By Don Welburn
How God led us out to gather alone in and to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I spent 21 years among Southern Baptist before withdrawing from them Jan. 15, 1964. It was among them that I first heard the Gospel and at age ten I believed on Him who died for me and rose again. I was immediately baptized and received into the fellowship of the Diamond Hill Baptist Church of Ft. Worth, Texas.
Having become convinced that the risen Lord wanted me to preach the Gospel, I launched out in the summer of 1956, finding the local city and county jails as my first opportunities. I spoke a couple of times to the Diamond Hill Baptist Church and soon was invited to be the pastor of another Baptist Church.
I served as a Baptist pastor nearly eight years and it was during that time that God seemed to stir my heart over the division of His people. I found myself connected (unscripturally so) with an organized division in the Body of Christ. The Baptist name was something that grieved me deeply to the extent that I started searching the Scriptures about the matter. I was sure God was not pleased with His people being “denominated” (named) apart from each other. As a result the truth of the one Body became bigger and more precious.
A brother in Christ visited me one night and asked me why I was “ordained” and I told him it was Scriptural to be ordained. In parting that evening he lovingly asked me to search the matter out and share the results with him. I did so (searching my Greek Testament) and shortly after admitted to him that Baptist Ordination was not in the Scriptures. This was in the spring of 1959.
During the time which followed (nearly five years) prior to my separation, searching, praying, and then preaching what I found was a tremendous delight, I came to the conclusion that I could no longer stay connected with the Baptist name and be Scriptural. Therefore, I announced my resignation as pastor of the Harvey Street Baptist Church of Gainesville, Texas, and separated with a company of like-minded believers to meet simply and wonderfully as Christians. Later we learned of several other companies of believers who were gathering as we were, having no distinguishing name and practicing priesthood in a corporate way. We also learned, to our delight, that they were partaking of the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week.
The path which He has given us to walk has been and presently is a great joy to my heart. I found God being “Father To Me” (II Cor. 6) in an abundant way as I went back to laboring with my own hands to provide for my wife and “six” children. This I did for about five years. Then in July of 1969, we, as a family of eight, launched out trusting Him to supply our every need as we traveled to tell the wonderful story of salvation and the life which follows.
In a day of division when a majority of the saints of God are connected with some distinguishing name, we need a fresh look at the ground of gathering as it is presented in the Word of God. Many seem completely indifferent as to a clear “thus saith the Lord.” However, when we stand before Him in all His majestic wonder and glory we shall wish we had more lovingly and fully followed the Scriptures.
A clear line of typical teaching is laid down in the Old Testament Scriptures, as to the divine Center of Christian gathering. For instance, we see this sacred principle stated in Gen. 49:10 where Moses records the words of aged Israel as he tells what “shall befall” his twelve sons in the last days. Rulership in the unified nation of Israel from the tribe of Judah began with David. Christ is referred to as, and truly is, the Son of David as well as the Son of God. Notice, “unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” It is Jesus as Lord, glorified, to whom we are to be gathered and He as such is our only ground of gathering. This same principle is seen in Psa. 22:22 where Christ is prophetically viewed “in the midst” of the congregation, praising the Father. And again, in Psa. 50:5, the same truth is declared, “Gather my saints together ‘unto me’; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
Now, having briefly viewed some Scriptures from the Old Testament, we shall look into the New Testament for a further development of this same truth. Luke and John each record our blessed Master appearing in His rightful and delightful place “in their midst” (Luke 24:36) and “unto the midst” (John 20:19,26). On each occasion, He spoke peace to the gathered disciples. How true it is, that when our Lord Jesus is actually in the midst, there will be peace in the gathering! Oh, dear saints of God, let us be careful to meet the prescribed conditions laid down in Matt. 18:20 that He may, in reality, be in our midst.
Now, let us look at Matt. 18:20 for an exposition which satisfies all connecting verses and sets forth the divine authority for all Christian activity. The context of this important text gives instruction and authority for discipline, judgment, and prayer (verses 15-19). Verse 20 appears to consummate what is given in the five preceding verses. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20 K.J.V.). Even the smallest plurality gathered “unto” the Lord Jesus’ name brings about the highest power and authority–Christ Himself “in the midst.” Down to the word “name,” where the comma appears in the K.J.V., a subject, verb, and an object appear. The verb is in the passive voice indicating that the subject, “two or three,” is acted upon rather than itself doing the acting. It is also a perfect tense participle.
