The Divine Outreach (SBC)
May 19th, 1964
Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference, Atlantic City, N.J.
THE DIVINE OUTREACH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Exodus 19, 20
May 19, 1964
I have been asked by our mutual friend Dr. Wayne Dehoney to speak on The Divine Outreach. And among other things, as I have been studying these last several months, I have prepared and am preparing six addresses on our Baptist heritage; the martyrs, the price of blood and tears our forefathers paid for the liberties that we enjoy today.
I have been studying those old musty books of history, most of them out of print for over a hundred years. And three of them I have delivered in our church, and three of them are yet to come. And because my mind is saturated with it and my soul is filled with it, the address today is a facet of these last several weeks of intensive study.
There is a colossal weakness that inevitably becomes a concomitant of religion, of true religion, of God’s religion, of God’s people. Inevitably and without exception, inevitably they turn aside from the great, spiritual, high calling for which God sent them into the world, and they bog down in the morass, in the quagmire of littleness, of divisiveness, of quarrelsome insignificances, all of them, all the way through; there is no exception to it. For example, in the Book of Exodus chapter 19 comes before chapter 20. Chapter 20 recounts the Decalogue. The Lord wrote His law with His own finger into solid rock and handed it to Moses [Exodus 20:1-17, 31:18]. That’s the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus, but the nineteenth chapter comes before. And in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, God said to Moses, “My people are to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” [Exodus 19:6].
Now by that the Lord meant—a priest, of course, is one who represents a man to God and God to man. “My kingdom, My people shall be a convocation, a great fellowship, communion of priests.” That is, God called Israel to be the great teachers and preachers and missionaries to the whole world [Exodus 19:6]. God gave to them the oracles of heaven that Israel might evangelize the world [Romans 3:2, 9:4]. Well, what happened?
Instead of turning their faces to the heathen nations and delivering them the vision, and the laws, and the mandates of heaven, they turned inward and fell into the most indescribable divisiveness that mind could imagine. Why, they ultimately divided over such little old tiny minutia as to whether it was right to eat an egg laid on the Sabbath day or not. “For,” said the school of Shammai, “that’s labor.” Said the school of Hillel, “It’s just doing what comes naturally.” And they divided over whether an egg was to be eaten on the Sabbath that had been laid on that holy day.
One of my men was in seeing a program; and he said, “Do you know why the rooster crossed the road?”
“No, why did the rooster cross the road?”
“Well, he heard men were laying brick on the other side, and he said, ‘This I’ve got to see.’”
The whole system of rabbinical theology was based upon such divisive minutia as that! And the story of the Christian faith has been no different. God swept them aside, the ancient people, and said, “I will raise Me up a fellowship who will do My will in the earth” [Matthew 21:43].
And for the first three hundred years, there has never been a spectacle in history comparable to the evangelization of the Roman Empire in the days of those first Baptist preachers. It was tremendous. It was phenomenal. They changed the course of an Empire and turned it upside down, right side up. They won the civilized world to Christ.
And when they did it, and to the sorrow and hurt of humanity, Christianity became a state religion but they accomplished the impossible. And when they did it, instead of carrying forward their tremendous evangelistic and missionary program to the outreaches of the earth, to India, to China, to the islands of the sea, to Africa, to Arabia, instead of carrying through those great missionary mandates of the Lord Jesus, they fell into that same and divisive bickering.
Now maybe, and I’m sure, these doctrinal points were worth dividing the empire over. Athanasius said, “The Lord Jesus is homoousios, the same essence.” Arius said, “No, He is homoiousios, the like essence.” And Edward Gibbon, who was an infidel, who wrote the greatest history the world’s ever seen, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon sarcastically wrote this sentence: “They divided the civilized world, the Roman world, over a Greek iota.” And turning aside from their great missionary endeavor and their great and world evangelistic program, they began fighting, and hating, and despising, and excommunicating one another.
And I want you to know that in the story of Christianity there has never been a denomination, there has never been a group of people more filled and more characterized by feuding, and fussing, and fighting than the people called Baptists. I am astonished and amazed and overwhelmed as I read those books of history!
Did you know the churches of England and the churches of America in the days of the pioneer divided in one of the most fierce, ecclesiastical battles that they ever fought? They divided over whether or not they would sing in the church, whether they would sing in the church, whether they would have music in the church. And they split over it. These were the tune-heisters on this side, and these were the anti-tune-heisters on that side. And after they had split over whether they’d have singing in the church or not, then they split over what they would sing, whether they’d sing psalms, or whether they’d sing man-made lyrics. And then they split again over whether they would have instruments in the church or not, and finally some of them split over where the instruments would be placed.
When I went to the seminary, when Jimmy Sullivan and I were listening to all those giants, John R. Sampey and A. T. Robertson, the most used of all the illustrations that I remember on the part of Dr. Sampey and Dr. Robertson concerned the Cox’s Creek Baptist Church in Warren County.
