Jesus says that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). Christians often understand this to mean that no worship assembly is too small to be blessed by the Lord’s presence. If a man and his wife become missionaries in a distant land, for instance, the Lord is with them on the first day of the week—even if they are the only ones assembled together.
Surely, it’s true that no gathering of God’s people is too small to attract the Lord’s notice. At midnight in a Philippian jail, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). No doubt, Jesus was listening to them too.
But the immediate context of the Lord’s promise to be “in the midst of them” suggests another explanation. Jesus is encouraging his church to practice discipline. If a brother sins, confront him privately. “If he listens to you,” Jesus says, “you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15). If he refuses to listen, though, “take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (v. 16). If he still persists in his sin, then tell the church; “and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (v. 17).
The “two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16) are the “two or three gathered in my name” (v. 20). The church must never discipline a brother without real evidence of wrongdoing. But when two or three credible witnesses give the same testimony, the church can take action with full assurance of the Lord’s approval.