Primitive Christianity: Soul-Winning Visitation

Acts

Primitive Christianity: Soul-Winning Visitation

May 19th, 1963 @ 7:30 PM

Acts 20:18-31

And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
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PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY

(SOUL WINNING VISITATION)

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 20:17-31

5-19-63    7:30 p.m.

 

 

All of us here in this great auditorium listening on the radio, turn in your Bible to the Book of Acts, the Book of Acts chapter 20.  We shall read a passage in the middle portion of this chapter, beginning at verse 17 and reading through verse 31; 17 through 31 in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts.  Now that we all have it, and sharing our Bible with a neighbor who might not have brought his Bible, let us all read it out loud together.  Acts chapter 20 beginning at verse 17, reading through verse 31, everybody:

 

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,

Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews:

And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shown you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,

Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:

Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.

But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.

For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

[Acts 20:17-31]

 

These sermons that I have been preparing for these evening hours are some of the most meaningful to me that I have ever studied through and asked God to bless in all of my life.  I am probing, I am searching for that primitive New Testament church that was so powerfully used of God in converting the entire Roman civilized world.  And we are finding some of those secrets that are hidden here in the Word of God; things that we can do today, things that God would be pleased with if we do today, and things that God no less blesses today than He did in that early primitive New Testament church.

Now, we are going to visit, to begin with, Aquila and Priscilla, in their home in Ephesus.  We shall knock at the door.  So fine and so blessed and so precious a Christian couple would do no other thing than invite us inside.  So we say to them, "Aquila and Priscilla, we are Christians from the twentieth century.  We belong to the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and we have come to see you from a continent you never heard of, from a city you never knew would ever exist, and from a congregation that would be a surprise to you.  Now Aquila and Priscilla, we want to sit down and ask you some questions."

And being fine, noble Christian people, they would cordially invite us inside, and seated together we begin.  "Aquila, we have read in the report of the work here in the Roman province of Asia, that in the space of two years all they that dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus [Acts 19:10.  And in those few years, the seven churches of Asia were established; here in Ephesus, there in Smyrna, and yonder in Pergamos, in Thyatira, in Sardis, in Philadelphia, in Laodicea [Revelation 2:1-3:21].  And these are just seven out of a multitude of churches that have been established in the great Roman province of Asia, the richest province of the Roman Empire.  And we cannot understand how within so short a time you could have evangelized this great segment of the ancient world.  How did you do it?  Aquila, what kind of facilities did you have?  Do you have a large and spacious plant, and a glorious towering church building?" 

 And Aquila would reply, "I don’t understand what you’re talking about.  What do you mean by that word ‘church’?  Where did that word come from, ‘church’?  I never heard of a church."  And Aquila, he’d say to us, "What do you mean by a building?  I never heard of a church building."  And we would explain to Aquila, "Why, Aquila, why anybody ought to understand that; that’s what a church is – a church is a pile of brick and mortar, shaped in a certain way.  And you never heard of a church building, and you never heard of a church?"

"No," said Aquila, "you’re going to have to explain these things to me."

"Well, Aquila, this is an amazing thing, and we must discover, we must find out."  That’s what we’re finding out.  Aren’t these things amazing to you as you probe them out?  About a building, "Well, Aquila, what I’m talking about is, when you get your people together, and you read the Bible, and you study the Word, and you pray, and you sing hymns, where do you meet?"

"Oh," said Aquila, "that’s what you call a church building.  Well, my brethren, you’re in it now.  You’re in it now:  the church meets in my house.  It meets in my home.  You’re already in it." 

"Why, Aquila, can you have services and no organ?  You don’t have any organ.  You don’t have any piano"; wasn’t even invented.  "You don’t even have a harpsichord.  You don’t even have a zither," that wasn’t invented.  "Why, Aquila, and you don’t have a pulpit, and you don’t have a choir."  Look at that choir.  "Don’t have a choir."  Don’t you miss the women up there, in that choir?  "Don’t have a choir, don’t have any pews.  Why, I can’t understand, I can’t understand.  Don’t have any building.  And another thing you said that amazes us, Aquila, you never heard of the word ‘church’."

"No," said Aquila, "I never heard of the word ‘church’."

"Well Aquila, ‘church’ is kirke, ‘church’ is kurk, ‘church’ is kuriakos."

"Well, of all things," says Aquila, "you call a church a kuriakos, a kirke, a kurk, a church.  We call it an ekklēsia."  And what an astonishing thing has happened to us.  For in the Bible, in the New Testament, the church, what you have translated "church," is an ekklēsia, is the people; it’s a called out one.  And our word "church" is a kuriaka, a kuriakos, a kurkiaka, a kurk, a church; and it refers to the large house.  What an amazing transformation!

