The City Church
January 1st, 1956 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-1-56 10:50 a.m.
You’re listening to the services of the downtown First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The City Church. On the first Sunday of every year, the pastor preaches on the downtown church.
This is the tenth year that I have been preaching through the Bible, and I am now in the thirteenth chapter of the First Corinthian letter. And I thought that as I departed from the messages that are preached each morning and evening going through the Bible, now in the Corinthian epistle, I thought for our text for this morning I would turn to the story of the church in the city of Corinth where it says in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Acts that Paul departed from Athens and came to Corinth [Acts 18:1].
And in that great, great city, as he worked and was discouraged:"Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision" [Acts 18:9]. And the Lord said, "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city" – Acts 18: [9-10]. What the Lord said about growing, teeming, mercantile Corinth: "I have much people in this city" [Acts 18:10].
The city church, the city itself – they have always dominated the cultural and political life of the nation in which they are built. Long, long time ago, when David was anointed king over Israel [2 Samuel 5:3], David chose a city that was in the hands of the Jebusites for his capital. He asked God for it. And he said, "The man that shall take it, I will make him captain of the hosts" [1 Chronicles 11:6]. And Joab took it, and the capital of the people of God was established in the city of Jerusalem [1 Chronicles 11:4-9].
When Daniel prayed three times each day, he opened his window toward Jerusalem and prayed toward that holy city [Daniel 6:10]. In the pathetic lament in the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm, the people of the Babylonian captivity wept and cried as they sang, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem to my chief joy" [Psalm 137:5-6].
In the story of the life of the Lord Jesus, it says that "He steadfastly set his face to go toward Jerusalem" [Luke 9:51]. In these vastly rewarding missionary labors of the apostle Paul, he founded the Christian faith in the Roman Empire in the great mercantile, cultural, and political metropoli of the vast, civilized Mediterranean world. It was in Antioch [Acts 11:26]. It was in Ephesus [Ephesians 1:1]. It was in Thessalonica [1 Thessalonians 1:1]. It was in Athens [Acts 17:22, 30-34]. It was in Corinth [1 Corinthians 1:1-2]. It was in Rome itself [Romans 1:7]. These great cities, I say, dominate the cultural and political destiny of any people and of any nation.
When we think of Italy, we think of Rome. When we think of France, we think of Paris. When we think of England, we think of London. When we think of Egypt, we think of Cairo. When we think of the Soviet Union, we think of Moscow. When we think of Spain, we think of Madrid. When we think of Germany, we think of Berlin. When we think of our own America, mostly we’ll think of New York, and Chicago, and San Francisco, and the great metropolitan areas of our nation. And however America goes, it will follow the pattern set for it by the people in these vast cities.
The press is there. The theater is there. The opera is there. The art and the literature and the music of a people are there. The great bankers and banking institutions are there. The insurance companies are there. These vast merchandising institutions are there, and the educational life of our people is governed and set from there. Our great universities and our seminaries are in these great cities. They’re in Chicago. They’re in Boston. They’re in New York. They’re in Houston. They’re in Dallas. They’re in Austin. They’re in these great cities; and as our cities go, so go all of the nations in which those cities are built.
Now a city does two things to a church. First, and almost inevitably, it liberalizes it. It modernizes it. If I were seeking for a liberal minister, a modernist pulpit, I wouldn’t go to the little place where I was brought up as a child nor would I go seeking in those first churches to which God made me an undershepherd. I wouldn’t look for the liberal, I wouldn’t look for the modernist in the country or in a country pulpit. If I were looking for the liberal, and if I were looking for the modernist, I’d search for him and I’d find him in the metropolitan pulpits of the nation.
Something else that a city does to a church: it not only liberalizes it and modernizes it, not only waters down and washes out its message, but it forsakes it, and forgets it, and passes it by. And I think those two have a relationship between them. I think the city does to its church like – – let’s say it abroad – – like Parisdoes to so many of its women. They’re beautiful and they’re personable and they’re amorous, and they make prostitutes out of them and then pass them by!
That’s the way that the city does to its churches. It dilutes it and prostitutes it. It liberalizes it and modernizes it and then passes it by! Any man who’s ever been in any great city anywhere – anywhere in the world, anywhere in America – on the Lord’s Day, see that little handfuls tucked away somewhere in all of that massive pile of stone and window and at night as dark as it can be. And the great thousands, and thousands, and hundreds of thousands employed in every way that the mind and heart could think of or conceive of, but they’re not worshipping God. The great masses of the city pass it by. They forget it and forsake it.
