Ex. 25:9 π Est. 3:10-14 π Est. 8:8 π Est. 8:11 π Hos. 4:6 π Mt. 5:46-47 π Mt. 18:20 π Lk. 21:8 π 1 Cor. 14:26 π Eph. 4:11 π Col. 1:24 π 1 Tim. 4:1
Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." ( Mt. 18:20; top ) There are three conditions to His promise to be in the midst - and we would do well to heed each of them.
There is no problem with meeting the first of these conditions: "two or three." Or is there? Many have taken this to say "two or more" but the text does not necessarily say that. But this is too fine a hair to split and may be trying to make Jesus say something He really doesn't want said. I merely point out that what Jesus said and what we put into practice may not be exactly the same thing.
There is not much problem in meeting the second of these three conditions either: "gathered together." Or, again, is there? While it is relatively easy to draw a crowd of people into the same place at the same time, to say that they are truly together, of one mind, in one accord would be an extreme stretch of the imagination - if not an outright lie. But again, that's trying to read too much into what Jesus said - but it again raises the haunting notion that what Jesus meant and what we regularly put into practice might not be exactly the same things. And the difference might be a great deal more than semantics. After all, there is a great deal of difference between gathering together in one place and being assembled as the body of Christ.
But let's save that thought for another time and move on to the third of these conditions: "in My name." Now there's a great deal more to this phrase than most North Americans are prepared to deal with. This is because there are very few familiar examples in our culture of just what Jesus has in mind here. There are three examples that I can think of which come close to being what Jesus has in mind.
The first, and perhaps the most common experience to most, would be a check. I can write a check to my friend Joe and Joe can take that check to his or my bank and receive the specified amount of money I have released to him. That check enables Joe to withdraw a specified amount of money "in my name." This is one aspect of what Jesus means but it is not the entire picture.
The second is a legal instrument, called the power of attorney. By means of this document, I grant someone specific rights to use my name. When I do this, I must either give specific written instructions within the power of attorney as to how my name is to be used or I must have a great deal of faith in the integrity and likemindedness of the person to whom I have granted such powers. Here we begin to draw nearer to Jesus' meaning, but I think there is one last example which will make it completely clear what Jesus had in mind.
Suppose I owned a company. In the course of my business I had several dealings with a certain supplier - the Acme Widget Supply Co. - and my dealings are so regular that I have set up an account with them. Then I hire an employee named Jim. When I send Jim to Acme with a list of things I want him to bring back to me, I have come the closest to acting out what Jesus meant by saying "in My name." But suppose Jim decides that he prefers a different brand name or he decides that he doesn't want to get everything on my list. Then Jim is no longer acting in my name, but in his own.
And this is precisely where our modern Christianity falls short. For the most part, we come in good faith. That is, we sincerely want to gather together to experience being in the presence of Jesus - and there are certainly enough people around to do this with. But just as Jim left a few items off my list for Acme Supply, so too have we neglected to find out the particulars of what Jesus wants us to do. We have basically left His "list" unread and gone about making ourselves happy - all the while expecting, even demanding, that Jesus show up.
Fortunately, much of this is done in ignorance and Jesus does show up when our hearts honestly but ignorantly seek Him. Let's face it, if Jesus waited until we were no longer ignorant, we would never know Him. So long as we remain in this world, He is and always shall be the Light that shines in on our darkness and we will never leave that behind while this body lives. But we must also remember that God solemnly warned the prophet Hosea that "My people perish because of their ignorance." ( Hos. 4:6; top )
There is also an example of a king granting extraordinary powers to use his name to his queen in the book of Esther. Initially King Ahasuerus gave a man named Haman the right to make a decree which would enable his forces to annihilate all the Jews living in the king's lands. This decree was sealed with the king's signet ring and was irrevocable law. ( Est. 3:10-14 ) But when the king found out that his queen was a Jewess, he gave great latitude to Esther. He said, "You yourselves write a decree for the Jews, as you please, in the king's name, and seal it with the king's signet ring; for a letter which is written in the king's name and sealed with the king's signet ring no one can revoke." ( Est. 8:8 ) Here Esther, and her uncle Mordecai were given carte blanche authority to write a decree which would remedy the situation. But because the first decree given to Haman was also an irrevocable law, Mordecai and Esther simply gave the Jews the right to arm and defend themselves on the day in which Haman's forces were going to attack them. ( Est. 8:11; top ) What a picture of the authority with which the people of Christ are to act against their spiritual adversaries!
The point we need to look at is how this story differs from Jesus' commands to us. Jesus has not said, "Go and assemble in any way you wish," nor has He said, "Go and assemble in any way you think is best." Just as God said to Moses, "The tabernacle (the place of meeting) is to be built according to the pattern I will show you." ( Ex. 25:9; top )
The first question we must ask ourselves is: "Why do I assemble with other believers in the way we do?" If our answer is "I like the way we worship," or "I can relate to the preacher," or "It suits my needs at this time," or "I've always done it this way," we can know immediately that we are not as anchored in Biblical practice as we try to kid ourselves. The only appropriate New Testament answer to this question can be: "Because this is what God has shown me through His Word." Any other answer or any practice which does not match up with what is revealed in God's Word is a man-made tradition or practice which will only hinder the work God wants to do in our midst. Any answer which is grounded in my desires, my pleasures, my preferences is a work of the flesh. Our answer must be grounded in God's desires, God's pleasure, and God's preferences - or we have no reason to expect that Jesus will be in our midst. We are meeting under our own name and not the unique and matchless name of the risen Messiah.
