Does the Bible command regular personal attendance of Church members at weekly Sabbath and annual Holy Days services?


Barring extraordinary circumstances, such as health issues or very long distance, which would prevent us from attending Church services, the answer is clearly yes. Not to attend Church services because of lack of convenience or interest is clearly sinful in the eyes of God. And if in doubt, it is always better to attend than to use “excuses” for not attending.

In Hebrews 10, Paul sets forth in no uncertain terms the duty of Church members to attend Church services in person and warns that constant neglect might lead to committing the unpardonable sin: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering… 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… For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation  of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:23-27).

Turning first to the Old Testament, we will see God’s explicit commands to the people of Israel to assemble on each Sabbath and on each annual Holy Day, as well as for the entire eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day.

Leviticus 23:3 refers to a “holy convocation” on the weekly Sabbath. A holy convocation is a meeting or gathering for a holy or sacred purpose.

Leviticus 23:4 speaks of all of the annual Holy Days or feasts as “holy convocations.”

In particular, Leviticus 23:7 states that the first day of the Days of Unleavened Bread includes a holy convocation [compare Numbers 28:18]. (Even though the Passover, immediately preceding the first Day of Unleavened Bread, is not a holy day per se, it was a commanded assembly for all “circumcised” Israelites and is to be observed today by all “spiritually” circumcised or properly baptized “spiritual Jews” or converted Christians. This assembly was and is so important to God that someone who was or is prevented from keeping the Passover at the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner could and can keep it one month later as the “second Passover” (compare Numbers 9:10-11.)

Leviticus 23:8 says that the seventh or last day of the Days of Unleavened Bread “shall be a holy convocation.” [Compare Numbers 28:25. Deuteronomy 16:8 describes it as a “sacred assembly.”] Even though it does not say that we need to keep all the seven days of Unleavened Bread as holy convocations, we are to remove leavened products from our houses and refrain from eating those products during the entire time, while eating unleavened products for seven days (Numbers 28:17). It is true that at times, all the seven days were voluntarily kept as a feast (Ezra 6:22; 2 Chronicles 35:17) and on one occasion, they were even voluntarily kept for 14 days (2 Chronicles 30:13, 21-27).

Leviticus 23:21 commands that on the day of Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks or the “day of the firstfruits,” a “holy convocation” is to be held [compare Numbers 28:26].

Leviticus 23:24 addresses the Feast of Trumpets and states that “you shall have a sabbath-rest” and “a holy convocation.” [Compare Numbers 29:1.]

Leviticus 23:27 states that the Day of Atonement “shall be a holy convocation for you.” [Compare Numbers 29:7.]

Leviticus 23:35 says that on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, there shall be a “holy convocation” [compare Numbers 29:12.]

Leviticus 23:36 states that on the eighth day “you shall have a holy convocation.” Numbers 29:35 describes it as a “sacred assembly.” The eighth day immediately follows the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles. But please note that all the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles are described as a “feast to the LORD” which is to be kept for the entire time (Leviticus 23:41). We read in Nehemiah 8:18 that “day by day, from the first day until the last day, he [Ezra] read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner.”

Summarizing the annual Holy Days, Leviticus 23:37-38 concludes: “These are the feasts of the LORD which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations… besides the [weekly] Sabbaths of the LORD…”

Let us now focus on God’s commands as to who was to attend services in Old Testament times, and as to where these assemblies had to take place.

We read in Deuteronomy 16:9-11, regarding the observance of the Feast of Pentecost, that “You shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you…” As we can see from this, nobody was excluded (This description is also found in Deuteronomy 5:12-14 regarding the observance of the weekly Sabbath.) Somebody might respond that the wife was not specifically mentioned, or that only “males” were specifically singled out at times (compare Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:16-17), but we need to understand that the expression “you” in “you shall rejoice” includes husband AND wife, as both are to be “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), and that the expression “man” or “male,” as the head of the household and the leader of the wife, does not exclude the wife in this context, as other Scriptures show us that both had to appear before the Lord.

Where should they meet for holy convocations? Deuteronomy 16:11 continues: “…at the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name known.” In other words, they were to attend where God, through His eldership, had designated the place of worship.

The same command is to be found in Deuteronomy 16:13-15, regarding the Feast of Tabernacles: “You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days… and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates [Note that this does not only refer to males.]. Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses…”

Especially regarding the Feast of Tabernacles when we can use our second tithe, we read in Deuteronomy 12:18: “But you must eat them [second tithe of your grain, new wine, oil, firstling of your flock, etc.] before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God chooses, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all to which you put your hands.”

It is clear then that the command to keep the Feast of Tabernacles applied to everyone (not just the man or the male or the head of the household), and all had to appear before God at the place which He had chosen.

We read the same about the Passover, in Deuteronomy 16:5-6: “You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates which the LORD your God gives you, but at the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide, there you shall sacrifice the Passover at twilight, at the going down of the sun…” (A general command in this regard is also stated in Deuteronomy 12:10-14).

The command to assemble before God in holy convocations included men, women and little children.

General injunctions can be found in 2 Kings 23:1-3, when all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all the people, “small and great,” went up to the house of the LORD to listen to the words of God.  Nehemiah 8:1-12 reports that on the Feast of Trumpets, Ezra read the words of God to “all the people gathered as one man,” and that he brought God’s words “before the congregation, of men and women and all who could hear with understanding.” This included little children, as we read in Joshua 8:35: “There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.”  2 Chronicles 20:13 adds: “Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the LORD.”

Turning now to the New Testament, we find that the command to attend Church services on the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days is still binding for us today.

