Is Hebrews 10:25 being followed when Christians worship online?
A careful study of Hebrews 10:25 is needed in order to correctly answer this question. The command is to not “forsake” the assembly, “as is the habit of some.” “Forsake” comes from the Greek word egkataleipo, which literally means to abandon, desert, totally abandon, utterly forsake. The Hebrew Christians to whom the writer of Hebrews was originally addressing were being heavily persecuted for their Christian faith (cf. Heb. 10:32-34), leaving an opening for Satan to tempt them to abandon their Christian faith (and thus abandon the church’s assemblies) and return to Judaism. As part of exhorting them to stay faithful, the Hebrew writer was commanding them to not habitually abandon assembling together as some already had done, which would then lead into willful sin (Heb. 10:25-26).
The temporary suspension of physically assembling together for worship in favor of worship in homes via online technology which many churches did in order to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic is not even close to the habitual abandonment and desertion of assembling altogether condemned by the Hebrew writer. I should know, because when I was younger I had in fact totally abandoned going to worship assemblies for years. This was part of the willful sin that I allowed to reign in my life, resulting in my complete abandonment of the Christian religion as a whole for a time. Back then I slept in on Sunday mornings, which is the opposite of what I saw Christians doing during the COVID pandemic when they got up on Sunday mornings, dressed nicely as many did even though they were in their living rooms instead of a church building, and gathered around their televisions or computers to willfully, joyfully, and purposefully worship God. If this pandemic had happened during the time of apostasy in my life, I would have simply added it to the list of excuses I already had for why I wasn’t going to go to church. In contrast, I saw many faithful Christians not even thinking of making the pandemic an excuse to not worship God; instead they joyfully worshiped together in their homes and used technology to still be able to sing and pray alongside their brethren.
The fact that God actually only condemned the habit and total abandonment of assembling together for worship in Hebrews 10:25 shows his wisdom in giving us allowances for things that come up which are out of our control. If he had worded Hebrews 10:25 in such a way that gave an absolute requirement to assemble for worship with no exceptions whatsoever, then not only would a pandemic not be a reason to avoid worship assemblies; we would be required to assemble for worship even if we or a loved one were sick or a tornado was bearing down on the church building. Yet since the command is actually addressing the habit of not coming to church and the total abandonment of assembling together, then we see that God allows for and understands when unusual circumstances come up which would prevent us from assembling even though we want to do so, including circumstances such as how many churches responded to the COVID pandemic.
It should also be pointed out that when one has decided that it is safe for them and their loved ones to venture out into regular public outings again, they must begin to assemble together to worship with their church family if the leadership of their local congregation has made a similar judgment. When one’s family throughout the week deems it safe to be out among the masses, and they know their eldership has called for them to assemble with the saints to worship and learn from God’s Word, but they still prefer to stay home and participate online if at all, they venture much closer to the habitual abandonment of the assembly which is condemned in Scripture.