That's A Good Question
Larry Ray Hafley
"Send all questions to the writer of 'this column. "
From Georgia: I would like to ask your help on a problem I am now facing. The "'problem" concerns the Christian's attendance when the church comes together. Of course, this centers around a dispute on the meaning and application of Hebrews 10:25. Enclosed is a sketch of both sides of this issue as it relates to the work here. I would appreciate your analysis of the problem along with any suggestions which you might have on how to handle the problem. I have done quite a bit of study on this subject as has the brother with whom I disagree. We have come to a stalemate, and, therefore, it is my feeling that a third party might be able to help us in our study.
1. Hebrews 10:25 cannot be applied to missing only one service, because the word "assembling" (which is in the plural) is used.
2. The word 'forsake' in the context of Hebrews 10 means and is limited to (1) 'sinning willfully' (v. 26), (2) 'trodding underfoot the Son of God' (v. 29), (3) 'counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing' (v. 29), and (4) 'doing despite unto the Spirit of grace' (v. 29). In other words, it involves quitting with no intention of coming back.
3. Hebrews 10:25 is not the rule because there are no exceptions to it.
4. Therefore, a Christian can miss services for a fishing trip, hunting, watching television, etc., and not be sinning, provided he takes the Lord's supper on Sunday at one service.
1. Hebrews 10:25 is the rule concerning regular and faithful attendance.
2. Even though Hebrews 10:25 is the rule, there are some exceptions. (Jesus recognized unstated exceptions to the law of Moses-Matthew 12:2-5, 11,12.) However, these exceptions involve a conflict in God-given duties (Matt. 23:23). As an example of this conflict, being sick during service time may involve a conflict in the duties of taking care of my body (Eph. 5:29) and attending the services (Heb. 10:25). Another illustration would be sitting with the sick, which involves showing mercy (Matt. 23:23). Any exception involves personal judgment as to which is the weightier of the God-given duties.
3. If any Christian puts anything except a God-given duty ahead of the services, he has violated Hebrews 10:25.
1. Can Hebrews 10:25 apply to missing one service?
2. In practical terms, what constitutes 'forsaking?'
3. Is Hebrews 10:25 a rule? If so, are there exceptions to the rule? If there are exceptions, how does one determine them?
4. If Hebrews 10:25 is the rule, are we commanded to assemble? If we are not commanded to assemble, then why do we assemble?"
The text in question: "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" (Heb. 10:25).
1. Suppose one stood before a large audience and inquired, "Will everyone who has children please stand up?" Should one who has only one child stand up? Yes, even though children is plural.
We are not to forsake the act of assembling as some customarily and habitually do. It is "the assembling," not the assemblies, that is not to be forsaken. According to our brother's position, the Hebrew writer should have said, "Not forsaking the assemblies." However, he said, "the assembling," or "the act of assembling" (M. R. Vincent). "Some expositors have understood the word here rendered assembling . . . as meaning the society of Christians, or the church; and they have supposed that the object of the apostle here is, to exhort them not to apostatize from the church . . . . But the more obvious interpretation is that which is commonly adopted, that it refers to public worship. The Greek word (the noun) is used nowhere else in the New Testament, except in 2 Thess. ii.l, where it is rendered gathering together. The verb is used in Matt. xxiii.37; xxiv.31; Mark i. 33, xiii.27; Luke xii.l ; xiii.34, in all which places it is rendered gathered together. It properly means an act of assembling, or a gathering together, and is nowhere used in the New Testament in the sense of an assembly, or the church. The command, then, here is, to meet together for the worship of God, and it is enjoined on Christians as an important duty to do it. It is implied, also, that there is blame of fault where this is 'neglected.'" (Albert Barnes, comments on Heb. 10:25).
2. Admittedly, the context, as cited by our brother, is to be considered, but let us note all the context. Hebrews 10:23 says, "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering." Granting our brother his assumptions, we conclude that missing an occasional service is the beginning of wavering and apostasy. We are not to abandon completely, but neither are we to waver. So, if verses 26 and 29 do not forbid purposeful non-attendance, then verse 23 does.
Our brother's conclusion is, "it involves quitting with no intention of coming back." However, this is prohibited by the fact that the forsaking was a frequent habit of some. If the forsaking was "quitting with no intention of coming back," how could the writer say, "as the manner of some is?" It is like the man who said, "It's easy to quit smoking. I've done it a hundred times!"
In Matthew 27:46, Jesus cried, "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?" God forsook Christ only once. Did that make it not a true forsaking? Was Jesus mistaken about the fact of being forsaken? Did the Father forsake Christ "with no intention of coming back?" Though the Father abandoned the Son only one time for a brief time, it was still an abandonment, a forsaking. The frequency and duration had nothing to do with the fact of it. So, when one willfully neglects the assembling, though he does it once, he has still done it.
3. There are exceptions. "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" ,(Matt. 5:23, 24). Though the text deals with the law, the principle is the same under the New Covenant. Therefore, "Hebrews 10:25 is the rule because there are exceptions to it," to use our brother's line of reasoning. There are no exceptions to Mark 16:16. Is it not the rule?
4. In view of the review of his three points designed to establish this his fourth, we conclude that a Christian cannot miss a service in order to go hunting and fishing, etc. Other passages apply. "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33). "Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col. 3:2). "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 Jn. 2:15-17).Questions Answered
1. In light of the remarks above, Hebrews 10:25 can apply to missing one service.
2. W. E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words provides practical definitions of what constitutes forsaking, "To forsake, abandon, leave in straits, or helpless." The verb form of the word "forsake" means "to desert" (Cf. Matt. 27:41; Acts 2:27; 2 Tim. 4:10, 16). The text itself affords some definition. Observe the contrast in the verse:
The exhortation was the thing saints received when they assembled, but when they forsook the act of assembling, they did not exhort nor receive exhortation in the assembly which was needed in view of the day approaching. There was the danger of "wavering" (v. 23) and of complete apostasy from their confidence (vv. 35-39), so, the saints were not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, as some were doing, lest they deprive themselves of the necessary exhortation.
3. See the answer in section three above under His Position. Hebrews 10:25 is a rule. There are exceptions which one determines by the Scriptures (Matt. 5:23, 24).
4. The questions in this section cannot be answered by anyone except the brother who opposes the position set forth in this article. The question is based on a "no" answer to query three immediately above, but the answer was "yes," so this question is rendered void.
Truth Magazine XXI: 17, pp. 267-268