Several months ago, I posted a series called “Defining the Church“. In that series, I suggested that Matthew 16:15-19 and Matthew 18:15-20 are foundational for understanding the nature of the church.
In his book After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998), Miroslav Volf also states that Matthew 18:20 is foundational. Consider this statement:
I will join this long tradition [Ignatius, Tertullian, Cyprian, John Smyth] by taking Matt. 18:20 as the foundation not only for determining what the church is, but also for how it manifests itself externally as a church. Where two or three are gathered in Christâ€™s name, not only is Christ present among them, but a Christian church is there as well, perhaps a bad church, a church that may well transgress against love and truth, but a church nonetheless. (pg 136)
He then continues:
The church is first of all an assembly: â€œwhere two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among themâ€¦â€ Doubtless, however, the life of the church is not exhausted in the act of assembly. Even if a church is not assembled, it does live on as a church in the mutual service its members render to one another and in its common mission to the world. The church is not simply an act of assembling; rather, it assembles at a specific place (see 1 Cor. 14:23). It is the people who in a specific way assemble at a specific place. (pg 137)
Besides focusing on the foundational nature of Matthew 18:20 to define the nature of the church, Volf also recognizes that the people do not become the church because they are assembled. Rather, the people are the church because Jesus has called them out of the world to be the new “ekklesia” of God. Because the people are the church, they assemble.
As Volf reminded us, Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20) Is this passage foundational for understanding the nature of the church? What does this passage tell us about the church? As the church, how do we respond to this passage?