Message 2
Vern Yoder
February 16, 2008
Goshen, Indiana

[00:00] This is a very interesting conference. I served the Lord for over twenty years with these brothers, John and Nigel. This is unique, because this is the first time that we’ve ever come together to give a conference. It may show—I don’t know, the three of us together. So it’s a unique time. Praise the Lord! I think we have had some burden to speak specifically to the brothers and sisters among us that have been in the church life, as we call it—the church life, the local churches, the recovery, however you want to label it—for many years, many, many years. And especially the last few years we have been through some very hellish experiences, in storms, in gossips, in quarantines, in excommunications, and things said, you know, Nigel was called a worker of Satan and many other such pleasantries. And likewise, many of us have been through much. And we felt like it’s good to have a time we could come together and discuss a little bit, as the title: Who are we? Where are we going? What are we doing? And why exactly are we here anyway? Why do we even come together and be together? So we considered that through fellowship that us three brothers would come probably with three somewhat different perspectives of consideration of what we’ve been through and who we are, but at the same time, we’re not here to be uniform, that we all have to be in lock step, but that we all have some feeling and consideration before the Lord, and we can just be here together and relate that consideration and feeling before the Lord.

[02:12] The way we’ve chosen is in the New Testament, just to consider...Actually there’s three very different viewpoints, too. And one is from Peter, and one is from the apostle Paul, and one is from John toward the end of the age—three very different viewpoints, three very different kinds of writings, with three very different kinds of environments.

[02:39] Well, Nigel has related to you this morning firstly with Peter and with the apostles and disciples around him. They were embarking on a new environment. They had no idea what to do. Jesus did not set up church structure. It would have been nice if He told them ahead of time, “This is what you do: when you go to a city, have a Lord’s Table meeting, take the ground of the church, declare yourself the church in that city.” But Jesus did no such thing. They were embarking on something entirely...There was nothing around. There were no Christians around at the time. It was completely fresh and new. But He gave them a command, as Nigel has shared with us, that they would be witnesses, that they would spread throughout all the earth, and they were to bring what they had of Jesus. But they didn’t know how, and they began to just follow the Lord, to embark on something that was never done before. And in a way, they began to stumble into things. They didn’t know church or anything, what it was supposed to look like, what the structure was, so even as Luke was describing it in the beginning of Acts, he did not say, “And after the Spirit fell down, at one point everyone decided, ‘Now we are the church in Jerusalem.’” It didn’t happen that way. But they were called other things, like the Way. They were those guys. They were those people of the Way. They were just those people. They were that group over there. And people had all kinds of names for them—Christians and so on. They developed all kinds of names and sayings and reputation among the people.

[04:31] They really didn’t know what they were doing. And that was an experience that they had at the beginning, and a precious experience, because it was a learning how to be with the Lord, not to just be told what to do or where to go or how to be, but how to be fresh with the Lord and in the Lord’s leading, and then start out and pioneer something that the Lord is doing, which is a precious experience that every Christian believer must have. Any Christian who has a feeling in their life that they just want to be a person that finds the right group or right man of the age to tell them what to do, you are embarking on a miserable journey, because the most enjoyable experience is to know the Lord in this kind of way, where you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing, but you do know the Lord is with you and you are pioneering a new and fresh way. If you have to have a group that you belong to and follow and with, then your life is just a life of following man. There’s no experience of the precious leading and following of the Lord in your life.

[05:43] But you know, at that time period—that was chapter one of the church life—in a way though, that experience, that chapter of the church life does not describe that much of Christianity today. It was nice at that time that they were just it. They were the Christians. But you know, today that’s not the Christian world that we see. We see a world populated with Christians. If you want to be like some of the Mennonites who claim that they are the only Christians on the earth and put your head in the sand like an ostrich, you can do that, but it’s not true. It's not true. The world is populated with Christians. Everywhere you go there are Christians. Every country you go, there are Christians everywhere. And these Christians have set up all kinds of ministries, and all kinds of church groups, and all kinds of things, and all kinds of activities. Those are all going on. And that’s kind of a setting that we came into. And that’s the kind of setting that was at that time; there was a lot of Christian things.

