Chapter Eight. His disciples would have laughed at this
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The third aspect of the picture of church in Jesus’ head began to be revealed in this statement…
“Where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.”1
Whenever even two people meet in Jesus name,2 He pictured Himself being present. That was the picture in His head. In one sense, this was not new to me. What was new was the realization for the first time that, in my picture, Jesus was passively present. As I mentioned in Chapter Two, he was present as the Honored Guest. What was also new was the realization that, in His picture, He was actively present.
Good hermeneutics3 required that I should understand this verse, first of all, from the perspective of those who originally heard Jesus speak these words. It dawned on me that these men had no concept of Jesus being passively present.
See if you can imagine this picture… A group of the disciples come to Jesus and say to Him, “So, Jesus, we’ve assessed the needs of this crowd. Based on that we have set some goals and developed a program to meet those goals. We plan to recruit some qualified people to help and then execute the program. After that, we’ll evaluate how it went and make some new plans. Oh, and by the way, would you bless this please.”
Hard to picture isn’t it? The original disciples would have laughed at this picture. “The Jesus we know is our Lord, our Leader. He is actively present and He called us to follow Him. He makes the plans not us. In fact, often what He does and where He leads we would never have thought of. We were surprised when he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. We were taken off guard when He called Matthew, the tax collector, to join us as His disciples. And, we were shocked when He said that He would go to Jerusalem and die. No, our main job is to find out what He is doing and join Him in that.”
I began to see that what I had been trained to do since I had become a follower of Jesus at the age of 15 reflected the first scenario above. I was highly skilled at developing programs to build the church. What I wasn’t good at was listening to Jesus to find out what He was doing.
Some years later, a rather shocking term came to mind that described how I had been trained to do ministry. I saw that I had been a “functional deist”. A deist was a person who believed that there was a God. But, that after He created the world, He withdrew and it was now our job to figure out important principles and make decisions based on those. This was, in actuality, very similar to the idea of a passive Jesus. I would have vigorously denied that label of “deist” and yet, in practice, that was largely how I functioned.
The picture of church in Jesus’ head was beginning to live in my head. The church was family. Every member contributed when they gathered. And, Jesus was actively present. That is, He was the Leader and He brought the agenda. But, how to put these things into practice in the context of institutional church? That was to be my question for the next ten years.
Question to discuss with the Lord and your other friends: Is Jesus actively or passively present in your church. Who brings the agenda?
1 Mt. 18:20. The means for this become clear in John 14:16-17 where Jesus explains that the Spirit of truth, the Paraclete, “lives in you and will be with you”.
2 Perhaps this is the most basic expression of church, a “church of two”. An embryonic church? I’ll say more about the implications of this concept later in the book.
3 This is a fancy word I learned in seminary. It refers to the theory and method of interpreting a text. The first principle is that you must understand what the words meant to the original speaker and the original listeners.