The Twelfth Anniversary
October 7th, 1956 @ 8:15 AM
THE TWELFTH ANNIVERSARY MESSAGE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-7-56 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message. It is a Twelfth Anniversary Message. The reason the pastor’s anniversary is placed on the first Sunday in October is due to Bob Coleman. The church called me as pastor in September, 1944, in the days of the Second World War—upon the death of Dr. George W. Truett, who had been pastor here for seven and forty years. And the first Sunday in October was the first Sunday of my preaching here after they had called me as undershepherd.
And the Spirit of the Lord was so manifest, it was one of the most unusual services that any church ever experienced. And when I walked back into the study with Bob Coleman, he said, “In memory of this day, let me ask that always the anniversary be this Sunday, the first Sunday in October.” The Lord let him live a while as we began this ministry. And in keeping with his importunity, the anniversary is always this Sunday—the first in October.
Now the reason our services are speeded up this morning, tightened together, pushed along is on account of the television. At 11:45 this morning, the television goes to New York, and we are going to turn away from God and watch Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider for a while. And in the earnest hope that I might be able to complete this morning’s message, we tried to make it possible for me to begin earlier to speak.
Now whether I can encompass it within this time or not, I do not know, but it is immaterial. We have vast throngs of people who belong to our church who are watching the program—who have come at 8:15 and have already attended one service, then the Sunday school, now are at home, and I ask them this morning to be sure to tune the radio in on the service, so that if the television goes off, we can continue this message by listening to the radio, because it is a vital message and especially to all the members of our church.
One of the men said to me yesterday, “You know, the fair begins, and you will have a little handful of people.”
I said, “Not so.”
He said, “But I say so. You will have a handful of people. The fair always decimates the church where I am, and it will yours.”
I said, “You don’t know our people.”
“Well,” he said, “you tell me Monday how you came out.”
I said, “I will be glad to tell you Monday how we came out, but the fair will not decimate our congregation.”
And I tell you, a Sunday school attendance on a fair day of three thousand five hundred forty-three does not seem as though our Sunday school is falling apart on account of the fair.
Now, in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, and the middle verses—17 and 18—are these words: “And Simon Peter, standing up” [Acts 2:14]—filled with the Holy Spirit—said:
Ye men, these are not drunken [Acts 2:15].
This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
It shall come to pass . . . saith God, that I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
And on My servants and on My handmaidens I will pour out in those days of My Spirit;
Quoting from Joel [Joel 2:28-29], Simon Peter said, “And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” [Acts 2:17]. Being not an old man, being not a young man, some of us who are there in both categories can do both—see visions and dream dreams, and on this twelfth anniversary, beginning our thirteenth year, that’s what I have been doing. Young and old alike, our hearts are in this work. We are dedicated to this task and to this ministry with all that we have and are, or ever hope to be—young and old alike, seeing visions and dreaming dreams.
God has given us a fruitful and a glorious year. Last Wednesday night our church adopted its associational letter. That is a summary of God’s blessings upon us in the past year. Every year God’s favor has been more and more blessed and more precious upon our people, and this last year was the most blessedly precious of all. Out of our membership we organized another church. We lettered out, within a month, more than four hundred fifty members in the new church; and yet our membership with that loss, is at present eleven thousand, four hundred eighty-one.
For a church to baptize one hundred in a year is a great record. This last year our beloved church baptized 435 souls. We received by letter 1,096. Our Sunday school enrollment is over 7,150, and our Training Union enrollment over 2,860. We gave, this church, gave to its work this past year $1,211,009.18. And in that giving program, on ourselves here for our local work, we spent $415,000.00; and for missions we gave $543,619.50. This church last year gave far beyond a half million dollars to the missionary program of Christ in the earth. The rest went for our building. God has given us a door wide and large, open and effectual. It is the consecration, it is the dedication of our church to this new task that brings the message of this hour.
