“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.
Anti-“truth”, who decided that the Bible could be interpreted?
I don’t have an interpretation. I let the words of Christ interpret the words of Christ. How many meanings do you think words have?
I also have you assuming that we disagree about the words of Jesus. Jesus said that those who love Him will have His commands an keep them (John 14:21-24). Would you say I’m wrong and that is just my interpretation?
Pull it together. Your question shows your bias, which undermines the Scriptures for your own purposes.
Scott who decided your interpretation of the Bible is right and others wrong?
Scott, this is in reply to your comments/questions on Randy’s blog. If there’s a better place and you’d like to move it, please do.
Re: one-cup, no Bible class, etc. churches: Yes, they are in practice non-institutional. That’s largely because they divided from the other churches decades before institutionalism became an issue, back when almost all churches of Christ were in practice, if not theory, NI (and those few that sent money to Bible colleges kept it quiet). Confusing them with the NI churches that were “quarantined” in the 1950s and 1960s is not uncommon, but it’s along the lines of, say, assigning the issues of the ICOC to conservative institutional churches.
Re: “not see[ing] error in buying songbooks, Bibles, powerpoint equipment, carpeting the building, and other things”… I agree. I’m not aware of any NI church where that’s ever been an issue.
Re: a separate collection for orphans’ homes, my question is why we need orphans’ homes at all, aside from tradition? Why not adopt? Why not foster?
Re: benevolence for non-Christians, we usually inform them we can’t help them from the treasury, and then individual members help them as we can. I don’t know of anyone whose story made any sense that we’ve turned away (and several whose stories had holes in them that we helped anyway). Obviously, I can’t speak for every NI church/Christian in America, though.
Re: institutionalism in general, the issue usually boils down to one question: Are the church collective and the individual Christian effectively the same? That is, are they charged with the same responsibilities, duties, acts, practices, etc.? For example, James 1:27 (“to visit widows and orphans in their distress”) is a classic proof text for the practice of supporting orphans’ homes. However, if you look at the verse itself (“…and to keep oneself unspotted by the world” – emphasis mine), it’s clear it’s talking about the duty of the individual, not the collective. The same with Galatians 6:10, where the context (“each one” in previous verses) clearly indicates it’s talking about individuals. Thus, the only way such verses can apply is if the church and the indvidual are authorized to do the same things. I wrote briefly about this here, though never got around to the promised follow-up. Maybe this will motivate me to do that.
Aside from authority, the biggest problem with institutionalism, IMO, is that it was really an attempt to justify something powerful people wanted. The original debate was not over orphans’ homes; it was over congregational funding for Bible colleges. Orphans’ homes were a later addition to manipulate public opinion. Instituationalism became a divisive issue mostly because of the desire for Abeline Christian, Freed-Hardeman, and the like to gain access to church treasuries. While the bad attitudes shown by many involved in the debate on both sides certainly didn’t help, the reason why it became so divisive was the motive of the colleges to get money. Thus, NI churches and Christians who couldn’t be made to recant were “quarantined” (to use Goodpasture’s term). Divisiveness was not an accidental outcome; it was a desired one.
Soooooo…. how well has congregational funding of Bible colleges worked out for institutional churches? :)
Most of my CI friends and acquaintances agree when I say that even if I believed church funding of colleges was Scriptural, I’d strongly oppose it because of expedience. Look at the harm done by ACU, for example. Is there any question that the parasitic relationship between colleges and congregations has been to the detriment of the faith? Or that such institutions naturally try to fill the vaccuum left by the lack of a denominational structure?
Re: reconciliation, it’s possible. My suspicion is that the original issue won’t be much of a problem, for the reason given above. CI churches don’t seem to me to be quite so enthusiastic for institutions as they once were now that they’ve felt the sting of most of those organizations. The stumbling blocks, IMO, will be peripheral issues (ex: fellowship halls) in which many/most NI Christians can’t participate in good conscience.
What disagreement do you have with me? Did you read my presentation of Scripture? Those totally cut off from the Church may not care, but they are to be “noted” (2 Thess. 3:14).
Why does this anger you that you would slander me and these Scriptural instructions? Are you reflecting your anger because of the abuse of discipline that you’ve seen or experience?
How can I love others if I do not love God? I must observe all things as Christ commanded (Matt. 28:19). I do so in love (John 14:21-24). This is my heart.
