Do We Have To Go To Church? – the text

This is a rather long post, but it seemed important to offer it here. 

The most common text used to get believers to attend regular Sunday worship is Hebrews 10:24-25:

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.   Hebrews 10:24-25(NKJV)

 

Let’s take a look at this passage.  First, I want to be very careful to stay true to the text and to the intent of the passage.  I recognize that I have a new grid through which I see the Scriptures and I have to be careful that I am not reading what I consider a grace message in a place where the Lord means something different.  If He is telling us that we ought to attend Sunday worship every Sunday, I want to know that.

  •  This is the letter to the Hebrews—that means the Jewish believers.  They are under serious persecution and are probably still struggling with the cultural changes of being connected to the Gentiles through Christ.  They are susceptible to deception by those who try to bring them back under the Law.  They are trying to understand how the Christian gospel fits with what they have been taught.  This is why the letter was written.

 

  •  There is strong agreement among Biblical scholars that this passage refers to the regular gathering of believers as believers.  In other words, this is not just a community gathering or a chance meeting.  This is what we would call “church.”  It is good and right that believers should gather to support and encourage each other.  (Somewhere along the way, “exhort” has become “preach at” instead of “encourage” as it was intended.  This is sad.  To exhort a friend meant to encourage, to walk alongside and support.)  If possible, Christians should find each other and be a blessing to each other.

 

  •  However, here’s where the interpretation comes in.  Are we talking about Sunday mornings or some other regular meeting?  If two believers see each other on the street and plan a gathering for Tuesday evening, would that fulfill the spirit of the passage?  We know that the Jews set aside the Sabbath for worship and we know that some believers gathered in some communities on the “first day of the week” for worship.  Is this the only format that is taught in our passage? 

 

  •  One of my general rules of interpretation is that God could be as specific as He wanted in His Word.  There are very specific commands, detailed instructions on rituals and behavior, in the Old Testament.  So, if He is not specific, I think He intends to give us some leeway.  I know this is uncomfortable for the legalists, but the truth is that God could have given us intricate details for anything He wanted.  He could have told us exactly how long a woman’s hair should be; exactly how much money New Testament believers should give to the church; exactly what the governing structure of a church should be; and exactly when and where and how we should worship.  Since He didn’t give us these details, we must be free to seek His leading on a more personal level. 

 

  •  So I think our passage is intended to bring believers together. These Hebrews may have been frightened of gathering because of the persecution.  They may have been concerned about gathering with Gentiles.  They may simply have been confused about how to live their relationship with Jesus because everything was corporate before and now their faith was personal.  Or maybe their community was so segmented that they couldn’t imagine getting together with people they didn’t really know.  Whatever the reason(s), they had to be told to get together with other believers.

 

  •  Also, this is a message for the Christian community, not so much for individuals.  The Christians should come together to encourage each other.  This is not meant to be a mandate for every believer and every Sunday.  I think that is a misuse of the passage.  In fact, they should especially consider this because “the day” is approaching.  What day?  Well, again we don’t have a specific, but it is fair to suggest that this is the Day of the Lord, the day when all believers will be brought together forever.  You see, in spite of what some may think and teach, we will all be one big happy family in Heaven.  Skin colors, nationalities, social class, doctrinal positions—none of these will matter in that day.  The only thing that will matter is that we come trusting Jesus alone.  In Him we will have a unity we have never experienced here.  So the message in our passage is about becoming that community, in a small and precious sense, here and now. 

 

  • Would it be good for all believers to be and feel part of that community?  Of course!  But there are a couple of things to consider.  First, all believers are a part of that community.  Just because they don’t attend church, for whatever reason, doesn’t change the fact of their place in the kingdom.  Second, instead of trying to convince every believer to come to church, church leaders should set the goal of making their congregation a place of welcome and grace.  I think all believers should be a part of a grace-filled church.  The only problem is that there are very few of those churches out there.

