Hebrews 10:25 And COVID-19

Hebrews 10:25 And COVID-19

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

An alarming number of people today are obsessed with the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly every post on social media is focused on it, stores are selling out of essentials, and it comes up in nearly every conversation. This article is not about Coronavirus-19. I’m tired of reading about it and I’m assuming you are, too.

Because the virus is particularly dangerous for older people or those with underlying conditions (a healthy demographic in the church), many congregations have cancelled or reduced services until something can be worked out. As a result, some have attempted to use scripture to claim that these measures are unscriptural.

Some have pointed to the early church: despite the threat of death from man, they continued worshipping. This is true, but that threat was persistent for years. Even then, many early churches met at extreme hours and in extreme secrecy during the worst of persecution. This is not the case today.

Some have pointed to Hebrews 10.25 to say that cancelling services is the same as “forsaking the assembly.” We will look at this passage closely, but we need to keep something very important in mind: most of writings set after the establishment of the church are focused on Christian living. Our standard of conduct, our speech, our attitude toward the world, our understanding of God, how to employ wisdom, etc. are the focus of the vast majority of the New Testament.

For perhaps more than a few, the sum total of their Christianity is the worship assembly on Sunday and Wednesday. Worship is extremely important to godly living and it would be egregiously false to state otherwise (as some state, “I am dedicated to God, not the church”). However, there is but one fragment of a sentence in all of scripture dedicated to the importance of consistent attendance. It is binding and important, but some place a disproportionate emphasis on this passage to the neglect of the rest of scripture. To use the words of Jesus, “They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23.23ff).

Hebrews 10.25 states, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The next verse says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” Verse 29 makes it very clear that 10.25 is talking about “trampling under foot the son of God…”

It is important to note that “forsaking” in 10.25 is ἐγκαταλείποντες (eingkataleipontes), which means to leave, abandon, or desert. The word is also a present active participle in this text, which describes a continuous, willful abandonment of the worship assembly. The same word is to describe a man leaving his father and mother and clinging to his wife. It is a more or less permanent abandonment, not a temporary one.

What does this mean for Christians in 2020? It means that cancelling a few services to avoid spreading a very contagious virus is not a sin. This does not equal, “trampling the son of God under your foot.” It means that trying to bind Hebrews 10.25 in this case is worse than merely bad scholarship – it is binding where God has not bound. It means that, while worship is vital and important, we must focus just as much on godly living and the whole of scripture as we do this one verse.

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It’s Not Business; It’s Personal

It’s Not Business; It’s Personal

Neal Pollard

Some years ago, when our sons were all teenagers and they were given a cell phone, there were times when they failed to use those to communicate if they got to their destination or answer when we needed to reach them. While I never did it, I was tempted on more than one occasion to contact the cellular provider and suspend their service. Why? Was it because I thought it was wasted cost? No. It was because it reflected a lack of thoughtfulness and responsibility. It wasn’t business. It was personal.

Hebrews 10:25 is a sobering, New Testament passage. It addresses the Christian’s attitude toward the sacred assemblies of the church. What makes it sober is its contextual attachment to the eternal ramifications of abandoning those assemblies. God speaks of “no more sacrifice for sins,” “severer punishment,” “vengeance,” and “terrifying” (26-31) in connection with sinning willfully, of which forsaking the assemblies is a contextual example. But, why is God so exacting about this matter of our meeting together? In a nutshell, it is because these times, to God, are personal. The Bible is full of references to God’s desire to be worshipped and receive our worship. He is worthy. As Creator, He has the right. But, in this passage, it is personal in the sense that what He commands is so helpful to you and me.

Written on the foundation of the fact that our High Priest, Jesus, has given us access to God (19), the writer urges us to do three things: (1) Draw near (22), (2) Hold fast, and (3) Consider. It’s the third one I want to briefly notice:  “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (24-25).

There should be a personal connection. Notice how the writer reveals this. He says “us” and “our.” He says “one another” twice as well as “together.” Christianity is not a solitary condition. We must see ourselves in connection with the rest of the body. Assembling is about seeing ourselves as a vital piece of a more important whole. Forsaking the assemblies is, for whatever reason, selfish and self-centered. It is done blind to the needs of others.

There should be a personal submission. The command is “consider” followed by two participles that tell us how to obey the command: “not forsaking” and “encouraging” (more on that in a second). So, in a discussion about the whole group, there is a command each must strive to obey. As it is a command, ultimately this is as personal as God and the individual. I fail to consider my role, I fail in my relationship with God.

