Take Heed to the Church
February 7th, 1954 @ 10:50 AM
TAKE HEED TO THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-07-54 10:50 a.m.
And now for the message of the morning. You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas; and you are a party to one of the high, glorious hours of the life of this historic people, and in the life of any church in the history of Christendom. The pastor for eight years has been preaching through the Bible, and we are now in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts.
And the message this morning is entitled Take Heed to the Church. And the text is in the twenty-eighth verse of the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, the admonition of the apostle Paul to the elders of the Ephesian church, Acts 20:28:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, pastors, to feed, to shepherd the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.
Take heed to the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. Take heed to the church of God, which Jesus, our God and Savior, hath purchased with His own blood [Acts 20:28].
Jesus never wrote a book. He never painted a picture. He never composed an oratorical. He never sculptured a monument. He never engineered a bridge. He was a carpenter, and He built one thing: He built His church, and He built it on a rock. One of the great verses of all the Bible is this: Matthew 16:18, "And on this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
In a terrible and fierce and frightful storm, the word went through the city of Boston: "The lighthouse has gone down." The next day, they met the old lighthouse keeper on the streets of the city. And the Bostonians gathered round him saying, "We heard that the fearful storm had wrecked the lighthouse." And the old keeper shook his head and said, "The lightning was fierce, and the thunder was loud, and the waves beat hard, but the old lighthouse never shook, never shook." In the days of the Depression, I walked up and down the streets of the cities of America, and saw here, there, and everywhere great strong businesses that had been driven to the wall in bankruptcy; but so far as I know, I do not remember a single church that went out of business. "On this rock I build My church" [Matthew 16:18], sealed with His own blood.
"Take heed to the church." The church is more than an institution; it is a body. The church is more than an organization; it is a living organism. The church is more than a building; it is a core of builders. A church is a body of baptized believers who have voluntarily associated themselves together for the keeping of the ordinances [Matthew 26:26-28, 28:19], and for the carrying out of the Great Commission of Jesus Christ [Matthew 28:19-20]. That’s the reason that I am a denominationalist. That’s the reason I believe in building this great institution to the glory of God and keeping it in the framework and in the heart of a great vast cooperative denominational program.
I love the Bible out of which I’m preaching this morning. It’s a Scofield Bible. There’s just one place where I violently disagree with the Bible notes that are contained in this Book: it’s the doctrine of the church. We’re poles apart in our doctrine of the church.
In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, in the twentieth verse, I have this little caption: "The simplest form of a local church," and then the verse, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" [Matthew 18:20]. "The simplest form of a local church": not to me, not to me. To me a church is a body banded together for the keeping of the ordinances. First Corinthians 11:2, Paul says, "Keep the ordinances, as I delivered them unto you, holy, sacred, inviolate."
One of the deacons came to me and said, "Pastor, it’s a busy day. Shall we have the Lord’s Supper tonight?" I answered, "By all means, yes, yeah." What greater, finer, fitting way, than to consummate the glories of this glorious day than the gathering of the people of the church in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup? [Matthew 26:26-28]. "Take heed to the church, which He purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28], a church; a body of people for the keeping of the ordinances and for the carrying out of the Great Commission of Christ.
All authority is given unto Me – did He say – in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of Father, of the Son, of the Holy Spirit:
Teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded them to keep.
And I will be with you – working by your side – to the end of the age.
The church of Jesus Christ is to bear witness to the eternal in the midst of time; to the permanent in the passing transiency. It’s to testify to the supremacy of faith over doubt, of the spiritual over the material, of Christ over Satan. It’s to bring to the sons of men, the children of men, the citizenship of heaven [Philippians 3:20], and is to shed abroad the glory of the light of God in the face of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 4:6], carrying this message: His hands, His feet, His heart, His life, Christ in the earth is His church, purchased with His own blood. "Take heed to the church, take heed to the church."
"Take heed to the church," to feed, poimainō, a flock, poimainō, to shepherd a flock, to pastor, to feed, to care, to attend the flock, poimainō, to feed, to shepherd, to care for the flock" [Acts 20:28]. I’ve heard that before, haven’t you? It was our Scripture passage this morning. The Lord Jesus turned to Simon Peter and said,
Simon, lovest thou Me?
Then tend My little ones, take care of My children, feed My lambs, remember My little ones.
Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me?
Yea, Lord, yea, Lord.
Then shepherd My flock, take care of My people.
And the admonition here, the same again, "Take heed to feed, to care for, to shepherd the flock of God," His little ones, the children, those growing ones, the teenagers, those maturing ones, the youth, and these in the prime of manhood and womanhood, God’s pasture, God’s sheep; "Take care, to feed, to care for the sheep, the fold, the pasture, the lambs of God" [Acts 20:28].
