KEY TEXT: Matthew 18:18-20 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."
KEY THOT: There are only two places in the Gospels that Jesus used the word "ekklesia" (translated here as "church") to describe the gathering of believers. Both instances occur in Matthew's Gospel: (Matthew 16:18-19 & Matthew 18:17. And throughout the rest of the NT, the word ekklesia is translated as "church", except in three places: Acts 19:32, 39 and 41. Here ekklesia is translated "assembly" because it refers to a public town-hall assembly of unbelievers, not to a Christian gathering. Strictly speaking, the word "church" was a late invention and in NT times, Christian gatherings were just another kind of "assembly", though for a religious purpose. So if the English translators were to be consistent to the Greek language, it should use "assembly" to translate the word ekklessia throughout the NT. But because the assembly is Christian, modern translators have taken the liberty to translate ekklesia as "church".
Young's Literal Translation, on the other hand, consistently translate ekklesia as "assembly" throughout the NT because that it is what a church is--an assembly of believers rather than an institution. The church is, therefore, a gathering of believers wherever they were found, mostly gathered in the homes in NT times. What makes it a Christian assembly is not its legal or institutional status, nor its venue or day of meeting. What makes it a "church" is its purpose for gathering together: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (v.20). A church is a gathering of believers in Jesus' name so that He may manifest His presence and power among them.
In today's Matthew 18 passage, we note another important characteristic of the Christian assembly--the spiritual and moral discipline within its ranks. Jesus commands the church to take holiness and unity in its ranks very seriously. If someone has sinned against another, the offended party must confront the offender--first privately--to seek his repentance and reconciliation. If the offender refuses to repent, then the offended party should escalate the issue to the next level by bringing in one or two witnesses. If this offending brother still refuses to listen, then the issue is to be brought to the attention of the entire assembly and the offender is publicly called to account. If he remains unrepentant, then he is to be expelled from the assembly, so that harmony and holiness may be maintained in the assembly. This principle should apply to any kind of Christian assembly, be it home group, bible study group, fellowship group or ministry group.
But there must be consensus ("if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask") at every level that this brother has indeed sinned and not just a misunderstanding before such drastic action like expulsion is undertaken. If in the escalation process, it is found that there is actually no case against this brother who caused offence to another, then the matter should be closed with both parties offering forgiveness so they can be reconciled.
And that is what makes an assembly of believers a church of Jesus Christ--a community that bears witness to the purpose, presence and power of Christ in their midst. Anytime sin is tolerated, the church's purpose is compromised, and its spiritual power dissipated as Christ's presence is withdrawn. As in the case of the Church of Laodicea where Christ was standing outside the church, calling to be invited into their midst: "Behold I stand at the door and knock..." (Rev. 3:20).
Abba-Father, may we always assemble in Your name so that we may experience Your presence and power in our midst. Amen.