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?
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.