Where two or three are gathered

Once upon a time, a few people in a forum were discussing the topic, “What is church?” And the following passage came up:

Matt 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

We commonly understand this passage to mean that if you get two or three people in a room, Jesus comes to the party.
But what if that isn’t it? Or isn’t all of it? For instance: is he not present when we’re alone? Is there “more of Jesus” when we’re together with someone else? Why?

Pooh thinkSo like Pooh I started to think. think. think.

This passage seems to mimic another pattern in Scripture: the necessity of two or three eye witnesses needed to accuse someone of a crime. (Deut 17:6, Deut 19:15; 2 Cor 13:1; Heb 10:28, etc.)

Numbers mean a lot in Scripture. Specific numbers, that is. Just do a study on the number five, and your eyes will be opened to an entirely new dimension. Numbers all fold back in together, creating a bigger picture.

When I hear “two or three” in that kind of statement, I think of the two or three eyewitnesses necessary to–if I can midrash a bit–establish the truth of a situation.

Recently I’ve been looking into the concept of the phrase “in my name” found so often in Scripture, especially connected with Jesus. How often do we hear phrases like “… in Jesus’ name, amen,” or “You are healed in the name of Jesus!”

Have many of us ever even questioned why we utter this in the first place? This is not a common phrase used outside of Christianity. You don’t hear people saying, “Go to the Walgreen’s. Whatever you ask for in my name will be given to you.” That’s just not normal. But why isn’t it normal? Perhaps because we’ve taken it from another culture and extracted it from its original context. some of you are rolling your eyes because this might sound “typically Julia”, but hear me out.

The Hebraic concept of a “Name” is not limited to the letters and pronunciation of someone’s given name. It’s not just a label.

Someone’s name is their character, their person, what they stand for. So taking the Lord’s name in vain, for instance… I don’t think that means saying “Oh God”. I think that means misrepresenting God’s character and making Him out to be something He is not–in a sense, being a bad eye witness (see, I did bring it back to the original topic!). Here’s a short explanation of the concept that I enjoyed reading.

So what about this “gathered in my name” business? Perhaps us gathering “in the name of Jesus” means lifting up his character and representing who he is here on this earth. Maybe it means when two or three of us are witnesses–meaning acting as he would and being “Jesus with skin on”– then the truth about him becomes known, and there he is with us because we’re representing him in truth. We are there in his stead.

It’s like making someone your signatory (I’m not sure if that’s the right word), or essentially letting someone represent you in a situation where you cannot be present. You are giving them the responsibility to be there in your name and do what you would do in that situation. So in a way, you are there because your ways and wishes are being carried out by your representative.

That’s what i think this might be about…. not church, really… but representing Jesus to the world as a witness to make him known.

What do you think?

Dinner and a movie: church style

Three days ago my eager hands trembled as I gleefully purchased IMAX tickets for the opening night showing of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that releases July 14th at 12:01 AM. Not only will I indulge my senses in the migraine-inducing sights and sounds of an IMAX production–I will also be enjoying the camaraderie of attending such a spectacle with a great friend who feels even more enthusiastic about the release than I do.

So what is it that is so great as to pull me from hours of sleep on a work night? Is it the movie? Yes. Our mutual Harry Potter infatuation? Yes. Is it the experience of gathering with hundreds of other ecstatic fans to celebrate as one unit of frightfully nerdy patrons? Oh, yes. But I dare say it’s less about the people than the movie itself. I don’t pay $11 for social time.

Now, switch gears with me…

What if church was this thrilling? What if we could come lining up for the good seats (dead center, top 2/3 of the theater), aching to experience the thrill of bonding, a new amazing experience that ensnares our minds and captivates our time? When was the last time you sat through a three-hour church service without looking at a clock? But what about an entertaining three-hour movie? Why Is it that movies excite us more than God?

On the flip side… should church be like going to the movies?
Oh, I have my own answers to those questions, of course. I even have plenty of thoughts on church as entertainment. I’ll get back to that in a moment. for now, let’s focus on two unique ways that churches are striving to answer those inquiries:

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bungee money

As a side thought from some of the (very appreciated) comments on the Megachurches post below I wanted to raise the following question:

Is it right to require an individual to tithe 10% of their income? And by require, I mean “give 10% or else.”
Here’s one example.
Wouldn’t this just ruin the point of giving that part of the salary in the first place? It’s money on a bungee cord. And Isn’t there some kind of tax issue with this? Anyway… what are your thoughts about requiring someone to tithe?

My short and rather plagiarized response:

2 Cor 9:7
7 You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully.