In our last post we began to look at world events and how they have led to the church considering the importance of God’s command that we “forsake not the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some and so much the more, as we see the Day approaching“.
We have come to understand that Covid-19 is yet another dangerous man-made crisis meant to break national sovereignty, remove personal freedom, and ultimately divide the church of Jesus Christ into silence.
In addition to the last objective, we must understand that dividing the church of Jesus Christ from gathering, has been the objective of every totalitarian regime, from the founding of the church. This is true whether that government be democratic, communistic, or fascist. It matters little whether there is an emperor, dictator, king, president or premier.
This is the plan for two reasons. To hinder or cease face to face gathering of the saints (1) Hinders the power of sanctification, discipleship, and evangelism (2) Because hindering the gathering of the saints hinders the promise of Christ’s manifest presence, in the His people collectively.
To illustrate this first point, please read Acts 2:40-47. You’ll notice, that gathering together brought about consistent teaching concerning the true nature of Christ and our calling as the church (apostles’ doctrine). This togetherness also founded the church in prayer, which led to disciple making and signs and wonders strategically placed, for the purpose of amplifying the preaching of Christ to the lost. Therefore, the church was added to daily.
Let us remember that their gathering together was not only Sunday, but fellowship that blessed, benefitted, and produced God glorifying work, daily and house to house.
In Hebrews 10:19-25, before a stiff warning that walking away from fellowship brings the judgment of God upon the Christian (Hebrews 10:26-31), we find the dynamic nature of sanctification and its effect when we gather in God’s presence.
Hebrews 10:19-25 (NKJV) Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
In the 4 underlined statements we see that gathering together, has a four-fold purpose in our sanctification…
- To give assurance of our salvation in Christ, and cleanse us from patterns of sin, so long as we continue in the faith (Let us draw near).
- To encourage one another to testify of Christ to all we encounter (Let us hold fast our confession).
- To agitate one another if necessary to do good God-glorifying works (Let us consider one another in order to stir up).
- To point one another to our blessed hope, Christ’s return (not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together… the Day approaching).
Not only does forsaking bring judgment upon the individuals drawing back, but it also hinders the power of sanctification in the fellowship. Yet there is something even more perilous, when considering not gathering together as commanded.
Matthew 18:19-20 (NKJV) “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.”
Before we get to Christ’s manifest presence, it is important to give the context of His teaching. Matthew 18:15-20 is part of a teaching where Jesus deals with brothers in Christ who offend through unrepentant sinning. After laying out the process of discipline for someone who is in unrepentant sin and who refuses to repent even if brought before the entire body itself, He commands they be banished.
This sounds extreme and it is, because unrepentant sin damages the body of Christ and affects the presence of Christ among us. It is important to remember the primary context of verse 20 is the discipline of a sinning brother, but the context does not make Christ’s presence, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst” exclusive to only church discipline. Scripture clearly reveals the breadth of His manifest presence among the two or three.
The entirety of the New Testament, as well as the testimony of God’s presence among the Israelites in the tabernacle and temple (in the Old Testament), inform us that Christ is with us, when we gather wherever we gather and for any purpose pertaining to the will of God.
To understand Christ’s manifest presence among the saints, let us begin dealing with His presence with each individual Christ; before we revisit Matthew 18:20.
Please read I Corinthians 6:9-20. In the first 3 verses we are given a list of unrepentant sins that will lead to a person being prohibited from entering the kingdom of heaven, regardless of their confession of Christ—we then read that we ought to know better than to partake in this sin—followed by instruction for us to consider our behaviors well, as not to fall away. Then we read…
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (NKJV) Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
From this passage we understand that each individual Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit of God, who is fully God Himself, dwells in each individual believer (see also John 14:15-18; 23). Therefore, He who is Holy, demands we expel sin from our personal life, rather than practice it. The warning of this passage brings us back to what occurred in Ezekiel 8 through Ezekiel 10, where the prophet is shown all the abominations and sins of the leaders of Israel and her people; and how it caused the glory of the LORD to depart the temple, in chapter 10.
This truth, concerning the individual presence of Christ is so important, for each individual temple is a living stone, being built into the spiritual house of Almighty God (I Peter 2:4-5, 9-10), where God in Christ comes to dwell, not only in eternity, but now!
Ephesians 2:19-22 (NKJV) Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Now we can understand Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
Let us remember that Jesus’ declaration is in the immediate context of judging and binding a sinning brother from fellowship (This was powerful, because so long as the brother remains unrepentant, they are outside of God’s protection, provision, and presence. If the Lord’s words were only concerning discipline, that would imply Christ’s presence is not with us when two or three evangelize, receive communion, pray together, or even teach the word.
Read Acts 2:40-42 and see their fellowship empowered and held together by the presence of Christ in the Holy Spirit, who had just been poured out, and how the fear of the Lord was on every soul. Please look at Acts 3:1-12 and 4:31-37 and see the results of Christ in their midst; it is truly wonderful.
Look once more at the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and the results in verse 11 “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who hear these things”.
Let us also consider the warning in I Corinthians 11 concerning receiving the Lord’s Supper, in an unworthy fashion. The NASB really lays it out well.
1 Corinthians 11:27-30 (NASB) Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.
The reason some were sick, and some were dying, was because they were not judging the “body rightly”. We understand that they were selfishly approaching the table of the Lord, not putting others ahead of their desire. This selfishness is against the mind of Christ. They would gather together with grudges and factions among themselves and eat as if nothing was wrong; this was not judging the “body rightly”.
They were offending the presence of Christ, in and among the living stones, which are His spiritual house. Is His presence powerful, tangible and really present? Yes! Perhaps, this is the reason the body of Christ in America is the most medicated and infirmed group of Christians in the world; because we receive communion and exist so divided, even in individual fellowships. Are we not to have the life of Christ for our bodies and our bodies to be for the Lord?
In one of the churches, I had been blessed to pastor, I met a person who was raised as a Christian and was in ministry for 21 years. This person had chosen to walk away from Christ and live openly in sin, after the Lord did not meet their unreasonable expectations. As I was speaking to them one day, they told me that they were anxious about moving so close to a church. I asked why and they told me “I did not want to be around the presence”.
Even though they did not say Christians, let’s admit, God does not inhabit buildings anymore, He inhabits the saved and the gathering of the saved.
Church, Covid-19 is a bioweapon that is not going away, nor are the mandates associated with it that impinge upon those of conscience. The world’s population went along easily and far too many churches ceased gathering, being convinced we could meet online. How do you gather for communion online, lay hands on the sick online, share the gospel with those outside the kingdom online, with a mind for discipleship?
Regardless of threats, and they will come, we must obey the Lord and gather, trusting His protection, provision, and presence. These measures have been worldwide, and their target will ultimately be people of one particular faith. Those of the faith of Jesus Christ, must obey God rather than man. No matter what, we must together meet, even if its two or three, because Jesus Christ is in the midst and will be mighty to save, sanctify, heal, and give hope for His return.
Refuse them who attempt to mangle the manifest presence of Christ, which is our heritage as Children of God.