March 9, 2012 by Daniel Beckworth
Have you ever heard someone say, “Where two or more are gathered, the Lord is there” in reference to a church or prayer service? Someone will step up to the platform and give the charge, “Where two or more are gathered!” and then say, “Look around, we certainly have more than two or three! I bet God is here.” As if God was not in charge of His own party. Perhaps you have even made this statement. This verse actually comes from Matthew 18:20 and it has absolutely nothing to do with a fellowship, service, or worship gathering in the sense that we imagine (don’t shoot the messenger!). It’s actually talking about church discipline. If you read the entire chapter, you learn that it is about confronting a brother or sister who is living in unrepentant sin.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
(Matthew 18:15-20 ESV)
God gives his church three basic steps to follow:
1. Go to your brother (or sister) alone and try to work it out. The matter should be private and should not be publicly announced via Twitter or Facebook.
2. If your brother (or sister) refuses to listen after the first try, take two or three witnesses (also Christians). The matter should still be quite private.
3. If steps one through two do not work, you are to take the matter before the church and make it public.
Then comes the statement, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This is simply God’s stamp of approval for being obedient to the Guideline’s that He established for church discipline. God is basically saying, “If you follow my guidelines, I approve.”
This is a common mistake. If you isolate a verse and withdraw it from the surrounding verses, you can twist and manipulate a verse to mean almost anything. It is important to read a verse within the original context that the writer intended for the original reader. A verse can never mean to you what it never meant to the original reader. The application may be different in modern times, but it will not have a “new” theological meaning.
You can avoid much of this confusion by reading the surrounding verses and looking at the verse within the context of the chapter in which it is located, the book, and ultimately within the context of the entire bible. Chapters and verses were not included in the original writings. They were added at a later time in order to navigate through the scriptures much like my address allows you to navigate to my house. With this in mind, we should always remember that the bible was meant to be read in light of the Scriptures as a whole. It is also important to determine what the author was trying to convey to the original readers. Why was this passage written in the first place? Who would have been reading this passage? What was their culture like?
By reading a verse within the larger context of the surrounding passage and ultimately within the context of the entire bible, we will have the greatest opportunity to extract the message that God would have for His followers.
P.S. Stop saying, “You know, the Bible says,’Where two or more are gathered, I am there.” when referring to your worship service. That’s not what the verse is talking about. If two drunk guys are in a bar and one of the guys accidently says, “Jesus Christ,” are they having church?