When thinking about who or what constitutes a "Church" it is really impossible not to look at Matthew 18:20. In this very well-known verse, Jesus says that wherever there are two or three gathered together in His name, He will be in their midst. The words of this verse have long been used by both those inside and outside the traditional denominations to claim the authority of Jesus over what they call "Church". The argument is that if we have a group of people, no matter what size, who come together, and talk about Jesus, or in some way claim affiliation with Jesus then that IS Church".
So, is this really what Jesus is saying to His disciples here, is he really placing a rubber stamp in the hands of His followers that allows them to declare any gathering loosely related to Jesus as the "Church"? Somehow, I cannot see this really being the intent of Jesus; in fact, I think it may be quite far from the actual intent. I will attempt to explain the process that lead me to believe this.
First, lets look at the other places where we see Jesus use the phrase "in my name". In the book of John, we see "in my name" paired with petition or asking something from God. In John 14:13, 14, 15:16, and 16:23,24. Jesus essentially says that when a Christian asks for anything "in His name" they will be given that thing. So is Jesus issuing a rubber stamp that gives his followers the right to claim any desire they have for themselves if and only if they tack his name on to the end of it? While there are some who actually teach and believe this to be true, it obviously cannot be since there are countless stories of prayers that had the name of Jesus attached to them that have not been answered.
While this impossibility may seem intellectually obvious, this idea has so permeated Christian thought, that most prayers from Christians of nearly every stripe are ended with the line "in Jesus name we pray, Amen". Some Christians have realized that their prayers are not being answered, do they have added the very spiritual sounding "if it be your will God" to the "give me this in Jesus name". This way, when they do not get what they want, they can simply say it was not "God's will" for them to get their request. The problem with this is that Jesus' words do not really give this option. In everyone of the above passages from John, Jesus says "ask in My name and you will receive", not "ask in My name and according to God's will, and you will receive".
What then, could Jesus have been saying when he said "in My name"? While I am not certain that anyone can fully understand this, I think that the book of John gives us one more important clue. In John 17:20-26 Jesus is praying for His disciples and asks that they would be "one in Us" in the same way that Jesus was one with the Father. Maybe Jesus statement includes the idea of asking according to God's will, but also so much more. What if Jesus is saying "If you know Me, and seek to live like Me and you ask something from God because you desire to know Me more and live out God to the world in the same way I did, you will receive it, because that is God's will for you".
Now, we began this discussion about the Church, not about prayer, so lets bring it back around. What about the "in my name" with reference to the gathering of believers. If we apply the same idea here, it might look something like this :
"wherever two or three believers come together in order to better know Me and My Father so that they might better live out God to the world in the way that I lived out My Father before them, I will honor their desire to know Me and live like Me by Joining with them".How different would the Church look if this were our interpretation of Jesus' words?
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