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MAY A CHRISTIAN MISS SUNDAY MORNING SERVICES?
Is it okay for a Christian to occasionally miss Sunday morning services? Sometimes Christians fail to see the significance of consistent worship on the Lord's Day, and they believe it is acceptable for them to miss an occasional Sunday morning service for business or pleasure. The Bible passage that speaks most directly to this issue is found in Hebrews 10:24-25, which reads:
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. (NKJ)
What is the meaning of this passage? Does "forsaking" here indicate the idea of abandoning the worship services permanently, with the intention of never returning? Or does the term refer to abandoning even a single Sunday morning service? Our study will show that, excepting special circumstances, a Christian violates God's law when he fails to assemble on Sunday morning, even occasionally, for the three following reasons: the Christian's priorities, the meaning of "forsaking" in Hebrews 10:25, and the Christian's obligation to commune and contribute every first day of the week.
I. THE CHRISTIAN'S PRIORITIES
A. Our Attendance Typically Reflects Our Spirituality
Regardless of the meaning of Hebrews 10:25, if one is seeking for reasons that will justify his abscence from the Lord's Day assembly (or any assembly of the saints), this indicates a priority problem. The basic issue is this person wants to excuse himself from his spiritual duties, and he feels a need to justify his decision to serve self rather than God. He has placed the priority of pleasure, entertainment, or even family in front of God.
While a man may attend every church service and still be carnally minded, it is certainly a general truth that those who are most interested in the Bible, mutual edification, the work of the church, showing love to their brethren, and praising the name of God will make every effort to attend worship services in the local congregation and even in gospel meetings elsewhere.
B. Scriptures That Address Our Priorities
Matthew 6:33 tells us to seek first God's kingdom. One must ask himself, "Am I seeking first the kingdom of God when I miss the services of the church?"
Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above rather than on earthly things. "Am I putting my mind and heart where they need to be when I miss church services?"
Luke 14:26 tells us we cannot be Jesus' disciples unless we hate our families and our own lives. While the language may seem harsh, Jesus is stressing the importance of putting Him first, even before the ones we hold dear on this earth. Often times people try to justify missing Sunday morning services by claiming they have an obligation to work and take care of their families. While this obligation does exist, we must not use it to excuse ourselves from fulfilling other obligations -- such as worship -- God has laid upon us. In fact, Matthew 6:24-34 reveals to us that God will take care of our physical needs if we will take care of our spiritual duties first.
II. THE MEANING OF "FORSAKING" IN HEBREWS 10:25
A. The Greek Word EGKATALEIPO
What does it mean to forsake the assembly in Hebrews 10:25? "Forsaking " in Hebrews 10:25 comes from the Greek EGKATALEIPO, meaning "abandon, desert, leave behind, leave in straits, leave helpless, neglect; leave in a place or situation."
While this word means "to abandon totally and utterly" (2 Tim. 4:10), no sense of time is intended. In other words, it is not necessarily talking about permanent abandonment. The word indicates a temporary abandonment in Matthew 27:46. Notice in Matthew 27:46, Jesus cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The word "forsaken" here does not mean a permanent abandonment. God utterly and totally abandoned Christ because He was bearing our sins on the cross, but God certainly did not permanently abandon Him (Lk. 23:46; Acts 2:27, 31).
B. The Application
When a person chooses to miss, even one Sunday, he HAS totally and completely abandoned the assembly on that Lord's Day. Whether or not one makes a habit out of the sin (as Paul says some did) does not change the fact that it is a sin to utterly abandon the assembly even once. Habitual sin AND infrequent sin are BOTH wrong.
If Hebrews 10:25 only refers to those who habitually forsake the assembly, but does not include those who miss every now and then, we must ask the question, "Where does such reasoning lead?" If I may be excused to miss the Sunday assembly for some particular worldly reason, may not every Christian who comprises the local body of Christ be excused? If not, why not? The local church has an obligation to come together and commune (see #3 below). Who is the local church? Individual Christians (1 Cor. 12:27)! If we say the church MUST assemble on the first day of every week, then we are saying individual Christians MUST assemble on the first day of every week.
III. THE CHRISTIAN'S DUTY TO COMMUNE AND CONTRIBUTE
A. The Time of Our Obligation
The Lord commands us to partake of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:2, 23-25; Lk. 22:19-20) and to give of our means (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
If we are to follow the biblical example, this may only be done on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). To neglect the Lord's Day assembly is to forsake our obligation to commune and to give.
B. The Frequency of Our Obligation
Also, 1 Cor. 16:2, literally says, "on every first day of the week, let each one of you lay by him, treasuring up whatever he may have prospered, that when I may come then collections may not be made" (Young's Literal Trans.; see also NAS, NIV).
Notice, "EVERY" first day of the week. Christians had an obligation to assemble EVERY Sunday to take care of the collection and to commune. Remember, Acts 2:42 tells us that the disciples continued "stedfastly," that is, constantly, in the breaking of bread (communion). This kind of language leaves no room for skipping Sundays every now and then.
IV. EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE
A. Unavoidable Circumstances
There are, of course, certain conditions in which we might not assemble. The above points do not condemn a person who is sick or otherwise incapable of attending worship services. It does not condemn a man who is detained from making the assembly because of some natural disaster or, as in the case of the Apostle John, imprisonment.
However, exceptions and special circumstances never make the rule. There is quite an expansive gulf of difference between the man who misses services because he is sick and the man who misses for recreational or vocational reasons.
B. Not Willful Sin
The person who misses services for recreational or vocational purposes misses WILLFULLY. Please notice that in the context of Hebrews 10:25, Paul is talking about willful sin. Hebrews 10:26 says, "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins."
There are circumstances over which we have no control, and then there are circumstances we create by our willful decisions. The man who misses the assembly to work, play golf, fish, vacation, or the such like is a man who willfully sins by choosing not to assemble with the saints to commune and contribute.
To summarize, excepting special, uncontrollable circumstances, it is NOT okay for a Christian to occasionally miss Sunday morning worship services for the following reasons:
He is clearly not seeking first the Kingdom of God and exhibits a priority problem.
"Forsaking" in Hebrews 10:25 means to utterly and totally forsake, and a man utterly and totally forsakes the assembly by choosing not to be there, even once.
The church is commanded to observe the Lord's Supper and to contribute every first day of the week. The local church is made up of individual Christians; therefore, every Christian is obligated to commune and give EVERY first day of the week in the assembly of the local church.
Unless it is an unavoidable circumstance, he has willfully sinned by choosing to miss the Lord's Day assembly.
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