 

  • Sometimes it is helpful for us to look for wisdom in other areas.  The Lord tells us to give.  How?  Generously and without grudging obligation.  Maybe that’s how we should look at church attendance.  We should gather with other believers joyfully and without feeling a negative obligation.  We should come together because we want to.  Husbands and wives are to be together physically.  However, the Lord makes allowance for healing times and for special times when the Lord is working in the life of one or the other.  Maybe there is a place for setting aside the “gathering of ourselves together” for worship so that we can have a time of healing and/or drawing near to the Lord.

Bottom line for pastors:  Tell the preacher that he could use this passage to encourage the believers of a community to come together in Jesus’ name to love and encourage each other.  Tell him that he really shouldn’t use it to demand that you come to church at his church every Sunday. 

Rather than trying to beat believers over the head with a Bible passage, pastors could try to get to the real question: Why do you feel unwelcome?   What is it about church that makes you afraid or feel inferior or put off?  The answers to these questions might change what happens at the church and might actually minister to the heart of the person who doesn’t feel like attending. 

Bottom line for you:  Go to church—or not.  Just do what Jesus leads you to do.  It’s about you and Him, after all.  Yes, others are a part of Him, but let Him lead you to others.  Ask Him to show you safe and kind people with whom you can share love.  It may be a church you have never considered “good enough” doctrinally.  It may be a home fellowship.  It may even be an online community.  Just follow Him and let others do the same.

(Oh, and remember that Christians are not perfect.  In their flesh they aren’t even good.  That’s why they needed a Savior.  Don’t expect more than they can give.)

Your comments are welcome!

dave@gracefortheheart.org

8 Comments

Filed under Church, grace, Legalism

8 responses to “Do We Have To Go To Church? – the text

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your general principle of interpretaion: “that God could be as specific as He wanted in His Word… So, if He is not specific, I think He intends to give us some leeway.” I know it sounds so basic and obvious, but in my interpretaion of Scripture and teachers I listened to, I missed it. I was trying to make a command out of something that wasn’t there. Thanks for the much needed revelation!

  2. graceandgiggles

    Thank you Dave! This was an awesome post! Do you want to know what I expected next? A “Grace but” explanation. So, thank you! Have a wonderful weekend!

  3. Kathy F.

    Excellent. Lots of food for thought. Thank you for taking the time to post all of this.

  4. Reblogged this on Surviving Extreme Trauma and commented:
    Wow!! This post I am reblogging, written by Pastor Dave Orrison on Grace for my Heart, is so encouraging!

    My husband and I both have PTSD… which is a real, physical brain injury caused by overwhelming trauma. In other words, it isn’t just “in our heads.” It isn’t something we can just think or pray or “forgive and forget” our way out of.

    In fact, modern brain imaging technologies have found that the structure and function of the brain is profoundly changed by extreme trauma, in both humans and animals.

    The good news is that brain imaging technologies have also discovered that the injured brain can heal… given enough time and, especially, given the right kind of help in a safe, nurturing environment. My husband has come a long way in his healing since his combat experience during the Vietnam war. I, too, have grown and healed enormously in the years since my multiple traumas.

    However, we are not “all better.” We still struggle with ordinary life at times. Much of the time. And as a result, although we both love to go to church, we miss more Sundays than we make.

    For this and other reasons having to do with our PTSD, we often feel like “second class Christians.” But we aren’t, are we? The Lord’s Grace is sufficient even for us!!

    Comments are closed here, please visit the original blog. This is my all-time favorite blog, by the way, which is why I am now reading it straight through from the beginning. 🙂

