Is the church a building or is it its people? Does the church have to assemble all its people at one place to be a church? Is a church a church because it assembles? Is assembly of the church the command of God? What does the Bible say about the church meeting together? The Bible does tell us and we need to search this out.
Hebrews 10:19-25, 19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 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.
These verses are a parenthetical thought in a larger context. What we are looking at today is the thought. The church, while in the world of sin, is separate from it because of our being in Christ. The church has a great mission that is large and expansive. This passage deals with a vital part of the whole mission. The focal point tends to land on the “assembling of ourselves together”. The command seems to be that the church is not to forsake this assembling. Considering the current situation where the whole country and many parts of the world asks all to not assemble for any reason, how does this work for the church?
Covid-19 has caused changes to everyone and everything including the church. The word “change” is an ugly word in most churches. Let a pastor start making changes and he may find that he is leaving the church for “health reasons;” the church is sick of him making changes. But we are having to make changes and there is little to nothing anyone can do about it.
The part that most seem to focus on is not being able to assemble. The question is: Are we violating God’s command to us? There are several points to consider. One point is that God said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” There are many people over two thousand years of church history that understood this when they could not meet in large groups. Were they not of the church? Were they violating Scripture? I do not believe so.
The word “forsaking” does not mean to miss a church service or not attending every time the doors are open. “Forsaking” means to leave behind, to desert it all together. Some may say if someone misses a service, they are one service closer to forsaking. This may well be true but they, at that point, have not forsaken the assembly.
The focus seems to be on the assembling in these Hebrews verses, however, the context is about why you are assembling and what you are to be doing. I believe this forced pause in “normal” is allowing us to focus once again on the purpose of this passage and its true importance.
In verse twenty-four we see why we are to assemble. We are told to “consider” one another. The word consider means to observe fully. As a church we are to observe fully all others in the church. This goes along with other biblical principles of putting others first. One of the reasons why we are to assemble is so that we can observe each other’s needs. In the past too many people come to church to have needs met but failed at meeting the needs of others.
The verse then says that when we “consider” we take what we have learned to “provoke” one another. In the English language we note this word as a negative. In the Greek language it had both a negative and a positive side. In this passage we see that there is an aspect of both. The positive side of the word means to bring incitement while the negative side of the word means to dispute.
First it tells us to provoke to love. The word love is the Greek word agape which is a godly love. On the positive side we should be inciting in people to love as God loves. On the negative side we are to dispute against anything that would cause one to not have the love of God in them. When we assemble, we should focus on where all stand in our godly love. God loves unconditionally, He loves in spite of, His love never fails. Every time we assemble, we should be fully conscious of provoking love.
Then we see we are to provoke to “good works.” These words literally mean valuable actions. On the positive side, when we assemble, we should be inciting people to do actions that are valuable or eternal. If there is no eternal value in the action, we should, on the negative side, be disputing those actions.
We know that when we assemble together, we should focus on learning the needs of others, encouraging them to love as God loves, and inciting eternal actions. Verse twenty-five then addresses the not “forsaking,” meaning if someone has left the assembling all together, they cannot be helped neither can they help others.
Verse twenty-five does go on to tell us one more thing we are to do when we assemble. We are to exhort one another. This word is the Greek word parakeleo, the same root word used for the Holy Spirit’s role in being our comforter. The word literally means “call near.” In the world of social distancing we are not talking about standing side by side. The idea is to bring someone along with you on the journey. Now we are learning about others’ needs, encouraging them to love as God loves, inciting works that are eternal and inviting others to walk with you on this journey.
This is why the church is to assemble and what we are to do when we assemble. The spiritual goal is NOT ATTENDANCE. You are not a spiritual giant because you attend every time the doors are open. If you are not doing the things we just saw you are failing. Attendance to a place is a means to be able to do these things. Right now, we are unable to attend. Does this mean we cease from doing these things? The answer is an emphatic NO. The number we can assemble with may be down to the “two or three gathered together in my name” but the actions should not cease.
We live in a time where God has provided technology that allows us to do something previous generations could not. I can use the phone, social media, and video meetings to “consider” another or learn what their needs are. I can send a message of encouragement to love as God loves. I can talk to another to encourage them to do good works that are eternal. What a great opportunity to have technology and for many the time to send messages of the gospel to others. People are scared and stir-crazy; we can give eternal hope. And, as a church, we can encourage others to walk with us through this. We continue to hear a phrase
“together, alone.” We may have to keep our distance, but the church is not a building, it is its people.
Were we as a church doing these things before when we were all together?
Or were we satisfied that we obeyed the command of God because we met together?
One more thought. In verse twenty-five we learn that we are to do this more as we see the coming of the Lord is nearer. The discussion has been that we are to meet more not less. This verse has been used to criticize churches who no longer have three to four services a week. The argument given is that we should be having more services. After studying this passage with regard to the thought given and then in the larger context, I see it differently. It is not that the church should assemble more, but that the church should be provoking love and works more, should be exhorting more. Yes, we should assemble but if assembly does not bring about more of the above, what is the point?
All of this will end. There will be a day in which the church will be able to assemble all together. What will be the change? Do not go back to the way it was. Change now. Because we can. Let us do what we should have been doing as a church so that when we come together again, we just keep doing it.
As you plan to re-open and assemble together once again just how to do that may be a bit overwhelming. Where do you start? We have developed a downloadable talking point document to help you walk through aspects of your church ministry – some that are obvious and others that are not. You can find those talking points here or on our download page.