The purpose of a church can never be realized as a funeral chapel in a cemetery. The little church at Stoke Poges, where Gray wrote the “Elegy in a Country Churchyard,” is sweet and beautiful and appealing. The church of the flowers and the church of the recessional in the beautiful Forest Lawn cemetery where my father was buried is beautiful and precious. But however the ministry of the church may be for the bereaved and the sorrowful, when the benediction is said, when the committal service is ended, there are the children and there is the work yet to be done. We cannot drown our souls in our tears. The task still remains. God buries the workman, but He carries on the work.
In a Memphis, Tennessee paper, they have a little picture each day of Hambone—an old-time colored workman. And in that little picture for that day, he was going down the road singing a song. And I remember, though it has been years since I saw it—I remember the song the old Negro was singing. It was:
Dry them tears.
You can’t see the road
With your eyes full of crying.
The good Lord is helping them what am a trying.
Dry them tears.
The ministry of the church, if it rises to its purpose in God, must ever be in the thick—in the heart of intensest life, activity where the race of men go by—a ministry to childhood, and to you, and to womanhood, and to manhood, and to old age. Finally and ultimately, the destiny of all that we hold dear lies, I think, in the hands of God and His church.
Another thing, the great purposes of the church can never be realized in archaic, and static, and outmoded, and unchanging methods. The children of Israel pilgrimaged through the wilderness [Acts 7:36]—new ways, new problems, new things to face, and a whole land to conquer [Acts 13:17-19].
So with us, the great God, and the great message, and the gospel of Christ never changes [Hebrews 13:8], but methods do, always do. When I was a lad seventeen years of age, I began my pastoral work. I was the pastor of little quarter-time and half-time churches out in the country. You would preach a sermon out there miles and miles from anywhere once a month. And when you came back and visited in the homes of the people, that entire month they would have been thinking about that sermon—plowing along in the fields, the farmer turning it over in his mind and meditating the message, when they had services there first, second, third, or fourth Sundays of the month. Those were my little churches.
It is almost ridiculous to think of my ministry then and compare it with it now. If I sought to do now, here, the thing that I tried to do there, for within a month there is no member of my congregation has the faintest conception of the farthest idea what I said. They have seen so much television, and radio, and football, and baseball, and fair, and town, and merchandising, and newspaper. The little country church with its programs could never, never, never catch up with, much less challenge, the intensest life of a great city such as Dallas. That’s true in every respect and in every regard. Where I preached as a boy, we always had in each one of those little communities, we had a country general store. That was the center of activity seven days out of the week—big stove in the center; all those men gathered around chewing and spitting and whittling and talking politics and settling the problems of the world; big cracker barrel over there, and the cheese over there, and the molasses there. When you think about a little store like that in Dallas—trying to compete with these great, big supermarkets, it is just funny to think about it. We still eat gastronomically; changed not at all, but the method of the store has vastly altered.
So as we face our future, how ever in a day gone by a minister might have been able to win a community to Christ, in this day with its pressing life, with its speeding people—in this day, the church that ministers today must ingeniously outline a greater program, a better approach. We must do twice and three times and four times as much and do it five and four times as well. Now as we face our program and our future, God has given us an illimitable opportunity.
But before we can achieve it, enter into it, there are shackles about us. There are fetters that hold us and bind us. There is a bondage upon us, and there is no possibility of a greater advance until first this bondage is broken and these fetters are taken away. I refer to the fact that our church has a debt upon it of a little more than $800,000.00. Eight hundred thousand dollars, even to this church, is a vast, vast sum of money, and it is impossible to project any other program—to do any other thing until first that yoke is broken and that bondage is taken away. We have a simple program to do it. We have divided that $800,000 debt into one thousand units, into units of one thousand each—eight hundred one-thousand-dollar units. And we are asking our people to take as many of those units, or pieces of those units, as they are humanly possibly able to do; eight hundred one-thousand-dollar units to be paid in four tax years; this year, the remainder of this year—then in ‘57, ‘58, and ‘59. Take as many as we can. Some can hardly take any. Some can barely give at all—which means that others of us must do five, ten, fifteen times as much. But, in that way, each one taking a part, we believe we can liberate ourselves of this millstone around our necks.
