Gathered Together in My Name

In Matthew 18, Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Let’s think about this for a minute, please. If you and I and a handful of others are gathered in a church on a Sunday morning, or a home group on a Thursday night, then we’d expect the presence of God with us, on the basis of this verse, wouldn’t we? We’re gathered together in His name, after all.

But if I walk to the far side of the room, or step outside the front door, is His presence still with us? How about if I walk across the street? Or down the block? What kind of distance does “together” encompass? If I fly to Djibouti and you remain at home praying for me, is His presence somehow removed because we’re not “together”?

My point is that it doesn’t make sense for us to interpret “together” as primarily a function of physical location. I can see two hindrances to a physical interpretation: a) if we’re defining “together” as “within physical proximity,” then there comes a point when nothing has changed except physical distance, and now God’s presence is no longer with us, and this isn’t particularly consistent with scripture, and b) this passage is talking about a spiritual principle (unity), but “distance” and “location” are physical descriptors, not spiritual ones: feet and inches don’t have significance in the realm of the spirit.

Or another application: what would happen if you and I met at Safeway? Does that qualify as “gathered together”? Do we still qualify as “in His name”? Is His presence still with us in something approximating the way it is on Thursday night at home group?

Here’s where I’m going: I think that “gathered together in My name” should perhaps be defined as a state of covenant relationship existing between us. After all, His presence among us doesn’t begin when the meeting starts any more than it somehow vanishes when the pastor says, “Amen.” God is present in our relationship when our relationship is built on a covenant commitment to each other, and when our relationship includes Him at its center.

If you and I are in a covenant relationship, then certainly we will meet together sometimes. We might meet at the same church, the same home group. We might meet at Starbucks (I have a friend who calls it “St. Arbucks”) or we might meet over the phone. There are some people with whom my “meeting” primarily happens via email. But our relationship won’t continue without us connecting in one way or another, and with some regularity.

OK, if all that’s true – if being “together” speaks of relationship more than location – then God’s presence is in our midst, even when “our midst” is on opposite sides of the city, or the world. If that’s the case, then the necessity of our Sunday Mornings together is reduced: if God is really with us when we are united in heart, then you and I “going to church” will happen whenever or wherever we are “being the church.”

There are some very significant implications from this:

· I can be refreshed, strengthened and equipped by God anywhere, anytime.

· I don’t need to invite people to church in order to introduce them to Jesus.

· I can pray for the sick, or share communion, or instruct people in the Word in the mall or in the church building with equal effectiveness.

· I can count on the guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit pretty much anywhere I go.

· Wherever I am, Jesus is. Wherever I am, the Church is.

So does any of this suggest that gathering on Sunday mornings (or Thursday nights) is irrelevant or unnecessary? May it never Be! The Book encourages to gather together “all the more” as time goes by: My responsibility to be the Church is increased, not decreased, by this.

So it’s valuable, it’s important and even necessary that we gather together as believers. But the time and place are maybe not so important. And wherever I am, whenever it is, I am a representative of Jesus, of the Kingdom, of His presence: whomever I am meeting with, I need to represent Jesus. As St. Francis once said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”


Anonymous said...

I like the covenantal thinking! I think the context of that passage is too often overlooked. It's in the context not of a house meeting, prayer meeting, or even corporate worship, but of discipline - specifically excommunication from the visible body of Christ. That's when we NEED his presence, no?

David McLain said...

The context is indeed church discipline - which may or may not result in excommunication. However the principle is not dependent on the context: He didn't say, "When you're in church discipline, I'll be with you", but "when you're gathered."

(Context might suggest that we're likely to need His presence more in the midst of church discipline than other times.)

I agree, Tim: covenant is far more important than meetings.

Tim Prussic said...

Fair enough. His presence is not limited - period. So it's, therefore, not limited to church discipline. However, the context of discipline is invariably overlooked when people (mis)handle this text. You're covenantal notion is quite powerful and helpful. Indeed, it's the mystical union with Christ and his people that makes our mandated meetings so sweet.
Happy day!