“…Not Forsaking Our Own Assembling Together…” Part I

Over the next few postings I am going to post a rather lengthy email exchange between myself and a brother in Christ about the Scripture “…not forsaking our own assembling together…”in Hebrews 10:25. I am not doing it so people will choose sides and exacerbate the conflict with more angry rhetoric and I would ask any of you reading not to do that in your feedbacks. I am posting it because I want to hold the charges and my responses up to the light of the wider body. Maybe we all have something to learn here, not only about Scripture interpretation but also how to deal with our differences in what I hope are constructive ways.

In my view, this is a conversation on the cutting edge of defining our freedom in Christ and the motives we tap to help people discover the reality of Father’s family. I know others of you face this same kind of confrontation from people who do not understand how God works. At stake in this exchange is not just how we interpret one verse of Scripture, but how we see the new covenant. It seems to me that many people outside the system today are busy trying to create their own system that they hope will be more effective than the ones they left. I am always amazed and disappointed at how quickly we want to rob the freedom Jesus purchased for us and put people back under obligation as a means to new covenant life.

Most of the emails I get like this come from strangers angry at something I have written that threatens their system. This, however, is from someone I know well and whose home I’ve been in. He is a friend and brother. Thus when it began with a simple request that I clarify an article of mine that he had read, I had no idea what was really behind it. (His emails are in italics; my responses are inset in blue.)

I wanted to drop you a note and say that I read your article, Why I Don’t Go to Church Anymore (excerpted recently in a magazine). There was a stream of what you said that was confusing to me. You almost seem to be espousing an oxymoronic gathering-less church. When you say you are not aware of a Scripture that tells us to go to church, you overlook Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as is the habit of some.” It may not be what you meant, but it sounds like you were saying that gathering together is not scriptural or important. Did I misunderstand you?

Remember (what you read) is only a piece of an article and might be given to misinterpretation. That’s the problem with doing excerpts, I guess. I’m not sure what’s in there, though, that led you to that conclusion. But in the end I do think you are misunderstanding me. Believers gathering together is an important part of our life together, but in my view the relationships we carry all week long are also important, if not more so. Just that we gather together isn’t enough, and in my view the Hebrews passage is not dealing with meetings, but with the ‘assembling’ of our lives in relationships that support and encourage each other.

I’d never say meetings are unimportant or unscriptural, because I treasure them as God allows. But I wouldn’t say that Scripture mandates them either as the fulfillment of church life. I know many groups of believers all over the world who have ‘meetings’ only sporadically, but live in and out of each other’s lives all week long. Thus I’d also never say a gatherless-church is oxymoronic. The church IS in the world! It is a reality, not a club for us to build. We are joined to each other whether we meet gather together with great regularity, or whether we do it sporadically. Most people I know who focus on meetings as the expression form of church life, rarely have interactions with others during the week in any way that is meaningful. It is these personal relationships where I believe most discipleship, counseling and care go on.

We gather to express Gods’ life together, listen to him, and encourage each other. But ‘assembling’ our lives has to do with how we relate to the widest group of believers and in the intimate way we share our lives with those closest to us. That cannot all be done in any effective or enduring ways in gatherings alone.

Having not heard back from him, I thought that cleared things up. But a month later, the following email appeared in my inbox:

Your teaching on church is false teaching. By definition, “ekklesia” is a gathering. How else can the church be the church, if not gathered? Hebrews CLEARLY says that we should not forsake our assembling, and then you say they are not “mandated.” Your sentence, “I’d never say meetings are unimportant or unscriptural, because I treasure them as God allows. But I wouldn’t say that Scripture mandates them either” is double-speak, and confuses your hearers. I’m not sure where your confusion has entered in, but you are spreading your confusion to others and doing damage. You need prayer, brother. Can we get together some time soon?

And with it he also sent me a copy of an email sent to the magazine who had published the article:

I exhort you in the Lord to print and publish only worthy, not worthless words. You published what Wayne said AND teaches: the gathering is not “mandated.” This is false teaching, and directly contradicts scripture. Both author AND you are accountable to God for what you publish. Do not take the scriptural warnings about false teaching lightly. By publishing broadly, you increase your accountability to God.

I strongly encourage you to run your magazine’s contents (in their entirety) past a group of people functioning in the fivefold gifts who are willing to take responsibility before God for the words of the magazine. This is a time of foundation laying, and precision is extremely important in getting the foundation right.

In my next posting, I’ll give you my response.

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16 Comments
  1. Kevin Tupper September 2, 2004 at 6:28 pm

    I’m looking forward to the rest of this discussion.

    My wife and I are on vacation with some friends of ours and we had a very interesting discussion last night about body life.

    Both of us have recently left the same IC we’ve been attending as we’ve heard God calling us to a different direction then the church was headed and into a time of growth with him as he teaches us some of these things.

