Dec 16, 2011

Don’t Forsake Regular Church Attendance

This was a Facebook note written by a friend, André van der Merwe. The original note, with comments can be found here .

Yes, I'm writing again. My new book (will keep you posted on the progress) will be called: "I Love JESUS, But I've Stopped Attending Church." Here is one of the chapters. Enjoy!!


Nope, actually that’s not what it says, so let’s quickly disarm this bomb. Hebrews 10:25 has to be one of the most abused and warped scriptures in the entire Bible.

"…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." (Heb 10:25 MKJV)

We will look at two different interpretations here, the traditional interpretation and the proper interpretation, which takes into account the verses around this verse as well as references to other scriptures in the Bible. As we will see, even the traditional interpretation doesn’t refer to the spectator affair that secular church meetings have evolved into.

The Traditional Interpretation

This verse has been used for centuries to warn believers against the danger of abstaining from attending regular church meetings. It’s not surprising to see why though, since nearly every commentary available on the internet interprets this verse in the sense that it is referring to regular church or worship meeting attendance. Here are some examples:

The Berkely Version of the New Testament says: "... not neglecting our own church meeting."

J.B. Phillips writes in The New Testament in Modern English: "And let us not hold aloof from
our church meetings."

The Living Bible states: "Let us not neglect our church meetings..."

The Ryrie Study Bible writes: “The term "assembling" describes "the gathering of Christians
for worship and edification," and "the Day" describes "the day... of Christ's coming.”

Clarke continues to warn against deserting regular Church attendance, for whatever reason:

"For fear of persecution, it seems as if some had deserted these meetings... They had given up these strengthening and instructive means, and the others were in danger of following their example... Those who relinquish Christian communion are in a backsliding state; those who backslide are in danger of apostasy..."

The main problem with this interpretation is that is completely neglects the part of the verse that says “…exhorting one another…”

In 1 Corinthians 14 we have a wonderful picture of what a first century church meeting looked like. Everybody contributed, bringing prophesy, tongues, songs and teachings to the meeting. In fact, so eager were the people to share what God has shown to each of them that Paul had to lay down some guidelines for them to be able to continue doing it in an edifying manner.

How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. (1 Cor 14:26 KJVA)

The meetings normally brimmed over with excitement, joy, fascinating dialogues, diverse tongues and interpretations thereof, various teachings and the gifts of the Spirit flowing all over the place! It was spontaneous, unpredictable and somewhat offensive to newcomers and outsiders, but the believers themselves knew exactly what they were doing: They were allowing God to be Himself in their midst! It would have been an idea far removed from their minds to have only one single person stand up for an hour and deliver a prepared sermon, let alone pay him for doing it!

So even when interpreting this verse in the traditional manner, as thought it was referring to an actual church meeting, the conventional argument does not hold water.

…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:25 MKJV)

The first clue ought to be that this verse doesn’t start with a capital letter, which means that it has to be read in conjunction with the preceding verses to be able to understand the context, especially if we remember that the original manuscripts didn’t have any verse numbers in them. Let’s take a brief look at the whole chapter.

Hebrews 10 - The Victory of the Cross!

Hebrews 10 is one of the most captivating chapters in the entire Bible. It is a crystal clear depiction of the believer’s absolute, unfaltering right standing with God, based on what Jesus accomplished at the cross. It exemplifies the undisputable superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant Law: a system which was upheld by the ritual slaughtering and blood sprinkling of animals. These sacrifices only managed to postpone the punishment of sins for another year - it never actually cleansed the people from their sins (v. 1-4).

It also debunks the popular “Confess your sins to be forgiven” doctrines by blatantly stating that once forgiven, a believer would have no more consciousness of sin (v. 2).

From verse 10 onwards it portrays how the once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ has cleansed all who believe in Him from their sins forever and describes the new and better way of approaching God under the New Covenant, namely with boldness and full assurance of faith, confident that the sacrifice of Christ accomplished everything that God intended it to - to deal a deathblow to sin and present unto Himself a blameless, completely sanctified bride. This confidence comes from faith in what Christ has done, and not from ourselves.

Later down in the chapter (v. 26-29) the writer of Hebrews outlines the folly of trying to return to the weak and beggarly elements of the Old Covenant temple and offering system for salvation:

26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful looking for judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He who despised Moses' Law died without mercy on the word of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy of punishment, the one who has trampled the Son of God, and who has counted the blood of the covenant with which he was sanctified an unholy thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:26-29 MKJV)

There were Hebrews (Jews) who lived strictly according to the Old Testament law system. Even when they heard the truth about the gospel, they didn’t want to believe it, because verse 26 says they “…received the knowledge of the truth…” and of course simply knowing about something doesn’t mean that we actually believe in it. Faith ≠ knowledge.

