by Christine Egbert
This is an excerpt from my biography of Matthew Miller and the Vineyard. It recounts events that took place a couple of years ago in Tanzania, and will be available soon through Amazon.com and Kindle. Matthew and his team were there to teach a conference of Assembly of God pastors about the Feast Days. Only Yahweh had a slightly different plan.
Excited, Matthew rose early Monday morning and took a stroll on the beach, praying and seeking God. There, the Lord directed Matt to Isaiah 58:
“Raise your voice like a shofar. Tell my people their sins. Do not hold back!”
Tell them their sins? What did that mean?
“I want you to go in there and preach!” the Holy Spirit told him.
Understanding all too well, Matthew panicked.
“Please don’t make me do this,” he begged. He was in Africa to teach, simply to teach—no stress, no conflict!
“Are you sure you want me to do that, Lord?” Matthew asked.
But Matt had no peace until he agreed. And now, he had to go back to the hotel and inform the others.
He approached Jessica first.
“The Lord wants me to confront them. He wants me to preach.”
“Confront them? Are you sure?” Jessica asked, looking concerned.
Ken and Sharon exchanged worried looks.
The Conference Begins
Throughout the worship service the Vineyard team was on pins and needles. So was their new friend Dawn. Then came the announcements, after which Ken introduced his pastor, Matthew Miller, the man, Ken confided to his audience, God brought into his life in answer to a desperate petition to have someone teach him truth.
Matthew, who seldom wore a tie at the Vineyard, had donned one for the occasion in deference to his audience, of whom many, even in the un-air conditioned Tanzanian heat, wore long sleeved shirts. Matthew’s dress shirt was short sleeved. And of course there were his tzit-zits, but in every other way Matthew had conformed to their more formal dress.
He opened with prayer, pausing frequently to allow time for the interpretation, after which he began.
“I have many things to say, many things on my heart. I don’t take it lightly that God has sent me to you. I want to say what God wants, to speak His words. I pray they will impact your heart.”
Another pause for the interpreter.
“This moment was prophesied many years ago. ‘One day,’ the Lord told me, ‘you will stand before men with gray hair and teach them.’ He said my wife and I would be a father and mother to the elders in the community.”
Again Matthew paused.
“I was raised in church, in the Assemblies of God. My dad was a pastor. I can’t ever remember getting saved. From childhood I knew Jesus. And I’ve always known I’d become a preacher.”
Matthew wiped his brow as his interpreter translated into Swahili.
“On the day I was born, a message in tongues was given to my father, right there in the hospital, by people my parents didn’t know. The interpretation said the child being born would be used mightily in God’s kingdom.”
This time, after the interpretation, murmurs circulated through the audience.
“While I was still in my mother’s womb, God chose me to speak to you. So please hear the word of the Lord. For two other times this same word was spoken by two other men of faith. Once while I was training in the Assemblies of God, the pastor laid hands on me and said, ‘You will be used mightily in God’s kingdom.’”
This time after the Swahili translation was given no sound could be heard.
“Then, years later, while I was training under a Messianic Rabbi, the very same prophesy came forth. It was spoken this time by the Messianic Rabbi as I prayed at the altar.”
“And now, as I stand here today to give you this word from the Lord, let me first remind you that every message brought to the people of God by the prophets was rejected by the majority.”
“Likewise, this message has been rejected by the majority. Line upon line, precept upon precept, allowing scripture to interpret scripture, you will have to make a choice.”
Ripples of response followed the Swahili translation.
“You can choose today whom you will serve,” Matthew told them. “Will it be the God of Israel? Will you obey His word? Will you put aside your traditions?”
As the translation was given, Matthew waved his Bible.
“Let this book, let the Spirit of God, teach you. Hallelujah!”
Chatter again erupted. Matthew waited for it to die down.
“The first day we got here the Lord gave me a scripture for you from Isaiah, Chapter 43.” Matthew paused, allowing for the translation and time for the pastors to find the chapter. “’Behold, I am doing a new thing. Look! It’s right in front of you,’” he said, pointing at his audience. “But scripture also says, according to that wise man Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun. Likewise, this new thing I bring to you today, both by the Word and by the Spirit, isn’t new.”
The interpretation was given, followed this time by an eager silence. Again, Matthew wiped his brow.
“I bring to you the ancient path that was laid. It’s the path the church lost. But I’ve come to restore it it to you today. Amen! But please understand this path is not about salvation.We are saved by grace through faith, by the blood of Jesus. Amen!”