Now let’s put that down.  There’s something we’ve learned about New Testament Christianity:  it never occurred, it never occurred in their fondest, wildest imagination, it never occurred for three hundred years to call the church "the house." That was a development that came after three hundred years.  For in the New Testament, and for three hundred years, the church was an ekklesia, it was a called out family that trusted in Jesus.  And only after three hundred years did they change that ekklesia and began to call it a kuriakos, the Lord’s house, the place where the people met.

So Aquila says to us, "I’m amazed at what you call a church.  Never heard the word church, kurk, kirke, kuriakos, never heard it.  For to us the church is the people of God; His saved saints, His praying congregation."  They could meet under a green bay tree, or on the side of a lake, or out there by the Mediterranean, or in somebody’s house; it’s one place just as good as another.

"All right, another thing, Aquila, we want to ask you:  what kind of a program did you follow that you subverted the Roman Empire, and everybody in Asia heard the Word of the Lord within two years? [Acts 19:10].  How did you do that?" 

And Aquila says, "Well, by two things.  One, there’s a great hall in this city, an auditorium; and Brother Paul is down there every day, holding forth the Word of life.  And we who are saved, who know the Lord Jesus, every day and every night, as we have time and opportunity from our menial tasks, we’re knocking at doors, and we’re telling people about the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And when Brother Paul left us," says Aquila, "he reminded us to be faithful in that same program, for the apostle Paul said, when he was serving the Lord here with all humility and many tears, he said, ‘Remember how I taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying to the Jew and to the Greek, that is everybody as he came to them, repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:19-21].  Therefore watch and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears’ [Acts 20:31].  That’s how we did it.  And that’s how we are continuing to do it.  There in a hall we are meeting, publicly setting forth the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ; and then every day from house to house, knocking at the door, and testifying to everybody who will listen of the grace of God and the forgiveness in our Lord Jesus Christ."

 "Well, Aquila, that sounds marvelous.  Where’d you get that idea?  Where’d you find that program, Aquila?  Where’d it come from?" 

And Aquila says, "Well, all we did here in Ephesus, with our brother Paul, was to copy what the apostles did who knew the Lord face to face in the days of His flesh.  We’re just following that apostolic church in Jerusalem.  For that’s what they did, those two things.  They met publicly and announced and held forth the Word of God, and then they carried the message of Jesus from house to house.  For example," said Aquila, "the story says that these first Christians in Jerusalem, ‘They continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, praising God, and the Lord added to the church daily, daily, those that were being saved’" [Acts 2:46-47].

  "And then," says Aquila, "we also heard of this: ‘And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and to preach the Lord Jesus’ [Acts 5:42].  That’s where we got the program; back there in that first apostolic church in Jerusalem.  And when the apostle Paul, when Brother Paul came here to Ephesus, here we were doing the same thing that those apostles did in that first church in Jerusalem – daily in the temple holding forth, and from house to house telling the people about the grace of God in the Lord Jesus" [Acts 5:42]. 

"Well, Aquila, we’ll come back and see you later, because I got a sermon to preach, Aquila.  And you excuse me, I want to go down there to that First Baptist Church of mine, and I want to tell those people what I found out.  So goodbye, Aquila, we’ll come back and see you later."

Now I’m here in the twentieth century again, looking in the faces of my dear people in the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  Now let’s visit a typical modern church.  We’re going into a modern church.  As we’ve gone to see Aquila and Priscilla in their church, now we’re going to a typical, average, modern church of the twentieth century.  First of all, the people sit there listless and expressionless.  They need defrosting.  They are like a refrigerator they need a knob turned on somewhere, somewhere.  And they are bound by a rigid ceremonial order, and they are afraid to depart from it.  Why, even the preacher is afraid to lift up his voice, and he sits there like little Mickey Mouse, with say, little soft words, you know, and you just go to sleep listening to him.  The modern church – there’s no expectancy; nobody goes there believing that maybe tonight God will do some magnificent thing.  So the people just sit there, wait till it’s over, and then file out, go away, and forget all about it; the typical church.

Another thing about the typical modern church that we visit today:  there is nothing in it that tells men how to be saved, that explains the way of salvation to them.  I read this week of a pastor of a church on the West Coast.  In the lobby of his church, he happened to run into a young man.  And talking to the young man, found out that the young fellow wasn’t a Christian.  And talking to him further found out that he’d been going to that church all of his life.  And the preacher asked him why he wasn’t saved.  And the young man replied, "Because I don’t know how.  I don’t know how to be saved.  I don’t know how to be a Christian."  What an amazing indictment! that a boy could grow up in a church and never know how to be saved.

