This message was given by brother Titus to a gathering of saints during the first meeting of the church in Akron. In this address, he stresses the importance of recognizing the oneness of all the believers in the city.
Brothers, I have the feeling that I should share on this point: What are we doing here? Many people are asking, “Are we starting the church in Akron?” Of course, my answer is “No”. “Then,” people ask, “what are you doing, if you did not come here to start a church?” To address this, I will share a little bit of what the Lord has done in us and among us these last 6 years.
Can we read Acts chapter 18, verse 1:
“After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth”
And then verses 9 and 10 say:
“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid but speak and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee and no man shall set to thee to hurt thee for I have many people in this city.”
Would you believe the Lord is also the Lord of other cities? There are no buts about it. Of course the Lord is the Lord of all other cities! Yet you notice here that the Lord was developing the people around Paul. Concerning Corinth He said in this way, “for I am with thee” and “for I have many people in this city.” Seemingly, the Lord is exposing himself in a manner of selection. “I have a selection through this city. I have something special here.” Therefore you notice verse 11: “And he,” that is the apostle Paul, “continued there a year and 6 months teaching the word of God among them.” That vision made the apostle Paul stay in Corinth for a year and 6 months.
I’ll share with you in this way, brothers: we are so happy here tonight. I believe with all the joy here, many tears were shed by many brothers. There are sufferings; there are offerings; there are burdens; there is a lot put before the Lord to bring us together in this way. So, brothers and sisters, I would say we are truly, in the eyes of the worldly people – even in the eyes of many Christians, a religious people – they would say we are a group, a crew of crazy people. Dear brothers, we have to remember: praise the Lord, even tonight the Lord has somewhat manifested that He is the Lord of all and He is the Lord of the recovery.
I want to start with a testimony in this way: I remember it was in 1964 in this month, March, for some reason I had to leave University at 18. I should believe that was a miracle. For some reason a certain circumstance came about where I got 1 C in my grades. I took 4 courses and I got 3 B’s and 1 C. Actually, I should have gotten an A, but because of a mistake made by the professor I got a low grade. Then I found something clear; something strange, but very clear in my heart that I should go to Pittsburgh. And without knowing much I went. But when I got to Pittsburgh I began to meet brother Bob Smith and we began to go to New York to invite brother Lee to come to Pittsrburgh to help us. That was about 6 years ago. Then in August we began to meet with them, and another brother came and was with us. We felt to begin to meet on the ground in the city. That was the beginning of the testimony in Pittsburgh. But brothers, I am not burdened with sharing this type of testimony. I want to share how we began and what we began. That is my burden.
When we first got to Pittsburgh, brother Smith was invited to a group for internationals and in the morning they all go to different denominations. I can still remember Bob was sharing with me, “look at this! They have to go to denominations in the morning and come together in the afternoon. How will they see the church?” Then we began to meet in Bob’s home with 3 or 4 brothers. So we felt we should begin to meet. But, brothers, when we began to meet we felt we had no right to start a new meeting. We have no right to begin with the meetings.
Remember, brothers and sisters, at the church in Corinth the saints were not even divided – they are only within the church in 4 groups. That is to say they are not having full fellowship among these 4 groups. One says “I am of Cephas”, some say “I am of Paul”, some say “I am of Apollos”, and some just “I am of Christ”. Immediately, the apostle Paul begins to ask them the question: “Is Christ divided?” Is Christ divided? You say you are of Christ; are the others not of Christ? Oh, brothers, do you know how serious that is, if we have the idea that “everyone is wrong, we are right?” In doing so we start to offend God. Oh, brothers, so at that time, when I was with you brothers we began to have a burden for why we should be together. We really trembled before the Lord. We had a deep sense, when we start something, we may be so humble, but we may start something which will hurt the economy of God.
I still remember I was very busy in school, but Bob and I every week we spent 1 evening just to go out to the whole city as much as we could, basically in groups to see if there was any brother already standing on the ground of locality so that we could jump in to be a support. I had this conversation with Bob until this one time I remember Bob said one thing to me; he said “Titus, if you want to found this kind of group, then I will find hundreds for you”.
