Saturday, November 25, 2017

Do Not Forsake!

If you've been a Christian for a fair amount of time, it is more than likely that you've encountered someone, somewhere who has told you that they're a "Christian," but do not attend church. Although I've never taken a scientific survey (or an unscientific one, for that matter), I would dare say that the number one reason proffered for that lack is that "the church is full of hypocrites." Somehow, the person saying such a thing makes a determination, necessarily using himself as the standard, by which everyone else must be measured. Thus, since he believes himself to be the paragon of sincerity and honesty, everyone not measuring up is, by definition, a hypocrite.

But the fact is that those who forsake the assembly, for whatever reason (even if the reason is true), are failing to heed the command of God. And the inevitable consequence of such behavior is a falling into sin, since the mere fact that they are disobeying God's command makes them a habitual sinner. Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we are not to "forsake the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhort one another and so much the more as you see the day approaching." This is not an optional matter, but a commanded one. If we fail to heed the command, and we do so on a recurring and habitual manner, then the very next verse tell us "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin" (Hebrews 10:26). Bear in mind, too, that Jesus told his disciples that they are to obey the law, even if the ones teaching them are themselves hypocrites (Matthew 23:1-2).

So why assemble? Why is it so important for the people of God to assemble on a weekly basis? After all, if you hear some tell it, they can be much more "spiritual" by communing with nature and nature's God on their own, than they can with a group insincere people. And this is seen as even more acceptable in light of the previously mentioned hypocrisy which they are convinced is rampant in the church, any church! Aside from the fact that, as a friend recently told me, the church is a hospital for sinners in all sorts of conditions, I submit that there are three primary biblical reasons as to why we should assemble.

First of all, as I have alluded to already, God commands that we meet. The scripture in Hebrews tells us what we should not do in reference to this issue: do not forsake. But we find numerous instances where we are positively told that we need to assemble. In Ephesians 5:19, we are told to sing to each other in order to encourage one another. How can we sing to each other, if we are not meeting with one another? A similar thing is written in the letter to the Colossians where in 3:16 we are told that we are, once again, to sing and make melody and encourage one another and worship God, together! It is evident that the Christians were meeting on the first day of the week, since Paul tells them to put aside funds for charitable ends on that very day (1 Corinthians 16:1).

Secondly, it is essential that those of us who call ourselves Christians, hold each other accountable to remain grounded in the faith. If we fail to meet together, a tremendous burden is created, especially for our spiritual leaders who now must scan the landscape for each disjointed member of the body in order to encourage and admonish them. How will you know if Joe is struggling spiritually? Will you have the time and the inclination to call every single Christian to see how they're doing? You can understand the impossibility of such an endeavor. Each and every one of the letters written to the churches which God has included in our New Testament, were written to be read in the assembly. If there is no assembly, or if the assembly had somehow became optional, then how would that message get to each member? And sooner or later, those who stay away will begin to expand their definition of what is acceptable since they will feel themselves freed from the positive yoke they would otherwise have with the body. 

And thirdly, we have a powerful example by the apostles and early disciples of the importance of meeting and encouraging one another in a group setting. In the book of Acts, and especially chapter two, we are given a clear example of the early Christians and their meetings. In that chapter we are told that they met on a daily basis, to break bred to pray and to be taught the apostles' doctrine. These were not folks who were attempting to do the minimum necessary to remain in God's graces. That, unfortunately, seems to be the attitude that many have. They expend an enormous amount of time and energy attempting to find the least they can do and still remain a believer. But the early disciples would have none of that. At a time in world history when surviving meant working from sunup to sundown, Christians still found the time to meet and exhort and encourage one another. Theirs was not a "minimalist" Christianity.

In 1 John 1, the apostle reminds his readers that he and the other apostles were eye witnesses of the things that he has written. They were not merely hearers, but also “handled and touched” the Word of life. And in verse three, he tells us that he has written about these things so that we, believers of all eras, may have fellowship with God, the Son and with one another. This is not simple fellowship of proximity, as James Montgomery Boice called it—the idea that by merely being in the same room we somehow have fellowship. Rather, it is intense fellowship in which every member is connected to the other and cannot function properly without that synergy (1 Corinthians 12). Staying away from the assembly is the surest way to break that bond.

In light of the above—and many other reasons can be put forth—to say that we can choose not to meet is totally without biblical foundation. You may want to stay away from the assembly and use whatever excuse you can conjure up to that end. But don't deceive yourself into thinking that God will approve of your conduct. You can pray all the prayers you want, you can complain about the hypocrisy in the church, you can be as "spiritual" as the most spiritual person you know, but if you forsake the assembly you are in sin. And sin, for all its appeal, kills! (Romans 6:23)


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