Now, why is it that you are so earnestly serious and you press this thing upon our people, the payment of this debt immediately—the payment of this debt? I have seven reasons for it. The first reason is this. It is a privilege for our church to do it. There went up at the same time here in this downtown First Baptist Church—there went up two great buildings; each one of which cost a $1,500,000. One of those buildings—our great parking recreational building—was given us. We put not a dime in it—not anything in it. It was given to us through the philanthropy, the foundation of a glorious Christian woman, Minnie Slaughter Veal. I think our church would not deserve the blessing and the remembrance of God if we refused to pay gladly for the other building. I have said many times in your presence, if somebody came along and gave us a check for our activities building and paid it off, the weakness of the flesh would make me take the check. But, I say it would be a weakness of the flesh. It would not be good for our people. We ought to do that ourselves. That’s one reason! It is a privilege. God in His goodness has been good to us. We ought to do that much; pay for that building.
I have a second reason why we ought to pay for that building. That reason is—interest money doesn’t build us or anything else, except the men who receive dividends on their stocks. We have been paying more than $40,000 a year interest. We receive nothing from that interest. Right now our interest payments are between $35,000 and $40,000. That’s money that ought to be dedicated here in this place and in this church. No sense in wisdom in continuing to pay that great sum of interest.
Another reason for the paying of that debt—we have toyed with it long enough. In 1947 we began this program. At the end of this year, it will be ten full years. By the time those pledges are paid, it shall have been thirteen full years we have been in this program. That’s long enough! This church—listen, there are churches one-fifth this size that have entered into programs beyond the $1,000,000 and have already paid them out. The only thing about our church is that when we give to this program, a little more than half of it goes to missions, which is a tremendous thing to take out of the church. But we are glad, happy—please God, shall always be to do it. But that means we must do better in order to liberate ourselves from this bondage. We ought to pay it. We ought to pay it. We’re not going to be able to call a committee meeting down here and discuss whether or not we pay this thing. We have no choice. We have promised to pay that indebtedness. We borrowed the money from the bank and told them so. And under God, our word is as good as our bond. When we said it, that meant we will do it, and there is no inclination on the part of anybody to turn aside. We must. We will. We can. We shall.
My fifth reason for that earnest appeal to pay that debt; this is the one and only time it will ever be mentioned. I shall not mention it again. We shall not have another appeal for it. This is the one and only time that it will be taken to our church—this campaign this fall. It will not be mentioned again. If our people do not respond, if this debt is not paid, we will go along hobbling, hobbling through the years and the years until finally we get rid of it. But I shall not mention it again. I shall not speak of it again. We are going to have one appeal—just one. We are going to have one campaign—just one. We are going to have this one opportunity given to our people—just this, and it will not be made again. That pledge reads we owe $800,000. This is the one and only campaign to pay the entire indebtedness. I will give to pay the entire indebtedness the sum of. . . and that’s it. That’s it. It is up to you. It’s up to me. It’s up to us. This is our final and only word.
All right, my two other reasons; I don’t try to hide from you why it is that I am earnestly praying and pressing in behalf of this debt. I don’t try to hide it. Some people are inclined to think, “Now, you watch that preacher. He has got something else.” I don’t try to hide it. I do have something else. There is something else. There is something further. There is something beside, and they are two.
First is the one that you expect me to say. The second may amaze you. There is something I want to do. There is something else and beside. I want to get rid of this thing in order to be liberated that our people might do something else. All right, the first of those two things. This is the one you would normally, naturally expect. When the leader of our nursery comes to me and says, “We must have more room; we must have more room,” it’s not in my heart, nor is it yours to turn a deaf ear. You cannot. You couldn’t if you would.
When the Young People’s director will come and say, “We have 647 enrolled in our young people’s department now. Just by promotion, if we did not grow one, if we never visited, if we never gain anybody else, just by promotion, by 1960 we will have 1,205 in our Young People’s division.” What are you going to do? Appoint men to stand at all the doors of that activities building with clubs in their hands and say to a great host of young people, “You stay away. You keep out. We aren’t interested; we don’t want you?” That’s inconceivable to you. It is to me. When you try to combine some of the departments that we have already organized, you still haven’t begun to solve the great problem that lies in the great host of youngsters that are growing up in our city, and whose parents are turning their hearts toward us, that they might be trained in the love and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. If you love God; if you love the church; if you love our—if you love our faith, and have any persuasion at all and any belief in it that it is of God, you couldn’t help but stand and rise to respond.