Let us notice the custom of Jesus and His parents. We read in Luke 2:41 that Jesus’ parents—together with Jesus—“went to Jerusalem EVERY YEAR at the Feast of the Passover.” We do not read that Mary stayed behind with Jesus until Jesus had reached a certain age. Rather, we read that they all went together to Jerusalem to keep the Feast there. In fact, we read in Luke 2:22 that Joseph and Mary went to the temple in Jerusalem, after the days of Mary’s purification were over, to present the baby Jesus to the Lord. According to Leviticus 12:2-8, Mary’s days of (ritual) purification lasted for 33 days, following eight days after Christ’s birth. Joseph and Mary went with Christ to the temple after about 1 ½ months from Jesus’ birth.

A passage in 1 Samuel 1 does not contradict this fact. We read in 1 Samuel 1:3 that the man Elkanah went up from his city yearly to worship and sacrifice to the LORD. Even though it only mentions the man in this passage, his wife Hannah accompanied him, as we read in verse 7 that she, “year by year, went up to the house of the LORD.” She did the same AFTER her son Samuel was miraculously born, as we read in verse 21: “And the man Elkanah and ALL HIS HOUSE went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice and his vow.” Even though we read in the next few verses that “Hannah did not go up” until the child was weaned, the context shows that she did not go up for the purpose of presenting Samuel to the high priest to become a servant of God in the temple. This Scripture does not say that she did not go up at all (as verse 21 indicates otherwise). But even if she had not gone up, the Bible would only have reported what had occurred. The Bible does not give permission to the wife to stay home with her child and not attend God’s services, until the child is weaned (about three years after birth).

In any event, as we saw, Christ and His parents went up year by year to keep the Feasts in Jerusalem.

Christ, when He was grown, would never deviate from this practice, either. Notice, as examples, John 4:45; 5:1; 7:8, 10, 14, 37; 12:12, 20. In addition, Christ, as His custom was, went each Sabbath day to the synagogue (Luke 4:16, 31; 13:10; Mark 1:21; 6:2).

Paul and the other early apostles and disciples did the same, by assembling together on the Sabbath day and the annual Holy Days. We read that the disciples (including the apostles, the “women,” the brothers of Christ, and Mary, the mother of Christ, Acts 1:14), were together “in one place” on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), and that they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread—having meals together—and in prayers (Acts 2:42). Members of early New Testament church congregations would assemble and meet together in the private houses of some of their brethren (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19).

As his custom was, Paul also kept the weekly Sabbath in fellowship with others. He and his party went into the synagogue at Antioch on the Sabbath day to teach (Acts 13:13-15). While the Jews did not like his teaching, “the Gentiles begged that these words be preached to them the next Sabbath (verse 42). “And the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God” (verse 44). Paul did so on other occasions as well (Acts 17:2; 18:4), while he and his party went also “on the Sabbath day [better: “Sabbaths”; actually, this was the Pentecost weekend, consisting of the weekly and the annual Sabbath]… out of the city [of Philippi] to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made,” and they found a believing woman, named Lydia, who was subsequently baptized together with her household (verses 14-15).

In addition, we read that Paul was very anxious to go to Jerusalem to keep certain annual Holy Days there (Acts 18:20-21; Acts 20:16).

Today, we do not need to go to Jerusalem to observe the weekly Sabbath or the annual Holy Days, as Christ clearly explained in John 4:19-22, but the point is that we need to worship God together, in a sacred assembly and a holy convocation, which is authorized by God, and where God has placed His name. Christ is the Head of His Church, and we are to follow Him wherever He goes and leads His Church (Revelation 14:4).

We do not go to Jewish synagogues today either. As we explain in our free booklet, “Is That In the Bible? The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation,” “The word ‘synagogue’ is used in several places in the New Testament. The word is derived from the Greek word ‘sunagoge’ and means, literally, a ‘bringing together’… a ‘place where people are led together.’ Although originally used for religious or other gatherings of Jews, the word was later also applied to religious or other gatherings of Christians… In his letter to the ‘twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,’ James addressed ‘brethren’ from those twelve tribes (James 1:1, 2)…

“In James 2:2–4, he states: ‘For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?’ In the Greek, the word for ‘assembly’ in James 2:2 is ‘sunagoge’… James uses this word for a religious assembly of Christians. In addition, the Greek verb, ‘sunago,’ normally rendered as ‘to assemble,’ describes a religious meeting of Christians in Acts 4:31. Christ also warned that His disciples—true Christians—would be ‘put out of the synagogue’ (compare John 16:2). In the Greek, the words are ‘aposunagogos poieo,’ and they literally mean, ‘expelled from the congregation’ or ‘excommunicated…”

When New Testament churches were organized, elders were appointed in every city where there were congregations (Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23), to help the brethren grow in their Christian life and understanding and towards the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12:28).

As Christians, we are to assemble, as much as possible, in person (not just via the Internet) on the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days in holy convocations or sacred assemblies. The Church of God is the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), with the heavenly Jerusalem (“Jerusalem above”) being “our mother” (Galatians 4:26). We are spiritual Jews (Romans 2:28-29). Today, there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28-29),  so that every converted person is responsible for him- or herself to give account to God for how they have been living. Even if one wants to believe in the erroneous concept that in Old Testament times, only males had to appear in Jerusalem to keep the annual Feast days, or if also women, that they were excused from appearing at certain times, this would clearly not apply to the New Testament church. God’s Church has consistently taught that parents are to attend weekly and annual Church services with their small children. For many years, God’s Church has had—and will continue to have– the blessing of the little children at its Feast sites during the Feast of Tabernacles, showing that parents are expected to be there with their little children so that they CAN be blessed. God’s command to worship Him on the Sabbath and the annual Holy Days in the prescribed manner and at godly-ordained and -chosen locations is binding on all of His people, individually and collectively, irrespective of gender, age, race or ethnic background.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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