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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.