“Where Two or Three Are Gathered Together in My Name”

by Greg Gwin

In a frequently cited verse Jesus promises “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).  Often folks apply this to situations where they join with one another in prayer about a specific problem.  The idea is that if they agree together and jointly offer prayers, Jesus is ‘with them’ in regards to the desired outcome.  Even more often this verse is used concerning worship.  The concept is that Jesus approves and is effectively ‘there’ in any assembly of two or more that have joined in worship.

While people have drawn comfort from both of these notions, they sadly represent a rather serious misuse of the text in question.  As in all studies, the context of Matthew 18:20 must be considered in order to draw a true conclusion about its meaning. 

Jesus’ specific contextual thoughts begin in verse 15 where He addresses a situation in which a brother has committed a trespass.  He instructs us to “go and tell him his fault”.  If he “will not hear thee” then the next step is to “take with thee two or three witnesses”.  Finally, in the case of an unrepentant brother, we must “tell it unto the church” and if that fails he is to “be unto thee as an heathen and a publican”.  Jesus is, of course, describing a very serious and sad consequence.  We commonly refer to this as ‘church discipline’. In these matters He gives assurance that “whatsoever ye bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (vs. 18).  It is in this specific sense that He promises “where two or three are gathered together in my name” (or by His authority) “there am I in the midst of them”.  He is ‘with us’ in the sense of approving our actions.

Thus we see that the frequently quoted phrase really does not have ‘prayer groups’ or, especially, worship assemblies in view at all.  To use (misuse) the passage in this way has led Christians to faulty conclusions like this: go ahead and skip the regular assembling of the church, have a brief devotional in their hotel room, and then head off to the amusement park for fun and games.  Folks who do so should not take any false comfort in the idea that Jesus is ‘with them’ in such abuses.  Matthew 18:20 offers no such justification.  Think!

Special note: The misuse of Matthew 18:20 was very evident in the coronavirus crisis.  Brethren are using this verse to justify the ‘virtual’, ‘online’, ‘remote’, ‘at home’ observance of the Lord’s Supper.  Again, the text in question does not speak to or authorize such.  We firmly believe, as many have expressed, that the Lord’s Supper is to be done when “the whole church has come together into one place” (1 Cor. 14:23 – see also 1 Cor. 11:18, 20, 34 and Acts 20:7)

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