The Eleventh Anniversary
October 2nd, 1955
Psalm 48, 137
Anniversary, Church growth, Evangelism, FBC-Dallas, Inner-City, Israel, Ministry, 1955, Psalm
THE ELEVENTH ANNIVERSARY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Psalm 48, 137
10-2-55 10:50 a.m.
The sermon this morning is entitled Today We Begin Our Twelfth Year, and it is a message that comes out of the turning over in my heart the ministry of Christ under our hands here in this church and in the heart of this city as I thought of it this summer especially far away. And I thought of it like this: walking around Mount Zion looking at the holy city of God – thinking of our city, holy and precious to us – walking about the Temple, thinking of those sacred precincts and thinking about our house of God in our "Jerusalem" here in Dallas. So turning that over in my heart, a representative of the feeling that lies back of it you can see in the forty-eighth Psalm and the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm. This is the forty-eighth:
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness.
Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion . . .
God is known in her palaces for a refuge.
Lo, the kings were assembled. They passed by together.
They saw it; and so they marveled . . .
As we have heard, so have we seen . . . in the city of our God: God will establish it forever.
Then you have that word "Selah" [Psalm 48:8]. That is an instrumental interlude. The orchestra played. Then they took up that glorious chorus again:
We have thought of Thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of Thy temple.
According to Thy name, O God, so is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth; Thy right hand is full of righteousness.
Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad . . .
Walk about Zion, go round about her. Tell the towers thereof . . .
Mark you well her bulwarks; consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generations following.
For this God is our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death.
Billy, do you recognize that? You sing that in one of your beautiful anthems.
Now after they were away and in captivity and sitting "By the rivers of Babylon, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion," [Psalm 137:1]. This is the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm:
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For they that carried us away captive required of us a song, and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
But how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning!
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth – if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
I say, just reading that you couldn’t help but feel the throb of the love of those ancient people for Mount Zion and the Temple of God. Now I see over there walking around looking at the Holy City and the place where Solomon’s Temple so wonderfully and beautifully was built, I began thinking, as I say, about our "Jerusalem" – this queenly city of Dallas – and about our "house of God" – this beloved, precious, glorious First Baptist Church. And so I prepared this message this morning in my heart a long time ago this last summer. We’re going to talk about our "Jerusalem," and we’re going to talk about our "Temple of God."
We came back, as you know, the night of September 7, and the first Dallas newspaper that I had read for two months was the morning Dallas news [Dallas Morning News] of September 8, Thursday morning. I opened the newspaper and the first thing that I read was this dated Honolulu, headlined Honolulu: The Protestant Episcopal Church Convention was told Wednesday it "must face the facts about the decay of the church’s work in the heart of the city." In a speech prepared for deliverance to a joint session of the House of Bishops, House of Deputies, and Woman’s Auxiliary, the Right Reverend Gerald F. Burl, Bishop of Chicago, Illinois, declared – then they quote again – "Either let us leave the city and frankly admit we are a church for the suburbs or let us take up this challenge."
Bishop Burl said there had been – quote again – "a lot of real concern on the part of the church for the teeming millions of people living in the heart of the city. The decay of the church’s work in the heart of the city is only matched by our seeming inability to meet this challenge," he said. He called for more funds to support work among the millions of the city. "How can we talk of the ‘universal church’ sent by her Master to minister to all people when we think of our clergy as ordained to be ministers for Episcopalians moving to the suburbs? May God forgive us for neglecting one of the great opportunities at our very doorstep."
That was on Thursday. The next morning, Friday, in the same newspaper a man in the editorial staff – I do not know which one – wrote an editorial in the Daily News about that, and he wrote:
The Right Reverend Gerald F. Burl, Bishop of Chicago, told the convention of Episcopalians in Honolulu the other day the church must face
– then they quote from him –
"The decay of the church’s work in the heart of the city." That decay, he said, was matched only by the inability of the church to cope with it. There are, of course, pervasive, persuasive, and even compelling factors in the flight of congregations from downtown locations. The downtown church is usually one that was established before the city grew to struggle with congestion, slums, and lack of parking space. Then there is the strong temptation of an old church on a half-million-dollar lot
– and in our case, a multi-million-dollar property –
to sell out and invest the proceeds in a far handsomer and more appropriate installation farther out
– where you don’t have anything to do but just sit there and let the people come and join the church.
