Question: In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said: "where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." Does this mean that individual Christians can decide for themselves when and where they can worship on the annual Holy Days and the weekly Sabbath?
Answer: To understand this verse, we need to read it in context. Verses 18-19 show that the topic is the ministry making binding decisions concerning matters of conflict, not individual Christians meeting together. Even the expression "in My name" implies that the gathering is to represent Christ. What does Scripture tell us about Christians gathering to worship on the Sabbath and annual Holy Days?
People often misunderstand the word "convocation," thinking that it is just another word for "meeting." However, note this definition of "convoke" from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary: "to call together to a meeting." This dictionary lists the following synonyms: summon, call, cite, convoke, convene, muster—meaning "to demand the presence of." In other words, someone must do the convoking—or calling—of the meeting. But, since this is a holy convocation, to whom has God given the authority to call such a meeting?
The Hebrew word translated as "convocation" throughout Leviticus 23 is miqra." The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words states, "literally, the word means 'convocation' or 'a called-out gathering'." The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says this about the word miqra: "its most usual meaning is reserved for the seven special convocation sabbaths ... Such days (and the weekly Sabbath as well) included a formal summoning of people to worship by the blast of trumpets."
We see the meaning further expanded when we read, "These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times" (Leviticus 23:4). The word "proclaim" is translated from the Hebrew word miqra, which may be translated "call" in the sense of proclaim, and occurs about 80 times in Scripture with this meaning.
God always works through His ministry—whether through the priesthood in the Old Testament or the ordained ministry in the New Testament. Throughout Scripture, it was never up to individuals to decide for themselves when and where the sacred assembly was to be held. Likewise, today, the ministry calls us to worship, and proclaims the particular meeting place.
Certainly, there are occasions when a person is not able to travel to a designated meeting place, and God makes provision for that. For example, a wife may not be able to travel to the Feast of Tabernacles because of childbirth, so God says that at least the males should go (Deuteronomy 16:16). God is a God of love and compassion, and does not expect His people to travel when they are sick or otherwise indisposed.
As for the weekly Sabbath, the same principles apply. If someone lives too far from a holy convocation, God's ministers may make arrangements so that the distant brethren can receive audio or video copies of sermons or worship services, or can connect by phone or Internet. But it is vital that we remember the biblical pattern-it is God's ministry, not the individual believer, who has been given authority to determine the place of worship. For more on this topic, please request our free booklets, Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath? and The Holy Days: God's Master Plan.