Yes, disassociating is love and it is to be done in love as all things should be. “Those whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.” I know you do not judge God, and God has commanded discipline and punishment not by stoning but by noting and disassociation.
Friend, please go read the Scriptures especially 1 Cor. 5, 2 Cor. 2: and 2 Thess. 2:15, 3:6, 3:14.
Second Corinthians 2:5-9, “But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent — not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.”
You may also slander me again if you want.
I hope that you realize that this makes NO sense. Obviously, if someone is “forsaking the assembly” then they don’t care about it. If they don’t care about it, then “disfellowshipping” them does nothing except give them an excuse not to go.
This post, this author, is appalling and clearly has no theological training beyond his own distorted, eisegetical reading of the New Testament.
“Why would Christ’s Church not observe all that Jesus taught?”
I guess the whole “love” thing just went right over your head; unless, of course, you try to claim that disfellowship is a form of “tough love” in which case I fear for whichever “church” you serve.
In your own words,”You need to be careful how you talk to me.” Maybe you should read your last paragraph? I think you might have proven my point. Thank you, May God bless you. A brother in Christ, Dale
I’m not mad or angry at anyone. There is no one who I am considering disassociating nor have I for years had to consider such. Thanks be to Christ for that.
Why would Christ’s Church not observe all that Jesus taught? You’re right the Church is not a building, but the word “ekkleisia” is also used to refer to the Assembly not just congregations and the whole body of those saved. You’re right and I’ve always agreed that two or three can gather together anywhere in a home, a synagogue, a field, and so on, but the place of gathering is then a place of Christ’s presence. The place of gathering is distinguished from homes in 1 Corinthians 11:22, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?”. There is some distinction even if our own home is the place of assembly.
I have the right and responsibility to judge by righteousness (John 7:24). “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.” “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?” I must examine the fruits (Matt. 7:15-20). I must test the spirits (1 John 4:1-6). You must do this too. We must all do this.
If being a “legalist” means to you someone who observes all things, then I’m a “legalist” rather than an illegalist. You may slander me again if your want. It is sad to think that you believe Jesus and Apostles were legalists since they gave such commands. You need to be careful how you talk Christians for the Lord says “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay”. Your malice is common.
Dale, you need to read the Scriptures and follow them. Quit following the voices of others contrary to Christ and leave your lusts and pride behind for the cause of Jesus Christ, then you will be saved. See repentance leads unto salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). Forgive me if these words offend your pride. Remember Christ’s words, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Please come to the Lord.
May you find grace and peace in Christ.
In which of your legalistic doctrinal churches do you say we must assemble? From the bible, the “church” is not a building, but is made up of all true believing children of God. Christ and His believers are the church. Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the savior. And he is head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead… This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church. For me this beats out your legalistic computer program definitions above. The assembly of Christ’s church can be two or more of Christ’s people meeting in a home or on a street corner or in a building or in a field in wide open spaces. Which of you has the right to judge another? Who is to say that your particular meeting place is the right or only place of assembly for everyone? Who are you angry at for not going along with your program and you need an excuse to get them out of your life? Did they hurt your feelings that bad? Or, maybe it was you and your assembly that hurt them. Maybe you should also take another look at Gordy’s response also. Dale
Exactly! Jesus’ sought to restore many to faith, and He was successful. He is a perfect example of being consistent with practicing discipline even under the Old Testament. Jesus said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” This is the Jesus not familiar to most people because they really do not know Jesus and they are ignorant of His words. Jesus told the 70 to wipe their feet of those who did not receive them (Luke 10). Jesus was certainly not fellowshiping Pharisees in Matthew 23 or fellowshiping when they tried to stone Him and He escaped out of their hands. Jesus commanded disfellowship in Matthew 18:17, “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector”. “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matt. 12:30). Some people would call Jesus a hypocrite since He taught disfellowshiping and His Spirit instructed this through His Apostles and prophets. Now, His Church has these practices clearly taught above. His Church is to disassociate from sinning Christians. First John 1:6, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
Considering Jesus’ practices, would it be wrong to think that He wouldn’t disfellowship anyone? I remember reading of Him hanging out with the socially disfellowshipped.
Also, would you say that He received most of His troubles from those who were the “most” religious? By that I mean the Pharisees.