Matthew paused, wanting to make certain his audience understood.
“My message will not change who you are in the Messiah. I’m not talking about justification. I am going to talk about sanctification, about living the way our Messiah taught. Amen!”
“Isn’t it your heart’s desire as men of God and elders to mirror the first century church? Do you want to live like the book of Acts? What would you say if I told you that many of the things the church does today cannot be found in the book of Acts?”
The Swahili translation for this was given.
“Many Biblical traditions have been done away with. New ones, which were never a part of first century faith, have been adopted. After I share this message, you will have to choose. But first let me encourage you, for this move of God is sweeping the planet—hallelujah!—in preparation for the King’s return.”
This time the translation was followed by excited chatter.
“Our God wants those who worship Him to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. And that is what I am here to talk to you about today.”
For the next hour Matthew presented an overview of how Christianity mutated in the fourth century under the Roman Emperor Constantine. He explained how the fourth century Catholic Church abandoned its ancient Hebraic Roots. Through the councils of Nicaea in 325 AD and of Laodicea in 364 AD, pagan practices got mixed in. Like the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, lies got mixed in with God’s Biblical truth.
Although, Matt had made the point that his message was not about salvation, but about sanctification, a good half of his audience began getting antsy. Matt could tell they were taking offense. But the other half, like starving men, seemed to be eating it up.
Nearing the time for their lunch break, the Bishop stopped Matt’s teaching and opened up the session for questions and answers.
Soon the audience was shouting. Through the interpreter, they made statements and grilled Matthew. One very offended man jumped up and challenged Matthew by reading Galatians 4:10-11, where Paul chided believers for observing days, months, times and years.
“Well, I fear for you, too,” Matthew replied, quoting Galatians 4:11 right back at them with a smile.
He then went on to point out that Paul was not talking about the Lord’s Feast Days, for in verse 9, Paul had warned these former pagans, not to turn again to those “weak and beggarly elements” by which they had been enslaved–days and months, times and years. Paul was warning the Galatians not to turn again to heathen holidays, of which there were many.
This heated challenge and repose went on for some time. It consisted of sincere questions, which Matt readily answered, but more often of angry, out-of-context rebuttals, which Matthew refuted with in-context Scripture.
Several times when one of the conference attendees would go on in Swahili, without benefit of translation, the Spirit would gift Matthew with the interpenetration. Matthew would just know what they were saying. But as soon as Matt grew conscious of what was happening, it would cease. This gifted ability to understand, which had never happened to Matt prior to this conference, occurred several more times during the event, but not since.
The ruckus escalated out of hand, spurred on by one particular pastor who, when the mission team was passing out complementary bottles of drinking water before the service, noticed there were two sizes. He immediately shoved his back, explaining through the translator that due to his ranking among the pastors—whatever that meant—he deserved the larger one.
Finally, the Bishop knew he had a problem. He pulled Matthew, Jessica, and Sharon into a private room, leaving Ken to deal with the agitated pastors.
God’s Purpose Begins Unfolding
“You’re a prophet,” the Bishop told Matthew, “an angel of the Lord. And you’ve come here to give us a message from God. But my people are not ready. This message is for the future. You don’t want me to lose my job, do you?”
“No, sir,” Matthew replied, solemnly.
“Come back in a few years. Then, we’ll be ready. For now, I must shut this conference down.”
Matthew sadly understood. The Bishop was head of some 700 churches. Matt’s teaching was too controversial. Only, why had the Lord sent him there? Why had he provided the funds? Matt knew he’d heard from God. He was certain of it! And he’d been obedient. He’d not just taught them about the Lord’s Feast Days as he’d first planned, but had obediently challenged them to stop celebrating Christmas and Easter.
“Tomorrow,” the Bishop said, “and for the rest of this week, I will send you my son, Gabriel. I want you to teach him. Teach him everything.”
Matt told him he’d be delighted. The Bishop thanked Matthew, and then went out and informed the assembly that the conference was cancelled. Now they would serve lunch. It had already been prepared and was set up outside the church.
Considering the scene which had just occurred, it felt awkward to eat with people who not ten minutes earlier were angrily shouting, some going so far as to suggest Matthew wasn’t saved. Still, the Vineyard mission team accepted graciously.
During this meal, those pastors who’d received Matthew’s message with gladness began coming up to him, one at a time, to apologize for the others. One man in particular, Matthew recalls, had tears in his eyes.
