Does Hebrews 10:25 Condemn
or Only Complete Abandonment of the Church?
Does Hebrews 10:25 Condemn
I believe it condemns both! One's attendance (or lack thereof) at the assemblies of the church is a partial window into his true spiritual condition. While it is possible for one to deceive others by attending regularly and at the same time live a reprobate life, it is impossible to serve the Lord genuinely while failing to attend. Heb. 10:24,25 states: "and let us consider one another to provide unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh."
Some try to negate the force of the passage and mitigate the sin of occasionally missing church services by saying this Scripture only condemns a complete abandoning of the faith, that is it condemns one who gives up on the Lord, His church, and makes no effort whatsoever to keep His command-ments, but it does not condemn an occasional "missing" of worship services. Obviously, if one has completely abandoned the church he has certainly forsaken the "assembling together." There might even be some validity to the argument if the passage stated, "not forsaking our own assembly," emphasizing the noun "assembly" which would mean abandoning the church itself. Instead it says "not forsaking our own assembling" which emphasizes the act of assembling or gathering together.
Failure to Assemble Is Not the Only Problem
Occasionally I hear people speak of this sin as if it is not too serious; like one sin will not condemn one to hell but several will! A reading of Jas. 2:10 will help clear up that misunderstanding! However, forsaking the assembling is not one's only problem, because there are a number of other individual responsibilities to be carried out that are associated with the assembling together. Therefore, if one doesn't attend, he sins in other areas also. For instance, we are commanded to speak "one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph. 5:19), and we must be with one another to speak "one to another." Also, we are commanded to eat the Lord's supper when the church is assembled (1 Cor. 11:17-34). We are commanded "upon the first day of the week" to "lay by in store" (1 Cor. 16:2). Do those who forsake the assembling give when absent? Not to my knowledge! We are to "consider (or take careful thought to) one another to provoke unto love and good works" (Heb. 10:24). One way this is done is through our assembling together, offering words of help and encouragement before and after services, and by being edified during the assembly through worship and teaching. Neither can this nor the other commands mentioned be carried out if one forsakes the assembling together of the saints.
A person also sets a bad example when he forsakes the assembling together. In essence a person says, "This is not important, it is not necessary, and I don't need it." Jesus said our influence is important (Read Matt. 5:13-16). Furthermore, we are to "give no occasion of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God" (1 Cor. 10:32). Our influence is therefore to encourage both Christians and non-Christians alike, not discourage from doing right which is what is done when one forsakes the assembling. The greatest influence we give in this area either for good or bad is among our own family. Parents, take heed!
Jesus said, "But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness" (Matt. 6:33). The kingdom is the church (Matt. 16:18,19). Therefore, in scheduling our lives the church should take precedence in all matters! This includes precedence over work, school, sports and recreation, vacation, hobbies, and all other matters occupying our time and energy. If one attends a ball game when the church is scheduled to assemble, sports is first with that person, not the church. If one schedules or attends some school event when the church meets, the church is not first with that person, but school. If one attends some show or goes to some entertainment when the church assembles together, the show or entertainment is first with that person, not the church. Therefore, allowing other matters to take precedence over assembling together with the saints indicates one is not seeking the kingdom first. Not only must we practice the truth along these lines, but we must also teach and insist it be practiced in the lives of our children for whom we are responsible.
Which Assemblies Will You Miss?
If you believe you can forsake the assembling together of the saints with impunity, which ones are essential and which ones are non-essential? I read of several things the New Testament church did when it assembled together, or several reasons for assembling. Among these included a gathering together for 1) Worship and instruction - Acts 2:42; 2) Teaching - Acts 11:26; 3) Prayer - Acts 12:12; 4) Hearing how the gospel fared in foreign lands - Acts 14: 27; 5) A discussion of controversial issues dividing the church - Acts 15:;22; 6) Breaking bread - Acts 20:7;1 Cor. 11:17-34; 7) Disciplinary action taken against an immoral member - 1 Cor. 5:4; and 8) Singing, prayer, and preaching - 1 Cor. 14:15,23,26. If any of these assemblies is not included, which ones are not, and why?
Why would Heb. 10:25 not apply to every instance when the church assembled itself together? I believe that it would, and every principle thus far stated shows of necessity it must. Could you forsake a Lord's day morning assembly when we partake of the Lord's supper, give as prospered, sing, pray, and are instructed in the apostles' doctrine as in Acts 2:42; 20:7; and 1 Cor. 14:15? What about a gospel meeting where prayer, singing, and Divine instruction through preaching is given as in 1 Cor. 14:15 23,26? Or a Wednesday evening meeting for worship and instruction as in Acts 11:26? If an eldership or leaders among a local congregation decides a Bible subject is to be discussed in a formal setting such as a debate (as per Acts 15), would you attend or would you think it not necessary? Would you dismiss as unimportant an assembly given over to singing and making talks on Bible subjects as must have been the case in 1 Cor. 14? The way some treat these events by their attendance indicates they see little use in them.
Brethren, I would not want to face God in judgment with the attitude some express toward these assemblies. If Heb. 10:25 does not apply to these, by what process of deduction do you apply it to any assembly?
"I'll Just Stay at Home and Read My Bible"
Some unfaithful in their attendance have made this statement when encouraged to attend faithfully as if that is a substitute for assembling regularly. I have even heard some members sound as if they were trying to justify a family member or friend's unfaithfulness in attendance by saying, "But ____ reads the Bible so regularly and is such a godly person," as if that takes care of everything. Remember, "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim" (1 Sam. 15:22,23). The member of the church who thinks he/she can forsake the assembling while reading the Bible at home and be justified is no different from the alien who says he/she is dissatisfied with all "organized religion" and will not be a member of any church. One is no better than the other and both are displeasing and sinful before God. Both defy the commandments of the Lord, and such rebellion is the same as witchcraft and idolatry before the Almighty.
How Many Times "Missed" Constitutes Forsaking the Assembling?
The word "forsaking" in the verse means "to leave behind,...to desert" (Strong, Vine, and others). If a person "misses" (leaves behind, deserts) just one assembly of the church when he could attend, wouldn't that be forsaking that assembling together? How many times does one have to get drunk or commit fornication to be guilty of those sins? How many times does a person have to lie to be guilty of the sin of lying? We need to remember that one unforgiven sin is just as damaging and damning as ten thousand (Jas. 2:10; Num. 20:10-12).
The problem of forsaking the assembling is not new. It was "the custom of some" during the first century as it is with "some" during the twenty-first century. But because that sin was a "custom" with some did not make it any less a sin then than it does now. Forsaking the assembling is not only a sin that needs to be repented of, but it is also a public sin that should be publicly confessed and prayed about (Jas. 5:16).
Let us never be guilty of "forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.”
---Phillip A. Owens