Can Hebrews 10: 25 "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" be applied to those who leave a Christian gathering and go nowhere?
It is a fundamental rule that the application of Scripture must be in accord with its interpretation. To interpret Heb. 10: 25 correctly, we must take account of the background against which the verse is set. Hebrews was written to demonstrate the superiority of the new order of things in Christianity over the old order as seen in Judaism. Thus, among other things, we read of “a better hope”, “a better covenant”, “sacrifices better than these” and “a better substance” (7: 19; 7: 22; 9: 23; 10: 34). One of the reasons it had become necessary so to write was the very real possibility of Jews who had professed Christianity returning to Judaism. Such were warned that “it is impossible to renew again to repentance those once enlightened, and who have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have been made partakers of [the] Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and [the] works of power of [the] age to come, and have fallen away” (6: 4-6). Even where there was genuine affection for the Lord, many Jewish converts were loathe to sever their ties with the religion into which they had been born, hence the exhortation to “go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach” (13: 13) - the camp being Judaism.
When Hebrews was written, it is likely that the Temple was still standing in Jerusalem. At that point in time, there had been only a partial fulfilment of Hosea 3: 4: “the children of Israel shall abide many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without statue, and without ephod and teraphim”. Though a king had long ceased to sit on David’s throne, the priesthood was still functioning and the sacrifices were still being offered. Unlike the invisible blessings of Christianity, the Jews who rejected Christ could point to a visible priest, and a visible sacrifice. Again, in contrast to the glorious and ornate worship centre of Judaism (see Luke 21: 5), what (apparently) had Christianity to offer but a mere gathering unto the name of one crucified, with nothing for the eye of man at all! What was the simple meeting place and the uncomplicated arrangements of the Christians, when compared to the awe-inspiring rituals of Judaism, and the splendour of its temple? Is it any wonder then that some Jewish believers might become discouraged as they compared what they had left with what they had joined? They might not give up Christianity (indeed, they could not if they were real), but there would be a temptation to stay away from the Christian assembly, and avoid the embarrassment of being associated with it in the public eye. It is against this background that we read the exhortation “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom [is] with some”.
To quote this verse indiscriminately against Christians who opt to stay at home rather than attend a church or meeting betrays a rather carefree way of handling Holy Scripture. Heb. 10: 25 has in view persons who leave an assembly for the wrong reasons. Does it never occur to some people that there could be right reasons for staying away? Certainly it is normal (and healthy) for Christians to “come together” (1 Cor. 14: 26) in a practical expression of their unity as “his body, which is the assembly” (Col. 1: 24), and thus to ‘forsake the assembling of ourselves together’ would be a very serious matter. However, this general principle does not exclude the possibility of there being grounds for remaining at home. How could Timothy withdraw from the iniquity sanctioned in the public body (2 Tim. 2: 19-21) if not by staying away? Sadly, any Christian meeting can become like the Medieval Church - infallible and unchallengeable - and when that happens, to stay away is always viewed as wrong. Even when people do leave for the wrong reasons, it is worthy of note that Hebrews 10: 25 does not stand alone. Verse 24 speaks of considering one another “for provoking to love and good works” and the latter part of verse 25 of “encouraging [one another]”. Perhaps more attention could be paid to these exhortations in a day of generally declining ‘church attendance’! It takes no spiritual power to condemn persons who leave a Christian gathering, and it requires no great genius to find verses to use against them. The writer to the Hebrews had some critical observations to make about the saints, but he enshrined them in a ministry of Christ - he brought Christ to bear on the situation. Could you do the same? In Luke 24: 13 two were going away from the divine centre. What rekindled warmth in their affections (see v32)? Was it not a ministry of Christ: “He interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (v27)?