And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. (Nehemiah 8:2)
At the time of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, evidently there were, besides the Jews, other people living there from the surrounding nations. “On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever … Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude” (Nehemiah 13:1, 3). So, it is interesting that when “all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel” (Nehemiah 8:1), those that gathered there were “all that could hear with understanding” (v.2).
The word translated “understanding” is the Hebrew word biyn which means to “separate mentally” or to “distinguish.” These who gathered here were those who could understand the language of the text. And for those times when the language was “rusty,” “the Levites, caused the people to understand the law … So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (vv. 7-8). The congregation was composed of those with a common language, a basic knowledge of the Mosaic law, and a common desire to attend to the Word of God. This meeting was not intended for outsiders.
One of the fallacies of the seeker-sensitive movement is that worship services are designed to attract outsiders into the congregation. In doing so, the “insiders” are fed a diluted spiritual meal and the outsiders do not benefit from it either because they lack understanding. When the church body gathers for worship, the service should serve, in the first place, to worship God, and secondly to edify the believer – the understanding listener. Ravi Zacharias in his latest book, Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality, says that worship “is the submission of our will, heart and purpose to the sovereign will and the person of God who created us and loves us. Worship is a relationship from which all inspiration flows and the relationship through which all of our needs are met” (173). An unbeliever does not have that relationship and therefore cannot truly experience worship. I am not suggesting that we should not invite unbelievers to our worship services, but our worship services should not be modified solely to cater to their “sensitivities.” That sort of manipulation is profitable for neither the unbeliever nor the believer. If a true seeker enters into the congregation, the Holy Spirit will deal with him/her (John 16:7-14) without any modifications to the worship service. In this way “all that hear with understanding” will benefit.