Dallas, however, is fortunate in that it has a number of large, useful, and centrally-located churches. The Baptists, the Catholics, the Methodists, the Presbyterians are able to maintain growing congregations and to do a greater service to God and mankind in downtown Dallas. One of the largest congregations in the world is so located here.
Well, I ought to have twisted his arm. Why didn’t he say the First Baptist Church is located here? But it’s all right. It’s all right. We all knew what he meant.
Now that thing there is it. The power of our example – what we are doing – does more to enhearten and encourage these men of God who struggle with the teeming millions of our cities. What we do by example means more than anything in this earth that we are able to do.
Dr. C. E. Matthews who heads the Department of Evangelism in the Southern Baptist Convention was saying to me not long ago, he said:
We want to thank you, Pastor, for what you’re doing for evangelism. For eight years now, you’ve preached through our conference at Ridgecrest; and for these years in January and February, you’ve preached to our state evangelistic conferences, and you hold revival meetings. And we thank you for all you mean to evangelism. But," he said, "the greatest thing that you do for evangelism is not at Ridgecrest, and it is not in the state evangelistic conferences, and it’s not in the revival meetings that you hold. But the greatest thing that you do for evangelism is the example of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas.
That’s right! The best thing we can do for the encouragement of men of God who are trying to minister to these cities is to build here a church that is an example of the fact that a downtown church can be a great church, a tremendous church. It can minister to the young and to the old. It can grow even though it’s pressed on every side by great mercantile and business and commercial institutions.
Now for an example to be a powerful example, it must be a decisive one. It must be an impressive one. It must be a victorious and triumphant one. By that, I mean we’ll not be able to encourage these men of God who are struggling with these teeming cities if we ourselves just barely live ourselves – if against these odds that are against us we just barely come through by the skin of our teeth. But for an example like this to be blessed, it must be decisive; it must be tremendous; it must be illimitable. There must be no doubt about it. That thing can be done! "Look, they’re doing it! Look, they’re growing! Look, they’re quickened and alive. It can be done. Go there and look at them!"
Now, that’s what we are striving for: an example here in this church – not just barely winning this thing, just barely able to keep alive, just almost under. No, sir, but more alive, and more vigorous, and more triumphant, more blessed, more going on, more quickened than anything in this world – a great victory, a decisive one.
You know by that thing I mean something like this. Suppose The Texas Kid were to challenge Rocky Marciano to a fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, and The Texas Kid went up there to Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium – if they could get the Series out of it – and they have their world championship fight.
All right, the Texas Kid’s in the ring and Rocky Marciano is on the other side in the ring; and the first round, The Texas Kid knocks him down one time. And the second round, The Texas Kid knocks him down two times. And the third round, The Texas Kid knocks him down three times. And the fourth round, The Texas Kid knocks him down four times. And the fifth round, The Texas Kid knocks him down five times. And the sixth round, that many, and seven, eight, nine – and the tenth round, he knocked him down ten times and finally knocked him out of the ring and through the window!
Now, there wouldn’t be any split decision brought in by the two judges and the referee saying, "I give forty-three points to Rocky Marciano and forty-four points I give to The Texas Kid." No, sir – wouldn’t be a split decision like that. When they brought in that decision, all the points would be for The Texas Kid. That’s a decisive victory.
That’s what I’m talking about: not just barely doing it, just barely succeeding, just barely keeping alive, but I mean doing it like nobody in this earth ever did it in any suburb of any city in the world – doing it like that: decisively, triumphantly, illimitably, vastly and impressively. And when you do a thing like that, an example like that, there’s no doubt about it. Nobody argues about it. Brother, that thing proves it succeeds: "It can be done. Look at them! Look at them!"
Now when you face a problem like that and a task that way, why, you always have a lot of lookin’ at it – go daily lookin’ at it. For example, when I was in Ireland, why, we were the guests of a gracious Christian family there in Belfast. The pastor of the Baptist church in Belfast, Ireland, with his wife came to see us and spent the evening with us. And so I talked to him about the Baptists of Ireland. Three hundred years ago, there were five thousand Baptist people in Ireland. Three hundred years later, today, there are still just five thousand Baptist people in all Ireland. And so I talked to the preacher about it and about his church. They hadn’t changed for three hundred years. They were a little tiny, weensy, bitsy – three hundred years ago. They haven’t grown not even a little bit. They haven’t even put out one little ol’ antenna then. They’re just like they were three hundred years ago.