Another thing about this New Testament church, how different it is from our modern church today:  look at this New Testament church, "And the Lord added to the church daily, those that were being saved [Acts 2:47].  And the Lord added to the church daily, every day."  Now let’s take a minimum of that:  that would mean that any New Testament church to whom God added daily, that’d mean they would have at least one convert every day in the year.  That’d be three hundred sixty-five in a year, isn’t that correct?  If it were a primitive New Testament Baptist church, it would be a church that won at least one a day; "The Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved" [Acts 2:47].  So a minimum would be three hundred sixty-five.  Now look at this, and be amazed and astonished at this, the entire world:  there are more than one quarter of a million churches in the United States alone.  In the entire world there are not as many as sixteen churches that win two hundred a year.  And in the entire world there are not six churches that win three hundred a year.  This is an astonishing thing, an amazing thing!  Out of the millions of churches in this world, there are more than one quarter of a million of them in the United States of America.  Out of a million churches in this world, there are not sixteen of them that win as many as two hundred a year, and there are not six of them that win three hundred a year.  Why, it staggers you!  What has happened to us? fallen away from that New Testament church that subverted the Roman Empire.

One other observation about this twentieth century church that is such a poor successor and an unworthy inheritor of the great gospel of the Son of God from that original church in Jerusalem, another thing about them:  nor does the twentieth century church have any program to reach those lost people, they don’t propose to.  They don’t set themselves to do it.  They don’t think of it.  They don’t try.  They don’t ask of God, they don’t probe and seek to find out how.  Typical thing happened the other day that I heard about.  There was an educational director in one of these churches that was ruminating in the bottom drawer of his desk, and finally way back at the back side of the bottom drawer, he pulled out a stack of cards, and he said, "Well, I knew these things were around here somewhere.  These are our prospects."  In the ordinary church there are not more than one or two or three lost people, in the ordinary church congregation.  And if a church congregation has as many as six or seven lost people in the congregation, it is an unusual church.  The people who are lost are beyond the walls of any sanctuary.  They’re out there, they’re out there, they’re out there, and by the thousands they are out there.  They’re not in here.  And they weren’t in there either.

Now in the moment that remains, let us speak to our hearts as we have sat for a moment and looked at that primitive New Testament church, and as we have looked at our modern church, which is set by its side in such an unfavorable comparison.  What do we need?  Now listen to some of the things, briefly and rapidly, that we need.  We need a 20/20 vision.  I came across a cute little sentence that just stuck in my head, Acts 20:20 says, "I have showed you publicly and have taught you from house to house"; and somebody said, "We need, the modern church needs a 20/20 vision, Acts 20:20."  We need to see these houses, and these houses, and these houses, and these houses in this city, filled with people, who by the hundreds of thousands have a nominal Christianity or none at all.  We need a 20/20 vision, Acts 20:20, "have taught you from house to house . . . They were in the temple, and from house to house [Acts 2:46], daily witnessing to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ."  We need the vision to see a good 20/20, Acts 20:20 vision.

Another thing, and we need the moving unction and power of the Holy Spirit in our souls that sends us out.  We need the presence of God.  What’s the matter with this kind of a slogan and drive and belief:  "Let’s win the world of our city to Jesus"?  What’s the matter with that?  We may not be able to bring to God the whole world, just in prayer maybe, but oh what we can do in Dallas!  Let’s win the world of our city to the Lord Jesus!  They did it, and they had ten hundred thousand times more obstacles to face than we have.  Let’s win the world of our city to the Lord Jesus.

I came across a thing reading as I study these things.  There was a place where they had a band of young people, and they called them "The Evangeliers."  I like that, "The Evangeliers," a group of young people who had dedicated themselves to visitation and to soulwinning.  There’s not anything in this earth that ought to take second place in any program of a true assembly of Christ, nothing takes second place to the state of testifying and visiting and soulwinning.  Another thing I ran across:  they call the visitation day, "evangelism day"; and I like that.  Monday is our visitation day.  I like the idea of renaming it and calling it, "Monday is our evangelism day," and then every day thereafter is one just like it.  Oh, the blessedness and the need of witnessing to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, just telling about Him!

I’ll never forget one afternoon in one of my churches, I was out visiting and I got bogged down in a church, quarrelling and fussing and arguing with a fellow in a house about baptismal regeneration.  He said a fellow ought to be baptized in order to be saved.  And I was telling him it’s the grace of God and the blood of Jesus that washes a man’s sins away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5].  And there I was, I spent the entire afternoon arguing with that,you don’t have to do it.  If a guy is convinced of such a thing as that, and you can see all he wants to do is argue about it, let him alone.  Go to somebody who’s lost and tell them of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And there’ll always be people to listen and to hear.

