Monday, May 27, 2013

Forsake Not the Assembling of Yourselves Together

Hebrews 10:23-25 states (in the King James Version): "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

A while back, someone at a church that I attended asked how often one would have to miss church before he or she technically forsakes "the assembling of ourselves together".  Why would he ask this?  I think it's because there are many who have left Armstrongism who find themselves in a state of exile, as they try to cultivate their relationship with God outside of a church structure.  But I'd also venture to say that even Armstrongism itself can cultivate a "lone-ranger Christian" mentality.  Overall, the Armstrongites believed that they alone had the full truth.  But not everyone who accepted Armstrongite doctrines lived close to an Armstrongite church, and they were not about to attend any nearby Sunday-keeping churches, for they considered those churches to be deceived!  Consequently, there were a number of lone-ranger Armstrongites who stayed home and rested on the Sabbath, as they listened to sermon-tapes from the church's headquarters.

But my impression is that all Armstrongites were expected to attend the Feast of Tabernacles.  There were feast sites in various parts of the country (even the world!), and many people associated with the church felt that God wanted them to take a trip to one of those sites and attend services there.

As I did my daily quiet time in the Book of Joshua recently, I thought about Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, who lived in the Transjordan rather than where the rest of the Israelites dwelt, namely, the Promised Land.  Moses and Joshua told these two-and-a-half tribes that they could dwell in the Transjordan, but they still had to cross the Jordan River with the rest of the Israelites to help those Israelites to take possession of the Promised Land from the Canaanites.  Once Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh completed this task, they could return to their homes in the Transjordan.

Would the two-and-a-half tribes be cut off from the rest of Israel after they returned to the Transjordan?   They did set up a controversial altar close to the Transjordan, not for sacrifices, but to communicate that they were still a part of the larger body of Israel.  But they were still expected to offer sacrifices (Joshua 22:27), which would occur wherever the central sanctuary of Israel happened to be.  Presumably, they would still gather with the other Israelites three times a year, during the festivals (at least according to Pentateuchal ideals).

How often does one have to attend church to fulfill Hebrews 10:23-25?  The Israelites only gathered together as one body three times a year.  There, they would celebrate with their families while sharing their food with the vulnerable of society.  And they would remember their national history as God's people: their slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, their experiences in the wilderness, and God bringing them to the Promised Land.

But what about the rest of the year?  They wouldn't be with the entirety of Israel, but they would still be reminding themselves on a weekly basis about their identity as God's people, for they would keep the Sabbath.  They would also observe God's dietary laws and wear items that reminded them of who they were in relationship with God.  Did they gather with others throughout that time, however, albeit on a local basis?  I don't know.  Exodus 16 says that the Israelites on the Sabbath had to stay in their homes, and orthodox Jews still take that command as normative, which is why they have eruvim as a way to circumvent it and allow them to meet together.  At least some Israelites visited the prophet on the Sabbath (II Kings 4:23), and perhaps that was for a worship gathering.  Such passages as Isaiah 66:23 present a scenario of people gathering before God on the Sabbath.  And there were gatherings for worship outside of the central sanctuary, for Deuteronomy 16:7-8 seems to command local gatherings to celebrate the last Day of Unleavened Bread.  Maybe there were local gatherings for worship on the Sabbath.

But, even though not all Israelites may have gathered with others for worship on the Sabbath, three times a year is not exactly insignificant.  These festivals were significant events.  Israelites prepared for them throughout their seasons by sowing and reaping and setting apart their tithes and offerings.  They journeyed to the central sanctuary and rejoiced for a period of time.  It was not a forgettable event, in their minds, for they were salient times each year.

Back to Hebrews 10:23-25.  I'm not sure when one technically gets to the point where he or she is forsaking the assembly of the brethren.  Some act like missing one church meeting counts as that.  Others have a more liberal attitude.  What's important to me, however, is the principle behind assembling: coming together to support each other, encouraging each other to do good, reminding each other of his or her identity before God, helping people to avoid becoming hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, etc. 

The problem is that not everyone sees church as a place that does this.  They find church to be discouraging rather than encouraging.  They see as much vanity and pride and carnality in the church as they see in the world.  They feel more refreshed and in touch with God when they are alone reading a book, or when they are out in nature, than they do in church.  I don't think that it's my place to pressure other people on what they should or should not do.  I attend church, however, because it allows me to remind myself of God, plus it gives me an opportunity to get out of the house and be in a different setting.  I've gone through times when I have been in churches, and when I have been outside of them.  For myself, I prefer the former.

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