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By Curtis Pugh

The Catholic party, both Eastern and Latin splits, the Protestants and even many Baptists are given over to hocus pocus. The idea of rituals and the pronouncement of certain words, phrases or sentences are believed to not only empower the religious rites they perform, but also to somehow give them good standing with God Himself. For the most part it does not matter to them the meaning of their words as long as they are said according to the prescribed manner.

Years ago a friend and church member where I served as pastor who had been raised as a Roman Catholic and an altar boy asked me the meaning of the Latin words “Spiritus Sancti.” I told him the words meant Holy Spirit. Then I asked him why he asked about those words. He said the priests never told him what they meant but at certain times he had to say those words during the mass. The idea that certain words must be said and that the proper use of them is assurance of God's blessing is that to which I refer by using the term “hocus pocus.” (It is thought by some that the words “hocus pocus” were actually used by entertainers in bygone years in imitation of the Latin used by priests.)

It is difficult to say whether John 3:16 or Matthew 18:20 is the most abused and misunderstood short verse in the Bible. All are familiar with John 3:16 and most with Matthew 18:20 which says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Let us begin our investigation of Baptist hocus pocus by considering this verse from Matthew. This verse is used by Protestants, Interdenomantionalists and a great many Baptists who wish to promote the idea that if two or three people meet and say they are gathering is Jesus' name He is present with them in blessing and approval. Thus they have made the “two or three” equal to a church. Home Bible studies, casual meetings of friends and relatives are elevated to the level of having God's power, blessing and presence on such casual encounters.

Such dissection of the Word of God which pulls a verse or two from here and there without regard to context and the original meaning of the speaker or writer is corrupting that Holy Message. Paul wrote of this practice whereby some in his day corrupted the Word of God. In 2 Corinthians 2:17 he wrote: “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” If we would know the truth we must be careful, yea zealous, to make sure that we let the Bible say what it says!

Now back to Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Notice first of all that the Lord Jesus did not say “where two or three say they are gathered in my name.” To put it plainly: just because someone says they are meeting in Jesus' name does not mean that they are. To do something in the name of another is to have their authority to act in their place or on their behalf. Probably all are aware that a legal “power of attorney” can be drawn up giving one person the authority (power) to act in the stead of and on behalf of another.

Consider the context of this verse: Notice in your Bible that this passage begins with this symbol: ¶. That double-stemmed little thing that looks like a backwards “P” is called a pilcrow and it means the beginning of a new paragraph. The rule of writing and of translation is that each paragraph is to deal with one subject though it may present various aspects of that subject. This paragraph runs down through verse 20. There is another pilcrow before the text of verse 21. The entire paragraph as understood by the King James translators is this: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

The subject of this paragraph is settling differences between members of the same church and may involve taking the matter before the whole church. Regardless of how small the church is – even only “two or three” if they gather in Christ's name – that is with His authority and on His behalf Christ Himself is present with them as they do business for Him. So then this “two or three” “gathered” is not an extra-church meeting of professing Christians. It is a meeting of the church for disciplinary purposes and its actions are valid, i.e. recognized in Heaven. A meeting for the carrying out of the instructions given by Christ in this paragraph by a scripturally organized New Testament church is guaranteed to be blessed by Christ's presence. Such an action is acting in Jesus' name and those church members gathered to obey Christ in the matter are acting in His name: with His authority. So it is we say that the Lord's churches have a limited degree or amount of judicial authority when acting in obedience to Him.

Another bit of Baptist hocus pocus is the idea of praying in Jesus name. As recorded in John 14:13-14 Jesus said: “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” While this is not the only requirement for prayer to be answered, these words do not require the petitioner to close his prayer with the phrase, “in Jesus' name I pray.” It may be well and good to close our prayers that way as a reminder to us of what we ought to be doing in our praying, but we do not need to remind God of what we are doing. Nor does the mere repetition of such words guarantee that we are indeed praying with the authority of Jesus and on His behalf. 1 John 5:14 sets forth another requirement for prayer to be answered: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.”

By the way, the foolish statement that God always hears out prayers, but sometimes answers “yes,” and sometimes “no,” and sometimes “wait awhile” is completely false. The next verse after the one just quoted says, “And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” God who knows all things and always has known all things certainly knows what we have prayed. In fact He knew it before we prayed as we did. But if He hears our prayer He answers by doing what we asked Him to do.

The point of all that has gone before is to point out that the mere repetition or recitation of words means nothing unless they are true and we understand them. Most who administer one or the other forms of “baptism” will say something to this effect: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” But if they are not acting with Christ's authority and on His behalf they are lying by what they say. Just because they said it does not make it true! Jesus did not tell His church to say certain words when administering baptism. He said to do it – to baptize – with the authority of and on behalf of God. Mere words are just hocus pocus! And indeed may actually be a lie!

The New Testament is replete with such phrases as “in my name,” “in the name of Jesus,” “in the name of Jesus Christ,” “in the name of the Lord,” “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” etc. None of these have anything to do with the mere repetition of words. Rather they have to do with actually acting with Christ's authority and on His behalf.

Therefore let us not descend into the pitfall of a kind of sacerdotalism or priest craft in which we mistakenly think that ritualistic recitation of magic-like words is effectual or is required by God. Let us not merely “say,” but let us “do!” The blessing of God and our obedience to Him is not to be found in mere words, but in doing what He has instructed us to do.

Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726

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