New Testament Christianity
February 10th, 1963 @ 10:50 AM
Acts 19:10, 26
NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIANITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 19:10, 26
2-10-63 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled New Testament Christianity. Not as a text, but just out of an observation of the Ephesian ministry of the apostle Paul, "This continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" [Acts 19:10]. And in the words of a bitter antagonist, a silversmith whose god factory was being threatened by the preaching of this man Paul, gathering his fellow workmen and his fellow craftsmen, he says, "You see and you hear, that not alone in Ephesus, but throughout all Asia, this Paul has persuaded much people and turned them away, saying that there be no gods, which are made with hands" [Acts 19:26].
I have chosen that as just a reflection of what was happening throughout the whole Mediterranean world in the first and the second and the third Christian centuries. In my humble persuasion, the greatest miracle this world has ever seen, outside of the birth [Matthew 1:20-25] and resurrection of our Lord Himself [Matthew 28:1-7], the greatest miracle in history is the overwhelming of the pagan Roman Empire by these first Christian emissaries [Acts 17:6]. These men, few in number, matched themselves against the political power, the imperial power, the military power, the economic power of the then known world. And these men had nothing with which to do their work except a promise from the Savior that He would not forsake them but would be with them to the end of the age [Matthew 28:20]. These few men had no money, they had no social prestige, they had no standing. They had no armies. They had no political power. They had access to no press, no publicity; they had no one to whom to make appeal. They were peasant men, poor and despised. And yet those men, with nothing except the Holy Spirit of God working with them, changed the course of empire and won the Mediterranean world to a saving knowledge of Christ. What a tragedy that the church then was married to the world and lost that glorious, pristine, primeval, primitive drive and thrust; but that’s another story. We are speaking now of the miracle that God wrought by the hands of these men.
Not only were they poor and socially unacceptable; not only did they have access only to God, not to any political force or strength or military power or financial or economic sustenance; not only that but after they began, within a few years, in the very lifetime of the first apostles, they began to be hunted down like animals. To kill a Christian was doing a favor to the empire and certainly was a gesture of courting the blessing and remembrance of the gods. Those men, without standing, and then labeled as enemies of the state, those men subverted, overwhelmed, changed a whole empire, the whole civilized world.
Now how did they do it? There are many answers to that question. I am taking just one facet of that answer this morning. As I pore through these Scriptures and read of their work, there are things that immediately come to the heart that is seeking for an answer. One of the answers lies in their doctrine of worship, which was an astonishing innovation in that day. You’ll find an instance of what I mean in the sermon of Stephen, the first Christian martyr as recorded here in the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts.
You see, Stephen is standing before a group of enraged Sanhedrinists and lawyers and Pharisees and scribes; for this man has been accused of saying there are other places to worship than here in Jerusalem, and that God is not contained in a house made by a man’s hands. And he is being accused of daring to change the habits of worship of the people, the customs and the traditions of the law [Acts 6:11-14].
So the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts is a long recounting – that is one of the longest chapters, if not the longest chapter, in the New Testament – God’s Holy Spirit moved this beloved physician Luke to write that whole sermon for us to read [Acts 7:1-53]. And the thesis of that sermon is this, and this caused his death [Acts 7:54-60], the thesis of the sermon was this: that God never had in the beginning, God never had the purpose that we were to seek His face and call upon His name in just one particular place [Acts 7:47-50]. So he starts off in his sermon with Abraham: when Abraham was called of God he was not even in Palestine; and when he left Chaldea he did not even come to Palestine, he went to Haran [Acts 7:2-4]. And when he came finally into the Promised Land, he lived here and he lived yonder and he lived there, and in different places there did Abraham build an altar and call upon the name of the Lord [Genesis 12:7, 8, 13:4, 18, 22:9].
Then he took a second illustration. In this sermon of Stephen, he speaks of Joseph. Joseph as a boy was sold out of the land of Canaan, and he lived his life and died in heathen and pagan Egypt. And there in the land of Egypt did this son of Jacob named Joseph call on the name of the Lord, and do God’s work in the earth [Acts 7:9-18]. Then he refers to Moses [Acts 7:20].
When Moses heard the call of God, it was not in somebody’s temple. He was on the back side of the desert, tending Jethro’s sheep. And there he saw a bush that flamed unconsumed; and God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush in the land of Midian, on the back side of the desert. "I have heard the cry of My people, and I have sent thee, that thou might be their leader and their deliverer" [Exodus 3:1-10; Acts 7:20-43].
