Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stop abusing Matthew 18:20!

One of the most commonly misquoted verses of the Bible is, amazingly enough, a fairly harmless one:
For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst. [Matthew 18:20]
Many people quote this in reference to the church. "Ah, see!" they declare, "Where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there! So He's here with us in this church!"

Let me first say this is simply an illogical assumption - God is there among us even if there's just one. God's presence and power is not dependent on numbers (otherwise Elijah would have been in trouble when facing the priests of Baal). Any way, can you imagine the following scenario taking place?
Christian: "Oh Lord, before I go to bed, I'd just like to pray..."
God: "Hold up a many are there praying with you?"
Christian: "Uh...just me."
God: "What? You can't get a friend or two to join you?"
Christian: "No, they're asleep already."
God: "Sorry. No go."
Now let me say this assumption also does not fit with the real context of the verse.
"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; emphasis mine]
The full context here is actually church judgment. The Law said that two or three witnesses were enough to testify against a person, and was enough (if the person was still unrepentant) for the church to start enacting discipline. Christ expands this ("Again I say to you...") regarding the agreement between two or more people. Then, finally comes verse 20, which so many people believe simply means church worship. In actuality, it is merely an extension of church discipline and decision-making. This is the significance of Christ's use of "two or three."

Many might think I'm just splitting hairs here, but Matthew 18:20 (like Revelation 3:20) is one of those verses that just gets so overused that I think people forget the immediate context. Pardon the ranting, and take care.