    We all admitted that the actual Sunday meeting is made up of mostly religous activities and filled with a majorit of religous people. Only God knows the reality of his life in them of course. Along with that, we also realized that within the IC were genuine relationships amongst believers on a journey and plenty of real ministry happening on a regular basis within those relationships.

    As we’ve pulled out from the IC, we’ve all seen a decrease in the opportunities of real ministry due to the fact that the relationships for the most part were based on us functioning in various ministry capacities and also facilitated by a Sunday gathering.

    We asked ourselves is God capable of developing those same relationships and life of ministry outside the confines of a religous organization. Of coure the answer was, "Yes!" What we’re discovering though is that those take time to form.

    I’ve been building a relationship with one of my neighbors over the last two years. A couple of months ago he confided in me regarding some deep pain in his life as he railed at God. I believe God’s grace and some of the things he’s been doing in my life enabled me to minister God’s love to him. That wouldn’t have happened in a religious setting because this person doesn’t really attend a church, or at least not one that would has life giving answers for the things he was going through. However, after two years of just being a friend and having plenty of non-religious time with him where he saw the outworking of my walk with God in a non-threatening way to himself or our relationship, he felt comfortable unloading to me.

    Not being part of regular religoius services has been a difficult thing for us to get used to at times. Sometimes we feel like a fish out of water. We’re trusting that God will continue to draw us close to him though and give us opportunities to minister his love to others and to meet with others and celebrate him and what he’s doing in all of us.

    One thing we’ve come to believe and share with those who have questioned us is that we’re not saying this is the "right" way and what they’re doing is the "wrong" way. We don’t have a "one size fits all" Father and the walk he has us on is exactly that, the walk he has us on.

    There may be a time in the future that he calls us back alongside the more instutional expressions of church life. If and when that happens, I believe we’ll be far more useful and fit for His kingdom. Our view of things will be much different.

    Blessings,

    Kevin

  2. Kevin Tupper September 2, 2004 at 6:33 pm

    I apologize for the type-o’s and lack of proof reading in my last comment. I thought that submit would give me a preview screen first. Oh well, live and learn!

    – Kevin

  3. Steve September 2, 2004 at 7:02 pm

    When all we have ever been taught about serving God is centered in a traditional church meeting setting it becomes very threatning to those who still have that mindset to have some one demonstate that life in Christ does indeed go on outside of their meetings. Our faith is not about meetings. It is about walking with our Father and our brothers in real life. It’s about obeying the commands to love Him and one another in truly meaningful ways that strengthen all parties. In doing so I think that we are much better witnesses for Him to unbelievers. Honestly, at this point in my life, I am more excited about reaching those outside than meeting with those inside. But that doesn’t decrease my excitement about getting together with my brothers and sisters in Christ, in fact it makes me look forward to those times even more than before.

  4. Kevin Tupper September 2, 2004 at 9:28 pm

    I’m looking forward to the rest of this discussion.

    My wife and I are on vacation with some friends of ours and we had a very interesting discussion last night about body life.

    Both of us have recently left the same IC we’ve been attending as we’ve heard God calling us to a different direction then the church was headed and into a time of growth with him as he teaches us some of these things.

    We all admitted that the actual Sunday meeting is made up of mostly religous activities and filled with a majorit of religous people. Only God knows the reality of his life in them of course. Along with that, we also realized that within the IC were genuine relationships amongst believers on a journey and plenty of real ministry happening on a regular basis within those relationships.

    As we’ve pulled out from the IC, we’ve all seen a decrease in the opportunities of real ministry due to the fact that the relationships for the most part were based on us functioning in various ministry capacities and also facilitated by a Sunday gathering.

    We asked ourselves is God capable of developing those same relationships and life of ministry outside the confines of a religous organization. Of coure the answer was, "Yes!" What we’re discovering though is that those take time to form.

    I’ve been building a relationship with one of my neighbors over the last two years. A couple of months ago he confided in me regarding some deep pain in his life as he railed at God. I believe God’s grace and some of the things he’s been doing in my life enabled me to minister God’s love to him. That wouldn’t have happened in a religious setting because this person doesn’t really attend a church, or at least not one that would has life giving answers for the things he was going through. However, after two years of just being a friend and having plenty of non-religious time with him where he saw the outworking of my walk with God in a non-threatening way to himself or our relationship, he felt comfortable unloading to me.

    Not being part of regular religoius services has been a difficult thing for us to get used to at times. Sometimes we feel like a fish out of water. We’re trusting that God will continue to draw us close to him though and give us opportunities to minister his love to others and to meet with others and celebrate him and what he’s doing in all of us.

    One thing we’ve come to believe and share with those who have questioned us is that we’re not saying this is the "right" way and what they’re doing is the "wrong" way. We don’t have a "one size fits all" Father and the walk he has us on is exactly that, the walk he has us on.