How the world does it, how they tend and cultivate the flock with music, and with drama, and with color, and with light, and with radio, and with television, and with all of the enticements, and embellishments, and allurements of the world, using every ingenious thing that could appeal to the eye, that could appeal to the ear, that could appeal to the heart; an activities program that goes by day and by night, colorful, musical, dramatic, appealing: how the world tends and cultivates the flock.
But the church, the church, look at it. Look most anywhere at it; drab, somber, morose, lugubrious, dreary, uninviting, dark, cold, nothing there, nothing going on. Then you wonder why like the breeze and like the wind they have gone with the world. Karl Marx describes religion as "an opiate of the people." I read from another critic exactly like him: "The supreme crime of the church today is that everywhere and in all its operations and influences it is on the side of sloth of mind. It banishes brains. It sanctifies stupidity and canonizes incompetence."
"Ha," you say, "a critic of the church!" What, he calls us stupid! He calls us incompetent! He says we banish our brains and are guilty of sloth of mind! He’s a critic of the church." That’s right; so was Jesus. So was Jesus. Our Lord one time said, "The children of this world in their generation are wiser than the children of light" [Luke 16:8]. They use their heads out there, but you’d think we were born without brains when it comes to serving God in the church!
Who invented modern drama? It was in the church that it began. The miracle play and the passion play, but who has it now? The devil and the world! Music was almost altogether the glory of the church. Who has it now? In the din of the TV, and in the din of the radio, and in the din of the world – who has taken it away? They have! And in the church we have lost our ability to think through a program and to execute it with power and dynamic!
I remember a little change that the Lord Jesus made in quoting a passage. They came to Him one time and said, "Master, which is the first commandment of all?" [Mark 12:28]. And the Lord replied, "This is the first commandment of all, Hear, O Israel; The Lord thy God is one Lord; And thou shalt love the Lord," now He is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5; now this is Deuteronomy 6:5, "Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength," now that’s the way it is in Deuteronomy 6:5.
It’s quoted three times from the lips of Jesus in the New Testament, and every time it’s the same. Now you look at what Jesus – how He turns it: "Hear, O Israel; the Lord thy God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul," and then Jesus changed it, "and with all thy mind" [Mark 12:29-30], with all thy sense, with all thy intelligence, with all thy brains, with all of the purpose-turning of which thou art capable!
Might I quote another one just like it? Second Timothy 1:7, Paul says, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of love, and of power, and of a sound mind."
My brethren, why don’t we sit down and purposely plan a program that will challenge the world, and not wring our hands and weep and lament that they have the things that are attractive, and beautiful, and full of activity and purpose; and they take our young people away, and they destroy our children, and they ruin our lives. No! Sit down, and in your generation be as wise and as purposive as the children of this world, and plan a program that will appeal to the eye, to the heart, to the soul, and to the mind. A purposive program, a planned program, not one adventitiously done, opportunistically done, haphazardly done; but this by God’s grace is what we are taking it to do, so help us heaven. And see what happens. It’ll surprise you how the Lord will bless a purposive effort.
Young people, there’s a place over there, I know; and there’s a place down the highway, I know; and there’s another place on the Fort Worth cutoff, I know; and when you go towards Denton, you’ll find another, I know. But listen, fellow, they don’t have the good time out there that we have down here. Come and see. Come and see. And mother, you have a little child in your home. Bring that little fellow down here to the church. Raise him up in the midst of this godly fellowship and this glorious program. Try it and see; and all of us, a place for you, a place for you, a place for all of us, a glorious place, purposive, planned, dedicated, built for the glory of God and for the ministry of the Lord in every area of our lives.
I’ve never been persuaded, "Now this part, that’s religion. This part over here, that’s the world. We don’t ever mix the two." I’ve never seen it. This is religion, and this is too, and that is also, and the whole thing is the circumference in which God is to be all in all. "Take heed to the church" [Acts 20:28], to care for it, to feed it, to tend it, to nurture it, to drive it in its upbringing, the little lambs, the children, the teenagers, the young people, the old, and the feeble; our arms in Christ’s name around them all, around them all. Young people’s church, that’s right; but an old people’s church, and that’s right. And a children’s church, that’s right, and a baby’s church, that’s right; our arms around them all, tending the flock of God.
Do you see one other thing here? "Take heed to all the flock, take heed to all the flock" [Acts 20:28]. What he meant by that, "Take heed to all the flock, all the flock"; as I turn it over in my heart, preparing this message this morning, there came to my mind the sixteenth verse of the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, when the Lord said, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice" [John 10:16] . . . "Take heed to all of the flock" [Acts 20:28].
It came to my heart what Paul had in his mind was the thing that Jesus had in His heart when He said, "Other sheep I have," which are not here this morning. "Other sheep I have," they’re not yet in the fold; "other sheep I have," them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice" [John 10:16]. What a glorious, glorious congregation today is, and every Lord’s Day is. We’re here by the thousands every Sunday, and God’s favor is upon us. And when we look around, we rejoice in the souls that are gathered in the presence of God. But, "Take heed to all the flock [Acts 20:28] . . .Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice" [John 10:16].
