOSE TO YOU! You will learn to hear His voice! You will know what the Father is up to because He will show you. In His time you will be amazed as you see how the Holy Spirit Himself will knit you together with others in true fellowship. It may never look like a “church service” again. You may never meet in a building or a home for “church meetings”. It may look nothing like anything you’ve been familiar with or that you have an expectation of. But God will do it and you will be amazed!

      This is why I say this is both simple and difficult. Simple because all you have to do is stop worrying about church. Stop fretting over the issue of fellowship. Leave ALL of that concern to the Lord. Don’t try to manufacture a substitute for it. Don’t go looking for a house church or some other kind of gathering. Cast ALL your cares on Jesus because He does care for you.

      The difficult part is letting go of those anxieties, but it can be done. Growing comes with growing pains. God will challenge you and there will be things that are difficult to let go of or at least to let go of your anxiety about them. It’s okay. The Holy Spirit will sustain you. He will comfort you. He will fill you! He’s going to lead you through a lot of changes. A lot of challenges. There will be highlights and seasons of bliss but also valleys and struggles and times when you wonder where He is and when He’s going to do something. This is all normal! The wonderful thing is you can be completely transparent with Him. Cry out with your frustrations, your needs, your sorrows, and your praise and thanksgiving. Thank Him for the trials and the challenges, which are working to grow you and prepare you. You will look back one day and see how far He has brought you and you will rejoice! There will be nights when you can’t see any progress. You will most certainly face spiritual attacks from the devil because as he sees you drawing close to God, he will want to cause you to stumble and become distracted. Be aware that these things will happen to any true servant of Jesus. It’s okay! The Lord will be mighty for you and He will lead you through each circumstance and will make you victorious over the enemy!

      Yes, God wants us to walk in fellowship with His body, but He wants us to walk in fellowship with Him first. He must become more valuable to you than people or meetings or anything that might potentially serve as a substitute. Church, for many of us, did wind up being a kind of substitute though we thought it was just part of being a Christian.

      I’ll tell you what…. I hate lifting weights. I don’t like exercise. I hate doing yard work. I hate trying to eat healthy. I love sitting in my lounge chair. I love playing with my computer or smart phone. I like hanging out with friends or anything leisurely. But without exercise I get fat, I lose energy, I lose endurance, I look for ways to get out of doing the things I should. When I start eating right my body reacts. It seems that cravings for junk food come on full steam. When I start exercising or lifting weights or doing that dreaded yard works, my muscles get sore and I feel fatigues and even sickly for a while. But then, after a while, I start seeing the inches drop off, my muscles hurt less, I can’t tolerate the exercise more and maybe even enjoy some of it, the yard starts to look nice without all those weeds in it and suddenly I start feeling motivated to keep it going. My energy starts to increase, my alertness improves, everything changes. I’m not tired anymore, I don’t want to just sit around and veg out, etc. It’s the exact same thing with our spiritual lives… and even with this concern about things like fellowship. The thing is, we have the best personal trainer there is; the Holy Spirit. We have to learn to hear Him and then be obedient when He tells us what to do.

      You’ll be fine! 🙂 Don’t worry right now about “establishing relationships”. As the Lord does His work in you, He will fashion you with fellowship, but you must find your fellowship in Him first. God bless you!!!

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Hi Clarissa,

      I’m like Dave – and wherever Dave Y is hanging out must be a good neighborhood! ;o) – your response caught my attention too. And Dave’s response is very right on too – as usual! ;o)

      I left organized churchianity almost 20 years ago now and for much of that time the Lord has sustained us (my wife and I and our children) in what many euphemistically call the wilderness. But what He was working on most in my life was my relationships with my wife and children. If our relationship with God is out of order, so too will our relationships with our spouse and children be out of order. If our relationships with God and our spouse and children are out of order, our relationships with our friends and family and acquaintances will also be out of order. And this disorder begins to pile up exponentially and has ripple effects into our further outward circles of influence.

      God has been taking us through a first things first course and we are now able to get to some deep issues in our own lives as well as in the lives of those we come in contact with. Never despise the day of small things and always take care to keep the main thing (God) the main thing! ;o)

      In His love,

      Neil

      Liked by 1 person

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