It is idolized, with Hebrews 10:25 used as support while ignoring Matthew 18:20 and II Thessalonians 2:1.
What am I talking about?
I'm talking about articles like this one, saying that the organized church is necessary to the Christian life, and situations like this one, where a pastor seems to have been put under discipline for his chronically ill wife not attending church "enough". I'm talking about the queries regarding church attendance—where and how often—regardless of what the person is already known about health issues, work situation, or theological points—questions that come from reformed Presbyterians and independent Baptists both.
Notice that, despite the linked-to situation, I'm not specifically targeting the OPC, here. Basic logic and linguistics.
I'm talking about all the focus on what folks do on the street corners, rather than what we do in secret, as if it's more important to attend the "right" organized church three times per week than it is to study the Scriptures, pray, and engage with other believers.
"But wait!" you might be saying, thinking of Hebrews 10:25. "We're told to attend church regularly! You even just admitted it!"
Not at all.
Let's first look at what, precisely, Hebrews 10:25 actually says.
24And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25Not 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.Hebrews 10:24–25, KJV
The key phrase here is "the assembling of ourselves together", with "assembly" being said to refer specifically to the organized church—after all, you need a group to "assemble"!
Problem: That translation ignores the Greek.
- "'grouping together that fulfills (builds on) the specific purpose of the gathering together" (HELPS Word-studies)
- "a gathering together, an assembly" (Strong's Concordance}
- (derived from episunagó)
- "properly, bring together (gather), i.e. group together (collect), especially to accomplish the intended purpose of the gathering" (HELPS Word-studies)
- "I collect, gather together, assemble." (Strong's Concordance}
The Greek word episunagógé appears one other place in Scripture: II Thessalonians 2:1.
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and [by] our gathering together unto him,II Thessalonians 2:1, KJV (bold added to show episunagógé)
That verse only includes two parties, Christ and the "you"—which can be singular or plural in English. When I dig into the Greek, the word looks to have a dual meaning: both "you" in the singular specific person sense, and "you" in the group collective unit sense. Note that's a both/and situation, not either/or, and both meanings are singular. And then use of episunagó fits with that meaning of "gathering of 2+ for a purpose".
For what purpose? For that, we just have to look back up to Hebrews 10:24 again: "provoke [one another] unto love and to good works".
An organized church isn't necessary for such purpose, and that's made clear by Matthew 18:20.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.Matthew 18:20, KJV
It doesn't matter how many are gathered or where we gather. What matters is why we gather. A Sunday School class can gather to watch a football game, if they want, and that could be some lovely socialization, but it wouldn't be gathering together according to Hebrews 10:24 or Matthew 18:20.
So when focus is placed on on attendance at the "right" church or with the "right" frequency, that's assigning definition and import to attendance at the organized church that isn't actually there. It's focus on what can be seen in public, which is worrying in itself (ref. Matthew 6:5).
Some claim that such regular attendance at the "right" local church is a fruit of the Spirit, but it's not listed in Galatians 5:22–23. And even verses that speak of the fellowship of believers an be applied outside an organized church.
The only thing that matters is gathering for the "right" purpose. The number of persons involved and the location of that gathering are not listed as affecting God's presence or the benefit to the believer. No, what matters is the purpose.
All the focus on the overt action of being in the right place instead of having the right heart ends up idolizing attendance, and that isn't right.
What are your thoughts on the idolization of church attendance? Do you agree or disagree?