Now I haste to my second reason. I have a second reason why I want to get rid of this debt. Something else that I want to do, and I lay it upon your hearts this morning. It’s just the first time it’s ever been said—it’s ever been mentioned and publicly where all can hear it, I lay it on your heart today, then we are going to take it group by group and see if God can give us wisdom and if it is God’s will for our church.
All right, the second thing; I want to build a high school here in this place. I want to build a Christian school here in this place, and this is why. In any kind of a great building program for a church, these great, vast investments costing millions of dollars, they are used on Sunday, but during the days of the week, these great mausoleums are all most hollow and empty. There are areas where they are intensely used; but the great host of it, the great mass of it, the great pile and structure of it is used just once a week. What’s the matter with us that we don’t have the genius enough and the wisdom enough to build on the inside of these great structures a teaching program under God and in Christ that goes on every day of the week? Why not?
Now, may I speak of us? God has given us already the incomparable opportunity. To build that building across the street would cost $1,500,000. We have already got it, and it is paid for. It was given to us. There is your gymnasium. There are your playing areas. There is a wonderful parking building—holds over three hundred cars. That already is ours—and could be used by a school every day in the week. It is already ours.
We have a cafeteria. We know how to run it. We have been running that cafeteria for years and years. There is already a place for the feeding of the students of the people. And we have in our membership the know-how. We have men who are trained in this pedagogical science, and we have consecrated men who have given their lives to school administration. We have the know-how. We have everything. And being in the heart of our city, no matter where a student lives, if he chose to come to this Christian school, he could easily get here from any part of town and any part of the city. And we would be teaching God’s Word and the message of Christ not only Sunday morning, and not only Sunday evening, but we would be teaching it on Monday morning and again on Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning and again on Thursday, and on Friday morning and again on Saturday if we so arranged—every day in the week.
Why are you so earnest and why does that thing get into your soul, to build a high school here? And an elementary school if in the wisdom of God it ought to be done? Why? Well, this is the simple reason—to teach the truth of God as we see it and as we believe it in the Word, in the Scriptures. This can be a great and major textbook—God’s Word. And we believe in the message of this church, and in the faith of this denomination, and in the preaching of this Word. And to teach it—every day teach it, you have a wide open door! Why not? The government encourages you. The whole school system in America is built around that possibility and contingency. Why not? Why not? If you believe in yourself, if you believe in your message, if you believe in your church, if you believe in the doctrine, why not teach it? Why not? “Well, pastor, I’d rather an infidel teach my child. I’d rather a Unitarian teach my child. I’d rather a Christian Scientist teach my child. I’d rather others teach my child.” Some of us don’t feel that way. I had rather a great, consecrated member of this church teach my child! That’s why. That’s why.
We live in an age of compromise. We live in an age of growth, latitude, and Arianism. We live in an age of sentimental liberalism. We live in an age of middle men—fence straddlers! We live in an age when people are taught that it is a virtue to be magnanimously—magnanimously liberal and tolerant and broad. We live in an age of equity. That is, we believe in that thing where the soul is concerned and where God is concerned, but you wouldn’t believe that in the realm of mathematics or chemistry or science. It’s just where the proof of God is concerned that men want you to be tolerant and broad-minded and liberal, sentimentally so!
We are not liberal in math. We are not liberal in chemistry. The thing has to be just so. Truth is narrow; always! And the truth of the revelation of God, if it is truth is narrow also! Truth is always narrow; always. It’s never broad and never liberal. Two plus two doesn’t equal—well, maybe five and a half, maybe six and a quarter, maybe eight and two-thirds—two plus two—no; just one answer, just one!
