Forsaking The Assembly
One of the earliest signs of personal apostasy is the neglect of the Christian to come together with his brethren for edification. To continue in this will ultimately result in complete abandonment of Christianity both doctrinally and morally. There can hardly be a doctrinal decline without effecting the manner of life. The Christian's manner of life is based upon his understanding of the teaching of "the faith." When the Christian forsakes the God ordained plan for encouragement and mutual instruction he is inviting spiritual disaster.
It seems to me there are two aspects to the problem of unfaithfulness in assembling. One is the failure to do it; and the other is the failure to do it for the scriptural purposes. My judgment is that it is as possible for one to be unfaithful while "assembling" as well as to be unfaithful in not "assembling."
It is an indisputable fact that "church-going" is at an all time high. "A record breaking total of 103,224,954 Americans were listed as active church-goers." (COSMOPOLITAN MAGAZINE, December, 1957.) If the percentage of the attendance of Christians was known I expect it would be higher still. In spite of a relatively high percentage of faithful attendance it is still one of the major problems we face. That many Christians are lukewarm in this regard, that many are not thrilled at the prospect of fellowship with their brethren in the assemblies are undeniable facts.
Why is this so? I believe there are at least two answers to the question: (1) We have tried to solve this problem too often by various tricks and gimmicks. We have appealed too often to the appetite of the flesh instead of attempting to cultivate the hunger and thirst for righteousness. Matt. 5:6. The Christian should "long for the spiritual milk." I Peter 2:2. If he is fed any food different in kind his spiritual growth will be deterred. And when we have run out of tricks and gimmicks we have lost our gains.
(2) We have failed to appeal to and/or build up "the simplicity and purity that is toward Christ." 2 Cor. 11:3. Our own craftiness has contributed to the very problem we were trying to solve.
"Cite me the passage that says it is a sin not to come to a Wednesday night service." "Why do I have to come to every assembly?" Such statements and questions are indicative that one is either untaught as to the purpose of the assembly or is unappreciative of the blessings received in them.
It is an undeniable fact that Christians were regularly commanded to assemble. In Hebrews 10:25 the writer informs us it was the "custom" of some to "forsake our own assembling together." The word "forsake" means "to abandon, dissent," etc. (Thayer.) By abandoning the assemblies of the Christian, certain ones of their number hoped to destroy their identity as Christians. No doubt, by doing this they hoped to escape persecution as a Christian. The writer in verse 26 calls this to "sin wilfully." The assembling together of the Christians helped them to "hold fast," for in them they did "consider one another to provoke unto love and good works." Verses 23, 24.
The inherent meaning of the Greek word "ekklesia," as applied to men who are in an acceptable relationship with God, proves the necessity of Christians assembling together. Trench savs this about the word: "It was the lawful assembly in a free Greek city of all those possessed of the rights of citizenship, for the transaction of public affairs." Also, the idea of "coming together"-the gathering together of Christians for purposes of worship and work-is definitely included in the word. (For a superlative study of this word see, "Studies in the New Testament Church," by George P. Estes, PRECEPTOR, Vol. 6.) After one is added to the church by God "brought together" into fellowship with God, and, thus into fellowship with all others in the same relationship-one is commanded to "come together" with the disciples as often as they meet.
Men are made Christians "to show forth the praises of him who called you." I Peter 2:9. The word "church" as applied locally proves that Christians are "called" to assemble for functional purposes. Christians gladly come together, therefore, in obedience to the demands implied in the word by which they are described, "the church."
Not only does the word "church" teach the necessity of assembling but certain commands make this evident. (It is undeniable that the Christian is under obligation to obey these following commands without the assembly as well as within it. But the scope of this article deals with the assembly, not the independent individual function of the Christian.)
(1) Worship. Christians were commanded "to come together in the church" to partake of the Lord's Supper. I Cor. 11:17f. In their assembled capacity each Christian who had been prospered contributed into a common treasury. I Cor. 16:1, 2. Paul, having received from the Philipian church a gift used it to make "fruit that increaseth to your account." He called their gift "a sacrifice, acceptable, well-pleasing to God. Phil. 4:15-18. With divine approval Christians "spake to each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs." Eph. 5:19, 20; Col. 3:16.
(2) The church assembled to teach sinners who were unbelievers. Barnabus and Saul assembled with the church in Antioch for this purpose. Acts 11:26. This is also clearly implied in Paul's admonition to the Corinthians about the proper use of spiritual gifts. I Cor. 14:22-25.
(3) There were certain affairs which affected the whole church for which they were commanded to assemble. The fact that many of the epistles were sent to the churches is evidence that they were to be assembled for the reading of them. And, also there is a clear statement to this effect in Col. 4:16. Paul's condemnation of the wicked man of Corinth and his teaching to the charch of their action toward him was to be studied and put in force on the occasion of "ye being gathered together." I Cor. 5:4. Paul and Barnabus called the church at Antioch together to report to them of the happenings on their first evangelistic efforts among the Gentiles. Acts 14:27.
In obedience to these commands the church assembled. The cumulative evidence of the passages supports the necessity of all of the church being present. The Christian who forsakes the "assembly" falls in that much of his God-given duty.
While Christianity is essentially individualistic as opposed to institutionalism, Christ recognized the need for Christians to be assembled with each other in something else than pure relationship. Consequently, we have the local church, which is simply the "coming together" of Christians for purposes of worship and work. Paul wrote the Thessalonians: "Wherefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as also ye do." "And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be longsuffering toward all." I Thess. 5:11, 14. No doubt they did this in their assemblies. Heb. 10: 23-25; Col. 3:16, 17. The Christian who forsakes the assembling of the "called out ones" loses the blessings and benefits of the same. He either fails to appreciate the need for such help, or he chooses to refuse it. In the first instance he needs to be exhorted; in the second he needs reminding he must bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." 2 Cor. 10:5.
It is hardly enough, however, to call attention to the mistakes without offering some suggestion for correction. Hew can we restore those who are unfaithful in this regard? (1) Teach them, and emphasize, the commands of God upon this subject just as we would any other of His Commands. A Christian is a voluntary servant of God and therefore must obey the bidding of the Master. (2) Edify those assembled by encouraging them and pointing out the great blessings received in the assembly. (3) Avoid the use of anything but the Scriptures in "stirring up" their hearts to more and greater faithfulness. Use no gimmicks or tricks. (4) Show from experience the inevitable result of abandonment of the assembling with the saints.
Truth Magazine II:12, pp. 4-5