Do you have to go to church to be a Christian? That question is repeatedly debated, it seems. When confronted with “the question,” many of us in the regular-attending camp whip out Hebrews 10:25, which tells us not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves.” That is our go-to response. Now for those in the “you should go to church” camp who are especially crafty (and some of us are pretty crafty), we will begin to list all the reasons that going to church will help you.We might talk about what you’ll learn (or to be spiritual-sounding: “how you’ll be fed”) or we might talk about how you’ll be comforted in times of need. We might even go for our big guns and mention how you will experience the presence of God. Those are all legitimate reasons; however, none of them have anything to do with this verse. In reality, Hebrews 10:25 gives us an altogether different reason for attending church. Sadly, it is one that is rarely used in this discussion.
Now, for a quick refresher on elementary school grammar (which Ms. Costello, Erwin, et al will be glad that I actually remember): sentences begin with a capital letter, and do not end with a comma. Armed with that powerful bit of knowledge, let’s look at the verse in question: “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,” (Heb. 10:25a – NIV). Since it is neither begins with a capital letter nor ends with a period, it is only part of a sentence. Why don’t we look at the entire sentence? It begins in the preceding verse: 24 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24,25 – emphasis mine) Did you catch the difference? While many of us use this verse to espouse the personal benefits of coming together for worship, this is entirely out of context with what the writer of Hebrews is endorsing. While we talk about the benefits to you, this sentence tells us that the reason we should not neglect meeting together is for the benefits our presence there provides to others. Our presence “spurs one another toward love and good deeds,” and “encourages one another.” In addition, while the invention of TV, internet, etc… has made the gospel more accessible (thereby, seeming to strengthen the argument against church attendance), this passage tells us to be even more committed as time goes on. Committed to what? To having our name on the roll? To hearing a challenging message? Committed to reaping all the benefits we can receive from a good church service? No… committed to one another: to motivating one another to love and do good things, and to encouraging one another. In other words, the one who suffers when you “forsake assembling together” isn’t you; it is me… and every other “one another” that sure could have used some encouragement and motivation. So, next Sunday, when you are debating on whether or not to attend church, remember: we sure could use you!