After we had visited the big groups and so forth, finally we were somewhat brought into the realization: the recovery of the church life, the recovery of the unity, is something so fresh. I don’t mean that nobody will take it in the future, or has not taken it already, but I mean it is very unusual for you to see anyone have such a clear vision of what the church is. When we began to meet together, I wanted that they would have a pure heart, a pure conscience before the Lord. This is my burden.
In Pittsburgh, in other cities, in all the cities, we are taking the same principles. None of us can have the attitude “because I have read some book of Watchman Nee, I have discovered the local ground. Therefore we can meet together. Everybody is wrong, we are right. All the denominations are wrong, we are right.” Brothers, that is damaging. I am not saying the denominations are right. All the institutions, the denominations, the organizations are something to be condemned. But all the Christians, they are still your brothers; they are still the ones you love. They are still the ones with you, and for you, and they are still in the body of Christ. Whether they take it, or whether they don’t take it; whether they accept it, or whether they don’t accept it, no matter what, if they are born again – if they have the life of Christ – then we are their brother.
Oh, brothers, of course, we cannot say “I know a dear brother who is a Baptist so for his sake I will join that ugly Baptist institution.” Do you see what I mean? “For his sake I will be a Baptist,” that is so poor! We know that it may offend them but on the other hand I should say to him, “Brother, you are a Baptist but I only care about one thing: you are my brother in the Lord.” You see what I mean? For a practical church life, from the very beginning we should have a clear vision: the body of Christ, even in Akron, is much, much bigger than what we have experienced today. And we have to confess one thing: that we suffer due to the fact that we are not fully living it out. We suffer due to the fact they didn’t take the ground with us. Had they all said, “we give up whatever denominations we have; whatever backgrounds we have” we will say “hallelujah! We’ve come together! We don’t care who the leader is, we don’t care who keeps our meeting, we don’t care what kind of practice you want, we don’t care what kind of things you need, we only care about one thing: we are on the ground of unity. We all come together as saints in Akron all come together.” What a rich idea! You may have 100 thousand all coming together, all praising the Lord, all fully relying on the Lord; what a glorious testimony that is!
Do you remember, the Lord was praying in John chapter 17 “that they may be one as we are one”. Brothers, we are burdened. We are burdened, but we know it is easy for us to be within this group, because seemingly we separate ourselves from denominations. Yet it is simple: in our conscience we should be able to be bold enough before the Lord to say that we are not divided; on the contrary, we are one with them, more than when we go with denominations. Because if I go with the Baptist I will separate myself with the Methodist. If I work with the Methodist, I will separate myself with the Brethren. If I work in a Brethren group I will separate myself from a free group. Oh, brothers, only when we all drop the backgrounds will the economy of God, the purpose of God, the building up of the body be truly manifested. It was, in the beginning of the testimony in Pittsburgh, in that way we brothers had a trembling heart and a trembling spirit before the Lord to say “Lord, we do want the recovery of this oneness”.
Brothers, even today in Akron, we are not coming to Akron for the reason of starting a local church. You can never start it. The local church was in Akron way before we came. But I have to say one thing: the manifestation of the local church wasn’t here before we came . There was no manifestation of the local church. There was no manifestation of oneness in Akron. Lord, forgive me what I say: So many Christians do what is pleasing in their own eyes. They think one thing is right, so they start a group; they think another thing is right, so they start another group; they think this doctrine is right, and based on this doctrine a denomination is formed; they think this teaching is right, so based on that teaching an institution was formed. Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes.
We have come here by the mercy of the Lord. We only want to recover what is lost. We only say “Lord, you have the local church. Now we’ve come here to join the local church. To join the local church in Akron, tell us where it is.” Brothers, even today we share with the brothers in the same way: brothers, tell me some brothers who were here in Akron standing on the local ground. We don’t care about your practices, we don’t care what kind of ministry you have, we don’t care what kind of things they exercise. As long as they can say “we are on the ground of unity in Akron. We have been here for 4 months – 1 month before you came ”, then I tell you brothers, we have nothing to do but to drop whatever we have and go to them. We are only for the recovery of the ground.
