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Not Forsaking the Assembly

By Lee Moses

“No man is an island.” So said John Donne. And, vastly more importantly, so say the Scriptures: “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). As will be seen, this is true religiously. Yet increasing numbers of people are claiming to be religious islands. Recent polls indicate that the percentage of people claiming to be religious remains fairly constant, yet the percentage of people who assemble regularly continues to diminish rapidly. People’s lack of attendance reflects their attitude toward attendance: eighty-nine percent of American adults believe faith activities at home constitute “a complete and biblically valid way for someone who does not participate in the services or activities of a conventional church to experience and express their faith in God.”[1] Sixty-nine percent believe watching a religious television show accomplishes this.[2] Yet God warns Christians otherwise. While instructing Christians how they are to be, He warns how they are not to be: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25).

What is “Forsaking the Assembling of Ourselves Together”?

The above question may sound simple—and it really is. Unfortunately, some probably make it more difficult than it needs to be. But let this prohibition be placed in its context.

The book of Hebrews was addressed to a church on the verge of apostasy, probably the church in Jerusalem. These brethren were gradually drifting away from Christianity back into Judaism. To these brethren the Hebrews writer demonstrates the superiority of the New Testament over the Old, and especially of the High Priesthood of Christ over the old Levitical priesthood. Based upon Christ’s great High Priesthood and access in heaven for Christians (Hebrews 10:19-21), a threefold “let us” exhortation is given in Hebrews 10:22-25:

1. Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (verse 22).

2. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) (verse 23).

3. 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: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (verses 24-25).

The first two exhortations primarily speak of individual responsibility, while the third speaks of corporate responsibility. Every Christian has a responsibility to secure his own relationship with the Lord—the writer of Hebrews had already urged his readers to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1).  However, every Christian also has a responsibility to “consider” his fellow-saints as well, and this consideration demands assembling together. This refers to the assemblies of the local church.[3]

So what does it mean to forsake this act of assembling together? To “forsake” it means to separate one’s connection with assembling; to abandon or desert it.[4] Not all absence from the assembly constitutes forsaking the assembly. “Forsaking” cannot refer to being hindered from assembling by circumstances beyond one’s control, but to a willing decision to be absent. The writer of Hebrews knew this to be the “manner” or “habit of some.” Considering the language of the passage and the Hebrew Christians’ situation, the problem with the “forsakers” was ongoing.

Yet as a habit of absence from the assembly is a problem—and Divinely prohibited—so a habit of presence in the assembly must be cultivated. One intentional absence is not part of a habit of presence. Some ask, “Does missing an assembly once constitute forsaking the assembly?” The most common answer given is “No, forsaking the assembly requires a repeated pattern of missing.” However, when one could have been present for the assembling of the saints on an occasion and simply chose not to be there, he clearly neglected—one could even say “forsook”—the assembly on that occasion.

Although Hebrews 10:25 is the only verse that uses the particular phrase “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” the concept is reinforced throughout the New Testament.

The Church and the Assembly

Consider what the church is. The Greek word that is translated “church” (Greek ekklsia), literally means “called out,” and refers primarily to those who have been summoned, or “called out,” to an assembly. Certainly in the sense of the universal body of Christ, church has a much broader meaning. But in its primary sense, church is effectively synonymous with assembly.[5] In addressing the Corinthian church, Paul writes, “when ye come together in the church . . .” (1 Corinthians 11:18, all emphases LM). Paul expresses the same thought in different words just two verses later when he writes, “When ye come together therefore into one place . . .” (11:20). As long as the Corinthian brethren remained faithful to Christ, they remained the church (cf. 1:2), regardless of whether they were physically present with one another.  However, there were particular times when they were to come together “in the church”—in assembly

God designed local congregations to function autonomously. The wisdom of this can be observed in many respects, one of which is that a church assembles locally. And a local church cannot function if it does not assemble. When instructing how Christians were to deal with sins between each other, Christ instructed the offended brother, whose entreaties were refused by the guilty brother, to “tell it unto the church” (Matthew 18:17).  This alludes to an assembly, and to all the members of the church participating in subsequent discipline.

