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, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25
Have you ever wondered why we do church the way we do? Well the truth of the matter is that church methodology had been prescribed thousands of years ago and is recorded in God’s Word the Bible. Believers know that all scripture is God-breathed, that it’s a beneficial doctrine for rebuke, refinement, and righteous teaching; that is if we desire to be Godly, complete, and thoroughly equipped for Christian service (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Let’s start in the New Testament.
The Early Church
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
I whole heartedly agree with this narrative, as it lays out for us an illustration of what an effective body of believers should look like. However, we can go deeper and consequently put more meat on this bone as we venture back into the Old Testament. While Acts 2 gives us a paragraph, the Book of Nehemiah devotes an entire chapter to the subject. Let’s go through some of those informative passages.
The Earlier Church
Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Nehemiah 8:1-2
The faithful gathered and were of one mind. The Apostle Paul, an Old Testament scholar himself, would extend this concept to the believers at Philippi, writing, ‘if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (Philippians 2:1-2).
They went to a symbolic place–the Water Gate, where life giving water flowed and where everyone habitually gathered. They were out in the open where access could be easily gained and where secrets could not be contained. No one would be excluded as they happened upon the meeting.
They sought a knowledgeable person (Ezra) and a reliable source—God’s Word, The Book of the Law. I love the fact that it was the only resource utilized.
The assembly was orderly and only those who could hear with understanding were in attendance. Why? Because those without understanding, namely children, were a distraction—a good reason why children should be in Sunday school classes and not in church proper.
Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. Nehemiah 8:3-4
Ezra’s service was about six hours long this day. I submit to you that this was not the norm, but it was what the Lord ordained for this particular day. Understand that the people were eager, willing, and attentive. If the question was raised, “How long is church?” it sounds as if the answer would have likely been, “As long as it takes!” We note that the people were glad.
We see the use of a pulpit, but observe that the preacher stood atop it and not behind it. In other words, he stood upon a platform whereby he could be clearly seen and heard by everyone in attendance. And he wasn’t alone; Ezra had many knowledgeable men at his side.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. Nehemiah 8:5-8
Ezra opened The Book of the Law (a scroll actually) in front of the people making it clear that this was, a) God’s Word and, b) he wasn’t making this stuff up as he went along—he had thirteen men up there on stage with him to testify to that fact.
When the Word was opened, the people stood. We take note that nobody instructed them to stand–it was understood by all that God was in their midst. In honor to God they would stand and later in reverent worship they would kneel. Again, there was no direction to do so; their orderly response was an obedient gesture that was discerned by those who believed.
In addition to the men standing with Ezra on the pulpit, there were more educated men mingling about the crowd assisting those with questions about the text. In this manner, no one left the meeting without clarity. My friends, this is the need and purpose of the church today—for God’s word to be read clearly and with explanation so that the congregation can be equipped for Christian service.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12
At first we’re perplexed and wonder why the congregation wept and was mournful. Let us recall our Bible studies that remind us that the word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).
We can better understand their grief when we understand the text they were studying that day—The Law. The Law brings sorrow to those who understand the implications; i.e., that we fall way short in our compliance and that perfect adherence is impossible. The Law is merely the road sign that points us to our solution found in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:24).
And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” …And there was very great gladness. Nehemiah 8:14, 15, 17b
This passage demonstrates why there is need to go through the Bible cover-to-cover for fear that something be left out or forgotten. Too many churches today follow sermon lectionaries which stipulate particular passages to be highlighted and taught based solely on the church calendar. On the exterior it appears a nice method, but sadly it only minimally scratches the surface of what God would have us hear. Frankly, some topics are never discussed in this system. That ought not to be.
In Nehemiah’s case ultimately, and in due season, there was great gladness within the congregation because the people heard the Word–the whole truth and nothing but the truth as it were. If this does not sound like your church it might be time for a change; what that change looks like is between you and the Lord.