  5. The assembly or ekklesia is a gathering of called out people who are met together for the particular purposes of that assembly. In this case, it is the Christian assembly, the followers/disciples of Christ, and it is an encouragement which the writer sets forth. That encouragement is enlarged, when we consider the description of the assembly given in Hebs.12:22ff., namely, “you are come to Mount Sion/Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (could it be that the heavenly Jerusalem is the same as that witnessed in Rev.21:2 symbolically described in the verses that follow), and to an innumerable company of angels. to the general assembly and church of the first born (note how every member is recognized by the prominent Jewish title from the Old Testament as the First Born, the person who receives the lion’s share of the inheritance, upon whom devolves the position of leadership and influence, the priestly leader of the family, etc.), which are written in heaven (a most encouraging word, the likes of which were never heard on the Western Ranges), and to God the Judge of all (here the Judge can be met and one can discuss one’s case with Him in His chambers and resolve it there), and to the spirits of just men made perfect or having been made perfect – in the view of God, though the reality is actually in the process of coming to pass), and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling (here we have the help our Lord and Savior with a particular view to His atoning and redemptive work with reference to the sinfulness that was purged by the priests in the OT sprinkling the sacrificial blood on the ones needing cleansing)(just think of getting to meet god the Judge with Jesus as your mediator to help with any problem you might have in the way of sin)., that speaks better things than that of Abel (Abel’s blood was innocent, but it spoke of having been shed by murder, here the blood of sprinkling is also an innocent blood, but in this case, it has power to forgive the murderer)
    Paul addresses the like situation again in Philippians, when he compares the church to a colony of heaven like unto the Roman city of Philippi, where the same laws, etc. obtained that ruled in Rome. Now stop and think: You are going to a city, a colony of Heaven, yea, to Heaven itself being manifested on earth {despite the abuses by those who have come in from the outside}, and you will find there what you desire and for which you eagerly look, namely, fellowship of the highest and most ennobling kind, the kind that enables and empowers you to deal with any situation, including evil traumas, etc. Even if others do not get such from the assembly (remember Judas, the false brethren, etc.), you can, because the Lord is there dispensing judgments and resolutions, depending on the desire and need of those thus assembled. Imagine going to Heaven itself, and remember Heaven can appear in many forms and the godly influence can bear witness to that meeting, e.g., Moody on Boston Commons, “the birds never sang sweeter nor the sky never looked bluer,”(from memory and not so good) or as my grandfather use to say of Nimmons, Arkansas after his turn to the Lord, “It is the Garden Spot of the World.” I think it was the new eyes or glasses which he had received from the Lord..
    The sufferings of this present age are not to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed. The traumas are made to melt in the fiery trial and run together with the grace extended to produce a beautiful part of Heaven.

    • My husband and I have had some wonderful healing experiences in church. We have also experienced some very hurtful judgments and condemnation in some churches. It seems that a large number of Christians believe that being “in Christ” means you cannot have post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or any other “mental illness.”

      The book WHY DO CHRISTIANS SHOOT THEIR WOUNDED?: Helping (Not Hurting) Those with Emotional Difficulties by Dwight L. Carlson, MD, explains the prevailing Christian attitude very well.

      I know that my husband’s and my PTSD will be fully healed when we get to heaven, along with his diabetes, my hereditary hemochromatosis, his cardiac problems, and my degenerative disc disease. But just as being a Christian and going to church does not automatically cure our physical ailments, our PTSD (which has been proven to be a real, physical brain injury by brain imaging technologies), is something we continue to live with, despite being sincere Christ followers and going to church as much as we are able.

      Although my husband and I are not yet 100% cured of our respective PTSD issues, God’s grace is absolutely sufficient for us, just as it was for the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Meanwhile, we continue to work on our healing almost every day, as we continue to grow daily in the wonderful loving grace of our Savior and Lord, Christ Jesus.

      My husband and I have come a long way in our healing journey. Truly, the difference is like night and day for both of us. Since my husband went through an intensive, in-house PTSD program at the VA hospital in Topeka, Kansas, back in 2005, he has been a completely different man. A truly Christ-like man!

      As for me, when I was at my worst, my mind was completely shattered. I was so profoundly broken that I was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia at the age of fourteen and put in a state insane asylum. The year was 1967, more than a decade before Post Traumatic Stress Disorder became an official diagnostic label.

      The difference between my developmental complex PTSD at its worst and my PTSD today is truly almost miraculous. Although I still live with some debilitating PTSD symptoms, I am thankful beyond words for the healing I have been given thus far.