So I said to him – I said, "Listen here, Pastor. There is a way to build a church in a city. There is a way to build a great teaching and preaching ministry, and I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’m the president of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, and when I go home, I will be responsible for it myself. I will send you a man – and you don’t need to put a penny in him – I will be responsible to send you a man from our Southern Baptist Convention, and we’ll pay for it; and he’ll come here to Belfast, Ireland, and he’ll show you how to build a great teaching ministry, and how to put on a great church program, and how to get these people to God, and how to win them to Christ, and how to expand your building, and how to do a great work for Jesus. And I’ll send you a mountain of literature on every part and piece of the work. I’ll do it. It won’t cost you anything, and I’ll be responsible for it myself."
All right, the rest of that night – and he stayed a long time – the rest of that night, all that happened was that pastor sat over there – and he’s a young man – he sat over there in that chair while I sat here and talked to me by the hours why that couldn’t be done! And when he was gone I said to my friend in whose house I was a guest, I said, "Well, sir, that’s the reason three hundred years ago you had five thousand Baptists in Ireland; three hundred years later, today, still got five thousand Baptist people in Ireland. That’s the reason. Instead of saying, ‘Show me how it can be done. Let’s try it,’ all they do is sit there and explain to me why it cannot be done!"
I was preaching over there in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and the largest printing and finishing plant in the world for the printing and finishing of materials – you know, print presses and all that stuff – is in Rock Hill, South Carolina. It’s a subsidiary of Lowenstein & Son in New York. It’s a tremendous thing, and the head of it is a good Baptist deacon.
So I was taken to the big finishing and printing plant in Rock Hill and sat there in Mr. Greer’s office, and it was one of the most unusual offices I was ever in. On that side he had taken material – that cotton material that they print – and he’d papered his wall with one printing. And then with this wall, he’d got another one, and half of that wall with one, and a quarter of that wall with another one, and put all around. It was very, very interesting and very pretty to me. I’ve never seen anything like that before – and ceiling and everything – and so I remarked on it. I said, "I tell you, this is one of the most interesting executive offices I’ve ever been in – all of this papered with this printed cotton material here made in your plant."
Pleased him very much that I noticed it. That’s the way to make friends and influence people, you know. Pleased him very much. You know, that’s what you learn out of these books, you know. These books are the funniest things in the world. If you don’t have enough God-given ingenuity and acumen to do that anyway, reading all those books won’t help you – wasting your money.
Anyway, I made a comment on that, and it pleased him very much. He said, "You know, let me tell you about this." He said, "I had it in my head that I’d like to have my office here papered with this printed material in the plant." He said, "I called in my engineers, and I said, ‘I want you to paper my office here with the material printed here in this plant.’"
He said, "My engineers studied it and worked on it and worked on it and finally came back to me and said, ‘Mr. Greer, it cannot be done. When you take this thin cloth and put glue behind it or paste behind it and try to stick it on a wall, the paste comes through and it cannot be done.’"
"Well," said Mr. Greer, "I thought that was the end of it. My engineer said, ‘And it can’t be done.’"
He said, "On my last vacation while I was away, my secretary and the janitor who keeps my room here," he said, "They got together, and they didn’t know that the engineers had said it couldn’t be done. All those two knew," Mr. Greer said, "was that they knew I wanted it done."
And he said, "They got that material you see here. They took some common old ordinary paste like you put on wallpaper to stick it on the wall." And he said, "When I came back, here it is. Here it is." And he said, "Here it is, because my secretary and my janitor didn’t know that it couldn’t be done."
Wouldn’t it be great to be "a fool for Christ’s sake" just like that? [1 Corinthians 4:10] Like Paul says in the Book, we don’t know it can’t be done. We’re just plain idiots for Christ. We haven’t got a lick of sense when it comes to working for Jesus. Can’t be done? Oh, just watch us do it!
All right now, how? That’s my sermon: how. So just sit down there. You’re not going to get out at 12:00 today. That’s my sermon: How can that be done? I know how it can be done, and I want to tell you just the principle of it. The way for it to be done is to do God’s work: minister to humanity, minister to human needs. Then it’ll be done.
Jesus said, "Feed My lambs. Take care of My little ones" [John 21:15-17].
Jesus said, "Feed My sheep. Take care of My flock" [Acts 20:28].
