"It sounds to me that you are encouraging anarchy with your attacks upon the church. You seem to be saying that a Christian doesn't have the responsibility to assemble with the saints for the purpose of worshipping God, studying the scriptures, giving of his means to support with work, etc. Whatever happened to Hebrews 10:25; John 4:24; and 2 Tim. 2:15, all of which tell us to do these very things?" - Florida
Our inquirer identifies himself as "a member of the Church of Christ" and uses the same line of argument that we have heard, and I have used personally, through the years (until I learned better). Preachers have made these points in order to keep their "members" obligated to attend their assemblies and to support the "work of the church" with their money. Most of the contributions go to pay the preachers and to pay off the huge debt of the properties. They need the numbers and they need the money, so they assemble their scriptures to make it sound authentic and hurl their thunderbolts from the pulpit, oh, so convincingly. The "members" are intimidated -these things must be so, after all, they have quoted scriptures to back up the arguments. And, very few people think to check out the context to see if the arguments are valid.
In many cases, the success of the preacher is measured by how many assemble on a regular basis (don't forget to count the babies), and how much the contribution runs every Sunday. If you have ever been with a bunch of preachers and listened to them talk, you know that is true. The first two questions asked of one another are "How many are attending where you preach?", and "How much is the contribution running?" The numbers are important. If the preacher has been successful in building up the numbers and increasing the cashflow, that goes on his resume when he applies for the next job, and there is a good possibility that the brethren will hire him on that basis.
I would like to make it clear that I am NOT attacking the church, if you mean "the people of God." I feel compelled to teach against the errors of men that have led to the formation of "the local church, institution, body politic, functional unit, organization" to which, they say,"one must belong, or be a member of, in order to be saved." Scriptures are twisted and perverted by those who try to defend this concept. Such is the case with the scriptures referred to by our brother. They are taken out of context, because, I suppose, they have certain key words and expressions that can be manipulated into a "strange doctrine." Our brethren are getting as bad as the Catholics and the Protestants about wrenching verses out of context and giving them meanings that the original writers never intended. Let us see if that isn't the case here.
"...let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh."
This scripture is oft-quoted by preachers to impress the brethren that they are not to miss a single service of the church to which they have enlisted as a member. If they are negligent in this "duty," they are judged sinful, and in many places, worthy of ex-communication. If brethren "attend every service," they are considered to be "faithful members of the church," which is understood to mean that God's approval has been earned and salvation is all but assured.
Many like to interpret "the day drawing nigh" as "Sunday," in order to bring the force of "attending the Worship Service" to bear upon the conscience of the believer. However, even Wednesday night "services" have been construed as "a responsibility before God, invoked by the general teaching of the passage." People are considered to have violated this scripture if they elect not to attend "Wednesday Night Bible Study."
The truth of the matter is that the inspired writer did not have our 20th Century, American cultured product of "The Church of Christ," or "Christian Church" (or any other denomination) in mind at all when he penned this great admonition. He was trying to stop the defection of Hebrew Christians, who threatened to return to Judaism.
Many of these Christians were forsaking Jesus as the Christ and returning to the Law of Moses. They were in danger of "neglect(ing) so great a salvation" (2:3); "falling away from the living God" (3:12-13); falling short of the Christian's "rest" (4:1); "crucify(ing) to themselves the Son of God afresh and put(ing) him to an open shame" (6:6); "fall(ing) into the hands of the living God" (10:31); and "shrink(ing) back into perdition" (10:39). The writer sets forth the Christ as superior to Moses and better qualified than any high priest on earth, his blood as far more advantageous than the blood of animals, and his covenant as incomparable to the first, which was not faultless.
After sounding the many warnings of the consequences of their defection, and after giving many reasons for staying true to the Son of God, the writer simply states in so many words, "You should stay faithful to your original profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ," (10:23). "Above all, you need each other for encouragement." "Provoke one another to love and good works" (10:24). "Do not forsake (as many are doing) getting together, in order that you might encourage each other to love more and to serve God through your good deeds" (10:25).
This was not a command to attend the "Main Street Church of Christ" everytime the doors open on the "church-building." These brethren were told to encourage each other and stop the defection back to Judaism. They could do this anywhere, anytime. They could get together in little groups, in houses, in barns, in catacombs, in forests, on the hillside. Remember, they did not have "church-buildings" as we know them today.
The meaning of Hebrews 10:23-25 is so clear when you rid yourself of the biased slant this passage has been given by the preachers, and see it in its true context.
"God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
The reference to John 4:24 by our brother, in context with "the responsibility to assemble with the saints for the purpose of worshipping God," indicates the extreme position that has developed in the Church of Christ, the Christian Church, etc., over the last fifty years. They have supplicated to some extent the mindset of the Catholics that "you assemble for the purpose of worshipping God."
