A Prelude to Apostasy: Habitual Avoidance of Public Worship

Hebrews 9-13 (Word Biblical Commentary) Sadly, some Christians do not make it a habit or custom to regularly worship God together with other Christians.  For various reasons (a majority of them sinful!) some Christians simply skip corporate worship Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day.  Scripture is clear, however: God’s people must regularly worship him with others!  Hebrews 10:25 talks about “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (NASB).  Below is William Lane’s helpful commentary on this verse in Hebrews – and notice the seriousness of regularly avoiding public worship.

The failure of the writer [of Hebrews] to specify why some members of the community had stopped taking an active part in the meetings of the house church has invited a wide range of conjectures.  The reference to ‘custom’ or ‘habit’ …implies a situation of indifference and apathy, which is consistent with other indications throughout the sermon (2:1-3; 3:7-15; 4:1; 5:11-14; 10:23).  …It is sobering to discover that in the early second century in Rome it was simply preoccupation with business affairs that accounted for the neglect of the meetings of a house church (Herm. Sim. 8.8.1; 9.20.1).

Whatever the motivation, the writer regarded the desertion of the communal meetings as utterly serious.  It threatened the corporate life of the congregation and almost certainly was a prelude to apostasy on the part of those who were separating themselves from the assembly.  The neglect of worship and fellowship was symptomatic of a catastrophic failure to appreciate the significance of Christ’s priestly ministry and the access to God it provided.

The reason the meetings of the assembly are not to be neglected is that they provide a communal setting where mutual encouragement and admonition may occur….  The verb parakalein includes the notions of warning and reproof as well as encouragement, with the implication that reproof should be given in a loving way.  The entire community must assume responsibility to watch that no one grows weary or becomes apostate.  This is possible only when Christians continue to exercise care for one another personally.

William Lane, Hebrews 9-13 (Nashville: Nelson, 1991), 290.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond wi

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16 comments on “A Prelude to Apostasy: Habitual Avoidance of Public Worship

  1. thedmancometh says:

    I attended several churches and when I left one or another I was amazed at the lack of concern expressed by the other members of the church as to where I was.One church I was forced to leave because they disagreed with my belief in eternal security.I was almost tarred and feathered.Another I was basically just let go when I left.I went to another church near where I live but just felt the deadness and left.No one has contacted me.I say all this simply to show that it may be important to be in a church,but the fellowship is there at the building,and stays there.

    • Larry Wilson says:

      My wife and I attended a Christian college in the 1970s. That college required every professor, but not every student, to confess Christ. She and I were both new converts. We made a number of Christian friends and tried to be good witnesses to others who did not confess Christ. Thirty years later we attended a class reunion and began to catch up on folk with whom we had lost contact. We had two huge surprises. First, some that we had looked up to as Christian leaders had shipwrecked their faith and turned away. Second, some that we had deemed to be half-hearted Christians or even non-Christians had thrived in the faith and grown in their commitment to and service of the Lord. We were astonished.

      As we debriefed afterwards, it became apparent to us that there was a common thread. Those who had turned away from the Lord had stopped attending church at some point—because none was pure enough, or loving enough, or zealous enough, or evangelistic enough, or had the right kind of music, or … you name it. It’s easy to find plausible reasons in this poor, fallen world. On the other hand, those who had grown in Christ had all committed to and attended some church or other—even some that we deemed to be crummy choices.

      As I pondered why, it occurred to me that the reason is simple—it’s because our Lord works sovereignly through the means of grace. He can strike straight blows with crooked sticks, and in his mercy he does do so. This is also the reason why the devil works overtime to get people not to go to church—because he wants to sever them from the means of grace in order to distance them from the Lord. For this reason, if it’s all that is available, it is better to go to a crummy church than to not go to church at all.

  2. johntjeffery says:

    This calls to mind the issue of A. W. Pink’s isolation as a case in point. The infatuation of many with his published works notwithstanding, Pink should not be our role model when it comes to relationships. In fact, he should be the last person we should emulate when it comes to who we should get along with, and who we should separate from. He painted himself into a corner where he forsook the assembling together with the brethren. His biographer, Ian H. Murray, had to include a chapter on “Interpreting Pink’s Isolation” in his Life of Arthur W. Pink, rev. ed. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981, 2004). His editor, I. C. Herendeen said, “It is the mercy of God that A. W. Pink never had any children.” He stands as a bad example, a very bad example, of precisely what not to do when it comes to the levels of and maintenance of fellowship with brethren. See especially Dan Phillips, “A. W. Pink: glorifying God by disobeying Him?” (17 JAN 2013), on Pyromaniacs at http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-w-pink-glorifying-god-by-disobeying.html [accessed 19 APR 2014].