What God will do with a people who are committed to that kind of a program is absolutely indescribable.  For example, I read about a church that in 1900 was the largest church in the city; and in 1959 it had died; no services, just seven members left.  And there was a young minister came along who was twenty-four years of age, and he wasn’t old enough to know anything about failure; all he knew was the promise and the presence of God in his life, just a young fellow, ebullient and optimistic and alive.  And they called that young fellow as pastor of the church.  He went around in the neighborhood.  You see, all of the other people had moved out of the neighborhood, but don’t you ever forget, other people move in, other people move in.  He went around the neighborhood, and he found a little orphan’s home in that neighborhood; and it had forty little orphans in the thing.  And he went up to the manager and talked to the fellow that ran the orphan’s home, and asked if on Sunday the little children in that orphan’s home would come down there to the church.  And the man said yes.  So he stood up to preach his first Sunday, and he had a congregation in that great big city church, he had a congregation of fifty: he had forty little orphans, he had seven members, and he had three in his own family.  Then he announced a program of soulwinning and personal testimony; and for a week he had ten people on the front row, to whom that young fellow was teaching visitation and soulwinning.  And they went out, and in four weeks, and I don’t know what beyond, and in four weeks they had two hundred twenty in Sunday school in that little church that had died and ceased having services.

That’s the way this church has been built; just that same way.  And that’s the way we will win our lost and our people in this vast city, that same way.  I must close.  And I can’t close without this admonition: and all of it, and every syllable of it, and every appeal of it, and every part of it, and every plan of it, and every program of it, all of it has to be undergirded and sustained and strengthened by intercession and by prayer to Almighty God.  The Lord always meets His people on their spiritual level.  If we are low and worldly and indifferent and cold, why, the Lord does the best that He can with us, down there in our indifference, in our frigidity, in our colossal denial; Lord does the best He can with us, way down there in our backsliding.  He will always meet us on the spiritual level to which we are willing to rise.  And if we’ll ask, and constantly ask, and keep on knocking, and talking to the Lord, and the Lord sees us, and He sees us, and He sees us, and He hears us, and He hears us, by and by the Lord will come down, and oh, He won’t find us hard to work with and difficult to talk to and deaf to hear, but He will find our hearts quickened and vibrant and alive, and He can speak and His people hear.  And He will find our hands open to receive infinite blessings.  And God will answer with heavenly benedictions, pourings out, visitations, enduements, endowments that He says our hearts won’t be big enough to receive it.  And that’s why as God shall help us, we’re going to have prayer meetings in the church; we’re going to have prayer meetings in the factories; we’re going to have prayer meetings in these office buildings; we shall have prayer meetings in the homes.  And everywhere you turn, if he’s in this church, he’ll be somewhere in a prayer meeting:  down at the factory, down in the office, here at the church, in the house, asking of God.

And that’s why I wrote the little prayer song – Want you to come here, want you to come here – that’s why I wrote the little prayer song.  I want us, I want us to learn to bow, to bend, to knee, to kneel, to pray; the spirit of intercession and looking to God, and asking the dear Lord.  "A prayer of Habakkuk, the prophet of God.  O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy" [Habakkuk 3:1-2].

 

In the midst of the year, send revival

In the midst of the year, make it known

In the midst of the year, send revival

And gather Thy lost children home

 

Now let’s everybody sing that prayer together; let’s sing it.

 

In the midst of the year, send revival

In the midst of the year, make it known

In the midst of the year, send revival

And gather Thy lost children home

 

Amen.  Now let’s bow our heads, and sing it as a prayer of intercession to God.

 

In the midst of the year, send revival

In the midst of the year, make it known

In the midst of the year, send revival

And gather Thy lost children home

 

And our Lord, we pour out before the throne of grace our very souls.  Ah, Lord, sanctify, hallow, bless, dedicate, consecrate for this holy purpose of soulwinning, every planned, programmed effort of our people.  Our singing, our praying, our visitation, our Bible reading, our intercession, our inviting, our attendance, all that we can do, Lord, O Master, consecrate it for that holy and hallowed purpose.  And even tonight, Lord, if we have spoken God’s Word, if we have found or if we are beginning to find the great truths that so mightily swept through the Roman civilized world and brought it to Jesus, Lord, if we are finding these great truths, then Master bless us as we implement them, as we incarnate them, as we make them flesh, and blood, and heartbeat, and cries, and tears, and sobs, and prayers, and visits, and appeals, and sermon, and songs, O God, bless it today, as we make it live again under the quickening living power of the Lord God.  And in this appeal tonight, Lord, give us souls; give us souls.  As we sing our hymn of appeal, as our people prayerfully wait upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit, may the lost be saved, and may God add to His church.  And we shall thank Thee for answered prayer and all God shall send us, in His saving name, amen, amen.

Now while we sing our song, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus; somebody you put his life in the fellowship of this dear church, would you come out of that balcony and down to the front, into the aisle on this lower floor and here to the preacher?  "Preacher, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God."  Would you do it tonight?  Would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?