Then he referred to the tabernacle. And the tabernacle, by which God was importuned and interceded with and prayed to, the tabernacle in the wilderness was set here, and yonder, and there [Acts 7:44-46]. The very fact that it was a tabernacle spoke of its being torn down and moved to another place.
Then this first Christian martyr concluded his sermon:
Solomon built Him a house. But the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as said the prophet, Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool: what wilt thou build Me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of My rest? Hath not My hand made all these things?
Do you know what that was, this sermon? This sermon of the first Christian martyr was no other thing than an extension of the remarks of the blessed Lord Jesus when He spake to that Samaritan woman about spiritual worship [John 4:7-26]. She said to Him, "Our fathers say that in this mountain," Mt. Gerizim, on top of which the Samaritans had built a temple that the Maccabeans had torn down, "Our fathers," her fathers, the Samaritans, "said that on this mountain is the place to worship God. But you Jews say in Jerusalem is the place to worship God" [John 4:20]. And Jesus replied to that Samaritan woman and said:
Verily I say unto thee, the hour cometh when neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, will those who worship God call on the name of the Father. . .For the hour cometh, yea, and now is, when they that worship God shall worship Him in spirit and in truth: for God seeketh such to worship Him. God is Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
This sermon of the first Christian martyr was just an exegesis upon [Acts 7:47-50], it was just an explanation of; it was just an extension of that same great pronouncement of the blessed Lord Jesus [John 4:21-24].
A kitchen corner according to God is as fine a place to worship in the name of the Father as the most beautiful cathedral in the world. Anywhere is a good where to call upon the name of the Lord. Kneel down by the side of your bed. Close the closet door and talk to God in secret. While you’re outside in a quiet place, there lift up your heart to heaven and name the name of the Lord. And the house you live in is as fine a place to worship God as the most beautiful church edifice that an architect and money and wealth and affluence could ever pile up.
That doctrine of these first New Testament Christians was an amazing thing. For until then, if a man worshipped God, he had to go up to a temple to sacrifice. If a man worshipped God, he had to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. If a man worshipped God, he had to go to some special place or some special spot. But this great liberty announced by Jesus and executed and followed by His disciples was an astonishing innovation! [John 4:21-24].
Now I want to follow it through. If God will give us time, I want to follow it through, how those disciples followed the example of their Master. Now just as rapidly as we can, first, in the life of the Lord Jesus, it was noised abroad that He was in the house, He was in the house, the Son of God was in the house, somebody’s home, in the house. And it was thronged, and it was packed, and it was jammed; and there came four bearing a paralytic, being unable to get into the door they went to the roof of the house and undid the tiles, and let the man down in the house [Mark 2:1-4]. And before that text, "It was noised abroad He was in the house," and the healing of the paralytic man, before that text, He was in Simon Peter’s house, and there healed the mother of Peter’s wife [Mark 1:29-31]. And so our Lord’s ministry was almost from house to house.
When He called Matthew, Matthew made a feast for Him in his house and called all of his fellow publicans and his fellow sinners, and they had a marvelous feast with Jesus in the Matthew’s house. And Jesus taught the publicans and the sinners the way to God [Matthew 9:9-13]. Simon the Pharisee made a dinner for the Lord Jesus, and then you have the story of the woman from the street, a scarlet prostitute came in and bathed His feet with the tears of her eyes, and washed them and dried them with the hairs of her head [Luke 7:36-38].
Then you have the message of the Lord Jesus of those to whom much is forgiven, love much [Luke 7:47-48]. Then you have the story of the Lord Jesus in the house of Simon the leper, in Bethany; when Mary anointed His feet and His head and His body for the burying [Matthew 26:6-12]. Then you have the story of the Lord Jesus in the house of Mary and of Martha [John 12:1-7]. Then you have the story of the Lord Jesus calling Zaccheus to come down from the tree, "For today," said the Lord, "I must spend in thy house" [Luke 19:2-5].
Then you have the story of the centurion who came to Jesus, and said, "My servant is ill, oh that he might be healed." And the Lord said, "I will go with you and heal your servant." And the centurion said, "I am not worthy for You to come in my house; not under my roof, I am not worthy. Just speak the word, and my servant shall be healed" [Matthew 8:5-8]. Then you have the story in the life of our Lord of the institution of the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28]. Just where was that instituted, in some magnificent cathedral, in some vast temple? It was instituted in somebody’s house, in a room upstairs, big enough to contain thirteen men [Mark 14:12-17].
