Should Christians Withdraw from Those Who Forsake the Assembly?

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24–25 ESV).

The Meaning of Forsaking the Assembly

What does the scripture mean by forsake? The word “forsake” comes from the Greek word εγκαταλειπω, egkataleipo, which means to “1. leave behind, leave, allow to remain; 2. forsake, abandon, desert” (BDAG 54). As a person may practice sinning in stealing or reviling, the apostle instructed Christians not to practice the sin of forsaking by leaving this assembly behind.

Does this mean that someone who forsakes the assembly once is sinning, or is this a sin if this is a continual act? How many times must someone miss the assembly in order to be forsaking it? One intentional or neglectful disregard for the assembly is a sin. However, the problem was that these had made it “a habit,” a practiced behavior, and have left the assembly behind. Continuing in such behavior is forsaking the assembly. All the occurrences of egkataleipo in the Bible reveals that forsaking can include just a one time act and not just an abandonment of assembling (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34; Acts 2:27; Rom 9:29; 2 Cor 4:9; 2 Tim 4:10, 16; Heb 13:5). However, Christians are reasonable to infer that those who are sick, disabled, or caring for the disabled are not forsaking the assembly.

The Meaning of “the Assembly”

Which assembly are Christians not to forsake? A literal translation of Hebrews 10:25 is “the assembly of ourselves.” In Hebrews 10:25, assembly is not accurately translated “assembling” as a participle or “to meet” as an infinitive. This translation is misleading. This word is a noun neither a participle nor an infinitive; although, this word is translated in the NKJV as “assembling.”

“Assembly” is a meeting, a gathering, a congregation. The article “the” is in Hebrews 10:25 according to the NKJV but not in the ESV. The Greek article is present in this passage and operates to specify that this assembly is “the assembly” or “the gathering” from the Greek επισυναγωγη, episunagoge. This word only appears twice in the New Testament. The other use is for the day of gathering to the Lord ( 2 Thess 2:1). However, there are other references to “the assembly,” and that assembly has a specific meaning throughout the Christian Scriptures (1 Cor 11:22; 14:5; 12, 33, 34; Col 4:16; 2 Thess 1:4). The Scriptures refer to the assembly as a specific gathering where Christians met to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. This is the assembly that consisted of teaching, singing, and praying. Hebrews 10:25 is not referring to Bible studies, home devotionals, or any other gatherings and meetings of the congregation for other works. There is precedent for Christians meeting often together apart from the assembly (Acts 2:46; 20:20).

Can “the assembly” include a second meeting on the Lord’s Day? The Christians in Troas did meet in the evening but that does appear as their only meeting on that day (Acts 20:7–12). The assembly is when every member gathers together to partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:22–34; 14:23). The elders of the church should decide when the assembly occurs and how to attend to those who must work, cannot attend for disability, or are giving care. This may include another meeting to attend to others in the evening. The Scriptures do not present 2 or 3 assemblies for different parties, styles, and conveniences of the congregation, but there is one assembly where the whole congregation gathers together. However, this does not mean that Christians cannot meet more than once in a day.

The Consequences of Forsaking the Assembly

Should Christians withdraw from those who forsake the assembly? Those who forsake the assembly have withdraw from God, Christ, and the church — the body of Christ. When one forsakes the assembly, they are no longer communing with Christ (1 Cor 10:16). They are no longer walking in the light and no longer have the forgiveness of sins (1 John 1:6–2:6). They have withdrawn from the congregation and the church that Jesus bought with His blood. They are forsaking “stirring one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). These Christians who forsake the assembly are practicing sin.

If someone forsakes the assembly and took the Lord’s Supper in one’s own home, this is disobeying God’s instruction and precedent for partaking of the Lord’s Supper in the assembly (1 Cor 11:17–34). However, there may exist occasions when one may only have the option of partaking of the Lord’s Supper alone or not at all. Paul may have been in this position when at sea (Acts 27). Each Christian must decide for oneself. Those forsaking the assembly are also forsaking congregational singing, congregational prayers, and congregational edification received from teaching (1 Cor 14:3, 6, 12, 15, 18; 16:1–3; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). Christ built the church (Matt 16:18). The church is there for the edification of every Christian (1 Cor 14).