    • John: good to hear from you again. Hope you’re well! I don’t know much about A. W. Pink, and I’ve not read much of his work. The stuff I did read seemed a bit harsh or negative, however you want to put it. Sadly, I suppose even for Christian writers/teachers sometimes we need to “do as they say and not as they do.” Thanks for the note!

  3. Truth2Freedom says:

    Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.

  4. While I appreciate and don’t want to argue against anything that other commenters have said here, I feel another aspect of this needs to be voiced as well.

    Many Christians, faithful believers in our Lord, are no longer attending church because they ahve been so wounded by churches and leaders who are actuallly Pharisees, wolves in wool, hard-hearted controllers, and despite all the efforts of the wounded sheep, the Pharisees are not changing.

    This is most particularly seen in the case of domestic abuse victims who get mistreated and unfairly judged by churches. Not all churches are doing this, but far too many are.

    We have countless readers at A Cry For Justice who testify that tehy would love to go to church but can’t find one which would not re-traumatize them.

    I myself get my fellowship from a variety of things: a broadcast onine of a live church service in Oregon USA ( I live in Melbourne Australia), occasional attendance at a couple of Melbourne churches where I disagree with so much of what comes from the pulpit that it’s a full time job spitting out the bones while trying to find little shreds of meat via the Holy Spirit, and listening to Martin Lloyd Jones’s sermons online.

    The church at large needs to reevaluate the knee-jerk denunciation of ‘neglect of public worship’ and ask itself whether it is partly to blame for this sad state of affairs. If the church responded to abuse victims properly, they would flock to church in droves!

    • Barbara: your concern is a real one, and I appreciate your kind tone. If we think about the Hebrews 10:25 context, Churches (pastors, elders, deacons, laypeople) have the responsibility to hold fast to a true confession, love each other, stimulate one another to do good deeds, and encourage one another. If churches aren’t doing that, they need to be rebuked! There are also false churches that don’t even preach the gospel, so I wouldn’t suggest going to one of those!

      Also worth noting is that the “church skipping” I was discussing in the blog post is more of a deliberate and habitual skipping for wrong (sinful) reasons. The above warning is for a person who could go to a decent Christian church to worship regularly but most of the time chooses not to for various unbiblical reasons.

      Hope that clarifies things!
      Blessings,
      shane

  5. thedmancometh says:

    I guess if not attending some church will keep me out of heaven,and that fellowship with the Lord is based on sitting in a pew,hearing a preacher who believes that the louder he yells etc.and preaches what is known already by most of the people in the church yet nothing is happening in their lives,then I stand convicted.Stop thinking I can be close to the Lord while separated from people who have nothing to do with me is the solution I guess.I live alone with 4 dogs and six cats,but no visitors which is fine with me.I would rather be alone than have some person visit me to come to their church.Most believers could not identify with someone like me because they might lose their mask of holiness if I pressed them to be honest.I was a pastor,but had to resign early so I could worship with my family.The church was in Georgia and I lived in South Carolina and drove there every other Sunday(The church was satisfied with two services a month which they had done for years with pastor after pastor),That church was in Sandersville,Ga.and I also had two other charges in Savannah which I served on the other two Sundays.Upon leaving the church I was basically removed from any further service by the president of the denomination and not allowed to preach anymore.I could go on and on with many experiences but feel sure that I am considered a sinner beyond help so I will take my leave and hope in my Lord that He won’t cast me out also.OBTW I have a phone also and am within calling distance of all the local church members.

    • Dear “thedmancometh:”

      Sounds like you’ve walked a winding and sometimes tough road! I don’t mean to be insensitive, but Hebrews 10:19-25 is pretty clear – because of what Christ, our High Priest has done, we should confidently draw near to God, hold fast to our Christian confession, stir up other Christians to love and good works, and not forsake assembling with other saints to worship and fellowship. I realize it isn’t always easy, and I realize that there is no perfect church, but Scripture is clear, and it is our duty to obey it by God’s help and grace!

      Thanks for the comments,
      shane

      • thedmancometh says:

        Let me share this and then I won’t bother anymore.Some time back,I had asked the pastor of a church I had visited,about my getting into a travelling type ministry as an evangelist.I saw his advertisement for his landscaping business on Facebook and brought up my request which was a long time ago with no response.He sent me a message and stated that the he and the deacons had refused my request because of a difference in doctrine.I asked him in my reply to please tell me what that difference was.His response was to remove me from his friend’s list and no answer.I have been almost bodily removed from a “Christian” church for saying that I believed in eternal security which that church does not.Before allowing me to explain myself,two men in Sunday School raked me over the coals and I left in tears.I had just joined the church a week before.Four days later the pastor called me,and revealed that one of the men had a bad temper and tried to wash over the whole situation.I told him I had no hatred for the men but would not return.That is just one of many church experiences,I’ll not share anymore because I feel sure that I am already considered a misguided brother.I hate to say it,but I have been in churches that were more like funeral services,and one other that was like a night club.I will have to just hope in God’s mercy,and stop,like many others,feeling that my church attendance is the most vital aspect of my walk with God because churches aren’t the answer.

