Why must a Christian be in Community in a Local Church? (2)1
In the previous article I mentioned the necessity of all Christians being embedded in community in a local church. We find this in numerous biblical texts, but our focus here is on Hebrews 10:23-25. Continue reading . . .
In the previous article I mentioned the necessity of all Christians being embedded in community in a local church. We find this in numerous biblical texts, but our focus here is on Hebrews 10:23-25.
“23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.”
I want to start with vv. 24-25. I’m not ignoring v. 23, but will return to it momentarily.
Evidently there was a slight problem in Rome. Some of the people who professed faith in Jesus had developed the habit or custom of only showing up on occasion and neglecting to make regular attendance at and participation in the communal life of the church a part of their experience.
Notice the word translated “habit” (v. 25a). You don’t cultivate a habit overnight. It takes time. You find yourself immersed in a habit, often one you can’t shake or break, when you live unintentionally. That is to say, you don’t get up each day with a plan for what is going to happen. You simply drift through life. You take things as they come without forethought or preparation or prioritizing the many things that compete for your time and allegiance.
It’s not that difficult to develop a habit of neglect when it comes to participation in the life of the local church. You miss a Sunday because you were sick. That’s not your fault, but the next week, although you are in perfect health, your favorite sports team is playing the early game at stadium (or gym) and someone offered you free tickets. The week after that you have to work late and can’t attend your small group and you’ve accidentally overslept on the last two mornings you were scheduled to meet with your prayer-group at Starbucks.
The next Sunday you show up at the service feeling rather proud of yourself for having made it. You were even on time for once! But then friends invite you to the lake the following week, and the Sunday after that you found yourself way behind in that project your boss was expecting you to have finished and on his desk on Monday morning. And before you know it, it’s just easier not to make the effort. And it just seems to make more and more sense as time passes to devote your energy to other things that feel more immediately rewarding. And to top it all off, you sit down for lunch with a friend who tells you the same thing has happened to them and you suddenly feel affirmed. Your neglect is now validated by the fact that you’re not the only one!
And with the passing of time and the repetition of the same pattern of life over and over and over you unconsciously find yourself relationally distant from the church and emotionally unfulfilled by it. You might even discover that you regularly justify to yourself such neglect by saying, “I’m doing ok. I’m not committing adultery. I still believe in God. And I just got a raise at work and my golf handicap has gotten considerably better. I like this way of being a Christian.”
Our author comes straight to the point regarding this sort of “habit” or “custom” and therefore so shall I: don’t do it, it’s sinful, it’s a recipe for personal moral and spiritual disaster. The reason is found in the rest of the passage.
Now let’s be clear that the “meeting together” mentioned here in v. 25a is not simply the Sunday morning service. In fact, given the fact that what happens at this sort of meeting is mutual personal interaction where Christians are “encouraging one another” it would seem that he has in mind more of what happens in our small groups instead of merely in our corporate assembly on Sunday mornings.
You must not depend on your pastor alone to encourage you or to stir you to do what is right! I’m sure he will do his best in the time God has given him. But it is your responsibility to do this for others and their responsibility to do it in turn for you.
I know this is difficult for some of you. You may have been raised in a church tradition like I was where small groups didn’t exist. I was in church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night every week. But I rarely had any opportunity to do what is described here or to benefit from someone else doing it for my sake.
Make no mistake: what you do on a Sunday morning is absolutely essential. Hearing the Word of God read, preached, and applied, celebrating the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, corporate prayer, corporate worship in song, hearing the testimonies of others whose lives God has touched or greatly used, are all crucial to the life of the believer. But when the early church gathered to do this there weren’t several hundred people in one room as there so often are today. So when we make application to our context in the twenty-first century we see the relevance of this far more in our smaller community group gatherings.
So don’t think you’ve been faithful to obey this command when you slip in late to a large Sunday morning gathering, say “hi” to a few folks during the meet and greet, and then quietly slip out while the final prayer is being spoken. That is not Christian living. That is not what our author means by “not neglecting to meet together.”
And clearly he is not talking about haphazard or sporadic meetings where you just happen to run across someone at Starbucks or the mall and you say, “Hey, since we’re both here, why don’t we obey Hebrews 10:25 and ‘meet’ for a little mutual encouragement.” That’s fine if you do, but don’t think that’s what our author has in mind!
Furthermore, don’t think the purpose of the meeting is so you can talk about why your team won (or, conversely, lost) its game last week. The purpose of these meetings isn’t to catch up on how the kids and grandkids are doing. It’s not an occasion for swapping office stories or for debating how you plan on voting in the mid-term elections! The purpose of the meetings is clearly stated.
So what exactly are we supposed to do? What is it that is so important and so needed that God would move upon the author of this book to command us not to neglect regular gathering so it might be accomplished?
He mentions three things. And we’ll look at them in the next installment.