This is an important question for us to think through using God’s own Word. If we are disobeying God by not going to church, then we need to go to church and submit to the consequences as illustrated in Acts 5:17ff when the Apostles were forbidden to preach, but obeyed God instead and bore joyfully the persecution. Does meeting together fall into that category of obeying God even if it means disobeying a government mandate?
When there was no pandemic lockdown, we might well have quoted Hebrews 10:24-25 to each other in our ministry to one another when we are tempted to stay away from church. That is a perfectly appropriate usage of that passage encouraging us to endure in holding fast our confession until Jesus returns. What does Hebrews 10:24-25 say about our current lockdown? Does it give a command that we are disobeying by not going to church on Sunday? Let’s look at what it actually says.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
It doesn’t require too much special attention to the words God’s chose in these verses to realise that these verses do not have the strength of a clear command. Clear commands are black and white and directed from one to another (example: the Apostles were commanded to go into all the world and make disciples, hence the black-and-white obedience of Acts 5). But these verses do not have any clear commands. Instead they have a “let us” statement directed to one another. “Let us consider” is different to “Consider!”, “not neglecting to meet” is different to “do not neglect to meet”. This is an important distinction for us to maintain in our use of these verses. It is possible for a 100% church attendee still not to use each attendance to stir one another up to love and good works and encouraging one another until Jesus returns. It is also possible for us during lockdown not to meet together in person as we ordinarily would, and yet to be very faithful in considering how to stir one another up to love and good works and encouraging one another until Jesus returns. The “let us” statement is really more testing of our faithfulness than a “thou shalt” command would be, for it tests how faithful we are in our duties to one another more than it tests how rigidly we keep to a schedule.
Another important observation from these verses is that it is not about winning the attendance award as much as it is about habitual neglect. The phrase “as is the habit of some” qualifies the “neglecting one another”. It points a finger, not to those who are home against all odds, but to those who are accustomed to an easy neglect of meeting with the saints. In lockdown it differentiates between those who invent and exploit new ways to show one-another love and those who see it as a justification for doing nothing. It is really as relevant a warning to us under lockdown as it was before lockdown—are you still considering how to stir one another up to love and good works by not neglecting the ways you have to do so?
Hebrews 10:24-25 does not require of us to disobey the government for the sake of meeting together—especially considering that the lockdown applies to more than just religion and is motivated by medical concern and not the elimination of Christianity. But Hebrews 10:24-25 does require of us to join forces with one another for each other’s sake. We can do so best by meeting together, but as our own church has demonstrated quite well already, we can find enough ways to ‘make do’ until we can meet together again.