Another common Christian cliché verse. I have heard this one many times and I think that it is very appropriate for the purpose of this blog. The verse is Matthew 18:20, and it says “Where two or three gather in my name, there I will be also.”
This most common use of this verse is to convince those who are skipping the occasional church service on Sundays to quit “backsliding” and get back into the congregation, to rededicate themselves to the church (yes, I have been told several times I should rededicate myself to the “church” instead of to Christ). The person using this verse for this purpose is saying that for God to be present, at least two people must gather in Christ’s name. I disagree with this on principal, for two reasons.
The first reason is that we are placing a prerequisite on God’s presence. We are saying that he can only be present if something else happens first. Which is summarily saying that if the prerequisite is not occurring, neither can his presence. Wait, isn’t God omnipotent? And omnipresent? If we are using the old philosophical definition of God (a being which none can be conceived greater than) then he must be both of those things. And He is. So therefore, there is no requirement to permit God’s presence.
The second is that once we have accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit (which IS God) resides in us. His presence is in us. Where we go, He goes with us (this should be both a comfort, and make us shake in our boots). So even if the presence of a person were required for God to be present, it would only take one (but it doesn’t).
The verses before 18:20 are about how to deal with obvious and uncontrolled sin in the church (meaning a sin that the congregation knows about, and one that the sinner seems to have no ability or desire to desist). Christ says that the first step should be for one person to point out the sin to the sinner one on one. In this manner there is no doubt that the sinner is aware of the sin, yet they are not called out and embarrassed in front of the whole. Christ then says that if they continue the sin, take two or three people and again confront them. Now where this sounds like a method of solidifying the previous argument (God’s presence requires two or more people), Christ says that it is so more than one viewpoint can be present on the sin, so that more than one mind can help to argue against the sin, and so that more than one person is a witness that the sinner has been told of the sin. The principle of strength in numbers, or that two heads are better than one applies here. It is only when both of these means have been exhausted that the sin should be brought before the church (this does not mean it needs to be broadcast before the Sunday morning sermon, but that it should not be purposely kept secret). Then, in verse 19 we are told that if two are in agreement on something and they pray for it, it will be done for them by God. This is not literal, if two Christians agree that the Steelers should win the Superbowl, God doesn’t grant their wish like a genie (trust me, it has been tried…..very recently). We are still to pray the way Christ taught us to pray (….THY Kingdom come. THY will be done). We are still to submit ourselves to God’s plan and will. But, there IS strength in numbers when it comes to acting as the body of Christ (the Church).
So, while the verse has become a cliché, and it is often used for the incorrect purpose, those people are not too far off the mark. When more than one person meets or acts in the name of Christ (and what they are doing is in line with his will) they will undoubtedly be more successful.
It is important to remember that while we (the Rogues and the NCP’s) are critical of the church, we are not forsaking it. We are not leaving it because we are upset by it. And we are DEFINITELY NOT advocating for others to leave it. We are saying that it needs to be retooled, revamped, and reformed. It needs to be something that is effective when people gather together, because that’s exactly what it is supposed to be. A gathering together. A gathering in God’s name for God’s purpose. Church is just the word for that. It doesn’t require a building, and it doesn’t even require leadership. God doesn’t even require us to work to fulfill his purpose. He made the entire universe just by speaking it into existence, trust me he doesn’t need us to do his will. But he has included us, and we should be honored by that. Driven by that. Where one of us is acting for The Kingdom, God is there. Where 500 are working, God is there. Where NONE are working, God is still there. And he can still work.