We are a city church. We are in the heart of it. We are downtown. What is the greatest contribution that the FirstBaptistChurch in Dallas can make to the Kingdom of God and to the work and patience of the Lord Jesus Christ? I’ll tell you simply, humbly.
The greatest contribution that our church can make to the work and the worship of the Lord Jesus is this: to set here a marvelously, gloriously fundamental, God-loving, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching example. Better than anything we could ever do, or ever say, or ever preach, or ever print is to build here an exemplary church – one that is triumphantly, gloriously effective.
Dr. C. E. Matthews, the head of the evangelistic department of the Southern Baptist Convention, was talking to me some while ago. And he said, "All of us in this department of evangelism would like to thank you for what you’ve done for us."
I said, "Well, I haven’t done anything particularly for you to thank me for."
Well he said, "But you have." He said, "For eight years, you’ve been preaching in our conferences in Ridgecrest [Ridgecrest, North Carolina]. And in the months of January and February, you go to these states preaching in these evangelistic conferences, and then you hold revival meetings yourself. But," he said, "that’s not your greatest contribution to evangelism." He said, "The greatest contribution to evangelism that you make is your church." He said, "The example that is set by the First Baptist Church in Dallas is the greatest encouragement of anything that has ever happened to the appeal of the evangelist in the bounds of our communion of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention."
It’s doing the thing that does it. It’s the example that we set that is powerful, and I want to speak of that just a moment.
To win people to the Lord, to get people to Christ, to teach them the Word of God, to gather them together in study groups: this great vast city, growing so rapidly like the other great cities in America, they become heathen. They become atheistic. They become practically atheists. They become materialists. They become indifferent.
The city is in no wise geared to a spiritual emphasis. It doesn’t think in those terms. They’re making money. They’re putting over a deal. They’re on the way. They’re out and up, and it’s only the vigorous, ambitious young fellow that’s climbing up there to the top. And it isn’t very often that you find a man who in his heart and his soul is thirsting and panting after God.
But the church in the city that will refuse to accept that as a final answer, we’re not fatalists. We believe that men need God, and we believe that our church has a message and a ministry for them; and we’re after them. We’re after themup and down every street where they live, knocking at the door; wherever they work, inviting them to the Lord; so building and so organizing, regrouping, remaking, remodeling, reorganizing – doing everything that we can to get these people to God. And in these services, holding them and having them with an expectancy in our souls.
When the preacher’s done his message, we’ve prayed that week. We’ve worked that week. We visited that week, and we expect God to give us a harvest. We have so built that among our people that when I preach and nobody responds to the invitation, the sense and the spirit of disappointment upon this congregation is something that you can feel with your very hands.
When we have our services, we’ve been praying all day long on Saturday, thirty minute intervals. All day long every Saturday, we’ve been praying. Our people have been visiting. They’ve been believing God will answer and honor His Word. God will answer prayer and honor His Word. And when appeal is made, it is our fervent persuasion, under God, that the Lord will always give us a harvest. We’ve prayed that. We expect that, and God honors it. This is that kind of a church.
And when we gather our people together in large numbers, downtown, it’s the most impressive thing in the religious world. The Sunday School, growing and growing; these preaching attendances, growing and growing; this church, growing and growing, ministering in its missionary efforts and in its prayers for all of the people of the world. The example we set, I say, is incomparably used of God. And we’re dedicated to that: to build here where they say that it cannot be built, downtown in the heart of a city, an exemplary church that is great and powerful and blessed of God – not for us, but for Him.
Now that other thing that went along with it:that it would be done – that the church would be built and that its message would be made effective – by an old- fashioned gospel sermon by a Bible-believing, Christ-honoring people; that it’s done fundamentally; that it is done just in the power of this Word; that it’s done just in the Spirit of Christ; that it’s done in the faith of the God who, by His Holy Spirit, inspired every syllable of the Book – to do it fundamentally, to do it gloriously, triumphantly, in an old-fashioned gospel way – to do it like that, that way, that way.
This thing of liberalism and modernism: I call it "ecclesiastical infidelity." You can be atheistically infidel, materialistically infidel. You can also be a preacher and be an infidel! You can be an ecclesiastic and not believe anything in the Book. And uh – won’t say it – – you can be an ecclesiastic and an infidel.
