Check this out from a post I found at Church Expatriates. Hope to see some discussion about…
There is one verse in the entire Bible that tells us not to forsake the assembly. It is buried in Hebrews. Everywhere else, assembly is the accepted norm. Nowadays I hear a lot of Christians take this verse and make it absolute law. Whether we meet in a house church or a well-funded religious institution, it is expected of Christians not to forsake it.
I want to attempt to show how we as a society have put the cart before the horse.
Most of the New Testament letters center around how to live together, treat each other, act towards each other and the like. I see countless verses saying that loving each other with deep affection is imperative.
When I read through the New Testament, what I am seeing are newspaper clippings, journals, and mail written to other people dealing with specific issues, as well as a few general letters. It is a bit of a scrapbook if you will. It gives us an idea of how the first church functioned and what they did.
One thing that screams at me is that there is a real feel of interconnected community. The early outsiders, pagans and what have you, observed one striking thing about the Christians. It was their deep, impassioned love for each other. It wasn’t their religious meetings, as pagans did that. It wasn’t their miracles, as pagans did that. It wasn’t how loudly they sang or the format of the worship service, no, it was their love.
When someone tells me not to forsake the assembly, as that is imperative to the Christian walk, I am reminded of an image a pastor once gave me to ponder. I think of an airplane in the sky, on its way down to a devastating crash. The people are scared and panicked as they brace themselves for the inevitable. Imagine being in that situation, and imagine a stewardess coming up to you and asking you to put your tray up and put your baggage underneath the seat or in the overhead compartment, as she must enforce the rules of the airplane.
One would think, “WOW, REALLY? We are about to plunge to our death and you are worried about the position of my lunch tray and where I have my bags?”
This is how I see the state of things in the church of the Western world. There are major problems, destructive problems going on and they are rampant. We are in a nosedive morally, spiritually, and even financially, and we focus on one verse that tells us to assemble?
So I have been turning this about in my mind. Yes, I believe that it is good for Christians to meet together, sharing God’s love, praying and sharing their lives together. But I believe you can’t make that a law or a requirement. What we are doing is putting the cart before the horse.Even recently I was pondering starting my own organic church meeting for people. What I realized is that we would be a bunch of Christian strangers in an awkward place, trying to do church. In the end, it would turn into another religious machine like all of the other ones. My wonderful, amazing wife pointed out that we start with friendship. We start by simply finding people to love and just spend time with. I KNEW there was a reason I liked her.
I don’t need a religious establishment or Christian meeting to go to. What I need are friends. I will break through all of the religious cliches and theological explanations and flat out say it. I am lonely. I want to love others and I want to be loved. That’s IT. I have no desire to sit and listen to a lecture about the Bible, neither do I have any real desire to sing songs along with a mediocre local rock band. I don’t want to go to a Bible study in a home group. I don’t want “sharing time.” All I want is to share love, that is to love others and be loved.
The terrain I am facing in the Church today is counterproductive in this quest for love. It is like you can find anything EXCEPT love.
What I find among the early disciples and the early church is this. They loved each other. They wanted to see each other just about every day, forget a weekly service or ritual. They were madly in love with each other to the point where they shared daily life together. They ate just about every meal with each other. They took care of each others physical and financial needs as well as spiritual needs.The assembly was an overflow. It was something they did because they loved each other. It sprang out of deep affection for each other and sharing life together. I believe that the foundation for any true church meeting is community, that is a shared life in one form or another. Friends, brethren, Christians loving each other, meeting together not for any reason other than the fact that they can’t get enough of each other and the love of God that they share.
That being said, here is the exegesis on the infamous verse where people are told to assemble together. You have to read the book of Hebrews from beginning to end. What is Hebrews about? It is about the massive transition of our faith from the old covenant to the new covenant. All of the old rituals and customs and laws were fulfilled and no longer needed. The faith community had an entirely different paradigm and dynamic as they related to each other.
I don’t think there was a problem where people were abandoning any form of assembly and leaving each other. I think it was an issue of the people asking “What now? What happens now that the Old Covenant is fulfilled and we are in a new one?”
Remember, there was no need for temple gatherings or the synagogue reading of the Old Covenant laws and prophets as those were fulfilled. Their religious practices were being brought to an end.
The author was simply pointing out that it was still good to share love with each other and assemble to worship together. It was something they were already doing. But it was based on love instead of religious law or duty as it was in the old covenant. But what have we done in modern Christianity? We took its tone and placed it back into a law, a religious duty, right back in the letter of the Old Covenant.
In short, the New Covenant granted us freedom, complete and utter freedom in Christ. Any Christian activities and function stem out of that love and freedom we experience in Christ. It comes out of genuine desire to love each other, and the rest of the people in this world, nothing more, nothing left.
Finally I want to note John’s exhortation to the Church in Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2. The message opens with how well they do, religiously speaking. They have the right doctrines, they have the right practices and perseverance. But what does Jesus say to this church? He says that they have left their first love. Some translations say that they have forsaken the love that they had in the beginning. Many people take this verse to mean that they left Jesus, their first love. I don’t believe this is what it is saying. I believe the exhortation is saying that people forgot to love each other deeply as they once had, once the religious machine took hold.
My conclusion is that a Church assembly has to be built on authentic love for each other. It has to be built on the heart of genuine community where people are knit together at the heart. It has to take place where people are already sharing in the deepest bonds of friendship and love. It also has to remain there. It can become nothing else. Once it does, it is as the church of Ephesus.
Yes, it is good not to forsake a genuine, authentic assembly. But more importantly, don’t forsake the love we had at the beginning, or our first love. You can have love without assembly and do well. But an assembly without that love becomes a destructive, religious machine.