So the writer of Hebrews admonishes them by saying that if after hearing the truth of the gospel, they still decide to trample God’s New Covenant underfoot and choose to count the blood of bulls and goats as superior to the blood of Jesus, then there remains for them no further sacrifice for their sins. They are rejecting the only thing that can save them and are choosing to willfully commit the sin of unbelief in Christ!

Now in this context, let’s take a look at the verses surrounding our key verse:

The Proper Interpretation:

19 Therefore, brothers, having boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; 21 and having a 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 having been washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful who promised), 24 and let us consider one another to provoke to 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 you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:19-25 MKJV emphasis added)

Now in the midst of all this talk about the New Covenant, about having full assurance of our salvation and of not turning back to the Old Testament Law for our salvation, why would the writer throw in a line about church attendance? It simply doesn’t make sense. Let’s tackle these verses one by one…

From verse 19 the writer starts building up to a mighty crescendo, repeatedly emphasizing how we are now to have boldness, full assurance of faith and are to maintain utter confidence in God’s faithfulness to have cleansed us completely from all sin. God who promised us eternal life is faithful to fulfill His promise and grant us an everlasting inheritance. This is the profession faith that we should be holding fast onto (v. 23)

Since we receive the Holy Spirit at salvation, it is His responsibility to manifest His fruit through us and it becomes our privilege to be co-laborers with Christ and walk in the good works that God had prepared in advance for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). It is therefore natural for us to encourage each other to walk in the fullness of the Spirit, not necessarily by telling each other what to do, but by being living, breathing examples of the manifested life of Christ ourselves (v. 24). Actions speak louder than words. And now our key verse:

…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:25 MKJV)

The Greek word for “assembling” (episunagōgē) is only found in two verses in the entire Bible. A closer look at the other scripture that utilizes this word reveals that the context actually doesn’t refer to a church meeting at all:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (2 Thes 2:1-2 ESV, emphasis added)

Paul here encouraged the believers that because of the wonderful prospect of being gathered together (episunagōgē) unto Christ, they are not to be alarmed or frightened, which by implication means that they are to have boldness and full assurance of faith. This is exactly what the writer of Hebrews wrote. Note the similarities:

…our being gathered together to him… the day of the Lord… (2 Thes 2:1-2)

…the assembling of ourselves together... as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:25)

So the evidence seems to be pointing to the fact that Hebrews 10:25 could actually be a magnificent verse about the second coming (like the 2 Thessalonians verse), rather than referring to meeting together in a church building. The reality is however that most people have been so biased by what they’ve been told about this verse, that even in the face of clear evidence they would still doubtLet’s take a look at the three different parts that make up the word epi-sun-agōgē (pronounced in English as “ep-ee-soon-ag-o-gay”).

G1909: A primary preposition properly meaning superimposition (of time, place, order, etc.), as a relation of distribution [with the genitive case], that is, over, upon, etc.

In Greek the prefix epi is often added to words to emphasize them profoundly. Essentially it means the same as “super”, “ultimate” or “hyper”. Paul the apostle used it for example to describe how he would have been exceedingly sorrowful if his brother and fellow worker, Epaphroditus, had died.

For indeed he was sick, coming near death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon [epi] sorrow. (Phil 2:27 MKJV, annotation added)

It is also used in a word that describes Christ’s appearing, epiphaneia, which happens at the end of the age:

…that you keep the commandment without spot and without blame until the appearing [epiphaneia] of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Tim 6:14 MKJV, annotation added)

Our Greek word episunagōgē therefore means “ultimate-sun-agōgē“ or “final-sun-agōgē“ - now we need to find out what the last two parts mean.

G4962: A primary preposition denoting union; with or together (but much closer than G3326 or G3844), that is, by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition, etc.: - beside, with. In compounds it has similar applications, including completeness.

So now we have “ultimate-union-agōgē“ or “final-union-agōgē“ - let’s tackle the last part…

Reduplicated from G71; a bringing up, that is, mode of living: - manner of life.

So it appears that the meaning of agōgē can be found by looking at its root word, agō

G71: A primary verb; properly to lead; by implication to bring, drive, (reflexively) go, (specifically) pass (time), or (figuratively) induce: - be, bring (forth), carry, (let) go, keep, lead away, be open.
Having said all that, it’s clear that episunagōgē can be translated as follows:

Ultimate/Final-Union-Leading/Carrying (away)

Can it therefore be any clearer that Hebrews 10:25 it is not a warning against forsaking regular church meetings, but in fact a reference to our glorious final union and being carried away unto Christ Jesus?

The context becomes even clearer when we then read from verse 26 onwards how those who neglect to receive salvation and by implication are unable to have full assurance of faith, trample God’s grace underfoot and have no more sacrifice remaining for sin.

So with Hebrews 10:25 unarmed, in other words having removed the confusion surrounding this verse, not neglecting the fact that it is still good for believers to meet together, let’s have an open mind for exposing some of the other manmade traditions and practices that are found in today’s secular churches.

Link to original note:é-van-der-merwe/dont-forsake-regular-church-attendance/10150248154351725

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