Then of course you have the stories of the appearances of our blessed Lord when He was raised from the dead [Acts 1:3]. He was known unto them in Emmaus, at a supper table, breaking bread [Luke 24:30-31, 35]. And He appeared to His disciples first Sunday night, when they were gathered, ten of them, in somebody’s house [John 20:19-24]. And He was made known unto them the following Sunday night to the eleven of them, Thomas being present, in somebody’s house [John 20:19, 25-29]. So the ministry of Christ began as He lived among the people, and walked among the people, and preached His sermons in their houses, and taught them the truth of God in their homes. That is the ministry of our Lord.
When I turn then to the Book of Acts, and then to the epistles, I just see those first apostles and missionaries and evangelists as they follow through the same blessed peripatetic ministering goodness and grace of the Lord Jesus. Where did Pentecost come? Pentecost came upon a little band of people who were gathered in somebody’s upper room; and there they waited upon God [Acts 1:13-15]. And the great Caesarean Pentecost, the Gentile Pentecost, came in a man’s home. Cornelius was a centurion and the Lord, through an angel, said, "You go send for Simon Peter, and he will come and tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved" [Acts 10:1-6]. So Cornelius gathered his friends and he gathered his people and he gathered his servants, and they were all in the house [Acts 10:24-33]; and Simon Peter opened his mouth and read the sermon that we read out loud today [Acts 10:34-43], and the marvelous outpouring of the Spirit of God upon them [Acts 10:44]. That happened in a house.
When Simon Peter was imprisoned, after they had slain James, John’s brother, with the edge of the sword [Acts 12:1-2], and the next morning they were to slay Peter, when God liberated Simon Peter, the iron gate opened of itself, and he walked through the city [Acts 12:3-10]. And where did he go? He went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, for God’s people were there in her house, in an all night prayer meeting, praying for Simon Peter [Acts 12:12].
When Paul the apostle, with Timothy and with Luke and with Silas, came to Philippi, having no place they went down by the river bank and testified to the women; and God opened the heart of Lydia [Acts 16:12-14]. And then the Book says, "And Lydia constrained them that they would come to her house" [Acts 16:15]. And there did the great ministry and message of the Christian faith begin in the continent of Europe; in the home, in the house, of Lydia, a seller of purple piece goods. In the great Corinthian ministry, Paul being repudiated by the synagogue [Acts 18:5-6], went into the house of a man named Justus; and there preached the gospel of the Son of God [Acts 18:7-8]. And the Book of Acts closes with that same apostle Paul in a "hired house" [Acts 28:30], the King James calls it, in a rented house; and; for two whole years, chained to a soldier [Acts 28:20], a quaternion a day, every six hours they’d be changed, for a day; in a house, a rented house, Paul sowed down the imperial city with the story of the gospel of the Son of God [Acts 28:23-31].
And I see that reflected in the epistles, in his salutations. In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans, to the great city, to the great church in the imperial city, he says, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who for my life have laid down theirs: unto whom I give thanks, and all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house, the church that is in their house" [Romans 16:3-5]. That was their place of assembly and meeting, their place of prayer and praise and teaching the Word of God, "the church in their house." Then I meet them again in this salutation in the last chapter of 1 Corinthians: Aquila and Priscilla are in the city of Ephesus now, and Paul says, "The churches of Asia salute you over there in Achaia, over there in Corinth. And Aquila and Priscilla salute you much, with the church that is in their house" [1 Corinthians 16:19]. Same thing again when they moved to Ephesus: their center of adoration and testimony and praise and worship and teaching in the house.
Turning to the last chapter of the Book of Colossians, Paul says, "Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, salute him, and the church which is in his house" [Colossians 4:15]. And when this epistle is read among you, you cause it to be read also over there in Laodicea, and in the house, to the church in the house of Nymphas" [Colossians 4:16]. And I can just see them gathering together in the house of Nymphas, and they read Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and Paul’s letter to Laodicea, which is the letter you call "The Ephesians" [Colossians 4:15-16]. I can just see them there as the people gather in the house, and with rapt attention, and with hearts beating high, they listen to the letters from God’s apostle.
