When folks are gathered may constitute a local organized 'church', but is Christ present?
"For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." .Matthew 18:20
In our present church culture, there are many ‘churches’. However, there is but one Church. How many church buildings are there in the community where you live? Where I live in Hope, Arkansas there are many and each one has a different name. But, is that building the local church where Christ is or is it in that building where folks gather and refer to themselves as Christ’s Church gathered? And is Christ present only because a group gathered makes that claim?
There is the organized church that has an office and a list of names on a membership role with a name, and all of this for lawful purposes. This is not the church as named in Scripture. Christ’s Church is quite different than a group of people called Such and Such Local Church. For you see, Such and Such Local Church mentioned on the sign out front only meets at scheduled times for worship and fellowship. What then, is the Gathered Church?
Here is the first hint, in MY name. There must be Born again Believers in Jesus Christ in order for the Christ to be present, Christ must be present in the individual before He is present in the meeting of a group of people. Must everyone present have Christ ‘in them’ for Him to be ‘in their midst’. I would say, ‘no’. For if this is the case, the local church gathered would not happen on Sunday morning or whenever else a worship time is set. Christ is always present when His people are gathered in His Name and a host of lost souls with them.
The context of verse 20 is very important here. What takes place before and after these words are spoken by the Christ is significant.
1. A Spiritual Conversion: At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:1-3.
2. A Word of Caution : "See that you do not despise one of these little ones…["For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.] Matthew 18:10-11.
3. Understanding God’s Will: "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” Matthew 18:14.
4. Witnesses Gathered: "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 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 have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." Matthew 18:15-20.
5. Forgiveness: Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. "Matthew 18:21-22
The context of Matthew 18:20 is of utmost importance for the understanding of the gathering statement made by the Lord. This is a gathering of witnesses to view the case of a person caught in a sin and a judgment is needed. The emphasis here is nothing more than the fact that Christ is setting a standard for witnesses to view the case of a man caught in an act of sin for determination. To use this verse for proof for other things is a misuse of the application of God’s Word.