I have been greatly bothered by Hebrews 10:25 for a while. You might have already felt it clouting about your ears if you aren’t someone who gets overly excited about attending church.
“Thou shalt not forsake the assembly of the brethren” that family critic gloweringly paraphrases to you, making you uncomfortable; then, with a wrinkled and furrowed brow and peering into your face, continues with the remainder of the verse, “as is the manner of some.”
Yikes. I can almost feel their hot breath right now.
My key question/problem is with the word assemble. I was asking a pastor friend of mine about this, and he said something interesting: “We must be very careful that we properly distinguish between the idea of gathering and assembling. If you take a bunch of parts—say, Ikea furniture pieces—and gather them in a big box, they will be of little use even though they are absolutely gathered. They must be assembled to be of use.”
And so we talked further about how if churches are supposed to be a place of assembly and not simply gathering, we are in a heap of disjointed trouble! Especially considering that we are to be a working body—ergo, an assembled body, not merely gathered parts.
After all—and let’s be honest even though it stings—when was the last time you, as a unique member with unique abilities, were fitted together to be of use in your church “community”? Say, in a way other than being on the music team, being a financial contributor, or being a greeter at the door?
Is that all “community” is?
I shall say unashamedly, hell no, for it is in hell where there is total separation.
The word assembly has important connotations: the Oxford English Dictionary has a few really cool ones. One is “strengthened by together.” It also includes “to congregate.” However, congregate isn’t just gathering! It’s actually “mingling.” And a great definition for that is
To mix (things together or one thing with another) so that they become physically united or form a new combination; to combine in a mixture, to blend.
Isn’t that righteous? In our Christian community, it seems as though, ideally, we should be so together that to the outsider we are a mingled collective of interworking bodily members. This implies that we should be soluble to each other so we can combine together, as in the aforementioned definition.
And so back to my trouble with the typical church and the assumption that churchgoing is conterminous with assembly. Especially considering the instruction that precedes verse 25. If you don’t mind, let’s look at the two verses in tandem from a few translations.
Let us consider how to inspire each other to greater love and to righteous deeds, not forgetting to gather as a community, as some have forgotten, but encouraging each other …
Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on …
Let us also think of creative ways by which we can influence one another to find inspired expression in doing things that benefit others. Good actions give voice and volume to the love of God. In the light of our free access to the Father, let us extend that embrace to one another. Our gatherings are no longer a repetition of tradition but an essential fellowship where we remind one another of our true identity.
It seems to me that the conception of merely going to church to fulfill the “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some” is hugely deficient in the totality of the instruction to us in the body.
I love the ideas given in the three versions above: assembly being connected with being inventive in encouraging each other, inspiring each other to righteous deeds, and being creative in influencing each other to find inspired expressions in doing things that benefit others.
That’s community. At least, I think. Plus, it allows for so much breadth of opportunity.
Most biblical experts agree that the word ecclesia (which is translated as “church”) is not a building or a place to go on a particular day: it’s something we are. This, then, makes a different spin on assembly and what it means.
However, I have some rather painful considerations about my own responsibility: namely, how can I be more soluble? As in, how can I—not necessarily in the church but in the body of Christ as a whole—be more inventive in helping others? Be more creative in inspiring my Christian siblings? How can I better prepare myself to mingle easier with my fellow congregants?
I am working on it and asking others about it. And the more I think about it, the more I am freed to think outside the typical paradigm of just helping in a church, about being a help to the body.
And especially as the more introverted type. I always find it easy to put the onus on the church leadership because they are the ones in charge, and yet that isn’t entirely fair. Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making, reminds me that, whether or not we feel it, we all have some degree of power (use the term resources or influence if that’s more comfortable) in our own spheres of relationships and communities. He urges us to cultivate sturdy and lasting relationships with people of shared visions, because it is from these relationships, or micro-communities, that purposeful and viable possibilities are birthed and sustained. Creative projects, large or small, that bring beauty and inspiration and healing and redemption to the people around us.
If assembling ourselves together with an entire group of churchgoers seems daunting, I wonder if the thought of assembling with one or two people of my church community is more realizable (Crouch suggests groups of three are ideal). In creatively investigating how I may effectively share my resources with others, and ways they can share theirs with me, perhaps—just perhaps—together, we will get closer to Paul’s vision of assembly.