  6. NewVegasBadger says:

    Bybackground and history I was Lutheran, my family goes back being Lutheran that being Lutheran was hardwired into my DNA. I grew-up serving in the church in one form or another. It was just one of those things, serving, trying to use the abilities and interests I had for God and my fellow church members. With all due respect to every others, I was of the mind that if it was not Lutheran it was not worth bothering with.
    But the Lutherans are like a bunch of amoebas, splitting off one group to combine with another to form a new alphabet soup denomination. Over time, even the more conservative/traditional denominations changed to become more contemporary and modern, by abandoning the traditional worship service for a informal entertainment style of worship and their inane “praise music”. Even at the traditional service, which was NOT the type of service I remembered from my younger days, One a good Sunday service, the church was maybe a quarter full, filled with the blue haired old ladies. I thought to myself; where are the men? Where are all the badass, tough as nails macho men? Most ot the men I meet their where the “nice guy” wimps. I realized that the church had become so effeminate that there was no place for a real man. I just could not take it any more. I did not leave the Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church left me.
    I had seriously converting to Orthodox, but like the Roman Catholics they have this worship of Mary as a co-redeamer and forever virgin. Yes I believe the she was a virgin when she gave birth to our Lord, BUT, I believe that she did what any other married woman does…she had sex with her husband Joseph and they had a family; four sons and at least two daughters. I don’t understand the need to keep to keep Mary a forever virgin. and some too pure to be a real human woman.
    So where am I to go? I’ve gone to a number of different churchs in my life time, and have not felt that I was in a place of holiness; The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silent before him. I’ve been to a couple where I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the so called church and a collage performing arts building.. I am sick of this so called music that is repetative, bland and about you want to praise “him” because “he” makes you feel. I am sick of mister nice guy pastor in his slacks and polo shirt giving another one of the prepared canned sermons in the lastest series, that are so churchy and “spiritual” that they are forgotten about an hour after church is over with. I can not stand the bland shallow prayer too. Just what the hell do you expect God to do with the lame: “and now we pray for (………). I am sick this mission nonsense. Why send missionaries to some place else when this single most important mission field is your own city. If you want to save the lost sinners, and present the Gospel of Jesus, then start with your own city and state. In my never to be humble opinion, if any nation is in desperate need of missionaries it is the Former United Sates of America.
    So if I have to go it alone, then I will go it alone. I can not stand the status quo, and I will NOT stand for being treated like freak or an idiot. In the words of Number 6; “I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filled,stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.”

    • NewVegasBadger – thanks for the comments. Much of what you say is true: the church in the United States is not healthy and well. Your assessment isn’t false! It’s usually not beneficial from a spiritual standpoint to go to churches that are man-centered displays of pop-culture entertainment.

      However, it is helpful to remember that there are solid biblical churches in the United States. I’ve lived in the Midwestern, Southwestern, and the Northwestern parts of the U.S. and in each place I’ve seen more than a few good churches. Don’t let cynicism blind you to the fact that there are solid churches out there that stand firmly on the truths of the historic Christian faith! Check http://www.naparc.org for examples.

      One more thing: we should not give up on Christ’s church because he does not – the gates of hell will not prevail! Corinth was a mess and they deserved Paul’s rebuke, but he still prayed for and loved them – even calling them saints!

      Finally, Hebrews 10:25 doesn’t have an exception clause in it. I know of Christians who drive a few hours to worship at a solid church; not ideal of course, but they realize they are called to assemble, even if it’s just two or three times per month. It’s commendable when God’s people do what they can to regularly worship with other Christians. We don’t have to go it alone!

      Thanks again for the comments. Don’t forget that one day Christ will perfectly purify and sanctify his people. No church is perfectly pure in this age; but in the age to come all of God’s people will be perfectly pure.

      shane

    • thedmancometh says:

      Maintain a personal walk with God.Stay as close to Him as you can.Do your best to walk away from habitual sins and love God.There are many like us that have forsaken church buildings which are either social clubs closed to the unselected,or complacent sitting waiting for the rapture,which I have changed my earlier belief in.I preached at one church that had been a fairly large church in the denomination of many small churches,that had gone down to just a few people after the pastor left whom they had held up as their idol.I live alone and am not bothered by “Christians” calling me to come have a meal or any other type of fellowship.Those in the church are a closed community unless you are a member of one of the founding families,which far too many churches revolve around.

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