Can I Worship With "Two Or Three" On The Lord's Day?
By bro Alvin Lin
We have recently concluded a series of study on “Doctrines On Christian Worship”. Most Christians are clear about the importance of assembling for worship on the Lord’s Day (Heb 10:25), but they may have some uncertainty about what constitutes an assembly. A common misconception that Christians have is that as long as “two or three are gathered together” (Mat 18:20), then it fulfils God’s command to assemble for worship. It is not uncommon to hear of Christians going for overseas holidays with family members or friends over the weekend, but instead of finding a local congregation to worship with on the Lord’s Day due to the inconvenience or the need to adjust their plans, they just perform the acts of worship among themselves and justify the practice based on Mat 18:20. But is that what the verse teaches?
To understand the meaning of a verse, we have to consider the context. Mat 18:15ff teaches us how to address personal trespasses. The offended brother is to approach the offending brother in private with the goal of gaining the brother (not to win the argument). If the offending brother refuses to listen, then the offended brother is to bring along 1 or 2 more brethren with the goal of establishing the truth of the matter (not to gather personal support). If the offending brother rejects the counsel of the brethren, then the matter is to be brought before the church with the goal of saving the soul (not to humiliate the person) (1Co 5:4-5). If the offending brother is still unrepentant, then the church is obliged to withdraw from him (2Th 3:6). Our Lord further adds that “whatever things ye may bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever things ye may loose on the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens” [Young’s Literal Translation], cautioning against enacting church discipline for arbitrary reasons, but that such discipline must be in accordance with the Word of God (2Th 3:14). Our Lord assures that such scriptural disciplinary action will be met with Divine approval.
While almost no one would interpret verse 19 as license from God to do absolutely “any thing” so long as 2 are agreed (such as robbing a bank), yet there are those who would separate verse 20 from the context of church discipline and apply it to congregational worship (and other situations). Surely such cannot be a consistent application of Scriptures! Let’s consider verse 20 further to see its link to church discipline. The “two or three” in the verse is not an arbitrary number that our Lord is giving for minimum representation in congregational worship, but a reference to the “two or three witnesses” (Mat 18:16). When these witnesses carry out their duty of correcting an erring brother, it is as if Christ is with them endorsing the action. The verse mentions that the “two or three” are “gathered together in my name”. This gathering together is not referring to the worship assembly in the context, but to the gathering together for the exercising of church discipline (1Co 5:4). Everything that we say or do must be done by the name (or authority) of our Lord Jesus, including church discipline (Col 3:17). Granted, our Lord is in our midst when we come together as a congregation for worship (Mat 26:29; Heb 2:12), but Mat 18:20 cannot be taken as liberty to forsake the assembly for convenience.
Taking Mat 18:20 out of context to justify missing the worship assembly is no different from denominations taking 1Sa 16:7 out of context to justify unscriptural worship practices so long as the heart is right. This cannot be so because God has commanded for worship to be done not only in spirit, but also in truth (Joh 4:24). In the same manner, God has also commanded Christians not to forsake the assembly (Heb 10:25), but to “come together” (1Co 11:17,18,20,33; 14:23,26). If Mat 18:20 implies that one can just worship in a group of 2 or 3 and fulfil God’s commandment for congregational worship, this would mean that anyone can just stay home for worship on the Lord’s Day if they have another Christian in their family when it is raining, when they oversleep, or when they do not feel like going to meet with other Christians. Not only do they “sin wilfully” (Heb 10:26), they also miss out on the opportunities to be provoked unto love and good works and to be exhorted (Heb 10:24-25). Those who twist the Scriptures to justify erroneous behaviour do so to their own destruction (2Pe 3:16).