Matthew 18:19 - 20: Misunderstood Church Verse?

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by asterisktom, Nov 24, 2009.

  1. asterisktom

    asterisktom
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    Matthew 18:19 - 20: Misunderstood Church Verse?

    The passage is a familiar one:

    “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.

    For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:19 - 20
    The application is familiar as well. Perhaps I should say "applications", since there are two very common, but distinct, uses to which this passage is often put:

    1. Description of a legitimate church: "Two or three gathered together in my name".
    2. Promise for powerful prayer: Two agreeing concerning anything that they ask.

    I had already assumed that the second application was a mite "stretchy" but, the more I studied this, the more I realized that the first application (descriptive of a true church) also had a degree of, well, wishful thinking.

    I had often used verse twenty as a justification for the various house churches I had attended and, just a few years ago, one that I had started with another brother. But this verse is not a blueprint for God's church; It is a guideline for discipline in the church. Consider the context. First, verses 15 - 16.

    "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between him and thee alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

    But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established."
    Did you catch the connection? The two or three who are gathered together in verse 20 are the same ones who are confronting a trespassing brother in verse 15. This is not a worship service being described, but an intervention. Christ is assuring Christians in verse 20 that He is with them as they undergo the difficult but necessary task of confrontation of one of their own.

    Returning to the context, verse 17, we find another surprise - at least it was for me:

    "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."

    This thought struck me: "Wait a minute. I thought the 'two or three' were the church (at least minimally). Now, in this verse, the 'two or three' are definitely not the church." They are a separate step of confrontation for the erring brother: If "he neglects to hear" the two or three witnesses then - and only then - is the matter brought to the church. The church, then, is something separate from the two or three.

    This principle of confrontation is found elsewhere, as in 1st Tim. 5:19 – 20:

    “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all [This is the “Tell it unto the church” part], that the rest also may fear.”

    Notice the two or three witnesses in the Timothy verses. We can also go back to the Old Testament passages that were quoted from in our Matthew verses, Deut. 17:6; 19:15, etc. Notice that first verse:

    “Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses...”

    But what about the agreement part, verse 19? The answer is that it definitely does not mean what many today think it means; as if merely two Christians agreeing on whatever carnal object or purpose occurs to them obligates God to grant their wish. No, since it is tied in with the next verse it must share, also, the same application: church discipline.

    Side Note:

    Another interesting topic having to do with this passage – the whole chapter, in fact - is the overlying theme of self-judgment, that of the beginning of the chapter (“cut it off and cast it from you”) is personal, that of our present verses above (“let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector”) is corporate.

    In conclusion: I hope the case has been made that this passage should not be used to describe church. It describes what a church can do – must do – in the unfortunate event of erring and misbehaving brothers who name the name of Christ. But it does not describe what a church is. For that we must go to the more detailed writing of Paul and the other Apostles.
     
  2. Tom Butler

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    Interesting take. Lemme think about this for a while.
     
  3. AnotherBaptist

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    Never have understood these passages to refer to the Church. Just the fact that offenders were to be treated as gentiles ("heathen") makes it clear that it was referring to those outside the camp of Israel.

    G1482
    ἐθνικός
    ethnikos
    eth-nee-kos'
    From G1484; national (“ethnic”), that is, (specifically) a Gentile: - heathen (man).

    Everyone outside the assembly (church) of Israel was a heathen (gentile).
     
  4. Zenas

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    Sounds reasonable to me.
     
  5. canadyjd

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    You are correct, the context is clear.

    I have told my mother this several times, but she still keeps referencing this verse when we only have a few people show up for weds. study.

    It is very hard to change people's perceptions.

    peace to you:praying:
     
  6. Jerome

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    "His frequent method of animadversion is, "This text does not mean this," nobody ever thought it did; "It does not mean that," only two or three heretics ever imagined it did; and again it does not mean a third thing, or a fourth, or a fifth, or a sixth absurdity; but at last he thinks it does mean so-and-so, and tells you so in a methodical, sermon-like manner. This is an easy method, gentlemen, of filling up the time, if you are ever short of heads for a sermon. Show your people firstly, secondly, and thirdly, what the text does not mean, and then afterwards you can go back and show them what it does mean." ---Charles Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries
     
  7. Aaron

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    That was quite uncalled for, Jerome. Tom was merely describing how his own thinking was corrected, and I think it is superb! :thumbs:
     
  8. asterisktom

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    Thank you, Aaron, for the encouragement. I didn't take what was written as an insult - but then again, maybe I am somewhat slow (Hmmm can't find a befuddled emoticon - You'll just have to imagine one).
     