By the way, when Christ promised in this context, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (verse 20), He was not granting approval for a few brethren to neglect the assembly of the church in favor of a fishing trip accompanied by a short prayer service. Quite the opposite. He was teaching that He would be present with the church when it practiced discipline according to His doctrine, which required two or three witnesses to establish (cf. verse 16; Deuteronomy 19:15; 1 Timothy 5:19). Paul said much the same thing in First Corinthians 5:3-5, and said that discipline was to be carried out “when ye are gathered together” (verse 4).

Church discipline is not the only function of the church that requires the local assembly. The warning against “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” is given in midst of the exhortation to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Properly encouraging one another to serve the Lord requires assembling. The public worship that the Lord demands requires the assembling of the local church. And every Christian has a function in and obligation to the local church of which he is a member:

So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another (Romans 12:5).

But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:15-16).

The effective functioning of the body calls for the different members of the body working together, and the effective functioning of the body requires assembling. Each member has the responsibility to assemble that the church might function as it should.

When the Lord adds us to the church, He adds us to the universal body of the saved (Acts 2:47). But it is with the expectation that we will be assembling as members of local churches as well.  Make no mistake; if all the rest of the world should forsake the Lord, His word, and His worship, one person could still worship and serve Him faithfully. But where the possibility for assembling with faithful saints exists, faithful saints will assemble together.

All Christians, all the saved, all those who are heirs of eternal life—are in the church. Christ “loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). The church is of inestimable importance. And being part of the church is inextricably connected with assembling. If we care about the Lord’s church, we will commit ourselves to assembling with a faithful congregation. 

The Value of Church Attendance

God commands church attendance; but remember, “[God’s] commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3; cf. Matthew 11:28-30). God’s commandments are for our profit (cf. Deuteronomy 10:13). Attendance at the assemblies of the church is of great value to oneself.

Recall the association of assembling with “Consider[ing] one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24). This is not only an obligation that we have to others in assembling; it is also a benefit we derive from others in assembling. Remaining “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” is very difficult without the encouragement of fellow laborers (1 Corinthians 15:58). Christ sent His disciples out by two, and we also do well to be helped in our Christian walk:

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

The association between those of like precious faith builds up each other: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). Commenting on the Hebrews writer’s command to assemble, early Christian writer John Chrysostom wrote,

“And let us consider one another,” he says, “to provoke unto love and to good works.” He knew that this also arises from “gathering together.” For as “iron sharpeneth iron” (Prov. 27:17), so also association increases love. For if a stone rubbed against a stone sends forth fire, how much more soul mingled with soul![6]

Closely related to Hebrews 10:24 is Hebrews 3:13: “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” As essential as personal prayer and Bible study is in resisting temptation and avoiding sin (cf. Matthew 6:13; 26:41; 4:4, 7, 10; Psalm 119:11), one’s association with fellow saints can provide invaluable encouragement against succumbing to temptation and against being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” And note that this exhortation is to take place “daily.” Many brethren are deluded into thinking that meeting more than once a week is unnecessary. While this writer would not go so far as to say that this passage demands that the church assemble daily, it certainly does demonstrate that meeting three to four times a week is not too much. All Christians need to be vigilant, watchful, and prepared as they can be (cf. Matthew 24:42-25:13). Jesus prayed of His apostles, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:16). Regularly assembling with the saints helps keep us from evil and the evil one, even though we remain in the world.

 [To be continued next month].

 


[1] “Society diverges on idea of need to attend church.” Available:

[2] Ibid.

[3] “A gathering together to or toward at some location, meeting”; here referring to a meeting “of a Christian group.” Episunagoge, in Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 382.

[4] Enkataleipo, in Bauer, et al., p. 273.

[5] Ekklesia is translated “assembly” in Acts 19:32, 39, 41.

[6] John Chrysostom, The Homilies of John Chrysostom on the Epistle to the Hebrews, rev. and ed. Frederic Gardiner. Available 

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