Why does God command us to assemble together with other believers? One of the most often-quoted commands in the Bible concerning the necessity of church attendance is Hebrews 10:24-25. In a day and age where anyone with a blog (myself included) can be seen or see themselves as an authority, there is a great tendency to neglect or forget this command. Why does God command this? What do we gain from our fellowship with others, and what do they gain from fellowshipping with us? Let us at least try to wrestle with these issues, given the climate of our times for atomization and splintering into insignificant groups.
Hold Fast The Confession Of Our Hope
In order to get a better context of this command, though, let us examine Hebrews 10:19-25, which states: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our faith without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Let us examine what this passage is saying about why we need to fellowship together, having given the context of the command. First, let us note that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ tore down the veil of separation that prevented the access of mankind from the Holy of Holies, and established a new priesthood not based on physical blood, but based on the spirit. This High Priest has come to tear down the hierarchies of lording it over others, the impassible gulf between the laity and the clergy, all of which is a part of the ways of the heathen . Our hearts are cleansed by the blood of his sacrifice, which we celebrate in the Passover as one body , and our bodies are washed clean in baptism. Through the ceremonies of baptism and the Passover we are joined with the larger body of believers in unity, joined in one faith through humility and patience , each of us given diverse gifts through which we are to help build up our brethren until we all reach spiritual maturity . We are to stir each other up to good works in love, not seek to divide the brethren and strive for our own selfish ambitions for power and title. To divide the assembly is to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, whether we secede individually or by group. Indeed, as we see the Day of the Lord approach, we ought to take even more concern to building up unity with our brethren, seeing the time of judgment approach. To deny the fellowship is to deny the faith.
A Question of Numbers
Let us note, though, that the Bible does not appear to have in mind mega-congregations of believers as being necessary to obey this command. We cannot presume that it is necessary to meet with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of other people to fellowship with brethren. After all, the church in Colosse (which was a fairly small city in what is now Turkey) met in the house of Philemon (see Philemon :2). Matthew 18:20 says that “for where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” It is not a question of numbers, therefore, that determines whether one is forsaking the fellowship of the brethren, but a question of attitude. This passage is not a club to beat other people over the head with for their attendance, but a question for us to examine ourselves about to make sure that we are not forsaking our brethren. It appears that we could all stand to do a lot better in that regard.
Rights And Responsibilities
In examining why God made this command for us to fellowship together, let us examine both what we can rightly expect to receive from a fellowship as well as that which we are expected to provide. For there are both benefits and expectations in terms of our fellowshipping with others. Let us briefly mention some of the benefits we receive such as encouragement and good examples to follow in our Christian lives.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 states that two are better than one because two can keep warm and help each other up when they fall, because people cannot pick themselves up when they fall down. Again, this message would appear to have very good relevance in our fellowshipping as well–keeping the fires of faith warm and helping each other up when we stumble. Likewise, James 4:13-16 appears to give brethren the responsibility of praying for the well-being of other brethren as well as hearing the confession of sins that have led to various illnesses and praying to God for forgiveness on behalf of their brethren. This is both a benefit and a responsibility–since the benefit of receiving prayers and encouragement is praying for others and encouraging them. We cannot expect to receive what we are unwilling to give.
Additionally, we have the right to expect (and the responsibility to provide) good examples. After all, we will not be priests and kings in the Kingdom of God, teaching people God’s way or ruling according to the standard of righteousness, if we have not shown ourselves that we can live according to God’s standard. Nonetheless, the example of Christ is to be the model for all. For as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow me as I follow Christ,” and as John says concerning the bad example of the elder/pastor Diotrephes in 3 John :11: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.”
These rights and responsibilities of believers regarding fellowship point to two fundamental reasons why brethren are called to fellowship with each other. First, we cannot either give or receive comfort and encouragement to each other if we are lone rangers blazing on our lonely trail by ourselves. The building of the family of God requires that the family and community be sustained by loving interpersonal relationships. This requires fellowship and active concern for the well being of others. Second, our fellowship with brethren is necessary for us to serve as a good example of obedience to others as well as learn from the good example of others. We all have areas where we struggle with obedience to God’s standards and other areas where our conduct and behavior is exemplary. Therefore others can profit from our example in certain aspects, and we can profit from the example of others.
Let us provide some examples of how this is the case. In a given congregation of brethren, there may be some whose biblical knowledge is very profound, and who are extremely knowledgeable about the application of the laws of the Bible concerning issues such as Sabbath observance and personal morality. Others may have a loving heart of service both within the congregation as well as in visiting shut-ins and other brethren in need. We need not denigrate either knowledge or practice to realize that as everyone has different gifts and abilities we can all stand to learn from everyone else–learn both the right ways to believe according to the scripture as well as the right ways to practice our faith in our day-to-day life. This requires that we recognize the contributions and gifts of the spirit present in our brethren and learn from them ourselves, rather than merely focus on and trumpet our own achievements.
As can be expected, therefore, the command of God for us to fellowship with our brethren, and not forsake that fellowship as is the habit of some, is for our own benefit. It is for our benefit to serve as a light and example of God’s way to our brethren rather than to bury our light under a bushel by going off by ourselves. It is for our benefit to learn from the godly examples of our brethren. It is for our benefit for us to encourage others and be encouraged by them, to pray for them and be prayed for. Therefore, let us follow this command not so that we may club other people over the head with it, but so that we may all as brethren be better joined together in the one body of Christ. For Christ is not divided–so we had all better learn how to be better united, while there is yet time to practice unity here and now.