After sharing a post I wrote in a couple of house church groups on Facebook, I received a backlash of comments challenging me on my exhortation to spur other Christians on to greater faith. The comments can be characterized as three distinct reactions:
- A defense of humor, aka “satire”;
- An adamant refusal to give up meeting together because we shall “obey God rather than man”;
- And a rather interesting defense of civil disobedience because “America was not founded buy (sic) those who obeyed the leaders,” which is interesting because it conflates so many things that I could make a list of them and address each one individually in a post that would be of such length that it deserves its own attention (to which I’m not afraid to give it).
To the first, I’ll simply say that one man’s satire is another man’s mockery, which was my point in exhorting my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to be careful about your social media speech. We are ambassadors for Christ. If you offend someone, let it be with the cross and not your meme.
To the third point, let me say that I’m not opposed to national citizenship (of any nation), but I’ll remind you that we are first and foremost citizens of heaven.
What I’d like to address in this post is the misuse of Hebrews 10:25 as an excuse to disregard clear common sense with regard to meeting together in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, especially in the first month when we knew hardly anything about it.
Perseverance Or Preservation?
In order to understand any verse in scripture, one must first put it into its proper context. Let’s begin with the text of this verse itself:
Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. ( Berean Study Bible)
At first glance, the verse seems to be saying that meeting together must be done, but there is one operable word in this verse that is often glossed over as Christians scramble to use it to defend what is commonly called “attending church.” It’s something that members of house churches and institutional churches do, and I think those who use it this way misunderstand the intent of its author.
The operable word of which I speak is “neglect.” Some translations use the word “abandon.” Others say “forsake.” Each of these words alludes to the same concept, but I think the meaning is best embodied in the word “desert.”
In the military, to desert one’s post means to quit without permission, or run away. In other words, it is to give up completely. It has no reference to a temporary halt or pause in activity. In other words, if one is serving as a guard on an outpost and steps away for one minute to relieve oneself, a natural body function, that does not constitute abandonment. What would constitute abandonment is if one left the station entirely and went home to take a nap.
In the same way, the writer of Hebrews is exhorting believers to not give up meeting together, but to continue meeting and, even more importantly, to encourage one another “as you see the Day approaching.”
In this way, the author is not asking Christians to preserve any particular type of meeting. He is not saying, “keep meeting in each other’s homes,” “make sure you attend church regularly,” or even “get together as often as you can.” His exhortation, in other words, is not an exhortation to preserve the meeting so much as it is to exhort Christians to persevere.
Why Is Perseverance Important?
Hebrews was written during a time of great persecution in the first century. The author was likely a Jewish Christian and was likely writing to Gentile Christians. The exact time of the epistle’s writing is not known, but scholars can pinpoint a few likely periods when Christians in and around Rome were being persecuted for their faith.
The author of Hebrews spends a great deal of time explaining the purpose of Old Testament law, sacrificial ritual, and the priesthood. In the midst of this discussion, he or she points to Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, the ultimate sacrifice for sins, and the great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek and greater than the mediators, sanctuary, and sacrifices (all of which He is under the new covenant) than those of the old covenant.
After establishing that Christ is superior to the angels, to the law of Moses, to the priesthood of Aaron, to the Old Testament tabernacle, and to the Old Testament sacrifices, the author goes on to explain that those under the new covenant have a greater responsibility than those under the old one. Not only that, but God uses suffering to discipline His true children, so endure to the end.
It is in the context of exhorting Christians under persecution to persevere that the writer addresses the practice of meeting together. After discussing the Old Testament law and sacrifices, and calling Jesus Christ the perfect sacrifice, the author says
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way opened for us through the curtain of His body,and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (emphasis mine)
Let us hold resolutely (again, emphasis mine) to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.
And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds. (whose emphasis?)
Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
In the face of persecution, some were leaving the faith. They weren’t just taking a hiatus from assembling with the saints, enjoying the love feasts, and being blessed by Bible studies (they didn’t do those back then).
They were abandoning the faith.
The exhortation to not abandon the meeting together was also an exhortation to draw nearer to Christ (by drawing nearer to each other), resolving to cling fast to hope in Christ and the promises of God, and to encourage each other to continue in the love of Christ by loving one another and the enemies who were persecuting the faithful. In short, it was an exhortation to persevere in the faith even in hard circumstances.
So What’s That Got to Do With the Price of a Chinese Virus?
Where I lived in March, in Pennsylvania, the governor locked down the state and ordered the shut down of non-essential businesses under the threat of legal action. To my knowledge, it was the only state that had gone to that extreme.
I was a small group leader in my church and made the decision to not meet before Governor Wolf issued that order. The reason was simple: The coronavirus is quick to spread, is transmittable even when those who have it show no signs of having it, and is deadly to certain segments of the population. Because it is a virus, it requires human interaction to spread. For that reason, the wise thing to do was to limit human interaction in order to save the lives of those who are vulnerable.
Our savior narrowed the entire Old Testament down into two commandments:
The Apostle Paul narrowed it down to one:
The commandments “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and any other commandments, are summed up in this one decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And followed that up with
Love does no wrong to its neighbor. ( Romans 13:10)
Concluding that “love is the fulfillment of the law.”
When I think of what it means to love my neighbor as myself, I ask, “If I were in that person’s shoes, what would I want someone else to do right now?”
Given that COVID-19 is a virus with deadly implications for some people, and that it spreads rapidly upon human contact (just by standing within a few feet of someone else), and that for every individual I come into contact with I am also coming into contact with every individual they’ve been in contact with for the last two weeks, the loving thing to do is to limit human contact as much as possible until the threat passes. I need no government decrees to tell me that is the loving thing to do.
Therefore, temporarily halting Bible studies, church gatherings (institutional, home meetings, coffee shop gatherings, or other alternative venues), prayer groups, and any other gathering where two or more meet for any purpose, is not only wise, but it’s not a violation of Hebrews 10:25. When the threat passes, we shall take up our gathering again and glory in the grace of Jesus Christ.
Allen Taylor has been walking (and wavering) with the Lord for 28 years. He has served local churches as a Sunday school teacher, a small group leader, a worship leader, a prayer group leader, and a minister of the Word. His journey isn’t over yet, and he still needs discipling.
NOTE: Please comment below. If you do, keep the conversation civil. Thanks.
Originally published at https://thecrux.substack.com.