Over the years of being in the pastorate and being within the church family, I have heard this verse in Matthew used in reference to starting a church, having church, and being the church. But is this the correct context of what Jesus said? How does this verse seem to find its way into the thoughts of people, who use this verse to constitute a church, or continue to hold church services with only two or three people? In context it cannot.
Matthew chapter 18 speaks on the duties of a church that has already started. Within this chapter the church finds direction for church discipline and congregational prayer, leadership prayer, pastoral prayer. Jesus makes this statement in the forethought of the church that would come (Acts 2), so that, the church would have a unified body for church disposition and discipline.
Matthew chapter 18, offers the church multiple lessons. We find Jesus already teaching the disciples the blueprint for a unified church body. In verses 1 through 6 Jesus teaches on humility. In verses 7 through 9, Jesus teaches on having discernment. In verses 10 through 14, Jesus teaches on devotion towards one another within the church (key word is “sheep”). In verses 15 through 18, Jesus teaches on discipline within the church (hint, see vs. 17). Finally, in verses 19 through 20, Jesus teaches on dedication.
The church must be in steadfast dedication to their calling and responsibilities, not only as a single believer, but believers of the unified church. How does this dedication take place? Prayer. Dedicated devout prayer. This is what Jesus meant when He stated “if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask”. Also, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name”.
The terminology of “two” represents the proper law requirement of two or three witnesses being present (Deut. 17-19; Matthew 18; John 5:33-47; 2 Corinthians 13:; 1 Timothy 5:19; Hebrews 10:28; Revelation 11:3). The terminology of “in My name” represented we are to pray to Christ and through Christ as our High Priest and mediator, to the Father (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24; Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14, 15; 5:10; 6:20; 7:26; 7:28; 8:1; 9:11).
In conclusion, Matthew 18 verses 19 though 20, have nothing to do with constituting a church, or the number required to hold church, but the characteristics of the church. Humility, discernment, devotion, discipline, and dedication. These characteristics are what define a healthy loving mature church. A church that is already constituted and already in biblical service.