You see, down that street, down that one, down that one, on the other side of the Trinity, the Lord has some other sheep. We’re not all here yet, not yet. God has some other sheep. Them also we must bring. They live in these houses. They have their homes. They’re working. They’re busy, and they belong to God. Them also we must bring. "Take heed to all the flock," not just looking at ourselves, not just admiring ourselves, not just thinking about ourselves; but, "Take heed to all the flock" [Acts 20:28]. There they are, God’s children, spread all over the city. "Them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice" [John 10:16].
Several years ago when I preached at a morning hour here in this pulpit, as I always do, I went to that lower platform to raise my hand: "Somebody today give his heart to Jesus." Went down there, and God that Sunday gave us a great host of people. There was a girl, a young woman who sat right down there, and as I pressed the appeal and Mr. Souther led the singing of the song with the choir, I noticed her.
She began to cry, and finally began to sob. So I turned to Mr. Souther and said, "You continue the service here." I went down there and sat by the side of that young woman. I said, "Girl, you seem so broken. Is there something I can do to help?"
She had in her hand that card that you fill out when you come to join the church. She raised the card, pointed to it, and said, "You see, I put Mrs. in front of my name, Mrs." She said, "I’m not any Mrs., that’s my maiden name. I put Mrs. there on account of my little boy. I have a little boy but I’m not married."
She said, "As the days passed, I brought my little boy down here to your Sunday school, and for the last few Sundays, I’ve been listening to you preach." She said, "Today, I had something on the inside of my soul to which I couldn’t say no, and I’ve come down to give my heart to God. And I wanted to raise my little boy in this church. It’s such a glorious church. But," she said, "as I sat there, as I sat there, I began to think maybe you wouldn’t want anybody like me. Maybe you wouldn’t want anybody like me; then look, would you, would you?"
Dear people, I tell you truly, I felt I was born for that hour. I felt God had raised me up for that moment. Welcome her? You don’t know with what fervency of heart and what fervency of spirit I told that girl this church is for sinners! "This is the blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins" [Matthew 26:28]. Welcome, in the name of Him who purchased with His own blood His flock, His fold, His pasture, His people [Acts 20:28]. And the little boy, raise him up in this church. We’ll be a father to him. We’ll be a brother to him. We’ll be a helper to the lad. Raise him up in this church.
"Other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice" [John 10:16]. Where will you find the Lord? Among His people, among His people, out there among His people; where the children are, there you’ll find Him. Where those teenagers are, there you’ll find Him. Where those young people are, there you’ll find Him. Where the fathers and mothers, where the homes and families are, there you will find Him. You’ll find Christ among His people. "Insomuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto Me" [Matthew 25:40], "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" [Acts 9:4].
Christ identified with His people. And if this church has any ministry at all, it will be among the people. Wherever they are, there we are. Whatever their interests are, we’re interested too. What are they doing? What are they saying? What are they thinking? How are they living? How are they going? There we are by their side, ministering to the people.
O somber pastor
Of great austerity
Climbed up in his high church steeple,
To be nearer God,
That he might hand down
God’s Word to the people.
In his day God said,
"Come down and die";
And he cried out from his steeple,
"Where art Thou, Lord?"
And the Lord replied,
"Down here among My people."
[from "The Preacher’s Mistake," William Croswell Doane]
Where are your young folks? There’s where we want to be. Where are our children? There we want to be. Where are the people of the Lord? There we want to be. "Take heed to all the flock, to care for the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28].
And Lord Jesus, today, the best that our minds could think for, the best and highest our hearts could feel, the holiest, heavenliest offering that our souls can make, Lord, for the children, for the babies, for the teenagers, for the youth, for the men and for the women, we dedicate to Thee these houses we have erected in Thy name, and this ministry, our love and faith and prayers, our hopes and vision and destiny, today, tomorrow, and to the end of the way; we give it humbly, Lord, to Thee.
Now may we sing? And while we sing the appeal, what a glorious day to come down that aisle and stand by the side of the pastor, "Pastor, today, the best I can and the best I know how, I give my heart to God." You come, take my hand, "Preacher, here I am, and here I come." And somebody you, to come into the fellowship of this church today, would you come? A whole family of you: "Pastor, look, here we are, the whole family of us."
In that balcony, the topmost farthest seat, somebody you, anywhere; while we all stay here for this moment, remain for this appeal, prayerfully, earnestly asking God, today, would you come? "Preacher, here I am. I’ve given my heart to Christ, and I’m coming to be with you in the church." Would you make it now? Would you make it today? While we stand and while we sing.