William J. Stewart | Is That Really What It Means?
You’re going on vacation, but there is no faithful congregation of God’s people meeting anywhere near your destination of choice. You believe it is important to meet with Christians each Sunday for worship. So, what do you do?
- Do you choose a different vacation spot?
- Do you go to the desired location, but leave a day late or come back a day early so you can assemble with Christians on the Lord’s day?
- Do you just skip out on worship for the Sunday in question, and trust that God will understand? [NOTE—if this is your choice, know for certain that God understands. He understands that serving Him is NOT the most important thing in your life. Read Matthew 16:24-26, and consider your need to repent before it is too late.]
Options #1 & #2 are both viable. Option #3 is not a suitable choice for anyone who loves the Lord and desires to go to heaven. However, some would suggest there is a 4th option. Go ahead and plan your vacation to wherever you want to go—it’s ok if there isn’t a congregation to meet with. Just be sure to take some unleavened bread and grape juice along, and your family can meet together in your hotel room or in a park or wherever you choose. Don’t worry, the Lord is OK with it. He told His disciples:
…where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
Is that really what that verse means? Is the point of this text that anytime 2 or more Christians meet together, it is equally acceptable to the Lord as an assembly of the local church? Let’s see what the context says.
Our 15 verse context (see last week) spans Matthew 18:13-27. The specific context of the verse is Matthew 18:15-22. Please read it before continuing to read this article.
Matthew 18:20 is not about gathering with a few family members in a hotel room while on vacation. The context is about discipline in a local church. The two or three are not eating bread and drinking grape juice early on a Sunday morning prior to a deep sea fishing adventure. The 2 or 3 are in verses 16 & 19 as well. They are not worshipers, they are witnesses. Jesus cited Deuteronomy 19:15 in a discourse about how to deal with an brother who will not repent of sin. That’s the context. To use this verse to justify a few Christians gathering apart from a local congregation of God’s people is a misuse of Scripture!
Ok, so Matthew 18:20 doesn’t justify Super 8 sanctuaries. But we’re still able to worship in a hotel room if there isn’t a faithful church near our destination of choice, right? Let me answer the question with a question: where does the Bible say it is OK?
A comment in a blog on this topic calls my position “absurd legalism.”1 Is it absurd to stress the importance of putting God first in our lives, even when we are on vacation? Is it OK to take a vacation from the Lord?
In Acts 20, Paul and Luke met with several men who had gone to Troas before them. In Acts 20:6-7, the writer says their travel plans were made in such a way so they could be with the Troas church on Sunday. They didn’t leave on Saturday and just share some bread and grape juice the next morning in their hotel room. They made sure they were gathered with a local congregation of God’s people.
1 Corinthians 11:18ff identifies the Lord’s supper is an activity for “when you come together as a church.” Do two or three Christians informally eating bread & drinking juice in a hotel room constitute a church?
When 2 or 3 vacationers casually eat bread and drink juice in their hotel room, are they also taking up a collection? The same apostle who identified the Lord’s supper as an activity of the church also instructed brethren to give when the church is assembled together (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). If they are giving, what do they do with it? Is it then given to a church somewhere? If so, then they have admitted that assembling together in their hotel room doesn’t mean they’re a church.
A church does not meet once a year when we happen to vacation near our favourite golf course or beach. A church is an assembly that regularly comes together for worship and to work in the cause of Christ. A church should be working towards having faithful men who will serve as elders. There are no elders, and never will be in the once a year Marriott meeting.
Might occasions arise where it is impossible for us to get together with God’s people on Sunday? Sure. But let’s not create such circumstances, and then misuse a Bible text to justify our absence.