The government tells churches not to meet when officials determine such assemblies to be non-essential during the pandemic. Most churches would comply without threats of enforcement, but some challenged the authorities. It’s no surprise that one man’s “stay home!” threatens another man’s freedom. The courts are already ruling on whether certain jurisdictions crossed religious freedom boundaries.
Those who see church attendance as their essential religious duty might cite, “Don’t forsake the assembling together” as the source text for their essential religious duty. Let’s consider the hermeneutics of that Bible passage. For starters, look at it in context. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:23-25, KJV).
The exhortations here are (1) hold fast to the hope and faith we have in Christ and (2) provoke or stimulate one another in ways that benefit our fellow man. In short, it’s about loving God and loving your neighbor, the two greatest commands according to Jesus. We do that by exhorting one another, and that is best done in community – together. So the church gathers not because it is simply a religious duty, but as a means to loftier purposes. If the church assembled is not an expression of loving God and neighbor, then let’s call it out as bad hermeneutics.
The unity expressed in those purposes is undeterred by diversity. C. S. Lewis writes, “The church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.” Philip Yancy agrees. “Church is the place where I celebrate my identity in Christ and work it out in the midst of people who have many differences but share this one thing in common. We are charged to live out a kind of alternative society before the eyes of the watching world, a world that is increasingly moving toward tribalism and division.” Unity in diversity is what the world seeks, and what the church of the Lord Jesus Christ offers.
Churches report increased attendance for online meetings. The technology helps, but it’s not like being in proximity to one another. But the day will come soon when we can assemble together. We miss the folks that help us hold fast to our hope and faith, and spur us on toward love and good deeds. If we are to “not forsake” something, let’s not forsake those Biblical reasons for our gatherings.