I will ask one thing: is the unity important? If the unity is not important throw it away and burn John chapter 17. Don’t even have it. Why should the scriptures say the ‘church in Corinth’, ‘the church in Ephesus’, ‘the church at Smyrna’, ‘the church at Philadelphia’, ‘the church at Laodicea’, the church at all these localities if the local ground is not important? If the unity is not important, then just burn Revelation chapter 1 and 2 and John chapter 17. Brothers, if it is important why should we keep other verses and forget these verses? This is something we have to stand by very strongly. We have to be so bold to tell brothers, “Brothers, our conscience tells us we are fully following the Lord. We can have no compromise.” Yet, on the other hand, we have the full love and relationship with all Christians. Whenever institutions come to us we must say, “No.” Do you see what I mean? All the institutions are to be condemned, but all the brothers in institutions are still your brothers. Oh, brothers, may the Lord be wisdom to us. This is the basic attitude we ought to have. We have no intention, and it would be dangerous for us to feel, that only those who know a certain brother, or only those who have read the book of a certain brother are on the ground of the local church – that is dangerous.
Yet, brother, on the other hand, we should be bold enough to say “if I am walking in truth, then I am walking in truth”. Do you see what I mean? It is like this: brother, if we have any spiritual gift, only we know, only we have it; only we are right, everybody is wrong — that is dangerous. Yet on the other hand, if we say “everybody is wrong and we are not so right”, then that is not true either. If there is something not so right then you better repent before the Lord. That’s why we call other brothers. In these many years of fellowship, it has all been in this way: “brother, tell us, use this verse, prove to us something that we haven’t known yet.” We will repent, we will take it, we will drop whatever we have experienced in the past just for the sake of following the Lord because this is what we are after.
Fellow brothers, this is one thing I am feeling a little bit of burden to share with you . I believe we all ought to come to this lesson, then ask “why should we go back?” Well, we have to tell people why we are here. We cannot say “God, guide in this way”. Do you see what I mean? For instance, just as we have no right to say, “Lord, why should you give this brother 5 talents, that brother 2 talents and this brother 1 talent? It’s unfair!” God says “It is my business. If I give you 1 talent, then be satisfied; if I give you 2 talents, be satisfied with 2 talents. It is me who gives; you have no right to argue.” Brother, we have no right to argue. The day when the Lord revealed himself to the apostle Paul he said, “be strong, not afraid, stay here, for I have many people,” The apostle Paul stayed there for one and a half years. Should the people in Athens call Paul, “Aren’t you being unfair, Paul? You are staying in Corinth longer than you stayed in my place! ” Nobody can say anything. The apostle Paul would say, “This is of the Lord. I will follow it.” I am not ashamed of coming just as another problem comes in; I come by the guidance of the Lord with a pure conscience That is all. I am not ashamed or afraid of people asking me “why are you here?” I have to say, “The Lord’s economy.” Why should I pick Akron? The Lord picked Akron just as the Lord picked Corinth.
If you are meeting with believers then go over Acts chapter 18. Don’t argue with the Lord, “Lord, why should you tell the apostle Paul you have many people in Corinth? Why not in Ephesus? Aren’t you the Lord there?” The Lord would return: “No, no, brother listen to me: I will build my church; I will do my work. You follow me with a pure conscience. That is all!” Oh brothers, this is all.
Even here, when we are asked about, when we are checked, when others are even against us, with all this our attitude must be so simple: the Lord can select or anoint things we are not proud of, yet we are not conflicted; we came with a pure conscience by the guidance of the Lord. May the Lord be merciful. It doesn’t mean, brothers, that there are no works other than this. It does not at all mean the Lord is only the Lord of Akron. The Lord is Lord of every city. What is more clear? Whether you move or don’t move, ask the Lord: “Lord, what are you doing?” The Lord may ask you the same thing. Of course, brothers, training is something, which we know, but this doesn’t mean all the localities will follow. This only confirms that I will follow. You see what I mean? You have to lead me to Akron, then we see when we come to Akron that there is a move there. So then you can see it confirms your leading. This can never replace the leading. You can’t say, “now everybody is moving to Akron, let me go!” No, touch the Lord: “Lord, should I go? If I should go, I’ll go; if I shouldn’t go, I’ll stay. Wherever I am my will is to be faithful to you, for your recovery, for your work. Hallelujah! That is all that is responsible; nothing more and nothing less.” I believe this is the expression of our attitude, who we are and what we are doing here.