In Catholicism, the building is the "house of God," built in honor of Him and with money out of his treasury, and therefore, is "sacred." It is the "official" place of worship. Catholics are taught that when you enter the "sanctuary'' you are to remain reverently quiet, and you are not to even speak unless it is important that you do so. Casual talking to one another in the sacred holy place is discouraged. The emphasis is on "attending the worship service," not on "provoking one another to love and good works." The good Catholics sit in their pews and watch the officials go through the prescribed ceremony; one of them may deliver a sermon from the pulpit. The people may join in somewhere along the line in song and in prayer. They may even participate in the communion. When they are finished, they reverently bow to the altar and exit the building. They go home thinking that they have worshipped God as He intended. They are finished with worship for the week. That is Catholicism. This distorted view of worship developed over the first four centuries and has been practiced by the Catholic Church ever since.
Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a command by God for His children "to assemble in order to worship.'' Now think, and re-read what I said. Do you know of any passage of scripture that commands saints to assemble themselves together that they might worship God? No, you won't find one.
There are at least two reasons why you won't find that command. First, worshipping God is not limited to being in a specific place with a certain group. It is broader than that. Worship is service. When one commits to King Jesus, he becomes His servant, forever in the service of the King! That is what worship is all about. One should worship the Master everyday.
Also, God commanded us to meet periodically in order to "provoke one another to love and good works" (Heb. 10:24-25); to "proclaim the Lord's death til he come" (1 Cor. 11:26); to "teach," "encourage," and "edify" one another, even by song, and to "pray" for each other (1 Cor. 14:1-17).
God has placed the emphasis of "coming together" on our mutual edification. Man has distorted the teaching by placing the emphasis on "worshipping God." God doesn't need our one-hour "worship service." He did not command it. To think that we are doing our duty for the week by attending "church" one hour on Sunday is a mockery.
"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yea, though ye offer me your burnt-offerings and meal offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream" (Amos 5:21-24).
Notice, our brother refers to Jesus' statement in John 4:24 and thinks immediately of the assembling of the saints. He assumes that our Lord is pointing forward to some "local church" arrangement, which will become in the minds of the people the central place of worship. However, the context shows otherwise.
A point often overlooked is the one Jesus made in verse 22. He told the woman of Samaria, "The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father." These represented the central places of worship for the Samaritan and the Jew. Jesus is saying that in the age of the spiritual kingdom, there will be no central place of worship. The inference is that the true worshippers of God will worship Him anywhere and anytime, "in spirit and in truth."
Contrast this with the mindset of the teaching of the Church of Christ and the Christian Church today. They teach that the children of God must not try to worship Him anywhere but in a specially designated place, "the local church," and at the appointed times, usually, whenever the elder set them. If a small group decides to meet in their homes instead of the "official place," they are charged with "forsaking the assembling together." Pressure is brought to bear by the preacher and the elders to bring them in line. "We must keep the numbers looking good" to prove that we are successful. This was not the practice, nor the belief, of the New Testament church. Neither was it the intention of our Lord as indicated by the context of John 4.
2 Timothy 2:15
"Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth."
Notice again, our brother associates studying the word of God with the assembly. There is nothing wrong with a group of Christians getting together to study the word, but what has developed over the years is the mentality that you "go to Bible Study" to receive instructions from His word. It used to be that Christians studied their Bibles at home. They prepared their Bible class lessons at home. They don't do that anymore. The majority never "crack a Bible" at home - NEVER! They rely on the spoon-feeding they receive "at church."
Christians would be better off to meet in small groups in their homes and be responsible for teaching and encouraging each other. What is lacking in the large assemblies is participation, and without it interest wanes and finally dies! That is why there are so many dead churches around the country.
Another problem is that too much time is spent at the meeting house. Christians are required to be at all the "services" when they should be out talking to people about Jesus Christ. Think of the thousands of people who feel compelled to make every meeting of the church year after year, and who never find time to talk to someone about the salvation of their soul. Every time you turn around, you are required to attend another meeting of the church. People get "meetinged out!" They don't have any time or energy "to seek and to save the lost," which is the real "work of the church." But no - the preachers have to build their numbers!
The tragedy of it all is that the poor people are lulled into a false sense of complacency. They are taught that "if you are to be judged faithful to the Lord, you must attend all the services of the church." This has been pounded into their heads from childhood. Their salvation depends on their allegiance to the church. Faithful attendance is "imputed to them for righteousness." And, the unsuspecting people sit in the pew, spiritually shrivel up, and finally, die!
Read the context of 2 Timothy 2:15. Paul is instructing Timothy "to be careful in the way he presents himself to God, especially in the handling of His word." There is nothing here, nor in the context, that would remotely suggest "an assembly." But, we can't think, nor can we do anything, without "an assembly." That is the way we have been brainwashed. If someone took our "assembly" away from us, we wouldn't know how to behave ourselves. What would we do? How could we function as a Christian? How do you serve God without the "assembly?" We had better be finding out!
Editor's Note: The above is an excellent treatment of matters discussed. Dusty answered the questions and explained the passages in their context. Study carefully what he has presented. He deals with vital, basic matters.