There should be a personal obligation. Each of us is obligated to stimulate and encourage everyone else. It’s not just those who publicly lead worship or teach class. The reclusive saint who dashes out before services are over has missed this. The clammed up Christian who never reaches out to fellow saints but is closed to others misses this. The discouraging and unloving brother and sister rebels against their duty. I should never be focused on how well others are stimulating and encouraging me. Instead, I should be so lost in my efforts to be a blessing to others that I have no or energy to evaluate how others are doing.

There should be a personal anticipation. This is more than social and emotional. It’s spiritual and eternal. Those other aspects are means to that end, but don’t miss the end. Be a blessing to others at “church services” “as you see the day drawing near” (25). Not Sunday. Keep reading. The Judgment Day. I need to remember that “here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (13:14). One of the best places to stay reminded of that is through our assemblies, as our activities in class and worship and our teaching and preaching keep us anchored to that ultimate reality. This world is not my home!

Christianity is not about the business of going through the motions, even doing right things. No, no! It is personal. May that truth permeate our attitudes toward not just God, but His children.

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Some Things I Love About Assembling On The Lord’s Day

Some Things I Love About Assembling On The Lord’s Day

Neal Pollard

  • Watching young parents gather their kids and lead them into the building
  • The happy, excited chatter of people who act like they’re attending their favorite reunion ever
  • The many brief, but meaningful, conversations
  • Seeing the new faces that are inevitably there and being thrilled at the prospect
  • Noticing members greeting and welcoming people who are visiting
  • Feeling the anticipation of class and worship
  • The steady faithfulness of widows and widowers who, despite the loss of their partner, are still in love with the Lord
  • New Christians leading and enthusiastically participating in the worship service
  • Witnessing worshippers who appear to be very engaged and enjoying themselves
  • The sound of Bible pages rustling (or being close enough to see mobile devices going to the Scriptures cited)
  • Elders making spiritual encouragement and admonition
  • Little boys picking up the attendance cards
  • Young parents persevering in training their learning lads and lasses (even when that means occasioning the “training room”)
  • Even the tone-deaf lifting up their voices to make a “joyful noise” to the Lord
  • Husbands and wives united in their desire to be present before the Great I Am (and appear to be enjoying doing so together)
  • The display of emotion and heartfelt engagement by those leading us in worship
  • The very elderly or infirm, sometimes on walkers or in wheelchairs, who with great effort make the appointment they disdain missing
  • The many ways being in Christ brings interesting combinations of people together (educated with uneducated, rich with poor, the very old with the very young, those of different races, etc.)
  • Hearing the Bible conversations that start and continue after “the last amen”
  • Watching Christians rally around and embrace those who respond to the invitation
  • Knowing Christ is present and participating in the assembly (Heb. 2:12)
  • The intimate connection with God that results from His pattern and design for worship, perhaps especially in the weekly observance of the Supper
  • The piercing conviction to live better and serve Him for actively that results from assembling
  • Realizing how many things that are to love about assembling on the Lord’s Day

What would you add?

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THE DOG AT CHURCH

THE DOG AT CHURCH

Neal Pollard

The interesting visitor at our devotional last night, a chocolate lab named Bear that someone dropped off with Aaron and Kylee Melton as she dealt with a personal crisis, reminded me of another “dog at church” story from my youth.  Back in the mid-’70s, when my dad was the preacher at the Rockmart, Georgia, church of Christ, there was a Collie dog that apparently knew our schedule of services.  Faithfully, rain or shine, summer or winter, she would be out on the front steps greeting all the members and visitors.  She wasn’t allowed inside the building, but she’d dutifully lay on those steps until we were finished with services. Then, she would cheerfully bid us all goodbye.  When the building was locked up and everyone had left, this convicted canine would make her way back home.  I don’t know how many years this went on for, but the notoriety of the “church of Christ” dog was seemingly known throughout the community.

One Sunday, my dad preached a sermon about this dog.  His application was brilliant and uncanny.  She was always “at church,” no matter what.  Surely she was mistreated or had a cross word hurled at her at some point, since, incredibly, not everyone is a dog person. Her faithful presence was a great example to the community.  She greeted everyone freely, not just a select few. She didn’t seem to distinguish by age, gender, race, or income status. If she was not there, as it apparently was on an occasion or two, everyone noticed and was concerned. He probably said more, but that I remember this much nearly 40 years later indicates how impressive the object lesson was.

Paul told the Colossian Christians that their faith and love was renowned and well-reported (Col. 1:4). The Jerusalem church very quickly had favor among all the people (Acts 2:47). The Thessalonians were a notable example throughout their region of the world (1 Th. 1:7).  As we line up our goals and resolutions for this new year, why not determine, as the whole body and as individual members of it, to make that clear and deep an impression on the people in our lives and those who chance to encounter us.  Dogs are renowned for their faithfulness.  So should Christians be (cf. 2 Tim. 2:2).