There is no single English counterpart for the “perfect.” It has a past time and present result function. Therefore, the verb would be rendered, “having been and being gathered together,” actually using two English tenses. The word “in,” of the phrase “in my name” (K.J.V.) is not the same Greek word as the last “in” of the verse. The first is “EIS” and the second is “EN.” The first should be rendered “unto,” carrying a subsequent idea of “with a view to.” “EIS” is a preposition of action but “EN” is a preposition of sphere. Therefore, the verse could be more correctly rendered “For where two or three having been and are being gathered together unto my name, there I am in the midst of them.” The perfect participle “SUNAGMENOI” with the verb, to be, “EISIN” thus being rendered “Having been and being gathered together” gives us a more sure idea of the function of the Greek verbs.
It is indeed the name of our Lord Jesus that does the gathering if Christ is in the midst. As previously mentioned above, the subject is acted upon in passive voice verbs and in this case the object of the verb does the acting. Therefore, when the peerless and exalted name of our beloved Lord does the gathering, He Himself is our wonderful and treasured “host”- in the midst. This condition being met, “gathered unto my name,” and the promised blessing of “there am I in the midst of them,” realized, the result is peace and power (or authority). Oh, in a day of darkness, deception, delusion, and division, we must have His blessed presence. How often saints have come together without Him “in the midst.” This is the greatest poverty possible to a corporate gathering of saints.
Now, if we have clearly laid down the ground of gathering or to whom we are gathered, let us proceed to see some further development of this wonderful truth. It might be well to say that what we have in Matt. 18:20 is PRACTICAL but what we shall see in I Peter 2:9 is POSITIONAL. Our holy priesthood, stated in verse 5, is upward and our royal (kingly) priesthood, stated in verse 9, is outward. It is the verse which takes up our royal priesthood that also declares we are a “peculiar people.” This expression, peculiar people, beautifully fits our title subject and is positively linked with Matt. 18:20. Christ is Himself in our midst in that verse and as peculiar people (positionally) we are around Him. Yes, “around Him!” For the Greek word rendered peculiar (PERI-POIEO) literally means ERECTED or CONSTRUCTED AROUND. The preposition “PERI” has a primary meaning of “around” and when joined (as a prefix) to the main word erected or constructed, we have “constructed around.” A reasonable question in this light is, “Who are we constructed around?” The obvious answer is, “Our Lord Jesus Christ!” God, in infinite wisdom, constructed, erected, or wrought us around His beloved Son that He might have the preeminence and we might ever enjoy Him in that wonderful place “in the midst.” Dear fellow Christian, we were not only constructed around our Lord Jesus but are to exist in a functioning capacity around Him.
We find this truth in Titus 2:14 where once again we are declared a peculiar people. However, the word rendered PECULIAR in this verse is not the same Greek word as is found in 1 Peter 2:9. This time it is a word which should literally be rendered “being around.” The root word is the “verb to be” but is compounded with the same prefix as the word in 1 Peter 2:9, “PERI” which means around. Thus giving us the further developed truth of existing or being around our Lord Jesus in a functional capacity. We were not only erected or constructed around our blessed Lord Jesus but are to be functioning around Him. This is plain not only form literally translating the word PERIOUSION,” but from the context of the verse, “zealous of good works.”
Consummately, we must remember that the promise “there am I in the midst of them” is made sure only to those who “are gathered unto my name.” The verse does not say “where two or three gather together in my name,” but “where two or three are gathered together unto my name” (N.T. by J.N.D.). If, for instance, twenty or thirty saints gathered together for a Bible reading-Christ would be there, personally in every believer (Matt. 28:20; Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:27; Heb. 13:5). But, only when the twenty or thirty had been gathered unto His name would He be “in the midst of them.” Remember, it is His name which is the drawing power of the conditional half of Matt. 18:20, thereby assuring His promised presence in the last half of that same verse.
Oh, dear saints of God, may His ever precious name, which has been exalted above every name, be our authority and “strong tower” (Prov. 18:10) both now and evermore.