[06:49] But as you can see, when the Lord began to do something in a way in that realm, He hit kind of a wall, and that was with Peter. Peter was there, and Peter was challenged by the Lord to go speak to the Gentile world, to go speak to Cornelius. The Lord was fulfilling something He had told Peter in Matthew 16: “I’m going to give you two keys. You only did one so far. There’s another step here you need to do.” But Peter was not getting it. There was just an influence, and a kind of culture, and a kind of thing going on at that time that the Lord just had a hard time. So He brought His sheet down with all kinds of unclean animals—lizards and snakes and pigs and spiders and all kinds of things—and He told him to eat it. And Peter said, “No!” He would not eat it, and it probably wasn’t very appetizing anyway. The things that are appetizing are things that are clean, at least the animals that are clean. And Peter did not take that. Peter did not eat those things, and the Lord, of course, was sending him a message that you need to go out. And eventually through that, Peter did go out—you all know the story. He went to Cornelius’s house, and the Lord began His work in the Gentile world.

[08:05] Then when Peter came back, boy, did he hit a brick wall. Man, those disciples were cold and hard. You just could not believe it. Sometimes I try to imagine if I was there that day and I heard a report of the Spirit’s moving over there, could I be so cold to say, “No, they were not Jews!” And that’s really what they were telling Peter. “They’re not the Jewish people.” And at that time, it was all over. Chapter one was done in the New Testament. There was something of a culture, of a way of something going on, that the Lord was not able to move.

[08:43] And that’s when the Lord needed to raise up someone by the name of Paul. Paul was someone who came. And He charged Paul right at his conversion that “you are a man sent to the Gentile world.” Paul made this very clear, that he was “separated from his mother's womb” and that he was given the commission, that right away he would go out and reach out to the Gentile world. So this is what Paul began to do in his labor. As Paul began to go out...And you all here, I’m trusting you all know the story and you know a lot about this. I’m just reviewing a few things. As Paul began to go out, he eventually confronted also a kind of opposition, because everything was complicated at that time. Christianity was not just as simple as “the word of God went” like when Philip the evangelist, he was taken by the Spirit, and he met the Ethiopian, and he went here, and he went over there, and Christians were raised up and they became part of the Way. That was simple. Now things were complicated. There were lots of religious things, and lots of concepts, and lots of activities and ministries, and all kinds of things going on at that time.

[10:06] So when Paul had to confront this, Paul had to be very clear. We can see from his epistles how he wrote to these people. So firstly, you look at an epistle like the Galatians, the epistle to the Galatians. Paul had to make a clear separating line between things that were religious, things that were of Judaism, and things that were of Christ, and things that were of the cross of Christ. In Jerusalem at that time, although we don’t know that much, but probably there wasn’t a lot of separation between Judaism and Christianity. And that was beginning to affect the Gentile world as well. Paul was beginning to be pressured by all the concepts. Eventually Paul had to write a book that just drew a straight line right through the middle: this is Judaism, and this is Christianity. And Paul made this kind of vision clear. These people, at that time, when they saw that vision, it changed the whole landscape of the church, because there began to be something that began to include a Gentile world. You know, until that time, then Paul also realized, because of the division, because of the complication, there had to be something of a reality of what God was doing on the earth, something of a reality that would come to the Christian world.

[11:43] Jesus, He made it very clear in Matthew chapter 16; and I know some can say, “Well, Jesus never emphasized the church,” or whatever, but Matthew 16—Jesus took His disciples to a special place, and He asked them the question, “Who do men say that I am.” Let’s take a little retreat here. Let’s step back. You saw all My miracles. You saw all My works. You heard My speaking. You heard all My messages and everything, but I want to know, who do men say that I am? When Jesus spoke that, He was trying to help the disciples have an understanding that what is most important here is the Christ of the universe. And so, even in John chapter 6, when the Lord was with the Pharisees and they were challenging Him with these religious ideas, and the Lord tried to tell them, “You search all the Scriptures because you’re hoping you can attain to or you can enter into eternal life, but you do not understand that it is those Scriptures that point to Me.”

