When a person decides to leave a group, any group, the general response from those left behind is to pressure the dissenter into staying. And the most powerful argument tends to be along these lines:
“But how will you interact with other people?” as if the wanderer, in choosing a less traveled path, eschews all future human companionship. Group participation, and group-think, is an essential component of 21st century society, and we are taught from babyhood that our primary, significant relationships are not with family, not with close (real) friends, but with co-workers, student peers, and a series of distant acquaintances we see regularly in a socially controlled environment. Indeed, many people well beyond middle school make decisions based, not upon what is best for them or their family, but what “others” will think.
Those who opt to home school field the question in the format of, “But how will you properly socialize your children?” an excellent response to this being, “It’s because we want our children to be normally socialized that we’re opting to homeschool.”
Properly Socialized Christians
For those who dare — spiritually, socially, emotionally, and physically — to leave the conventional, corporate, multiple-weekly church lifestyle, the question is formatted as a statement, and a biblical one at that:
“Hebrews 10:25 COMMANDS us to not neglect to meet together, as some are in the habit of doing — Forsake not the assemblage of one another!”
(One has to observe, wryly, how often we are told that the Bible COMMANDS us to do this or that — obey the government, not be anxious, attend Sunday School, submit ourselves to a hierarchy of man-made leadership that benefits a few elite at the top [pyramid schemes come to mind] — while the many, many mentions of money, the love of it, and the damage that is done when one makes it one’s priority, are shuttled to the side as “optional.”)
But back to Hebrews 10:25 which, given the frequency with which it is slung at those who mention leaving the group, encapsulates the primary argument as to why we must stay. Is it possible that we are misapplying its advice?
No One-Size Fits All
Those who study the Bible for themselves and and start seriously asking questions (one hopes that this would be all Christians) quickly realize that there are few hard and fast answers, few “right” and “only” ways to look at a verse. Commonsense tells us this is so simply by the many different denominations, all of which purport to have the true and accurate rendering of the same book. So in looking at Hebrews 10:25 we ask ourselves, “Is this declaring that people should attend church services regularly?”
Considering when the book was written — in the mid 60s A.D. is a consensus — it is highly unlikely that the early Christians had developed a system such as ours today, complete with announcements, professional “worship” service, and pastor’s sermon, to the point that this was the norm for all believers. More likely, and especially in light of the persecution toward believers that is addressed throughout the book, they met in small bands, at houses, without the sense of veneration to place or pastor that those in surrounding society exhibited toward their temples and their gods (and that many Christians today demonstrate toward their specific “house of worship”).
As some of these house churches grew into organizations that fed upon themselves, what if some of the Christians began neglecting the simple getting together of one another — to eat, to converse, to pray in a small, intimate setting — in exchange for something bigger, decidedly less personal, far more regulated, and “better”? What if they began following this speaker, that evangelist, those teachers (1 Corinthians 1:11-12) to the point that they no longer valued one another as individual, equal believers, but sought out first century Super Pastors and mega churches?
Group-Think Doesn’t Involve Much Thinking
Quite unfortunately, this scenario sounds normal to us today, and the other — the getting together of far fewer people (friends, family, neighbors) in a more intimate setting to share food, concerns, spirituality, the teaching of and learning from one another, and life — is considered a psychological and social aberration. It’s not biblical, we’re told, for a cluster of ordinary believers to assemble, without benefit of clergy, leadership, scribes, Sadducees, seminary graduates, and religious PhDs. That’s how cults start.
What is normal is the Sunday morning rush, the bundling of everyone into the mini-van to arrive, breathless and irritable, to pick up the bulletin, slap on a seraphic smile, and publicly share one’s private life and deepest feelings with virtual strangers, during “prayer and share” time or within the physical circle of the “small group.”
For many Christians today, this is the single, sole, and significant form of their assembling with other believers, and — because it demands so much time from its constituents — takes the place of the other, the meeting together in small, informal, socially relaxed, normal interaction. In cases like this, one can strongly argue that they are “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,” and are substituting an impersonal group activity for real, viable, human fellowship and interaction.
Jesus’s most significant teaching took place among a small circle of His disciples, to the point that, shortly before His suffering and crucifixion, He referred to them as His friends (John 15:15). Is it such a bad thing to strive and long for the paradigm that worked so well for these first believers?
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12)
Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where my prayer, for the believers in my country (the U.S.A.) and other places where materialism is worshiped as a sure sign of God’s favor, is that they will separate cultural “norms” (which are fed to us through our educational, political, entertainment, and religious systems) from truth.
Posts complementing this one are
Leaving Church: Is It Rebellious, or Obedient?
What Does “Real” Church Look Like?
We have Americanized and Modernized the bible so much that we view everything through the eyes of our own time and place. I have been very guilty in my own past years of church attendance of trying to put God in a box and make him fit what I thought he should look like. In reality, there are absolutely no examples of any early Christians building a building for meeting, taking up an “offering,” or appointing paid clergy. This is the foundation of any real conversation on the subject of church attendance, but most Christians still attending cannot get past this first step. “Meeting” simply means that….meeting. No designation of where or an order of service to follow. Simply living their lives together as equals. After all, God did tell us we were now equals. No more male or female. No more slave or free. No more Jew or Gentile. Free and equal before the cross. Heck, the terms “laity” and “clergy” (or the concepts of) are not even in the Bible. Thanks for the article. This is a great take on a very misused verse.
Excellent thoughts, Jewell — you have encapsulated much wisdom and commonsense succinctly and well. And as you say, there are no examples of how it is all to be done, and yet this is not brought into the discussion at all. Such sensible thinking is indeed a beauty to see — thank you!
Thanks for your challenging article. What are your thoughts on the Emerging church movement? From what I have heard many Christians are leaving formal church meetings for this alternative style of worship.
Hello, Janene: I guess my thoughts on the Emerging Church movement concentrate on the word, “movement.” It appears to have its gurus, its spokespersons, its (already) major pastor players in what look to be mega churches. I, too, have heard of the “alternative style of worship,” but then I have to ask, “Why does the rest look the same? Why the pastor names who lead the way?”
I understand the frustration of people with the “formal church meetings” — we ourselves felt the shallowness and coldness of an establishment that has more to do with keeping itself healthy, than actually being a place where people can interact and question and encourage and love. But why, oh why, when we feel the need to leave this place, do we look for yet another GROUP? Why do we not look, instead, for an assemblage of others — not necessarily formal, certainly not big, not always meeting on a regular basis? Why do we not 1) seek God earnestly on our own, our souls literally demanding to know more of who He is and 2) pray that He will lead us into the lives of others, so that we can learn from them, and teach as well?
Within our “education system,” we battle, among many other issues, the federal and state intrusion into matters that are of import to individual parents, within their individual communities. Our one size fits all approach results in a system that requires no input from individual people on a local basis, other than their taxes. Similarly, any large group, especially one that is part of a larger umbrella entity, really doesn’t need the input of its individual, “lay” members — rather, it needs those members to memorize and abide by the regulations of the group.
Is this Christianity?
In short, I would be wary of this movement. I think it is really a new name for the same corruption. It appeals to feelings more than truth.
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