He grasped Matthew’s hand. “You are a prophet. Please do not shake off the dust of this place. God’s judgement will come. You bring us the word of the Lord. But many are not listening. Forgive us please!”
As Matthew gazed into anguished eyes, the magnitude of what just happened there gripped him. God had opened the door. God provided the funds. It was God who instructed Matthew what to say. So it wasn’t Matt they’d rejected. It was God. And although shaking off Tanzanian dust had been the farthest thing from his mind, Matt knew the man was correct. God would have judged them.
Moved with compassion, Matthew assured the man he’d already forgiven them. And so it continued, but along with apologies came requests from five individuals to be taught. Matthew agreed. Starting the next morning, and for the rest of the week, he would meet with those who wanted to be taught.
A couple of hours later, as their luncheon was wrapping up, the man who had demanded the larger bottle of water, whose boisterous outbursts had shut down the conference, came up to Matt.
Speaking through the interpreter, Matt’s challenger said something about Matthew being a Seventh Day Adventist.
“I’m not Seventh Day Adventist,” Matthew correct him. “You weren’t listening. I was trained by the Assembly of God, just like you.”
The fellow waved the Bishop over. “He is not a Seventh Day Adventist.”
“I know,” the Bishop replied, looking a bit worried.
But by then something had caught the man’s eye. He was ogling the Vineyard’s new, and very expensive, video camera, the one used to film the event.
Matthew’s challenger pointed at the camera. “I need this. I need this for my television ministry. Will you give it to me?”
Give it to you? Matthew wanted to give it to him all right: straight in the teeth. Instead, Matt struggled to crucify his flesh.
Then the Holy Spirit whispered, “Give it to him.”
It was another test. And Matthew Miller knew there was only one biblical answer.
“Sure . . . you can have it.”
Not only did Matthew give the man the camera, but in the spirit of Matthew 5:40, he added to it hundreds of dollars worth of equipment–tripods, stands, cords and cards–everything the man would need. It was a lesson for the Vineyard leadership team. While they didn’t like it, because that equipment was needed at home, they knew it was the right thing to do.
When the luncheon had finished, ten pastors followed Ken back into the sanctuary where the ruckus had erupted. There, in that room filled with windows, but no panes, they gathered around Ken in plastic lawn chairs that served as their pews. Ken taught about the Passover, then distributed the handmade matzo-toshes, the Hebrew calendars, and all the printed handouts the Vineyard had produced.
The next day, in a rather strange neighborhood, on the second floor of a rickety old building, the Vineyard team set up for their underground session with the five pastors who’d approached Matthew at the luncheon. This structure, which they called a church, was nothing more than a deck covered by a roof.
The pastor of this rickety, open-air church was a man named Daniel Joseph. Daniel had not attended the conference the day before, but through a friend, Daniel had offered the Vineyard team the use of his church.
Matthew was about to begin, when Daniel Joseph, a man of thirty, who looked more like twenty, showed up and began talking to Pona, one of the Vineyard’s translators, who functioned also as their bodyguard.
After a few minutes, Pona waved to Matt, signaling him to join them.
“You must hear this, Matthew! For two years, Daniel has been preaching against the Catholic church, about the Sabbath and the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith.”
“Really?” Matthew smiled at the young man standing next to him. “That’s awesome!”
The young Pastor then turned to Pona and said something in Swahili.
“Daniel wants that I should tell you about the speakers,” Pona explained, then pointed to two different posts. On each a speaker had been fastened. Both faced the Catholic church across the street.
“When he preaches,” Pona continued, “Daniel wants to make certain the Catholics hear him.”
Matthew’s smile grew into a grin. He began to chuckle. “That is so cool, Daniel!”
“For two years Pastor Daniel has been fasting and praying for a teacher to come,” Pona explained. “He knows only what he has learned from the Bible. The Lord told Daniel he would send someone to disciple him, and now you are here.”
It was then that Matthew realized why God had shut down the conference. It was for Daniel Joseph, the young pastor who had not been there the day before, but for two years had been praying (and fasting) for God to send someone to teach him.
This pastor, Matthew later learned had suffered much persecution. In retaliation for all those sermons he’d broadcasted across the street, the Catholic Church, who owned the land his apartment building was on, had Daniel evicted. For several weeks the pastor, his wife, and their two small children had to live on the streets.
But undaunted, Pastor Daniel continued to preach.