Traditions and methods have crept into the ekklesia so steadily and so subtly that most of us see nothing wrong with the way we assemble - even though it is an abomination to God. We are much like Jim who returns with birdseed from Acme Supply when I sent him out for a hammer and some nails. We are so blinded by tradition and methodology that we are not able to recognize that the list we are reading from is not the list that Jesus wrote but a list written by men and demons.
Jesus warned that many would falsely claim to be acting in His name ( Lk. 21:8 ) and Paul warned that some would give heed to doctrines of demons. ( 1 Tim. 4:1; top ) An objective look at the customary practices of the average American "church" quickly shows that there is little or no Biblical basis for much of what is done supposedly "in His name." And there is no harder mindset to get past than the traditional/institutional "church" paradigm.
Let's start with the "pastor." This is a misuse of a word (Greek poimenas) that means "shepherd." If the man were a true shepherd, he would be walking behind the sheep making sure each and every one was still on the right path - not lording it over them as some glorified chief executive officer. As near as I can tell the word "pastor" was inserted into Eph. 4:11 (top) by the direct influence of King James in 1611 because some leaders wanted there to be at least some reference to a "pastor" in the New Testament. It was a well-established position in the Church of England for which there is no New Testament basis - just as there is no basis for the position as it is practiced now in modern Protestant "churches." Even further, the word "pastor" is a Latin word - there just simply is not much chance of it having any rightful place in the original Greek! That alone has implications most people avoid.
Then let's look at the "church." When we hear the word (another politically chosen word from the King James era), we think of a building when in truth, the assembly of Christ spans almost two thousand years and includes everyone who has been and who ever will be truly born again into the Assembly of the Firstborn. When we assemble inside a building with only those people who think, dress, look and act pretty much like we do, we are only practicing division. Jesus said, "If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?" ( Mt. 5:46-47; top ) If our assembly is a true assembly of the body of Christ, we will be rubbing elbows and interacting with people who think, dress, look, act and maybe even smell a whole lot different than we do. It will be based on the fact that we all live in the same general area, that we are neighbors to one another seeking to live out the second-most important commandment: to love one another.
And we must take a hard look at what we do in "church." In the New Testament, there are nearly 60 commands for us to do something to or for "one another." If there is no "one anothering" going on in our assembly, we are reading from the wrong list of things to do to be assembled in Christ's name. If all we do is hear a sermon, sing a song and go home, we missed it - or rather Him - altogether and completely, and we probably never even realized that He wasn't even there. After all, it was a fine sermon with three alliterative points, a poem, several amusing anecdotes and a stirring closing prayer. Why, we were moved by all those things - though within less than a week's time we won't be able to say exactly what those things were which so "moved" us. And our life looks pretty much exactly like it did a week, a month, a year, a decade ago.
And there is the "church" building itself. Whoever asked anyone to build a building? The people who have been born again are the Temple of God! The orphans and widows and the leasts of Christ's brethren need assistance a great deal more than we need to throw our resources into some real estate money pit. The first ekklesia changed the world by meeting one another in real life situations, like homes, meadows, glens and maybe even catacombs - not in the artificial environment of some "sacred sanctuary" made of bricks and lumber and colored glass which produced an emotional feeling of being near to God but which had no actual spiritual nearness or similarity to the living and true God whatsoever.
People of God, there is no pulpit, no pews, no steeples, no stained glass windows, no "pastors," no assistant "pastors," no boards, no committees, no tithes, no "church" buildings, no "church" choirs, no worship leaders, no worship teams, no professional staff in the pages of the New Testament. There is the priesthood of all believers who are to build up and edify one another by acts of love and service for one another. There is a plurality of experienced leaders who lead by example and watch over the flock in love and concern. There is a total freedom in Christ Jesus that just is not to be found in the modern traditional/institutional "church." Break loose the shackles of your Babylonian captivity and return to God in spirit and in truth!
To be assembled in His name means that He is Lord of the assembly. And the larger picture of Christ is not seen until He is revealed by corporate expression. That is, unless some facet of Christ is demonstrated by everyone at the assembly (see 1 Cor. 14:26; top ), we have seen only a distorted, diluted, even mangled perspective of the fullness of Deity. When we settle for letting one man tell us about Christ and His Word, we have been robbed of an opportunity to experience Christ as He would prefer to reveal Himself to us. We have been forced to peer at Christ from afar off through the myopic, distorted prism of hearing someone's lecture rather than being intimately taught to drink deep from the wells of living water by serving and edifying one another. Oh, we are extremely skilled at passive listening but our active obedience to experience the suffering which fills up "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the ekklesia" ( Col. 1:24; top ) is abominably absent from our assemblies.
Let us return to our prayer closets, bend our knees, open our Bibles and open our hearts to God for a fresh revelation of His requirements so that we can truly begin again to meet "in His name" and not in our own name or in the name of our denomination or in the name of our "pastor."
I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!