Jesus said, "The fields are white unto the harvest" [John 4:35].
Jesus said, "I am moved with compassion on the multitudes" [Matthew 15:32].
Jesus said, "Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" [Matthew 20:28].
How can that be done? It can be done by ministering in Christ’s name to human needs: doing God’s work in the world. Now I want to show you that. I want to show you that, and I want to do it by comparing two men that I met this last summer on my trip.
I was seated in the King David Hotel in the Israel part of Jerusalem, and we were listening to the Minister of Defense as he was talking to us about Israel. And while I was seated there, Dr. John Huffman, the leader of our group, called me out; and he said, "David Ben-Gurion" – who, that afternoon, was to form a new government for Israel – he said, "David Ben-Gurion is in the dining room here at the King David. And I know him personally, and I thought you might like to meet him and talk to him."
I said, "It’d thrill my heart."
So I met David Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister of Israel and one of the architects of the new nation there. Well, when I was introduced to the Prime Minister, why, Dr. Huffman said, "Mr. Ben-Gurion, this is" – and he called my name – "and he is the pastor of the biggest white Baptist church in the world."
"Well," said Mr. Ben-Gurion, "I’m glad to see you. You are a Baptist?"
"Yes," I said.
"Well," he said, "I hear that there are seventy-five million people in America that don’t belong to anybody’s church."
I said, "Yes, sir, Mr. Ben-Gurion. I’m sorry, but that’s right."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"Well," I said, "Mr. Ben-Gurion, when I go back, gonna roll up my sleeves and do better than I ever did before. We’re gonna try – gonna try."
Well, after a little further conversation, I said to him – I said, "Mr. Ben-Gurion, you know that Dallas is located in a great and prospering country, the empire state of Texas."
"Yes, sir." He knew that.
"And," I said, "Dallas is a mercantile center and a banking center."
"Yes," he said, "I know that."
I said, "Also, in the city of Dallas are many, many well-to-do Jewish families."
"Yes, sir," he said, "I know that."
"Well," I said, "Mr. Ben-Gurion, why don’t you visit us here in Dallas and let’s meet some of these well-to-do Jewish people in our city? They might help you here in building Israel," because Israel just stays on the verge of economic collapse all the time: going over there taking a desert, trying to get a living out of a desert, poor as they can be, until recently everything rationed, just barely able to live and without our assistance wouldn’t live. They’d already been dead and would die without our continued help. I said, "Mr. Ben-Gurion, why don’t you come to Dallas and visit us and see some of these well-to-do Jewish people? They’d help you build Israel."
He looked at me, and he said – he said, "Sir, I don’t want their money. I don’t need their money." He said, "I’d like to have their children. If I had their children," he said, "that’s what I need to build this state and to build this nation." And he emphasized it: "I don’t want their money, and I’m not interested in their money. I’d love to have their children." And he repeated it. All right, that’s one.
Standing at the hotel lobby floor of the Acropol Hotel in Athens, a man making this journey in another party came and stood by me. He is a Baptist leader in California. Those elevators take you forever to get up, and when you get up, it takes you forever to get down. You just got lots of time to visit as you go to an elevator in one of those hotels. So standing there at the hotel, I began to talk to that Baptist leader in California, and in the course of the conversation I happened to remark that I have a half-brother out there in California whom God has marvelously blessed. He has a luxury motel in Bakersfield, and he has an enormous motel – covers an enormous area – in Stockton. Well, he’s up there around Stockton.
So when he found that out, he got interested. He said, "Oh, you have a brother there who has a big motel? What’s the name of it?" And I told him.
He said, "Yes. I know that." He said, "Thank you for the information." He said, "I’ll go see your brother, and I’ll get some money out of him."
Those are his exact words and that was the whole conversation. "I’ll go see your brother, and I’ll get some money out of him." He never asked me, "Is your brother a Christian? Is he saved? Does he know the Lord?" He never asked me, "Does your brother have any children? Are they in Sunday school?" He never asked me, "Is it well with your brother, and is he right with God?"
He’s not interested in my brother! He’s not interested in my brother’s children! He’s not interested in my brother’s soul! He says, "Oh, he’s affluent! Then I’ll get some money out of him! I’m interested in what he has." That’s the reason he’ll be a peanut leader as long as he lives, and that’s the reason the work he heads in California will stagger as long as he heads it. When you’re interested in what people have and not what they are, when all you see in them is a way to get what you can out of them, you won’t have the favor and the blessings of Christ upon you.