      Indeed, I count it a miracle that I was even able to give my heart and my life back to Christ at the age of fifty, almost thirteen years ago. You see, my father was a minister. He stood in the pulpit and preached twice a week throughout much of my childhood. He also tried to sexually abuse me — I fought him off — and he did sexually abuse my younger sister. When I was preschool age, my dad stopped the car on the Oakland Bay Bridge, carried me over to the railing, and told me he was going to throw me off and that I would die. Do you know how far a drop it was to the water? A boat going under the bridge at the time looked like a toy. As my father held me over the railing, chanting that he was going to throw me off, I went completely numb. It was like I was dead already.

      A few years later, my dad did the same thing to a younger sister. He held her over the side of the top of a four story parking garage, chanting that he was going to drop her, while her twin and I screamed and begged him not to hurt our sister, as we tried with all our puny strength to pull her back to safety.

      When I was twelve my preacher father came so close to murdering my mother that I thought she was dead. I went deaf from the horror of it. Then my hearing snapped back “on” when I discovered my mom was still alive. My dad was arrested, and with no money coming in, our car and home was repossessed. We soon ran out of food. Not knowing that there was such a thing as welfare in this country, I wondered how long it was going to take us all to starve to death, like the pitiful children I had seen in Save the Children ads.

      Meanwhile, my mother was threatening suicide in front of me and my four little sisters and brothers on an almost daily basis. Then my “born again” Bible thumping mother tried to gas us all to death while we slept in our beds. When that failed, my mom was going to drive us all over the side of a cliff. She told me she had the right to kill us because she had brought us all into the world. She said she would be doing us a favor, because life is so hard. My mother became furious with me when I did not agree.

      And these are only a few of many horrific abuses my “Christian” mother has done. She told me that my first husband had every right to beat me, because God made the husband to be the head of his wife….

      So you see, going to church and being with “Christians” is not always a healing experience.

      By the way, “Linda Lee” is my pen name, not my real name. Which means that when I talk about the abuses of my parents and my former husband, I am not revealing their true identity.

      I have written this in a prayerful attitude of truth and love, primarily for the benefit of other readers who may have experienced similar woundings in this fallen world. Truly, we are not in heaven yet.

      In Christ’s Love,
      Linda Lee

      PS: Dr. Willingham, I hope you don’t mind me pointing out that paragraphs can make a big wall of text much easier to read and comprehend. God bless.

      • Oops… it is very important to me that when I tell my story, I do not lie or exaggerate in any way. Especially since I have been accused of making my trauma history up, by people who’ve known my parents and can’t believe they were ever so crazy and abusive behind closed doors.

        Even my own siblings don’t believe a lot of it, probably because they don’t want to believe it (which is understandable), and also because they either weren’t born yet or were much too young to fully comprehend or remember the traumas. (I was an only child until the year I turned seven, when my baby twin sisters were born. My mother had a total of seven children; the youngest was born when I was eighteen. And she is “positive” that our mother never tried to gas us all to death.)

        So because I hate to lie, and I hate being called a liar, I strive to be scrupulously honest at all times, particularly in what I put down in writing. That way, at least *I* can feel okay, knowing that what I’ve said is true, even if some people don’t believe me.

        But in my last comment I stated: “my mother was threatening suicide in front of me and my four little sisters and brothers on an almost daily basis…” (talking about events that happened when I was twelve and the four younger siblings then living ranged from a year and a half to five years old).

        I’m sorry, but that statement is incorrect. While I was, most definitely, terrified on a daily basis during that time that my mother might commit suicide, she probably only threatened to do so on a weekly basis, if that often. She would randomly get upset and grab a butcher knife out of the kitchen and stand in front of us kids, screaming that she was going to stab herself, or she would grab a handful of pills.

        So yeah, it didn’t happen on daily basis by any means, but it happened often, and I was very afraid, every single day, during that time.

        I am so sorry

  6. Oops again, the last sentence, “I am so sorry” was meant to be the beginning of my first sentence, when I decided to delete it and write “Oops” instead. But apparently I didn’t delete it, i wrote above it.

    Eek, I need to go eat lunch now. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s