[12:58] What Jesus was telling them, helping them realize, that He is everything in the universe. So Paul, apparently he began to catch on to some of these things. I don’t know if Matthew related that to him, but for some reason, where the other disciples did not expound that much, Paul expounded, and he brought us a book like the book of Colossians, where he unveiled to us that actually Christ is the center of the entire old creation. When you look at all the creation, everything was created through Him. And Christ is even the universality. That means everything ends up, and is focused, and results in Christ Himself. He unveiled to us this matter of this view of who Christ is, this makes a big difference, because this just told everyone whatever you do must have a priority of the experience of Christ. And whatever you do must have an end result of the experience of Christ. Why was this? Because anything that resulted in Judaism, anything that resulted in structure, anything that resulted in an institution, anything that had these other kinds of results were way off the mark. What you need to know was, “Who am I?” Who is this Christ? Who is this Person? This is what Paul was doing at this time.

[14:36] And I relate all this to you, not because I think you don’t know it. I relate all this to you because I believe probably everyone of us in this room has had this kind of experience, where in the midst of a confusing world, a confused Christianity, there is an experience of Christ that became so dear to us, where we just felt like our life is now centered on Christ. And everything we do in our life eventually ends up in this Christ. And this is something, brothers and sisters, that we need to treasure and hold onto. When we’re trying to consider what we have, we should not be a people that don’t realize this treasure we have of everything that we have focused on Christ and everything is eventually unto Christ. This is not a small thing. Well I’ll just go on.

[15:36] Christ went on in Matthew 16 that “upon this revelation I will build My church.” And to emphasize it, to put an exclamation point on that, He said, “The gates of Hades will not prevail against this builded church. This church that I build, the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” If you were a disciple at that time, you may have no idea what He was talking about, but one thing you were clear is, oh my goodness, there is something that is so powerful, so strong, so important to this Jesus that even the gates of Hades has no power against this whatsoever.

[16:15] Well again, where is this going on in the Acts, in the disciples? Well it wasn’t till Paul came along, and he began to realize there is such a thing that has so much power, there’s a testimony that has so much, that even the gates of Hades is subdued, all the evil powers of the universe are subdued because of this matter of the church. So Paul began to realize when Jesus said “church” in Matthew 16, He is not just meaning an assembly of people, because you know the word church in Greek just means called out assembly. It was an extremely common term. That’s why some Bible versions would translate that word just into assembly. Some Christians react to that, “I don’t like assembly. It sounds too common.” But you know, actually, that’s what it was. It was just a common word at that time. In the book of Acts, when they used the word church, pretty much in every instance of using the word church, it just simply meant an assembly of called out believers. That’s all it meant, nothing more than that—the church in Jerusalem, the church here, the church did this, the church in one accord, the church in many different instances. But it just referred to a called out group of people, nothing more than that. And today in the situation in Christianity, many, many Christians that’s all they feel about the word church. That’s all the church means. It’s just an assembly of people. “What church do you go to?” “I go to church. I go to church every Sunday.” Where’s the church. The church really needs this kind of ministry. That means that called out group of people, whether it means a larger group, or a smaller group, or a group that meets in a building, or a group at large in many cities or one city or whatever, it just means a called out group of people.

[18:24] But in the book of Ephesians—and I want you to consider this carefully—in the book of Ephesians, Paul takes this word and brings it to another level. In the book of Ephesians, he does not refer to the church just as some group of people. If you translate it that way, it sounds really strange. There is translations that try to do this, and it sounds strange. Just as when Christ, in Matthew 16 said, “I will build My church,” and if you just look at that as just a group of people, it just doesn’t make much sense. But Christ, when He said that, there was something there, and it seems not until the apostle Paul was there something that was picked up regarding the church. So in chapter one of Ephesians, Paul mentions that everything that Christ went through, that His dead, and His resurrection, and His ascension had this end result, and that is the end result was that there is the Body of Christ, which became the fullness of this Christ, this wonderful Christ that you see now has an expression that is much larger.