Disassociating from Those Who Sin

How can anyone withdraw from the withdrawn? Disassociating describes withdrawal. Christians are not to associate or eat with anyone who practices fornication, greediness, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, and extortion. The idea is to remove the evil and sin from the midst of the congregation. Paul commanded this withdrawal for when Christians gather in Jesus’s name (1 Cor 5). Likewise, Christians are to treat a person who personally offends and does not repent like a tax collector or heathen (Matt 18:17). Christians are also to avoid all divisive brethren and false teachers (Rom 16:17; Titus 3:10). Christians are to withdraw from those who walk in idleness and do not work to provide for themselves (2 Thess 3:6).

No scripture specifically refers to withdrawing from those who forsake the assembly. The only scripture that may apply to withdrawing from those who have left the church and forsake the assembly is 2 Thessalonians 3:14–15. However, this application is questionable because Paul wrote, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thess 3:14–15). According to the context, this obedience was for all Christians to work to eat.

If forsaking the assembly continues, a congregation is not wrong to note and no longer associate with them when they have good reason to believe that this will restore the lost. Withdrawal takes place first in the assembly and as much outside of it by not eating with the one who openly continues in sin (1 Cor 5). Christians may have friends who are forsaking the assembly and yet seeking to keep the friendship active. This is when Christians should consider withdrawing to restore the apostate. Someone may face a decision when the congregation withdraws from a sinning family member. If this is one’s spouse, that Christian must maintain the marriage unless the sin is fornication (1 Cor 7:11–15; cf. Matt 19:9). However, whatever the relationship, one may withdrawal spiritually including no longer praying together over meals or consenting to a sinful spouse leading the prayer.

Withdrawal is for the purpose to cause one to repent (1 Cor 5; 2 Cor 2:5–11; 2 Thess 3:14). Because Christians find it hard and may want to avoid withdrawal, these circumstances should compel Christians even more to restore souls (Gal 6:1; Jas 5:19–20).

Holy Father, help us to reach lost souls. In Christ’s name, Amen.

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, Church of Christ and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Should Christians Withdraw from Those Who Forsake the Assembly?

  1. Stacy,

    Besides your first sentence, you’re absolutely right. You apparently assume that this is talking about disfellowshiping the world and “sinners”. This is not the case. Christ through His words teaches the disassociation and noting of “Christians” who are openly practicing sin. The thief, fornicator, and drunk are associated in life and welcome to assemble and learn, but not the thieving “Christian”, the sexual immoral “Christian”, nor the drunkard “Christian” since Christ’s words teach to disassociate and note them for their own good. If that is legalism, then I’m legalist as much as Christ is a legalist and teaches legalism through His Apostles and prophets.

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  2. STACY says:

    hello, i have read most of the arguments herin and find most of it appalling in the least…. yes, i understand that we have to have guidelines and direction, but just about all this has been legalism. it is very clear in scripture that the kingdom of god is not meat and drink, BUT JOY, PEACE, AND RIGHEOUSNESS IN THE HOLY GHOST…. i am finding confusion, turmoil, strife, murmurings, and backbiting from most. we are to come out from among them and be separate, but that is in deed and action. that does not mean that we can not be associated with sinners, it means that we are not to participate in their sinful activities.. to make it plain and simple, this thing called chritianity is about living the life of christ and winning souls to the Lord. its about jesus and him crucified and when we begin to vary to far from that, legalism is not too far away. may the Lord give his light to all who read.

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  3. Jeff says:

    I can’t say if that’s the entirety of things I believe to be errors practiced in institutional churches. I would say the majority of my disagreement falls into four categories (pulled from the Wikipedia article on NI churches):

    – Objection to support from the church treasury for institutions such as Bible colleges or orphans’ homes

    – Objection to churches pooling their resources to perform a work under the oversight of a single congregation or outside institution

    – Objection to church relief to non-Christians (defined as those outside the Churches of Christ), especially as an evangelism tool

    – Objection to a church kitchen or “fellowship hall,” as well as other forms of church-sponsored social activity

    You can read the article for brief explanations of the arguments against each. In each of these cases, it comes down to the distinction between the individual and the congregation.

    Thanks for your patience.

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  4. Jeff,

    Thank you. After all this discussion, I understand very little between what is binding and what is not binding regarding the collection. My last comment was for further explanation of conclusions. I’d like to narrow down what are the errors that divide proposed by “non-institutional” churches. In brackets, I put what I understand to be specifics that are not errors.

