For some Christians the church assembly acts as that grudgingly accepted necessity submitted to with reservations as that necessary burden carried until receiving relief from the welcoming arms of death. They come fairly regularly, ritualistically sit in the same pew each week, bow their heads at the appropriate times, mouth the words of some songs, put just enough money in the plate when passed, partake of the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, sit calmly if not patiently through the sermon, and seemingly take very little to heart of all that they have done. How else are we to explain how people can attend for years and yet abandon it all, seemingly on a whim? How else are we to understand either their ignorance or obstinacy after years of attendance? However, the reality of this situation may not even be as bad as its cause. For decades we have accepted this noncommittal version of Christianity because we were more concerned about the number present on Sunday than apparently we are concerned about the number present in heaven.
The Israelites had a long history of ambivalent worship and callous religion. It led them into captivity. However, after the remnant returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt the temple, and restored the city walls, they had gained a new appreciation for the meaning of an assembly before Jehovah God. Thus, as recorded in Nehemiah 8, when the people congregated for Ezra to lead them in their spiritual renewal, they recognized the significance of that gathering and provide a model in attitude for Christians to consider.
- An assembly is successful when people gather together, united as a people by their obedience to God and desire to follow His will (Neh. 8:1).
- An assembly is successful when the message from God is central to what they do (Neh. 8:2).
- An assembly is successful when people pay attention to the message of God—not to what everyone was wearing, who snubbed whom, or what (Neh. 8:3).
- An assembly is successful when respect is on display instead of casual familiarity (Neh. 8:4-5).
- An assembly is successful when people come to worship God rather than to be entertained (Neh. 8:6).
- An assembly is successful when understanding God’s will takes precedence over making people feel good about their own will (Neh. 8:7-8).
- An assembly is successful when there is reflection on both the sorrow for sin and the joy for salvation (Neh. 8:9-12).
- An assembly is successful when it motivates people to seek out more of God’s will to obey on a daily basis (Neh. 8:13-15).
- An assembly is successful when it convinces people that obeying and worshiping God bring greater joy and satisfaction than anything else on earth (Neh. 8:16-18).
Surely when we read Jesus’ call for true worship and true worshippers (Jn. 4:23-24) we expect these nine characteristics rather than those described earlier! Therefore, “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” (Heb. 10:24–25).