    There may be a time in the future that he calls us back alongside the more instutional expressions of church life. If and when that happens, I believe we’ll be far more useful and fit for His kingdom. Our view of things will be much different.

    Blessings,

    Kevin

  5. Kevin Tupper September 2, 2004 at 9:33 pm

    I apologize for the type-o’s and lack of proof reading in my last comment. I thought that submit would give me a preview screen first. Oh well, live and learn!

    – Kevin

  6. Steve September 2, 2004 at 10:02 pm

    When all we have ever been taught about serving God is centered in a traditional church meeting setting it becomes very threatning to those who still have that mindset to have some one demonstate that life in Christ does indeed go on outside of their meetings. Our faith is not about meetings. It is about walking with our Father and our brothers in real life. It’s about obeying the commands to love Him and one another in truly meaningful ways that strengthen all parties. In doing so I think that we are much better witnesses for Him to unbelievers. Honestly, at this point in my life, I am more excited about reaching those outside than meeting with those inside. But that doesn’t decrease my excitement about getting together with my brothers and sisters in Christ, in fact it makes me look forward to those times even more than before.

  7. Matt September 3, 2004 at 6:36 am

    All I know is that, since we stopped "going to church," we have found ourselves assembling much more often and with deeper, more honest results than ever before. We are really being friends with brothers and sisters in Christ and sharing our hearts. I’m not saying that never happens in a regular gathering, but I don’t see anything in that one scripture that mandates sitting in a building listening to someone talk. In fact, the verse in Hebrews is in the context of ecouraging one another, indicating an active, participatory lifestyle that is much better facilitated sometimes by daily body life. Now we are in one another’s homes and offices, sometimes with just a couple families, sometimes more, but always with the celebration of Christ’s amazing life in our midst. I am so thankful!

  8. Matt September 3, 2004 at 9:36 am

    All I know is that, since we stopped "going to church," we have found ourselves assembling much more often and with deeper, more honest results than ever before. We are really being friends with brothers and sisters in Christ and sharing our hearts. I’m not saying that never happens in a regular gathering, but I don’t see anything in that one scripture that mandates sitting in a building listening to someone talk. In fact, the verse in Hebrews is in the context of ecouraging one another, indicating an active, participatory lifestyle that is much better facilitated sometimes by daily body life. Now we are in one another’s homes and offices, sometimes with just a couple families, sometimes more, but always with the celebration of Christ’s amazing life in our midst. I am so thankful!

  9. Reonn.. September 4, 2004 at 2:09 am

    This is the oldest trick in the book, Wayne. Your friend has taken what you said, changed it to be something you did not say, and then attacked it as being wrong.

    He has ignored the last 6 words of your "mandates" sentence, which provide the context for your statement.

    Does Heb 10:25 mandate the gathering together of the church? Most clearly yes, which is your friend’s point. But does it mandate it AS THE FULFILMENT OF CHURCH LIFE? No it doesn’t, which is your point.

    These two points are not contradictory. They live happily side by side, both being true.

    Meetings are essential, indeed mandated, but they are not enough to get us to where we need to go in the Christian life.

    But then, what defines a meeting? Oops – that’s a different subject…

  10. Reonn.. September 4, 2004 at 5:09 am

    This is the oldest trick in the book, Wayne. Your friend has taken what you said, changed it to be something you did not say, and then attacked it as being wrong.

    He has ignored the last 6 words of your "mandates" sentence, which provide the context for your statement.

    Does Heb 10:25 mandate the gathering together of the church? Most clearly yes, which is your friend’s point. But does it mandate it AS THE FULFILMENT OF CHURCH LIFE? No it doesn’t, which is your point.

    These two points are not contradictory. They live happily side by side, both being true.

    Meetings are essential, indeed mandated, but they are not enough to get us to where we need to go in the Christian life.

    But then, what defines a meeting? Oops – that’s a different subject…

  11. eddie September 4, 2004 at 9:02 am

    I hear the voice of religion and a motivation of fear behind these remarks. Paul actually said those words in a completely different context, but I don’t want to split hairs here about doctrine – it’s nasty business, all too often.

    But what I found interesting and revealing is you friends letter to the magazine urging them to have all articles run past the "fivefold gifts" – as if the gifts contains the truth and not Jesus Christ. Translated your friend is saying: Only those of US who subscribe to the "fivefold gifts" have the right answer, and if you don’t bow to that, than whatever you say is heretical and not "scriptural."

    Something doesn’t sound right – right?

    Peace!

  12. eddie September 4, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    I hear the voice of religion and a motivation of fear behind these remarks. Paul actually said those words in a completely different context, but I don’t want to split hairs here about doctrine – it’s nasty business, all too often.