Now, that doesn’t attack just some denominations and not other denominations. It attacks all of us, all of us. It’s like any other disease. You can’t say, "Now these diphtheria germs and these polio germs and these smallpox germs, they will just attack the people over there and the people over there, but they will not attack us and our children." They attack anybody.
Smallpox germs will cut down black people, and white people, and brown people, and all kinds of people. Every germ is like that. So with the virus, and the fungus, and the disease, and the dry rot of liberalism and modernism: they attack anybody and everybody, and they attack us.
As the Lord Jesus said in the thirteenth of Matthew: "And the tree grows like a mustard seed, and it grows, and it grows, and it grows; but when it gets big, every dirty, unclean bird will roost in its branches" [from Matthew 13:31-32]. Or like the Lord Jesus said about that fungus: call it leavening, call it yeast [Matthew 16:11-12], it’s a fungus, and it grows, and it grows, and it grows till it permeates the whole thing [Galatians 5:9]. Wherever religion grows, wherever the ecclesiastical tree grows, that thing grows too. It’s in it. It’s a fungus that attacks it.
Just what do you mean by "liberalism" and "modernism"? All right, I will tell thee. Oh, few weeks ago, I got a letter. And the letter said to me, "You are such and such in an elected office, and it says here in this printed article" – and this is what the article said.
The man wrote saying that the Book of Daniel was written in about 150 BC. Well, isn’t that a innocent little sentence? So the Book of Daniel was written in about 150 BC. Now, Daniel wrote that book, he says, and he saw those visions, he says, in the years between 600 and 500 BC, and the things that Daniel prophesied were mostly coming to pass in those years between the time that Daniel saw them and the time of the Roman Empire. He had some of his visions that extend through all time and to eternity. This is why it will be telling us about those things, but a great, great deal of what Daniel prophesied came to pass in the 400’s and the 300’s and the 200’s.
Now, if that book was not written until 150 BC, it’s a forgery, and those prophesies are not prophecy at all. That’s just history. Same thing as if I in 1955 – suppose I wrote a book, and in that book I purport to say:
This man made these prophecies in 1900, and he prophesied the First World War, and he prophesied the Second World War, and he foretold the death of Hitler, and he foretold the death of Mussolini, and he foretold the death of Franklin Roosevelt, and he foretold the death of Stalin.
If I write that book in 1955 and prophesy all those things, why you’ll say, "That man – he’s misled us. He’s not honest. He’s writing in 1955, and that’s not prophesy that he’s writing. That’s history. And he’s put it back there in the mouth of a man who lived fifty-five years ago just in order to fool us and to deceive us."
All right, that’s liberalism. Liberalism takes out of the Bible the supernatural. Liberalism has an a priori argument, and it is this. There is no miracle. There is no revelation of God. There is nothing supernatural. Consequently, they take the Bible, and whenever they come across a miracle, or a prophesy, or a thing supernatural, then they so turn it as to read out of it the supernatural and the intervention of God.
Well, what about Daniel since we going to talk about that this week? What about Daniel? Isn’t that funny what the liberal says? Isn’t that strange what that a priori argument will do to you?
Look at this! Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. Now put that in your mind: Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. Alexander the Great conquered Darius the Persian. He won the civilized world when he did it.Alexander the Great made a journey with his army to Jerusalem to punish the Jews because they were faithful to Darius the Mede, to Darius the Persian. And when Alexander approached Jerusalem with his great armies, why there came out of the city of Jerusalem Jaddua who was the high priest. And Jaddua is the last person mentioned in the Old Testament, in the twelfth chapter of Nehemiah, in the register of the priests and the Levites. He’s the last one [Nehemiah 12:22].
Jaddua came out, the high priest, and he met Alexander the Great; and he said to Alexander the Great, "Welcome, Alexander. Welcome, Alexander." And he threw the gates of the city open to Alexander the Great. And Jaddua the high priest showed Alexander the Great the prophecy in Daniel where Daniel had prophesied that Alexander was coming and would conquer the civilized world! [Daniel 8:5-8, 20-21, 11:3-4; The Antiquities of the Jews, by Flavius Josephus, Book XI, Chapter 8, Sec. 4-5, 93-94 CE]
Now that was before 323 BC, but the liberal says the book wasn’t written till 150 BC. That’s the kind of people they are. They are intellectually inane and blind as bats!
All right, another thing talking about Daniel, another thing talking about Daniel: the Septuagint Greek translation of the Bible – the Greek translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Greek – the Septuagint Greek translation of the Bible was made about 300 BC. And when that Septuagint translation was made in 300 BC, it included Daniel, the prophet. 300 BC, Daniel was in that Septuagint. Yet the liberal says it wasn’t written till 150 BC, a hundred fifty years later.
