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The Quaker concept of a "gathered meeting" is discussed in this article, especially as it relates to a much larger "coming together" of all of God's people at some time in the future.

Jesus promised that he would be present in the midst of those who are "gathered together" in his name. (Matthew 18:20) From that promise many have assumed that we need only form a group, say the magic name, and hey presto! Jesus will be in our midst! But the sentence is written in such a way as to state that the "gathering together" is not something that we initiate or do of our own volition. We do not "gather together" as we so often say it, but rather we ARE gathered together. That is, we experience this action as recipients of the one who is actually doing the gathering.

What a beautiful picture of one of the great paradoxes of the New Testament! God's revelation of himself to the human race moved, in the New Testament, away from an outward, visible organisation, to an inward, invisible relationship with himself. Even this relationship has an element of "election" about it, in that the initiative lies ultimately with God to do the calling, the choosing, the gathering. Of course it helps if we are there "waiting" when he chooses to speak. But ultimately, we are entirely dependent on him.

We understand from Bible prophecy, that there will be a visible, worldwide gathering of God's people in the last seven years before Jesus returns. (See "The Last Seven Years" in Armageddon for Beginners".) But until that starts, the kingdom of heaven, we are told, "does not come with observation." No one can say, "Lo, here," or "Lo, there!" (Luke 17:21) In fact, even those of us who aspire to be personally a part of that kingdom, only seem to ever be partially and temporarily in it ourselves. There are those moments of true hungering after God, true openness to all that he wants to tell us, and true submission to his will. But they do not last for long before we get distracted. Even rarer are those times when something clicks between two or more such people at the same time, and a greater awareness of the presence of Christ results.

Quakers frequently refer to a "gathered meeting", when it seems that those present in a meeting for worship enter into a mystical unity in the midst of their individual searches for the mind of God. They usually observe the fact that a meeting has been "gathered" in quite a passive way -- enjoying it when it happens, but doing little to sustain it or to cause it to re-occur. Gathered meetings are, in Quaker thinking, just little favours that God bestows on people when and as he wills. (Even at those times, some of us may feel more a part of what is happening than do others.)

I cannot say that there is anything fundamentally wrong with people trying to organise religious meetings, create religious organisations, or even promote doctrines about how to get closer to God. Nor am I convinced that adherence to a strictly passive approach in our relationship with God and with other believers will necessarily lead us in the right direction (i.e. to a "gathered" meeting). But I think that it helps to understand that God's totally sovereign intervention is definitely necessary at some stage, and that, without it, we are pretty much lost.

As we have watched for and prayed for the gathering that is supposed to come about before the return of Jesus, we have observed various inter-denominational and ecumenical movements arising. We have seen and heard of individuals claiming to have God's anointing to bring about the restoration of his true, visible church. And we have noted other lesser attempts at finding the spiritual unity that his people everywhere must crave, including such things as gathered meetings and the formation of our own Christian community.

But so far, there seems to be no foolproof way of getting all the good guys into one camp. There seems to be error and outright dishonesty everywhere, and it seems to be mixed in with truth and sincerity, sometimes even within the same individual.

Nevertheless, the message is one of hope, that there may yet be a coming together of God's people that will be truly divine... if we will just remain patient enough and attentive enough to be found waiting and watching when it comes.

(See also Willing To Be Made Willing?.)

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