    *Giving from the collection is not a “broad mandate”.
    *Do not give from the collection to non-Christians [outside of giving from the collection to parents to give to their children].
    *Do not give food, etc bought from the collection to non-Christians [outside of giving from the collection to the preacher, deacons, and Christians who can then give that gift to non-Christians].
    *Do not give from the collection to a body of Christian teachers [outside of giving from the collection to Christian parents and, or Christian students to pay for the body of teachers].
    *Do not give from the collection to a body of Christians searching for Christian homes for orphans [outside of giving from the collection to Christian foster parents and parents by adoption].
    *Do not give from the collection through Christians of another congregation to missionaries.
    *Fellowshiping in meals is not a “broad mandate”.
    *Do not fellowship in meals within the room or connecting rooms where the Assembly is done.
    *Do not use the collection to supply times of fellowship [outside of the Assembly and the worship thereof].

    Is this a correct presentation of all erring practices of “institutional” churches?

    I appreciate your continual discussion. I hope your next reply will conclude our discussion and aid me in my study of the Scriptures.

    God bless you in our Lord.

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  5. Jeff says:

    Scott, if it’s okay, I’m going to do a bit of pruning of tangents to get back to the main topic. (For example, it doesn’t really matter what either of us call something. I personally try not to use “Christian” as an adjective, but it’s not like it’s terribly relevant or binding on anyone else.)

    Re: a “broad mandate” – You have yet to demonstrate a mandate, let alone a broad one, for churches to do the things we’re discussing. Individuals, yes. Churches, no.

    Re: the passages that define the example of how to use a collection – Off the top of my head, I Corinthians 16:1-4, Romans 15:26, II Corinthians 8:1-5, 9. (There are probably a couple of other references to these collections that I’m forgetting.) All of the examples and commands in the NT deal with churches giving to needy Christians.

    Re: II Corinthians 9:12-13, I’ve actually answered it twice. I suspect you just hadn’t read down to the second answer (since you address it later) and had forgotten the first link. Also, I never said the only way to give to non-Christians was orphans’ homes; I’m well aware of other practices.

    You’re also misunderstanding the post I linked to as well. v. 12 clearly says that this particular effort is a ministry to the saints; We learn from Romans 15:26 that it’s a contribution for the saints in Jerusalem; these are the “they” and “them” of v. 13 – the saints in Jerusalem specifically. “All” refers to “all saints.” Paul speaks of the specific recipients of this benevolence (Christians in Jerusalem) and generally of all saints (the word translated “contribution” being the word used to refer to what Christians’ with one another – “fellowship” in Acts 2:42 or “sharing” in I Corinthians 10:16). The same word is used in regard to non-Christians in II Corinthians 6:14, where it’s forbidden. The understanding of “all men” means that the Corinthians were in fellowship with all men, and Paul (who had forbidden such in his previous letter to them) is praising them for it. I hope I’ve explained more clearly this time.

    Re: Galatians 6:10, I had addressed that in my first post: “The same with Galatians 6:10, where the context (‘each one’ in previous verses) clearly indicates it’s talking about individuals.”

    Re: giving money directly out of the treasury to non-Christians, do you not buy their gas and food for them from that, or am I misunderstanding what you wrote?

    Re: which Scriptures forbid institutional practices, again, the question is which passages authorize such. It’s the same principle as instrumental music; I don’t have to prove such is forbidden, the proponent of it has to show where God has expressed that He desires such (authority, in a word). Any other passages now that II Cor. 9:12-12 and Gal. 6:10 have been dealt with?

    Re: Bible colleges – The institutional movement was mostly pushed by colleges in order to get their hands on fast cash from churches. When a movement begins in such organizations causing division in order to obtain money, is it any wonder that the organizations continue to be a source of evil and error later?

    Re: fellowship halls – Again, where’s the authority? We’re talking incidentals vs. making something a work of the church. I think you understand the difference.

    As I said in the beginning, all this comes down to the same question: Where is the authorization from God for churches to be involved in these things? I’m still waiting.

    Thanks for your time and patience. I may be unavailable for a few days due to some personal and congregational matters, but I’ll try to get back as soon as I can.

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