By Mike Willis
In the May issue of Restoration Review, editor Leroy Garrett continued his examination of abuses of the scripture by considering Heb. 10:25. If Brother Garrett contributed anything new to interpreting Heb. 10:25, I missed it. He said that he believed that the day of Heb. 10:25 was the day of the destruction of Jerusalem, a position with which I have been familiar all of my preaching life. Really, the editor of Restoration Review used this passage as another occasion to spread his subversive, anti-establishment propaganda. I have not used these adjectives lightly to describe Brother Garrett’s writings. I want you to read his quotations to see the subversive and anti-establishment tendencies in the article.
First, Garrett revealed the “abuse” of Heb. 10:25.
“It is presumed that believers are under absolute and arbitrary obligation to be present at all meetings of their congregation, and this verse is the text to prove it. `Forsaking the assembly’ is thus equated with `missing church; which is often described as one of the necessary five acts of public worship. If one gets to the assembly each time the doors open, he can check off item number one: he has assembled. He is to proceed to the other four. We are told that this is what Heb.10:25 is talking about” (p. 82).
Having thoroughly blended truth and error to construct a mental picture of his opponent’s position, Garrett is now ready to destroy his fabricated straw man. Actually, Garrett believes we have a responsibility to be present as much as is possible, even as, I do, but he does not believe that it is because Heb. 10:25 demands it.
“As for the Lord’s day assembly, as well as other meetings a congregation decides to have, it goes without saying that every member should respond responsibly to them all” (p. 87).
Garrett emphasizes that the reason one misses is because he no longer loves Jesus. We would agree with him, as most of us have preached for years, that forsaking the assembly is a symptom of a spiritual sickness. However, whereas Garrett does not believe that Heb. 10:25 says anything at all to the brother who completely forsakes the assembly, I believe that it does. Garrett said,
“As for the brother who has `quit church’ and no longer seems to love Jesus or his fellow disciples, I can’t see that the writer of Heb. 10:25 has the likes of such ones in mind at all in what he says. But it might in some way be made to apply to such. But the problem with such fallen brethren is not that they have `forsaken the assembly,’ but that they no longer love the Lord” (p. 87 ).
There is some truth that needs to be agreed with and some error in this which needs to be exposed. To illustrate, if a man stole some money, he stole it because he does not sufficiently love Jesus. Nevertheless, the passages which condemn stealing are not irrelevant to his condition. Whereas the problem with the brother who forsakes the assembly is that he does not love Jesus as he should, the passages which deal with worshiping collectively are not totally irrelevant to his needs.
So much for Garrett’s theologically significant comments on Heb. 10:25. The greater part of his article is an attempt to undermine any confidence in the present manner we have of worshiping God. Read his comments for yourself:
“Parents will impose upon their young children by taking them to several adult-oriented services every week, some of them being at night, forcing the children to sleep or play their way through the hours-lest they ‘forsake the assembly.’ Brethren will leave company at home, people that they might well win to the Lord through tender loving care, in order to be in their pew when the doors open even on a Sunday or Wednesday evening. To do otherwise would be forsaking the assembly. Forsaking mind you! To miss church now and again, however important one’s mission might be, Is to forsake the assembly.
“Some of our hard-working brothers and sisters might do the right thing by staying home with their families, by going to bed early, or by visiting grandmother or a neighbor, rather than to be going to church all the time. But the System has latched on to Heb. 10:25 as a proof text, and it is made to mean that ‘you’ve got to be here’ or you are sinning by forsaking the assembly. Brethren will drag themselves to meeting even with splitting headaches (‘You’d go to work if you didn’t feel well, wouldn’t you?’has been part of the harangue), so as not to violate what he has been led to believe is a mandate-be there or you are forsaking!” (p. 82).
“But many brethren insist that the assembly ‘cannot be forsaken’ for any reason within one’s control, physical incapacitation being the only excuse. The working man might also be excused for missing Sunday a.m., If he Is present for the evening service and breaks bread then, which has given rise to our second serving of the Supper. If the ox is to a ditch or a neighbor is in need, they will just have to wait until after the assembly. You’ll hear brethren say that they would not ‘forsake the assembly’ in order to stop and render aid to victims of a car wreck. They wouldn’t leave the Lord waiting like that! Such illustrates how we abuse the scriptures so as to uphold a System that puts rules before persons, the very thing that Jesus sought to correct in the religion of the Pharisees” (p. 83).
(Who among us has ever taken the position, Brother Garrett, that it would be sinful to miss services to take care of emergencies? I want to see your documentation of “many brethren” – who state that-that the System-whatever that is-has officially taken this position.)
“Our folk are kept so busy ‘going to church’ that they hardly have time to serve the Lord. When I suggest to our leaders that we discard the Sunday evening service and make it an evening of visitation or studies in various homes, so as to extend our outreach. I am told that the brethren won’t do that. So we go right on corralling them once more, Imposing still more sermons on them, which no one pays much attention to. While we should assemble to worship and scatter to preach, we are always assembling and never scattering.
“It is a common scene in our churches on a Sunday or Wednesday evening to see a young couple gathering up their sleepy children following one more boring experience. The mother has one child in her arms, the father another one across his shoulder, while the six-year-old is tugged out the aisle on his daddy’s hand, yawning every step of the way-the child that is: That is the closing scene. The opening scene is the parents trying to keep the kids quiet and out of each other’s hair. Finally that blessed moment comes when they fall asleep. It is all a rather oppressive scene. But then there is Heb.10:25.
“It is a common scene in our churches on a Sunday or Wedcould say to such families: ‘These Sunday and Wednesday evening gatherings are for the convenience of some of our people, but with your little ones it might not be the case with you. Why don’t you have your own church with them at home? Read some stories to them that they would enjoy together, and then put them to bed early. Then you two might have an hour or so of quiet together and be better ready for work the next day.” But to say such, which of course makes all the sense in the world, he has to become free from the assault of Heb. 10:25. You can’t advise a family to ‘forsake the assembly,’ even if it would be a blessing to them” (pp. 84-85).
(If that advice would be a blessing on Sunday night and Wednesday nights, why would it not also be a blessing for Sunday morning as well?)
Fellow preachers’and elders, how many of the ones who miss the services at the congregation with which you labor are missing because they are teaching someone the gospel, helping the person who is in need, or in some other way engaged in the service of God? When you do say something concerning attendance, are you speaking to this category of people-those who otherwise would have been present but were called away by a last minute emergency or those who miss Wednesday evening Bible study to teach a home Bible study? We all know to whom you are preaching! Our sermons are aimed at the man who could care less whether the church even. assembles on Sunday or Wednesday evening; we are trying to persuade the man who had rather sit at home and watch TV on these nights rather than to assemble with the saints that he is spiritually sick and in need of the Great Physician. But, why would Garrett seek to misrepresent the real problem?
Garrett is an opportunist; he is trying to lead the churches of Christ into new roads and away from the old paths. In order to do that, he must use every subversive tactic he can find to generate discontentedness in the churches. Just as the Communists pit one social force against another to stir up social anarchy and then tell the people that they know how to re-establish law and order if they will just accept communistic government, so also Garrett and his collegue Carl Ketcherside are presently trying to stir up spiritual anarchy in the church as they also promise the people that they know how to find spiritual order if they will but follow them. Our brethren need to be told about such factionalists who, paradoxically, disguise themselves as a “unity movement.”
Truth Magazine XIX: 44, pp. 696-697
September 18, 1975