[19:41] And then in chapter two, when Paul is really getting to his point, the problem with the world at that time was that there was not an acceptance of Gentiles into God’s church. So as a result, Paul began to say, “Yes, there were aliens; you were aliens; there were aliens there, these Gentile people. There were aliens, yeah, he saw the UFO sighting, he saw there were aliens there. There were people outside of God’s purpose, and they were brought in. And they were brought in. He explains in chapter two also that there’s this masterpiece that God is putting together. In saying that, he is not talking about just some small group of people that meets on Lincoln <Avenue>. He’s talking about a church in the sense of a term that is much, much different, much, much more heavenly. He said this group of people sitting in the heavenlies, this church is in the heavenlies; this is a masterpiece. And then he said that Christ on the cross not only just died for our sins, but He died on the cross to break down the middle walls of partition, and He abolished the law of commandments, any separating thing, to bring together, to reconcile the two, the Gentiles and the Jewish people, together into one Body. This was the ministry of Paul at that time. He saw the complication in Christianity. He saw the complication, and he came in with a ministry that brought in a view of the church. And when Paul was doing this, his burden was to bring all the believers into a reality, and to cause all the Gentiles on the earth to be brought into the Lord’s kingdom and brought into the reality of the one Body of Christ, the church.

[21:45] So then Paul began to define many—he was very prolific in defining many aspects of the church: the church is the bride of Christ, the church is the new man, the church is the warrior, the church is the kingdom, the church is the family, and we are all citizens in the heavens. He has many different kinds of words and phrases and everything to define that there is something of the church that has a reality that we can be brought into, and then eventually a oneness can be formed.

[22:17] You know, when Jesus was on the earth, right before He died He prayed that all the believers would be one. This wasn’t really part of Peter’s message, although it was part of Peter’s commission to go out and bring Cornelius and others into a kind of oneness. But it was Paul, in Ephesians again, giving us a vision of the Body of Christ in oneness with many members, everyone functioning, and everyone being together, but yet one Body together, and one expression to the world. It’s as if when Jesus was on the earth, and when He said, “I have many things to tell you,” it was not until, it seemed, the complication of all the things that were happening at that time in the Christian world, that there was an ability for a minister to come up, and to unveil things, and to bring people into the reality of what Christ was trying to tell them in little bits and pieces on the earth.

[23:16] I find this very interesting, because I feel it relates to us very, very much. Paul, he was trying to show them that yes, there are gifts. These gifts are given to the Body. But you must realize that all the gifts, they should be developed. They should be perfected, yes. But ultimately they should perfect all the brothers and sisters. And he came up with this view that’s so special in 16 of chapter 4 of Ephesians, that each one part is building up the Body in love. Really, really something. Although Peter did talk about the priesthood of all the believers, but Paul unveiled something that was so real in application, a reality of the church, and a way that he himself would spread the church all over the earth.

[24:15] So eventually, what did this make Paul? Paul was not a man who took his teaching and was happy with his teaching, and then went to Jerusalem and tried to influence all the apostles and get them to change, or get a group of people studying the Old Testament together to try to find out how they could make this view more clear. What did Paul do with this vision? Paul was driven by this vision, and eventually what he did is he went out, city by city by city. And wherever he went, in his wake, local churches—or whatever you want to call them, churches—were raised up, wherever he went. When he went to Ephesus, there was a church there. When he here, there was a church there, based on the reality of what he saw of the Body of Christ. And wherever you went, when you saw the influence of Paul, what you saw was Gentiles, and you saw Jews, you saw every kind of people come together as the one Body of Christ. And when you looked at that church in one kind of way or form, you saw many brothers and sisters all functioning together, burdened that the gospel would go out and burdened that the world would see a testimony of the church that God desires.

