In my last blog entry, I tried to deal with a complex area. The idea of “coming into God’s presence” or “being in God’s presence” or “ushered into God’s presence” has had much promotion in the contemporary evangelical church. I realize that in saying what I said yesterday, that I might be perceived as a stoic. To balance things out, let me clarify a few points today.
Firstly, the passage so often quoted in relation to God’s presence corporately is most often taken out of context. Let’s look at it:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 17 “If 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. 18 “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matt 18:15-20 NASU
You can read from this passage that verse 20 comes after several instructions on peacemaking and church discipline. Just as we don’t want to take verse 19 (“agree about anything”) out of context, we don’t want to take verse 20 out of context, either. Without going into lengthy exposition on this text, just keep in mind that verse 20 does not necessarily mean that we can just do anything corporately. In fact, the way God deals with us corporately may not always be pleasant!
Secondly, there is still a difference between individual worship and corporate worship. Verse 20 is included for a reason. Christ did not just haphazardly tack that sentence on at the end. We experience God’s presence in a different way when we are with other believers than when we do by ourselves. That is not to say that God is different or that we are different or that one is better than the other. Both are essential to a healthy walk with Christ.
Thirdly, the difference between individual/corporate worship may be dangerous. Korah found that out. So did Ananias and Sapphira. So did Hophni and Phineas. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen someone struck down as dead in a church service for gross insubordination. I can tell you that many who have opposed the preaching of God’s word have been prone to illness and, on average, shorter lives. Look at the seriousness of how the Lord’s Supper is handled. The scripture brings out reaping by death upon those who take of the Supper in an unworthy manner:
27 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. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 1 Cor 11:27-32 NASU
So, before we celebrate the fact that when we congregate, that the Lord’s Presence is in our midst, let us “judge ourselves” to make sure that we are partaking in a worthy manner. I believe that we should also judge the way we sing, the way we give finances, the way we are attentive to the preaching of God’s word, although no warning such as verse 30 is attached to it. If we don’t, we might be inviting God’s loving discipline “so that we will not be condemned”. More importantly, we are grieving God’s Spirit with undisciplined corporate worship, which should break the heart of any truly born-again believer.
I pray that no one will read this as a legalistic, unjoyful, morbid view on corporate worship. Our forefathers called it the “solemn assembly” (Zeph 3:18). I don’t know if I totally agree with taking it that far, but I do believe we must not err on the casual, flippant side, either.