    But what I found interesting and revealing is you friends letter to the magazine urging them to have all articles run past the "fivefold gifts" – as if the gifts contains the truth and not Jesus Christ. Translated your friend is saying: Only those of US who subscribe to the "fivefold gifts" have the right answer, and if you don’t bow to that, than whatever you say is heretical and not "scriptural."

    Something doesn’t sound right – right?

    Peace!

  13. Messy Christian September 8, 2004 at 2:31 am

    My goodness. I thought the e-mail from Wayne’s friend was a little harsh. False teaching? I suppose sending that letter he sent to the magazine was courtesy on his part but I believe that Wayne’s friend missed the point of the article still.

    I’m part of the institutional church, but I respect what Wayne is trying to do. Seeing church as not a ‘once a week’ gathering but something that is part of our lives everyday. In my opinion, Wayne is trying to enable people to be more involved in each other’s lives in a real way where they can be church everyday. That’s actually quite difficult to do in real life and anyone trying to do so should be commended.

  14. Messy Christian September 8, 2004 at 5:31 am

    My goodness. I thought the e-mail from Wayne’s friend was a little harsh. False teaching? I suppose sending that letter he sent to the magazine was courtesy on his part but I believe that Wayne’s friend missed the point of the article still.

    I’m part of the institutional church, but I respect what Wayne is trying to do. Seeing church as not a ‘once a week’ gathering but something that is part of our lives everyday. In my opinion, Wayne is trying to enable people to be more involved in each other’s lives in a real way where they can be church everyday. That’s actually quite difficult to do in real life and anyone trying to do so should be commended.

  15. Don F April 19, 2009 at 8:54 am

    I think that two-thousand years of separation from the first century church and the doctrinal evolution (tradition) that has developed over the centuries skews our concept of what it means for the church to gather. Most seem to be hung up on the “mandate” to gather and forget the purpose for gathering. We are trapped with the idea that gathering is a prescheduled, pre-planned meeting where some or all must do something such as sing, preach, or pray. We emphasize forsake not but fail to emphasize the purpose. I Corinthian 14 talks about the the outcome of their gathering to be edifying. When quoting Hebrew 10:25 without considering that Hebrew 10:25 is not an isolated verse but is part of a greater thought with verse 23, 24.

    “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.”

    The purpose for gathering is to to encourage one another on in our walk with the Lord and one another. There is no certain number that must be gathered together at any given time in fact it said in the book of acts that the disciples meet in the temple and from house to house. Jesus himself said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The question is can, edification and encouragement take place if only two or three are gathered together. I think it is good for believers not just gather, but for their lives to be intertwined as a loving family caring and sharing with one another. I spent over 25 years in the institution, busy attending all of the functions and having not one single trusted friend. The problem were busy with the functions and had very little time to develop meaningful friendships. I also was involved with a house church. We met with routinely every Sunday. We rarely interacted throughout the week. I decide, I was going to drawback to just the family and learn to walk with Jesus Christ. He desires his children to interact. If I am walking with him, he will bring others of his children across my path. The ekklesia, his assembly, is him building his family in which we can share in his mutual love. I know this is wordy, but I wanted to share my heart. Thank you all for your patience.

  16. Don F April 19, 2009 at 11:54 am

    I think that two-thousand years of separation from the first century church and the doctrinal evolution (tradition) that has developed over the centuries skews our concept of what it means for the church to gather. Most seem to be hung up on the “mandate” to gather and forget the purpose for gathering. We are trapped with the idea that gathering is a prescheduled, pre-planned meeting where some or all must do something such as sing, preach, or pray. We emphasize forsake not but fail to emphasize the purpose. I Corinthian 14 talks about the the outcome of their gathering to be edifying. When quoting Hebrew 10:25 without considering that Hebrew 10:25 is not an isolated verse but is part of a greater thought with verse 23, 24.

    “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.”

    The purpose for gathering is to to encourage one another on in our walk with the Lord and one another. There is no certain number that must be gathered together at any given time in fact it said in the book of acts that the disciples meet in the temple and from house to house. Jesus himself said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The question is can, edification and encouragement take place if only two or three are gathered together. I think it is good for believers not just gather, but for their lives to be intertwined as a loving family caring and sharing with one another. I spent over 25 years in the institution, busy attending all of the functions and having not one single trusted friend. The problem were busy with the functions and had very little time to develop meaningful friendships. I also was involved with a house church. We met with routinely every Sunday. We rarely interacted throughout the week. I decide, I was going to drawback to just the family and learn to walk with Jesus Christ. He desires his children to interact. If I am walking with him, he will bring others of his children across my path. The ekklesia, his assembly, is him building his family in which we can share in his mutual love. I know this is wordy, but I wanted to share my heart. Thank you all for your patience.

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