Classic Silent Holocron – FBC Starbucks (3)
Stephen’s Note: Due to a bout of writer’s block, Stephen is reposting classic Silent Holocron posts for the time being. Enjoy!
FBC Starbucks (3)
I said we’d take a look at Matthew 18:20. So with no further ado:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (ESV)
At first glance, this would seem to close the case and give certain people the right to declare me a stinkin’ legalist. Where two or more people are gathered in the name of Jesus, He is there. If I sit down and have a prayer with my wife, Jesus is there. If I meet one of my church members for a time of sharing and prayer, Jesus is there. According to the people mentioned in the first post in this series, that constitutes “being the church.” But does it really?
No, it doesn’t. And to show you just how it doesn’t, let’s look at the context of the verse:
15If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If 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. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (ESV)
Do you see where I am going? Okay, so you might not. Let’s walk through this one.
First, the context of verse 20 is set by verses 15-17. That context is church discipline. Church discipline, according to this block of text, is something that is very personal, individual; and at the same time it is corporate. Notice how church discipline begins: personally. The offended Christian is expected to resolve the issue personally. I would even say such an issue is to be handled quietly and discreetly. None of this loud bullfighting we Southern Baptists are famous for. None of this loud gossip-mongering we Deaf people are famous for. Church discipline begins in a quiet, discreet, and totally non-corporate way. And that is as it should be: if Moses couldn’t handle dealing with the daily grumblings of Israelite against Israelite, what makes you think your pastor can handle yours?
Second, it is clear that Christ is present explicitly when His people are gathered for the purpose of being the church. The context makes that glaringly clear. Church discipline does not take place in a vacuum, folks. It takes place as a stated function of the Body of Christ. Some would have us believe Christ is present only when church discipline is occurring, since that is the thrust of the text here. Technically, they may be right. However, practically I think they are wrong. Christ is present when the church has come together to perform churchly functions, and as such Christ is present when your church meets on Sundays and Wednesdays.
When you meet a Christian friend at Heine Brothers’ Coffee for prayer or fellowship in lieu of attending Sunday worship or Wednesday prayer, Christ is not present in the same way in which He is present at your church at that moment. You are not being the church. Why? Because you have violated Hebrews 10:25. You have willingly set aside the established worship time of your local church that, by virtue of membership, you have agreed to be in submission to. You have told your church that worshipping with them is not important. Worse, you have told Jesus that you don’t think much of being a part of His body. And so you don’t forget, that’s called sin.
Listen, there are reasons we tell people “I’ll meet with you before/after church.” One is that corporate worship is essential to our spiritual health. A non-believer isn’t going to understand that, nor will he respect it. And that’s to be expected — the Bible says a non-believer thinks God’s things are stupid. A believer who doesn’t respect that is guilty of sin against God and His church. A believer, quite frankly, ought to know better. That’s where a believer is going to get the prayer and encouragement he/she needs. That’s where a believer is going to be fed by the Word. That’s where the believer is going to learn the Gospel in order to share it with the non-believer. And to forsake all that is not a very bright move.
Another reason is one that I’ve hinted at, and will now bring into glaring relief: we are in submission to our local church. Some of you really aren’t going to like me after reading that. So be it; have fun being a pseudo-church of one or two or three. But let’s broaden the context of Matthew 18 again: directly before our passage in verses 10-14 we have a “lost sheep” parable. Let’s think about the concept of us being sheep. As sheep, who is in charge? The sheep? Um, no. Shepherds in that day actually led their flocks instead of herding the flock from the rear willy-nilly, if cultural historians are to be believed. The shepherds led, the sheep were expected to follow. Wayward sheep were quickly brought back into line.
Most of the time, we look at this passage and think about all the ways a pastor is supposed to minister to his sheep — think of the hours of relationship building it takes for a shepherd to lead the flock instead of herding it from behind. And there’s a lot to be said for that angle in exegesis. But if we look at the fuller picture, we see sheep that have submitted themselves to the shepherd. And the shepherd cares for those who have done so, even to the point of leaving the rest when one goes astray.
But when you as a sheep refuse to submit to the shepherd and meet with the rest of your flock, you’re in sin. You’re fracturing the Body of Christ. You’re depriving the Body of a hand, or an eye, or a foot, or an ear. When you joined your local church, you in principle agreed to submit yourself to them. You agreed to meet when they met, worship with them when they worshipped, pray with them when they prayed together. You agreed that the needs of the Body were greater than the needs of the one. Yet you are making your desires a greater priority than that of the Body of Christ. In other words, you’re being a selfish, self-righteous lout.
Who gave you the right to determine you didn’t have to meet when the whole Body was getting together? Who said it was okay for you to go somewhere else when Jesus was assembling his various body parts? I’d like to see you explain to Jesus why you, as His middle finger, decided to stand up to Him in a Starbucks instead of being glorified on His hand.
I say these words with a certain amount of “preaching at self” — there were times in my life where I was just as guilty. And it is because of those times that I can confidently say what I’ve said here this morning — I deprived myself of the benefits of submission to my local church and contributed to its fracturing. All of my profs at Southern have repeatedly emphasized that being “healthy” includes involvement in worship at a local church, not getting up and watching Charles Stanley or the seminary chapel or chatting and praying in the seminary cafe — all of which, by the way, I have done in the past. And look where that got me — burnout and a couple of extra years of seminary education. And the irony of it is that I know better than that. I was a seminary student, for crying out loud. I should have kicked my behind out of bed on Sundays and gotten in a local church. I should have put away the books on Wednesdays and gone to prayer meeting.
So, you see, just meeting a friend at Starbucks doesn’t meet the criteria of “being the church,” because you’re not really there for the purpose of being the church. So let’s stop pretending that is “corporate” worship. Let’s start calling it what it really is — rebellion, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Let’s start actually being the Body by meeting with the rest of that Body at the times set by that Body.