That’s the blindness and inanity of men who say, "And there’s not any miracle, and there’s not any supernatural, and there’s not any intervention of the will of God in the history of men. Therefore," they say, "there’s not any virgin birth that’s a miracle – not any virgin birth. There’s not any resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That was a hallucination. And there’s not any miracle anywhere or any intervention of God anywhere." That’s liberalism. That’s modernism.
And I say, the finest, greatest work that we can do here in this church – you can’t fight that stuff directly. You can’t find it. You can’t put your hands on it. It’s a virus;it’s a germ. You can’t see the thing until finally you’re stricken down with it.
But the finest thing I know we can do is to set here the example of a gloriously growing and victoriously God-honoring, triumphant church that is built on what I call that old-fashioned gospel persuasion that the Bible is all that it claims to be, and Jesus did all that He said He did and will do all that He’s promised. The example of the people, our church – what we’re doing, what we’re believing, what we’re preaching, and what we believe – God will honor if we’ll try, if we’ll be faithful.
Now, I want to close. I want to close with an appeal for a great God-honoring, Bible-believing people, uncompromisingly so. Any sentence, any word, any innuendo, any little old thing that casts any suspicion or any doubt upon any syllable of it, to us it is an affront to God and it is a denial of the Holy Book itself – true to every word in it and every revelation it makes, syllable upon syllable, line upon line, precept upon precept, just as it is, just as it is. Now, I could pray for us that we be a great Bible-believing, Bible-devoted people.
Now I have turned over in my mind whether to do this or not, but the thing made such a tremendous impression upon me that I decided I’d share it with you this morning. As most of you know, I went out to see my mother who lives in Los Angeles, California. Most of our family are out there, and she and my father went out there about twelve years ago to retire; and my father died, and my mother lives there. And a few days ago, I went out to see her in Los Angeles.
Now, while I was there – Judge Touchstone’s brother is the chairman of the deacons in the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, and I know several other of the fine leading men in that glorious fundamental Presbyterian church in Hollywood. And so they called me, some of those men. And one of them, being an executive in Paramount Studios, they said, "We understand you have never been on a movie lot. You have never visited a studio."
I said, "No, I never have. I’ve had no particular interest in it."
Well they said, "To be out here in this vast, vast enterprise, we think it would be nice for you to come and to meet some of these people and to break bread with them."
Well, they were so gracious and so insistent that I said, "All right, I will come at a noon meal, and I will eat with you there in the Paramount Studio." So I went with the executive and one or two other friends, and we ate dinner there in the Paramount Studio.
Well, it is an interesting place, interesting place. You start off with a Bob Hope cocktail, and that’s tomato juice, and yogurt, and two other unpronounceable things to me. Then you have English kippers a la Danny Kay. Then you have Martin and Lewis special high calorie, $64,000 diet; then you got that. Then you’ve got Dorothy Lamour salad; then you’ve got Paramount special and director’s meal; and then you’ve got turkey and eggs a la Crosby; and, oh it goes on through that menu.
Well, I sat down there and bought – – Bing Crosby was seated there, and Mr. Freeman, the president of Paramount, was there, and Mr. Hunter, the personnel director there, and Cecil B. DeMille seated there – – and so I said to the girl who was waiting on us, I said, "If you don’t mind, why, why take this thing" – a menu, and I folded it like that. I said, "Get those four to sign it for me."
So she did. She took it first to Bing Crosby, and he wrote just, "Bing Crosby." Then she took it to Mr. Freeman, the president of Paramount, and he wrote, "My very best wishes always, Frank Freeman." And then she took it to Mr. Hunter, and he wrote, "I met you, and we are kin in Him," signed "Bob Hunter." And then Mr. Cecil B. DeMille, he wrote, "To Reverend W. A. Criswell: May your mind always be a channel for the divine mind. As Saint Paul said, ‘You are a citizen of no mean city.’ Cecil B. DeMille." Now that was interesting to me, just, you know, looking at those fellows. I’d never been with anybody like that before, and I looked upon them with great askance; and just to be there was interesting.
But that’s not my point. That has nothing to do with it; nor would I refer to it, nor have I referred to it to anybody. The thing that I’ll never get over was this. When I walked in, they had the tables prepared there and set there; and by the side of the chair, by the side of the plate of Cecil B. DeMille, there was a Bible about half again as large as that – a big, black Bible – and it was seated there by Cecil B. DeMille’s plate.