[25:30] It’s no wonder then, that Paul, different than everyone else, coined the term purpose. It’s not a term that’s used readily throughout the Bible, but Paul picked up that term. And specifically in chapter 3, he relates that term to this matter of the church—not to anything else but to the church, because in Paul’s mind, what he was driven to do, what he was motivated to do, what he was commissioned to do, had everything to do with producing this church. It’s no wonder at the end of his life in Philippians he could say, “I’m just poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice of the faith of all the believers.” And in 2 Timothy, “I have been faithful to the course.” What was his course? His course was he saw something of the church that was God’s eternal purpose, that was something more than just a group of people or an assembly of people, and he gave his life to that.

[26:37] Now in just a few minutes I’d just like to share why am I bringing all this out, because I feel it has a great analogy to us today in the same kind of experience. When we were born into this world, we were not born into a world with no Christianity where we were the first Christians on the earth finding a way to meet together. We were born into a complicated situation of Christianity. And in that complicated situation, many of us here can testify—and I won’t speak for everyone—many of us can testify we saw a reality of an eternal purpose of God, something of the church, something that God desires, something that God wants on the earth.

[27:28] And then, as happened in the time period of the apostle Paul, many conflicts, turmoils, and different things came in to such an extent that Paul, for whatever reason eventually said, “Everyone in Asia, all the people that I have labored and gave my life…they all left me.” I don’t know that means, but there was a great discouragement that all left him. If you were at that time and considering, sure there could be many things that you could consider: “Well, it must be that Paul’s teaching of the church was inherently flawed.” Isn’t that a good conclusion? It must be inherently flawed. Otherwise, how would it all fail? It did. The whole thing just began to fall apart. Well, there must be something wrong with his teaching, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much controversy among the Judaizers and all the people coming in. Well there must be something that was wrong about that. How about maybe we should go back and find all the practices and all things that we enjoyed and so on, and try to find those things. There’s a tendency to do all those kinds of things. I believe at the time of Paul, as things began to fall apart, and Judaizers came in, and opposition came in, Paul is in prison, you know. He’s not even out there anymore. As soon as he gets out, they put him back in prison. He has no way to communicate, hardly. He sends some letters, and that’s about all that’s going on. He tells us in Philippians that in his bonds, even, some tried to raise up affliction. They used preaching Christ to raise up affliction for him. In all that kind of experience—and I think that’s the kind of experience that we’ve gone through in the last few years—we wonder, what in the world happened? If this is the church, how in the world could all this nonsense happen among us? It must mean that what we saw as the church is not really the church. It must mean that something is inherently flawed. It must mean that in the teachings and things we have it’s wrong.

[29:49] And among us (I’m running out of time) among us we have a tendency to hold onto things and to consider things. In speaking to the brothers and sisters that have been with us a long time, they have a tendency to try to hold onto practices and applications and different things, and we’ve seen our practices and applications become very flawed and very bad, a lot of bad applications. Because we saw some vision of the church and we saw something, our application eventually ended up in that we excluded Christians, and we demeaned Christians, and we criticized Christians. Terrible! Awful! Even ethically, the way we did as Christians was just awful. So then we tend to go back and say, well then, where did that start from? Well, maybe that the vision of the church, and our vision of Christ, and the reality of things that we had was all wrong. And that’s where we get ourselves confused. And we find ourselves today even in a psychological state where we don’t know where we are, and as a result we have this conference: Where are we? Who are we? What are we trying to do here? What happened?

[31:04] Well, brothers and sisters, I just want to say for all of you, there was a reality of Christ that we really experienced. And there was a reality of the church that we really have. However, when we begin to practice it, man, do we mess up. And if you do not admit that, I really feel sorry for you. We have really messed up. We have practiced things like we’re the only church in this city. What an arrogant thing to say to all of Christianity that we’re the only church in this city, and things like that that we say. And we stand up in a meeting and we tell a brother, “Brother, you know, that testimony was just Christianity.” That’s happened to me, and that was not a good saying. That was really bad. We all are Christianity, but that’s a label that we give people that we didn’t like. We called them Christianity. And these are the kind of things that we did—the terrible, awful relationships that we had with Christians, and as a result, then we begin to divide. And then cities begin to have two groups of people that are claiming, “We are the true church. We are the one church. We are the true church.” And all kinds of things going on. And these were the ones that saw some reality of the church among us.