David Ben-Gurion says, "I’m building a nation. I’m building a state, and I need people. I need children." Our Baptist leader in California says, "I need money, and I’ll get it out of your brother."
All right, how are we going to do this? Walter says $685,000 for this one year. That’s a tremendous sum of money; that’s a tremendous budget. How do you raise it? How do you do it? How do you keep this thing up and growing? How? I’ll tell you how. You love the souls of men. Be interested in whether they’re right with God or not, whether they’re saved or not, how they’re faring – their children, their homes, and their lives. Love them for their own sakes. You’ll have all the money you’ll need, and it’ll be flowing over on the side. Don’t need to worry about the money; don’t need to worry about the budget; don’t need to worry about the response of the people. They’ll support it with their last drop of blood if they have the feeling in their hearts that this is a ministry of God to my soul, to my children, to my family, to my own heart.
Let me illustrate. When I came back, when I came back, I told you I found a couple of our kids over there in the Middle East: missionaries whom I’d forgotten about. That girl, Moselle, grew up here in our church. She’s one of our girls; and that boy belonged to our church for a while, her husband. And they loved this church, and I’d just forgotten about them. I don’t think all you had, but I had. So as I watched them – and they had been sick. They’d been sick with a terrible tropical disease and were just getting over it – oh so blue and discouraged: two little babies and the neighbors taking care of the babies and both of them so sick. I said in my heart, you know, "When I get back, I’m going to make an appeal for them, and I’m going to send them five hundred dollars. And if I can’t raise it in the church, I’m going take it to the deacons and say, ‘Deacons, I lack a little bit having five hundred dollars, and I want to send them five hundred dollars. Would you help me make it five hundred dollars?’"
So I mentioned it to you. I just mentioned it. I just mentioned it. I just referred to it, that’s all. And I said, "Now on the following Wednesday night, we’re gonna take up a collection, and I want five hundred dollars to send to these missionary kids."
Well, I was a hoping I’d get it so I wouldn’t have to burden the deacons about making it up. You know how much you gave? You gave almost two thousand dollars – two thousand dollars almost! Money? Forget it! If our hearts are with the Lord and we’re interested in people for their sakes no matter whether they’re rich, no matter whether they’re poor – they just people God loves – do our best to minister to them, pour our hearts out to them, you’ll have it. It’ll be oversubscribed, and you’ll sit down and say, "Where does that money come from? Where does it?" Well of course it comes from us, but really it comes from the ministering hands of God [2 Corinthians 9:8-12].
That’s the way; that’s the way. When I know I’m loved, when I know I’m wanted, when I know I’m somebody in God’s sight, when I know that there’s a ministry there for me, I’ll be here. I may live forty miles in that direction, you see me when the door’s open. I may be moving out in that other direction. That doesn’t matter. I’ll still find my way back down here.
I’ve got to quit and I’m not the beginning done, but I was just telling you how to build a great downtown church. And it’ll work, and the Lord will bless it. And He’ll bless us doing it, and He’ll use this example, precious and holy, down through these generations that are yet to come.
Well, we sent those kids part of that money to use for themselves: buy a little dress for Karen, buy a dress for her, whatever they want. Sent it – some of it to use for them, the rest of it for their mission. Oh, I just thank the Lord that I can share with you in this ministry.
In all humility, I thank God for that holy and blessed hour when Bob Coleman called me on the telephone. No previous word – no anything – called me on the telephone and said, "This night, Wednesday night," eleven years ago this night, "with the lower auditorium filled with our people, praying people, this night we called you to be the pastor of our church following the immortal Dr. Truett, and we want you to come down and see us." And I came down and the Lord was here. And when the Sunday was done and we walked back into that study, Bob Coleman said, "Remember, the first Sunday in October is to be always your anniversary. Never such a moving of God as we saw upon our people this morning."
Well, we have to sing our song, and this morning while we sing it, while we sing it, in this auditorium around, in that balcony the farthest seat, anywhere, as the Lord shall make appeal to you, as the Lord shall lay it upon your heart, you come: "This day I take the Lord as my Savior. This day I’m putting my life in the church. This is I. I’m coming by myself," or, "Pastor, here’s my whole family. We all are coming. We all are coming." And while we sing the song, anywhere, you come, while we stand and while we sing.