Hebrews exhorts the letter’s recipients to not neglect meeting together “as is the habit of some” (Heb 10:25). Many apply this verse to churches such that it becomes a command to meet together as the whole church on Sunday mornings.
Everyone agrees that this passage exhorts the audience of Hebrews to not neglect (or forsake) meeting as some others had done. The question I am asking is: does it command the church universal to meet on Sunday morning as a whole gathered body? And if it does, then would that command be at odds with submitting to governmental mandates that temporarily restrict or prevent regular Sunday morning worship?
Here are my thoughts.
Three prior questions
To tackle this question, we need to ask three prior questions because Hebrews 10:24–25 does not specify when Christians should meet (Sunday) or how large a gathering must be, nor does it make a generic statement (see the argument below) but one directed towards a specific audience (which can apply more broadly of course). These three questions are:
- Does the Bible say Christians should meet regularly? (Yes)
- Does the Bible say we should meet on Sunday? (See below)
- Does the Bible say how large a gathering needs to be? (No)
Here are answers to each of these questions:
Does the Bible say Christians meet regularly? Let’s get the obvious out the way. Christians should meet to confess, to pray, to hear the Word, to take the Lord’s Supper, and to be baptized. The body of Christ needs to be the body of Christ in some way, shape, or form. Typically, that means gathering in some sufficient space to do our priestly duty of worship. Hence, the church needs some sort of building to function to fullest potential.
Does the Bible say we should meet on Sunday? Given that we need to gather in some way, in what sort of way should we gather? Does it have to be on Sunday? Generally, Christians associate Sunday with the “Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10). That day, we think, means the day of Christ’s resurrection—the first day of the week, Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). So while the Bible does not directly command that we worship on the Lord’s Day (if that means Sunday), tradition and Scriptural hints guide us to the practice of Sunday worship.
Does the Bible say how large a gathering needs to be? Do we need to have a large gathering? Again, Scripture provides no number except one might imagine the minimum necessary to organize a church. So perhaps one elder and one or two other families. A local church can then be small and meet anywhere that there is sufficient space.
Hebrews 10:24–25 grammatically begins in Hebrews 10:23, which provides, in my view, a key to the whole passage:
Let us hold fast to the confession of hope without wavering for faithful is the one who promises and let us consider [how] to stir each other up to love and good deeds by not forsaking gathering together as some have done by habit; instead, [let us consider stirring up each other] by encouraging [each other] all the more as you see the day drawing near.
[23 κατέχωμεν τὴν ὁμολογίαν τῆς ἐλπίδος ἀκλινῆ, πιστὸς γὰρ ὁ ἐπαγγειλάμενος, 24 καὶ κατανοῶμεν ἀλλήλους εἰς παροξυσμὸν ἀγάπης καὶ καλῶν ἔργων, 25 μὴ ἐγκαταλείποντες τὴν ἐπισυναγωγὴν ἑαυτῶν, καθὼς ἔθος τισίν, ἀλλὰ παρακαλοῦντες, καὶ τοσούτῳ μᾶλλον ὅσῳ βλέπετε ἐγγίζουσαν τὴν ἡμέραν.]
Holding fast to the confession stands as perhaps the central concern of Hebrews (Heb 3:1; 4:14). Hebrews expands on this confession which basically amounts to Jesus’s saving work as the high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
The opposite of holding fast to the confession is falling away, something Hebrews also speaks of (e.g.. Heb 6:1–8). Hebrews 10 contains a similar warning, immediately following Hebrews 10:24–25 (vv. 26–39). Hence, it shows the opposite of holding fast, which is falling away. Falling away means denying Christ (Heb 6:4–6) or here sinning deliberately by (or alongside) trampling on the Son (10:26, 29). Both seem to signify a public denying of Christ (Heb 6:6; 10:29).
The author warns against this falling away with strong words and then shows what holding fast looks like (10:32–34). In sum, it looks like holding the course even if one loses their possessions. The clear line of thought here is that the author wants the Hebrews to stay the course by confessing Christ even if they lose their possessions as had happened to some in the past.
The point then seems to be that some have forsaken gathering because they have forsaken Christ—they have “trampled underfoot the Son of God” (Heb 10:29). Perhaps they did not want to lose their earthly possessions. And given the clear parallels to the warning passage in Hebrews 6 with Hebrews 10 and the public punishment that some in the community had earlier underwent (Heb 10:33), those who forsook meeting almost certainly did so publicly (Heb 6:6; παραδειγματίζοντας).
Hence, those who forsook meeting together customarily likely are known examples of what it looks like to sin deliberately (Heb 10:26) and crush the Son underfoot (Heb 10:29). Meeting together then carries the function of “encouraging” one another so as to NOT fall away and so be ready for the “coming day” (10:25; 3:13) of judgement that Hebrews 10:27 speaks of.
Does the specific exhortation carry a general command?
So the question is this: does the contextual exhortation here carry a generic command for the church universal to meet in a (large) gathering on Sunday morning? Not as such. But it definitely does say something about the importance of gathering to encourage one another as the day draws near.
It provides one more reason why we should gather alongside confession, prayer, word, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. Encouraging one another is key. Hebrews shows us this. Hence, if we forsake the body, the church, we throw off a primary means of encouragement to keep the faith. We fall into the danger of being like those who habitually forsake gathering together and who seem to have also denied Christ.
In short, gather to gain encouragement to hold fast to your confession or else you may become like those who forsook Christ and so his body. That seems to sum up the contextual argument. The broader principle is that gathering should be for encouragement to prevent us from falling away over fear of earthly loss.
For this reason, I probably would not use this passage to argue that Scripture gives a carte blanche command to gather on Sunday mornings with the whole church. That is not the argument of this particular text. I would make that argument, however, with other texts, and I think Hebrews 10:24–25 could contribute by adding yet another reason to gather.
So we are still left with the question of whether or not temporal powers should be obeyed when they temporarily restrict gatherings. Scripture has a wide set of texts and tradition and a deep set of arguments for why the answer should generally be yes to this question. That is where I currently land, and I do not think Hebrews 10:24–25 persuades me otherwise, but it does make me long for a time when I can gather with Christians more easily for mutual encouragement.