And just once again, in the closing verses of the Philippian letter, which was written from the jail in Rome, "All the saints salute you, you there in Philippi, and they also that are of Caesar’s household" [Philippians 4:22]. How could that apostle have preached the gospel in the temple of Janus or of Juno? How could that apostle have entered into the presence of the imperial Caesar to hold a service? How did he do it? How did they win that city and that government and that Roman world? They penetrated it through testimony in the household of Rome’s emperor himself. And when Paul is writing this letter to the dear people in Philippi, meeting in Lydia’s house, he says, "The saints in Rome salute you, and mainly and mostly and especially, these who have been converted in Caesar’s household" [Philippians 4:22].
I haven’t time to follow through some of these things of the history of the early Christian message, but you’ll find every once in a while, you’ll find the execution of a patriarch. You’ll find the execution of a nobleman, and in Tacitus and Suetonius it will be written down that he was executed for atheism. Actually, the man was executed because he’d become a Christian, and refusing to worship the gods made of stone and wood, they called him an atheist. Actually, he laid down his life as a Christian martyr. That is the way, that’s one of the facets by which this early Christian message permeated the lives and the communities of the people. As it was taken into the house and into the home, and as friends and as family and as neighbors gathered together in praise, in worship, in testimony, in song, in reading God’s Word, the letters from the apostles, in exhortation, in appeal, God did a mighty work in the whole earth. God changed the course of the Roman Empire.
Well, preacher, what are you doing all this for? It is very apparent: just taking up the Book to see how it is the Holy Spirit did His most miraculous and marvelous work through all of these Christian centuries. How did the Holy Spirit lead those men to do so wondrous and so marvelous and so incomparable thing? How did the Holy Spirit lead His people to do it? They did it in those plain and humble and simple ways of going into the homes of the people.
Now, your pastor has another persuasion. I do not think we will ever improve upon the wisdom of God, never. We try to have our stewardship program according to the mind of the Spirit of God. "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you" [1 Corinthians 16:2], the little nursery child, the beginner, the primary, the junior, as well as our teenagers and young people, and our men and women, every one of you, all of us, all of us, coming into the presence of God with a gift in our hand; the genius, the wisdom of God.
Some of these services were held in the temple area, like when Peter preached his sermon at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-40], and like Paul in the great hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus [Acts 19:9], and on and on; and we shall do that. There will be services, God helping us and His Spirit empowering us, there’ll be services in coliseums, and there’ll be services in different places in the city. But this is a facet of the work of the Spirit of God that I never had seen before; read the Bible for years and years, I never had seen it before, it had never come to my heart before, nor have I ever seen it demonstrated before. So, in humblest asking, and believing that God answers, the Lord hath put on the heart of your pastor, we are going to see if the Holy Spirit of God will bless us in this New Testament Christian ministry. We are going to take our message into the homes of the people.
Now we have to start somewhere; and we stand in the center of a vast city of a million people. And I’m untaught in it, and I’m unlearned in it, and I’ve never tried it. So, we’re going to start with our dear and beloved members in the community of Irving. And we’re going to have services in the homes of the people in Irving; these who will open their doors, these who belong to our church family. And we’re going to have Christian New Testament services in the homes of the people. We’ll have a designated time. I have asked the director and the dear people of our Primary division to be responsible for setting them up. And I look forward to sharing in it with an eager anticipation I haven’t felt since I was a boy, since I began first preaching in schoolhouses and tabernacles and street corners. I don’t know what the witness of the Spirit of God does to a man’s soul when he gets outside of the four walls of his church; I just know it has a quickening power in me, a reverberation in me.
These services in the church will be great sounding boards, at which time our people gather together. We’ll see our converts, and these for whom we’ve prayed, come down these aisles before men and angels, confessing their faith in the Lord. But our witness and our testimony and our appeal will be to them out there, out there. And if there’s nobody in the family circle and in the home but God’s Christian saved, born again people, we’ll just rejoice together in the Lord. We’ll sing, we’ll pray, we’ll read the Book, we’ll testify. I’ll share in those services each night. In a home I’ll share in those services with great anticipation.
And then as time goes on, even in Irving there’ll be several others who will be sharing those services also. And then as time goes on, we’ll go to Oak Cliff; and in all of the homes that’ll open to us in Oak Cliff, we will have Christian services of testimony, and praise, and prayer, and the reading of the Word, and exhortation in our homes in Oak Cliff. Then we’ll go to East Dallas, and we’ll go to West Dallas, and we’ll go to North Dallas, and throughout this whole community, we shall testify to the grace and the glory and the goodness of God in Christ Jesus. That is the way Jesus did it. This is the way the apostles did it. We shall see if God shall bless us today when we do it.