And when the girl came and placed in my hand that menu, I pointed to that Bible and I said, "Whose plate is that?"
And she said, "That’s Mr. DeMille’s plate."
Well I said, "What’s that Bible doing there?"
She said to me, "I have worked here for seventeen years, and for seventeen years that I’ve been here, that big, black Bible has always been there by Cecil B. DeMille’s plate."
Well I said, "What does he do with it?"
She said, "Every time that he comes here to eat he opens that Bible and he reads while he’s eating, and he remains about an hour after the meal reading that Bible."
When Mr. DeMille came in, he sat down, and one of the first things that he did, by his plate he opened that Book. Somebody told him that I was there, and that I was the pastor of this church. Mr. DeMille left his place, pulled up a chair, and sat down by my side and visited with me for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and I learned a lot of things from him. He was very, very interested in what I was doing, and what I was preaching, and the people that I pastored; and he asked lots of questions about you.
And I asked him, and I found out several things about him. His pictures, he said, have played to more than 3.5 billion people – more than one and a half times as many people as live in the world. His King of Kings  picture has never failed to show every day since it was filmed years ago and has shown to more than 750 million people. They have seen that one picture alone. And what he’s doing is he is pouring his life into making those religious pictures.
And he is now filmingThe Ten Commandments, and all of you know that. On four minutes of that film,The Ten Commandments, the scene where the children of Israel go through the Dead Sea, go through the Red Sea, he has spent more than $800,000 filming that scene. And I got to see a little of it out there in the studio. Well, as I talked to him and talked to him, he amazed me.
And I asked him about that Bible and about reading that Book, and I said, "Sir, where did that come from, and why do you do that?"
And his reply was a very humble and self-effacing reply of a layman, of a humble layman. He said this. He said, "Sir, my father was a North Carolinian and a devout man of God. And he married a great Christian woman, a teacher of English in New York City." And he said to me, "When I grew up as a boy, every morning of the world and every evening of the world," he said, "my sainted father read to me a chapter out of God’s Book."
And he said, "When I grew up as a boy, my heroes," he said, "as a boy, were David, and Moses, and Isaiah, and Jesus, and Peter, and Paul." He said, "My heroes were those men my father read to me out of the Book." And he said, "To this day, my heroes are still those stalwart men of God. That’s the reason," he says, "as God shall help me, I’m trying to portray the life of Moses, and the life of David, and the life of these men where people will see them who otherwise never read the Bible and never go to church."
He went back over there. While his meal was being served, he read the Bible. I stayed there visiting with the group a long time. And when I left, when I left, I turned back at the door to see what he was doing. His meal was long since finished, and Cecil B. DeMille was still there seated at the table reading the Book, turning the pages as he read.
I say, I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t prepared for it. That’s the reason it made such a tremendous impression upon me.
O Lord, that we might instill in our people a like love and a like devotion for the Word of God – that our great heroes, they’re not political, they’re not men’s philosophers. Our great heroes are these men of God, inspired of the Lord, who have brought to us the eternal revelations of Jehovah God. And we instill that love in our children, and we taught that devotion to the people who’d come and listen to our words.
And when the Book says, "God wrought," we believe it just like the Book said it. And when the Lord says, "And He rises from the dead," we look for Him to rise from the dead. And on the third day when He rises, we say, "And He rose from the dead, just as He said" [Matthew 28:6]. And when it says these marvelous things of Paul, they happened just like the Book says.
And when John over here in the Book of the Revelation, when he writes, he writes to the seven churches in the seven cities of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. And when he writes he says, "And some of these days,there’scoming down from God out of heaven another city, another city, the new and wonderful Jerusalem, the city of God" [from Revelation 21:2]. And we believe that it’s coming. We believe it’s descending, and we’re getting ready for that glorious, triumphant day, in the heart and in the spirit of his own prayer: "Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen" [Revelation 22:20].
Now, we sing our song. And while we sing it, somebody you,give his heart to God; somebody you, take Jesus as his Savior; somebody you,come into the fellowship of His church. In that topmost balcony to the back row, around from any side, a family of you: "Here we come, pastor. Today, the whole family of us are coming." A youth or a child, you, to give your heart to the Lord, to come into the fellowship of His church – however God shall say the word and make the appeal, anywhere, while we sing, while we sing, would you come? On the first stanza, would you come and stand by me while all of us stand and while we sing?