[32:28] So again, what do we do? Well then, why don’t we just forget all of that—forget about the church, forget about all the things we have, forget about the reality. But I want to beg you brothers and sisters, if you do that, even psychologically you will be very damaged, because you know what? When you experience something real of the Spirit in your Christian life, never deny that! Jesus told the Pharisees that they were blaspheming the Spirit because God was working there, and they were mocking what the Spirit was doing, and they were saying, “This is just Beelzebub.” They were calling Jesus Beelzebub. This caused God to be very angry. Well, not only in other people’s lives, but even in our own life, we should not mock what the Spirit has done in our life. We have seen something of Christ. We have seen something of the church. And at points in our life, it motivated us to speak the gospel, to raise up people, to shepherd people, to cause people to see something that we saw. It energized us to be people that had a kind of outreach to the world and had a burden to have an impact on the world. There were times like that in our life.

[33:47] But the confusion in us is we have a tendency that we want to deny everything. The entire past is bad. But if you do that, how can you trust anything? Consider the psychological state of a man or a woman who says that everything I experienced in the past, and everything I was in, and everything I gave my life to was absolutely wrong. Consider the psychology of a person like that. You know what it is? You can never trust anybody again. Every person who speaks, you’re suspicious. Every person who relates something to you, you’re suspicious. You’re bitter about everything. You’re mad about the world. You’re mad about Christianity. Eventually you’re mad about the Christian life. You don’t have any way for you to go on.

[34:37] You know, brothers and sisters, what we need to do, in realizing…and even if you were in that time of the apostle Paul’s time…what we need to do is in realization of this, is to consider, what do we have? And sort out, what do we have that was precious? What did I experience that I know that was really real? What did I have that was real, something that was a reality of what I saw? What is that?

[35:09] Now, in your own mind, if you’re looking for a package deal—either give me the whole package and tell me this is right, and if this is wrong, then please give me another one and tell me that one’s right and that one’s wrong—then you will never trust anything in the whole world. You will be suspicious. You’re always looking around and considering things.

[35:29] This is something that we before the Lord have to be very clear about. We need to know why we’re here. You know, a lot of us here, when we began to see the reality of something of Christ and the church, we were wrecked. We were wrecked for anything else in the world. Someone else would come to us and give us some other kind of sight or vision and we just have no desire for that. And it’s too bad we just can’t be sometimes just can’t be that satisfied with other kind of things going on. We were really ruined for something special. We saw that, and that is not a bad thing. But we need to go back to what we have been ruined for.

[36:10] And you know what? Throw away the practices and the applications. Forget about all the wrong things. And yes, we did wrong things. Let’s just admit it. Let’s all just tell the Lord, “Lord, I’m sorry. We blew it. It’s terrible. We ruined everything. You gave us a good thing, and we ruined everything.” And get it behind us. Deal with it and get it behind us, and find out the things that we really have, and press forward on those kind of things. I hope none of you say, “What we really have is the practice of calling on the name of the Lord.” Please, this is not what we really have. That is a practice. That’s exactly what it is. It is a practice. A good practice and maybe a profitable practice, but it is a practice. Those are not the things we have.

[36:57] But the things we have is what Paul has related to us, and that is this sight of the church, the sight of Christ and who Christ is, and that Christ is building His church, and the church is more than just a convenient term that describes God’s people. The church is something that has eternal purpose attached to it. There’s an eternal purpose attached to this thing. It is something special. And when you begin to see this, it motivates you, it drives you, and it brings you into reality, and it motivates you to bring the world into this reality. And eventually, as we see what the apostle Paul saw, it will put us on track, just as he was, to go out. And wherever he was, he left these builded churches in his wake. And this is what the Lord would bring us into. This is my word. This is from the apostle Paul, chapter two of the New Testament, my perspective.