Maybe I’ll say a little bit more for some of the brothers who are considering if they should move, those who are a little bit far away from Akron considering this. I will say it in this way, brothers: when the Lord Jesus revealed himself to the apostle Paul he said “Be not afraid, for I have many people in this city” Immediately, the apostle Paul did one thing: he taught . He preached in that city for a year and a half. Wow, that’s something! That means the apostle Paul began to give himself to the church in Corinth to help the church to be built up. And if you study geography then you will see Corinth is a port. That local church there could invite many places surrounding that place. Why should it be so? The Lord did it; don’t argue. The Lord did it. You see what I mean? Brothers, I’ll say it in this way: we have been in Pittsburgh, we have been in Cleveland, we have been in Mansfield, we have been in other places. We all know how much we need more of a practical church life. This practical church life is also a kind of daily life training for us to fully realize what we are, what it means to be on the ground and in the church life. Colossians chapter 3 mentions 2 things, which are quite peculiar. First it began to mention you have to put on the new man, right? You have to put on the new man. And strange enough this “put on” in Colossians 3 was mentioned twice. The first time it’s mentioned you have to “put on the new man”, the second time it is mentioned you have to “put on the holiness”. And then Paul began to say, “in this new man Christ is all and in all.” Brothers and sisters, you know this. When the apostle Paul was sharing, he was sharing in a way that the church is something to be “put on.” Usually we think “put on the new man” means to put on Christ; that he is the new man in us. This is not right, because in Ephesians it says that we are “created one new man that is including both Jew and Gentile,” so it couldn’t be Christ in us, it must be everyone included-Jew or Gentile, all included to be that one new man and this one new man as the church is for us to put on. Brothers, I believe those brothers who have been here will somewhat testify what is the difference when you put on a living here and when you are living here. Do you see what I mean? I will testify to the same thing. There is a difference between when I was living here and when I was in Cleveland. In Cleveland I would not say much. In Cleveland it’s kind of small, you don’t have much chance to really practically learn and train to live in the church. That church cannot be rich enough to be your daily living. But you can put on the new man when there are many brothers and many sisters so that you have a lot to be involved in, a lot to keep you busy, such that you worry your living won’t be involved in the church enough. Do you see what I mean? For instance, one locality might have 5-10 brothers. You may decide “Now, I’ll put on the new man, and visit them.” You visit one brother each night and after a week it is over. There is not that much to do. You see, there are a small number which is our limitation. That is one of the reasons that moving to a place where more brothers and sisters can be built up together and where we can practically be more involved in the church life will be a help for a period of time. And then we shall see where the Lord will lead us or send us for his purpose.
And secondly, we discover in Colossians chapter 3 that it begins to tell us of the meeting life. The meeting life was loving, yet few understood “teaching and admonishing one another.” You remember what the verse said, right? Now when he was speaking it looks like they would rather come together before they would come to the meeting. One brother may begin to shout, “Hallelujah!” another brother then says “Amen!” and you made it. He begins to mention more like this, with the spirit, with the singing, with melody. And the teaching and admonishing one another. You know, brothers, with 5 people it is rather hard for you to carry out a meeting like this. You couldn’t shout for an hour. You need more brothers. Then we would say, “Where should we go? Aren’t we going to be sent out to some place? Then, from the beginning there is always going to be something small, right?” I agree with you, brother; I won’t argue with you. I would only say that within me, at the beginning, some training before we were involved means so much to me. Just as even on this earth you need school to be trained, to learn the trade and then practically in your life carry it out, the church life, practically, is about the same. We need some training, we need some practice, we need some learning, then, brothers, yes, some may remain and be sent to a place with just a few families to preach the gospel there. Yet at that time, we had a realization that we knew what we are doing. In our experience in our own body, this kind of church life is built-in. It’s not something only theoretical. I just had this a little bit. Pittsburgh has many brothers – about 40. Cleveland has 30 or 40. Mansfield 30 to 40. Yet, we all have the realization that we need the churches to be together more, so that we can more richly practice the church life. I’ll say it again: it doesn’t mean everybody ought to move, but you can see why the Lord is leading us to do this: because he wants us to be mature in experience, to be useful so that someday we could be in many places for Him. May the Lord be merciful to us.
There is one thing I’d like to repeat: we have to be bold. We are coming; yes, we are coming. We have to tell others why we have come here. We have to love the brothers in denominations, yet hate that institution because the Lord hates it. The Lord would have more ways through us in the days to come. May the Lord be merciful to us.