I want to give you an instance. My time is just about gone. I want to give you an instance of this New Testament Christianity. It is something I made appeal to you, and you responded oh so magnificently! When I was in Costa Rica, in San Jose, one of the missionaries said, "Would you like to go out and see how this mission work is actually done, not in the school, not in the seminary, but out where the people are?" I said, "Oh! I’d love to, I’d love to." So, one of the missionaries, one of the missionaries took me out to a little town called Saint Cecilia. It had no evangelical witness in the town.
And we went up on the hillside in the town to a man’s house; he was a young and brilliant convert. And he had turned aside from the vision and ambition of his life to give himself to the work of Jesus. And he had built that house with his own hands in Saint Cecilia, the town, in order to have a gospel witness in that place. So I went to church in the man’s house.
The living room had been cleared out, they put benches in there and chairs. And it would seat just about maybe sixty or seventy people, sticking them all through the doors and around. And it was jammed. And he preached the gospel. They sang an hymn. They gave appeal. Lost people were saved. And when I came back here, I told you about it.
And on that Wednesday night, on that Wednesday night, when we showed those pictures of God’s work in Latin America, I asked you to bring an offering. I thought you’d bring three, four, five hundred dollars; and I was going to use that to help some of those poor people, and especially children, down there that I’d seen in Latin America. You know how much you brought? You brought two thousand, six or seven hundred dollars that night. And after I had sent the money, like I told you, to help some of those poor children that I’d seen in those churches, the remainder of it I sent down there to Costa Rica, to Santa Cecilia. And they are right this minute building a house of God, a witness for Jesus, and they have a little church.
That is the way it was done in the Bible! The witness was planted, and the song was sung, and the Word was preached in the house, in the home; and through the blessed ministries and grace of Jesus, it grew into the churches that dotted the Roman Empire. Oh, that they had kept it up, they had kept it up! We might have had a whole world won to the Lord Jesus had they stayed with it.
Well, let’s go back; back to this Bethel, back to this Bible, back to this ministry, back to the lowly ways of the Lord Jesus, back to the examples of the apostles. And let’s see what God does with us. Then when we have these public services, like in the coliseum at the fairgrounds, like in the great coliseum on SMU campus, and like down here in our First Baptist Church, when all of our people gather together, we shall have had revival in our houses, in our homes; we shall have witnessed, we shall have testified, we shall have prayed, we shall have visited! And our services then are just great sounding boards where people come forward to make known to men and heaven what they have done in their hearts in opening a door of faith to the blessed Lord Jesus. O may the Spirit of God sanctify and hallow this effort we offer up unto Him.
Now Brother Singer, let’s sing our song. And while we sing our song, somebody you, somebody you, this day, give his heart to Jesus. "Here I come, and here I am." A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, "Here we come, here we are." A couple you; or one somebody you, as we sing our song, as we make our appeal, as the Spirit of God shall move in our midst, may God grant to us today another harvest, you, "I make it now, preacher, here I come," while we stand and while we sing.
NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIANITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 19:10, 26
I. Overwhelming miracle of history
A. Handful of despised peasant men changed the course of an empire
B. They were labeled as enemies of the state, hunted down
C. Yet they grew and grew, and won the Mediterranean world to Christ
II. Their doctrine of worship
A. Sermon of the first Christian martyr, Stephen(Acts 7:47-50)
1. Abraham built altars
2. Joseph in Egypt
3. Moses in the desert
B. An extension of the pronouncements of Jesus(John 4:21-24)
III. Their great example, the Lord Jesus
A. Ministry from house to house(Mark 1:29-31, 2:1-4, Luke 5:27-31, 7:36-38, 19:1-10, Matthew 8:8)
B. Resurrection appearances to His disciples in homes
IV. Their great ministries
A. Pentecost in the upper room; Caesarean Pentecost at house of Cornelius
B. Peter, liberated from prison, went to house of Mary, John Mark(Acts 12:12)
C. Paul and Silas in Philippi, at house of Lydia (Acts 16:15)
D. Paul and the Corinthian ministry, at house of Justus(Acts 18:7)
E. Paul in Rome, two years in his own hired house
F. Reflected in the Epistles(Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philippians 4:22)
V. The meaning for us
A. We will never improve upon the wisdom of God
1. Our stewardship program
2. Services in different places in the city
3. We will take our message into the homes of the people
B. Our plan
C. Ministry in Saint Cecilia