Whenever 2 or More Are Gathered?

Imagine yourself traveling back in time – a little over 1900 years back, to take a look at the early Christians and what they were enduring. Scripture gives a few indicators that believers were gathering for more formal worship on what we know as Sunday (the first day of the week). But what the Bible itself only hints at, those early believers often were assembling in direct contradiction to the demands of the day set by the “ruling authorities”. We can read in the book of Acts the records of Peter and others being commanded to stop preaching Jesus and Him crucified (aka – the gospel) – with the understood implication that the gathering of like-minded folks (aka – the church) was also on the prohibition list – because what else draws believers together like the common bonds of our crucified and risen Savior?

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These early gatherings were not held in big, multi-million dollar temples of brick and stone (or steel and glass…), but in homes – sometimes the LORD blessed a local body with a wealthy believer who opened their estate up for the assembly (like Nympha of Laodicea mentioned in Colossians 4:15). But what we can gather from history plus Scripture – is that believers regularly met together for edification, teaching, and worship via hymns, songs, and spiritual songs, bearing one-anothers burdens, and frequently observing the LORD’s Supper in remembrance of Christ Jesus and HIS sacrifice on their behalf. We also know that this was often an al-day event, and generally included food. But of prime value to this post – we must recognize that often – these meetings were considered “unlawful”.

House church raided by police in China

Now let us return to our present time – but fly across the Pacific to China (or several other Asia/Pacific nations). We find ourselves there on a Sunday – and other than a scarce state-authorized “church” that teaches a Chinese Communist Party edited and approved religion that barely resembles biblical Christianity. But keep looking. In apartments, homes, and even in some of the few remote outdoor places – you may find churches – often comparatively small, meeting together – singing songs of praise, edifying one-another, often sharing a meal, and preaching Jesus and Him crucified – all in a jurisdiction that is actively engaged in the arrest, torture, and murder of those engaging in biblical Christianity – and those small house churches are growing – and despite heavily-enforced prohibitions – they continue to meet – taking quite literally the command that God recorded in Hebrews 10:25 “…not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Their love of Jesus and their faithfulness to the call for believers to come together as the Body (and as a side-note, often an amazing zeal for sharing the gospel despite the unlawfulness of it) is a much higher priority than the laws of the earthy authorities.

But this brings us to today, right here in the USA & the rest of North America – And we have seen government entities, under the guise of a global “pandemic”, shutting down churches. On the surface, we might not see a problem – in the “interest of safety”. Yet even as other gathering places and businesses were allowed to reopen under the guise of “essential” (including casinos, big box retailers, liquor and tobacco vendors and bars, etc.), some jurisdictions continued to demand churches remain closed and/or strictly limited attendance to a small fraction of capacity.

Grace Life fenced off by Alberta Authorities

One high-profile example comes from Edmonton, Alberta Canada, the home of Grace Life Church, who’s pastor, James Coats, had led his church to continue in their corporate worship. The church refused to tell some (the majority) of the local church that they couldn’t attend – that only a couple dozen could worship together. As the situation escalated, provincial health authorities and police began showing up, then began threatening tickets, and finally demanded they cease or there would be arrests. Eventually, Pastor Coats was arrested and spent a month in jail, as a judge refused to allow bail – because this pastor would not promise to stop preaching and meeting with the church assembled. Since then, other churches in that province have also faced arrests and massive fines. And just this week, RCMP and Alberta Health Authorities took the unprecedented action of raiding the church to have a riot-style, double-fence installed to physical barricade the church from meetging on their own property. Even here in the US, churches like Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California faced similar threats from Los Angeles County authorities for holding in-person worship services. They still are accruing thousands of dollars a week in fines from the county.

And in defense of those who are trying to prevent churches from assembling – are those (some of which profess to be Christians) shouting “ROMANS 13!!!”. For those who may not know, this is a reference to Paul’s command to “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)

Unfortunately, those using these two verses as a club against churches fail to take the context of that passage (which follows in verse 3 & 4) the PURPOSE of government – which becomes moot when said government rejects its biblical mandate. Indeed, we have no biblical reference or example to validate believers shutting down corporate worship (the assembly together) based on any government or ruling authority mandate. Quite the contrary, we have example after example of believers meeting together in spite of mandates and laws, and yes – sometimes even to their own arrest and martyrdom.

But that brings us to the cryptic title of this article “2 or more are gathered…” I have been attacked for supporting Grace Life Church (and others who have been fighting the fight for the church and their right, regardless of mandates, to assemble as they see fit). Most recently, this has been in repeated misuse of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” The story goes something like this:

What we find here, is a complete misunderstanding (or intentional plucking out-of-context) of what Jesus was talking about. The immediate context (Matthew 18:15-20) is about dealing with sin in the church or when your brother sins against you. It isn’t a description of, or a prescription for worship. In this case, it is a reference to the Old Testament law regarding witnesses (again – remember – this was a passage about church discipline).

The ESV Study Bible notes the following for Matthew 18:16:

Evidence of two or three witnesses follows the guideline in Deut. 19:15 and refers to witnesses of the subsequent confrontation described in this verse, not necessarily eyewitnesses to the original offense.” And 18:20, “Jesus affirms that he will be divinely present among his disciples as they seek unity in rendering decisions, which is rightly understood also as an affirmation of omnipresence and therefore of deity. “

So, what we have here is a completely different subject matter than corporate worship/assembly. The verse is so frequently and wrongly used (being forced into a meaning other than its actual meaning is called eisegesis. NO, a gathering of two or three believers together isn’t a substitute for corporate worship. Believers are expected – and the biblical example in this IS prescriptive – to assemble together regularly for worship, prayer, fellowship, and the teaching/preaching of God’s Word. Period. It is not a sin to do this even when the “ruling authorities” tell you not to. Indeed, Scripture couldn’t be more clear that we are to chose this day WHO we will serve – God or man. If choosing to follow God’s commands is wrong – then Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were actually sinning for refusing to bow down before the Babylonian emperor and his golden statue, or for refusing the food offered them.

And even more troubling – that means that the first-century churches that gathered in spite of the ruling authorities and their commands to the contrary…

And our brethren around this globe today who worship despite laws against it – who face literally torture and death for their assembly…

Are actually committing sin against God.

Are you really willing to go there?