There is a truth about the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-267], a truth and broad, liberal interpretations; just one truth, just one. There is one truth about baptism; just one, just one [Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 6:3-5]. There is one truth about the church; just one, just one [Ephesians 1:23]. There is one truth about the great revelation of God [2 Peter 1:20-21] and the inspiration of the Book [2 Timothy 3:16]; just one, just one. It all depends upon what we propose to do in the earth; compromise, broadly liberal, another word for “don’t care; let it die; let it perish.”
Why not teach it? Why not inculcate it in those who, after we’re gone, will teach it to others also? Why not? Why not? [2 Timothy 2:2].
The third church of the seven in Asia was named Pergamos. The Lord said to the church at Pergamos, “Thou hast not denied My faith, even in the days wherein My faithful martyr, Antipas, was slain among you” [Revelation 2:13]. Stephen, and James, and Peter, and Paul, and Savonarola, and Huss, and Hubmaier, Tyndale, all because of their uncompromising faithfulness paid the price with their lives at the stake. When they urged Hooper to recant, he said, “I have taught the truth by my pen and by my tongue, and now I shall seal it with my blood.”
Where is a like martyr dedication to the great truth in Christ Jesus today: the seed of the martyrs, the blood of the martyrs, the seed of the church? I lay it upon your hearts. It is a matter of prayer, of great wisdom. Whether we are able and should depends upon God’s answer to our supplication. If it is ought to be, if it is blessed, if God would use it, then let’s do it. If not, if our ministry is just on God’s day, and in the days of the week, somebody else does it, then let the Lord say it, and we’ll obey.
But however, whether by the organization of a school or not, with God’s help and by His grace, let’s assume the responsibility of teaching and training in the Word and revelation and will of Christ, and whatever it takes, let’s do it. Let’s do it. Please, God by His strength, in His wisdom, in answered prayer, so let’s pray now.
Our Lord, this is a stupendous thing. We do not know the mind of God. Just looking, just praying, just turning it over in our hearts, we have such illimitable opportunities. Is it something God doesn’t want us to take advantage of, these great buildings? And they have to be greater if we do this work of providing for children and young people. What of these days of the week? Lord, if it’s right to teach God’s Word on Sunday, why isn’t it right to inculcate that message and fortify it on the days of the week, teaching the doctrines of the church, teaching the program of Christian life, teaching the revelation of God in Christ Jesus, building a school around the great principles of Christ, praying, having devotionals, revival meetings, making it a very center and heart of tremendous spiritual activity; at the same time, learning the other sciences and the fine arts and all things connected with a school? Why not, Lord? Is it of Thee? Give our people wisdom. Give our leadership an ingenious insight into the years that lie ahead and help us, O God, as much as we’ve done in the days past to do greater in the day that is to come. Bless our praying people. Bless the throng that hears this morning over the radio and in these services.
Now, Lord, as we open the doors of the kingdom of God, as we open the doors of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, some to come in by faith, by baptism, by the acceptance of Christ, others to come in by letter and promise of letter, as the Lord shall will and as the Spirit shall direct, God, give us today those whom the Holy Spirit has chosen for this hour. And we will thank Thee for Thy directive Spirit and for answered prayer and for Thy presence among us, in Jesus’ dear name, amen.
Now while we sing our song, somebody give his heart in faith to Christ, somebody put his life here in the church, as God shall say the word and lead the way, you come. You come. Up in the balcony, from side to side, “This is God’s day for me. Here’s my hand. I’ve given my heart to the Lord.” Or to put your life in the fellowship of the church, as the Lord shall say, as God shall direct the way, you come and stand by me, while all of us stand and sing together.
I. The purpose of the church can never be
just a funeral chapel
A. There is work yet to
B. Ministry of the
church must be in heart of intensest life
II. The ministry of the church can never
be static, outmoded, unchanging
A. Truth, principles never
change; methods do
B. We must outline a
greater and better approach
III. The years that lie ahead
A. The bondage upon us
Debt upon the church
Each take a part
B. Why the earnest
appeal to pay the debt
1. Our grateful
2. The interest
3. Too long toyed
4. One and only
5. To expand our
teaching and training ministry
6. To build a
a. We have the
buildings; use them
b. To teach the truth
of God as we see it