  9. Marcia

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    The misuse of this verse always bothered me as a new believer (and still does but I was more sensitive then). People would say if just a few people were around, "Well, we can pray because you know, "where two or three are gathered," etc. I always wanted to ask, "So if just one believer is here, he/she can't pray because the Lord isn't here? The Lord is only with us if 2 or 3 Christians are present?" I never said this since I was a new believer but it drove me nuts.
     
  10. Winman

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    Just because two Christians pray for something, does not mean God has to grant their request.

    James 4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

    I know of people who pray that they will win the lottery. Why would God grant that, the whole purpose of winning the lottery is to escape earning money through honest work. I seriously doubt God would grant a prayer like that.

    I think of it as a father. If my kids ask me for something that I know is bad or harmful to them or others, I am not going to grant that. But if they ask me for something that is truly good and beneficial to them and others, that I will try to do.

    Sorry for getting off the subject. I do agree with you that the two or three gathered in Jesus's name are not a church, unless that is all the Christians available at that time and place.
     
  11. asterisktom

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    A good way to answer that abuse of the verse - and also to answer your question - is to go to James 5:16, last part:

    The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much..
     
  12. asterisktom

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    I agree with you on this. And I actually have heard this misuse of the verse.
     
  13. kyredneck

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    Hey Tom, I had the 'want to comment' on this when you first posted it, but never got around to it.

    In this context I believe this applies only to the apostles, and that in reference to the authority that was given them as apostles. Consider the previous verse:

    Verily I say unto you, what things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Mt 18:18

    Consider the similar wording in this authority that was given to the apostle Peter two chapters earlier:

    And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Mt 16:18,19

    Consider the authority that Paul, as an apostle, exercised here:

    For I verily, being absent in body but present in spirit, have already as though I were present judged him that hath so wrought this thing, in the name of our Lord Jesus, ye being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 cor 5:3-5

    And here:

    of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I delivered unto Satan, that they might be taught not to blaspheme. 1 Tim 1:20

    I don't think any other than apostles had the authority to loose or bind in this manner.

    I believe that “cut it off and cast it from you” is also corporate, and that the erring here is in reference to false teachers and the dangers they posed to the infant church of Christ. Consider the 7th verse:

    “Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling! for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh!”

    I believe the above passage to be synonymous with the following passages:

    29 I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock;
    30 and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
    31 Wherefore watch ye, remembering that by the space of three years I ceased not to admonish every one night and day with tears. Acts 20

    1 But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
    2 And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of. 2 Pet 2

    4 For there are certain men crept in privily, even they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
    5 Now I desire to put you in remembrance, though ye know all things once for all, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. Jude

    Consider these verses (as referring to the assembly as a body):

    8 And if thy hand or thy foot causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: it is good for thee to enter into life maimed or halt, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire.
    9 And if thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is good for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire. Mt 18

    ....to be synonymous with passages such as these:

    8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.
    9 As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema. Gal 1

    9 but shun foolish questionings, and genealogies, and strifes, and fightings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.
    10 A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse; Titus 3

    17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them.
    18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent. Ro 16

    15 looking carefully lest there be any man that falleth short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby the many be defiled; Heb 12

    Needless to say, I don't believe that to be cast to 'the fire the age-during' or 'the gehenna of the fire' is in reference to that place of eternal torment, but refers to the divine wrath that came in this time world.
     
    #13 kyredneck, Oct 22, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 22, 2010
  14. RAdam

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    I think the context is clear. However, Jesus is using a principle to back up what He just stated. He just stated that whatever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven and whatever they loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven. Then He stated that if two agreed on anything it would be done, again according to the context. Then Jesus produces this principle that where two or more are gathered together in His name, He is in the midst to strengthen and back up His statements to them. That doesn't mean the principle Jesus used here can only mean that one thing.

    The fact is, this principle means what it says: where two are gathered in His name He is there in the midst of them. If they are gathered to make a church decision, He is there. If they are gathered to discuss scripture and think on the things of God, He is there. I have experienced the latter many times. If they are gathered to worship Him, He is there. That's not justification for not giving two hoots how many people come to church, but it is a great truth that we aren't hindered by poor attendance. One of the greatest sermons ever preached was preached to 4 men - Peter, Andrew, James, and John. We should desire as many as we can get to come to church, but if only a handful show up we can still worship God.
     
  15. kyredneck

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    And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. Lu 24:27

    I would love to have heard this sermon, which was given to only TWO.
     

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