The Cox’s Creek Baptist Church in Warren County had divided over a piano. And Dr. John R. Sampey said, “All the faculty of the Southern Seminary went out to Cox’s Creek Church to settle a war.” And they failed ignominiously. And A. T. Robertson said, “And then the entire executive board of the state of Kentucky went out to the Cox’s Creek Church to settle the fight, and they failed ingloriously.”
The fight was there was a piano in front of the pulpit, and the choir went around to the side like that. And one good brother stood up and he said, “I don’t think the piano ought to be there. I think it ought to be over there where the choir sings.” And another brother got up and he said, “Listen, that piano was there in the days of my great-grandpappy, there in the days of my grandpappy, and what was good enough for my grandpappy is good enough for me. It’s going to stay right there, going to stay right there.” So they had the fight, and the folks that wanted something done about the piano were excommunicated. And old Brother Q.J., he was a-leading the fight, he left, and divided the Cox’s Creek Baptist Church, and went up there and organized the Riverview Baptist Church. Well, to my amazement, when I was called to my little church in Kentucky, going to the seminary, old Brother Q.J. was a member of the congregation.
“Oh, no,” I thought, “what foreboding, and what lies ahead?” He was an illustrious old Baptist deacon, I tell you. One of his boys pastored the biggest church in Louisville; one of his boys was president of one of the Baptist colleges in Kentucky, two of his boys Baptist leaders; and old Brother Q.J. in my church. But for the mercy of God and providence to me, he was old and he was in his declension. And he was cared for in the little town by his sister Lizzie, and I visited him often; was blessed by every visit. But as he grew older and senile, he lost all interest and all acquaintance with life. And the only time I could ever bring him to was to pull up my chair, sit down by his side, as he put both of his hands on top of his gold-headed cane, and I’d ask him, “Brother Q.J., tell me again how you fit ‘em, and how you fought ‘em over the piano in Cox’s Creek.”
And the old man would start the story again, and he’d come to life, and his eyes would flash, and he’d beat on the floor with that gold-headed cane, shake as he described to me those days of battle and war in Cox’s Creek over the piano. One day, seated by his side and he was going through that story again, I put my hand on his arm. I said, “Brother Q.J., I’ve never been able to think to ask you this question when I was away, but now I’m going to ask it. Brother Q.J., tell me, where did you want that piano? Did you want it there in front of the pulpit, or did you want it over there on the side by the choir?”
The old gentleman thought. He cogitated. He ruminated. He began to tap on the floor with his gold-headed cane. He lifted up his head and cried, “Lizzie, Lizzie? Say, Lizzie, come here, come here.” So Lizzie came and stood in the doorway. And old Brother Q.J. said, “Lizzie, where did I want that piano?”
I have heard it said, “The only thing two Baptists can agree on is what a third ought to give.” Somebody said, “We Baptists are an ancient people. We go clear back to John on the Jordan River.” And another said, “Man, we go a lot further back than that. We go clear back to Abraham, don’t you remember when Abraham said to Lot, ‘Lot, you go your way, and I’ll go mine’?” [Genesis 13:8-9]. That’s the Baptists. That’s the Baptists.
I would think that any true man of God would be willing to lay down his life for a great doctrinal principle, and for the truth of the Holy Scriptures, and for the blood atonement of Jesus, and for all of the great revelations we find in the immutable and eternal Word of the living God; but oh, how much of our life, and how much of our church energy is taken up in little inconsequentials, in minutiae! Just to name them makes you ashamed that we have fussed, and fought, and divided over such trivialities. There’s not a pastor in the world but that lives in that kind of an atmosphere.
What brought this to me was where we came from in America; the sesquicentennial celebration of the organizations of our missionary Baptist life on the North American continent; where did it come from? Not from us, not from us, not here. It did in England, it came from us, but not in America. In America on fifth Sundays our little Baptist groups up and down the Atlantic seaboard were called to their convocations, and the elders took their places on the platforms in the pulpit. And one elder would stand up and he’d name a proposition and that would be debated. Then when they got weary of debating that theological proposition, then another elder would stand up and he’d name another. And those little knots of Baptist people from one end of this Atlantic seaboard to the other consumed their time in the theological travesties. Whether they were true or not true, whether they were discussed or not discussed, whether they were preached or not preached, wouldn’t make a bit of difference in the world. They were engrossed in those theological inanities; that was the Baptist people on the Atlantic seaboard.
And in those days there went out from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, there went out a godly man and his young wife, Adoniram Judson and Ann Hasseltine. They went on a ship, the first missionaries from America. And on another ship went out a bachelor, Luther Rice, and they landed in India on separate ships. And Adoniram Judson had been studying the New Testament; and when he put his foot on Indian soil with his wife he said, “I’m a Baptist.” And when Rice put his foot on Indian soil he said, “I’m a Baptist.” And in the baptistery in Calcutta they were buried there by a compatriot of William Carey. That gave to our Baptist people here in America missionaries, but they had no support. They cut loose and then dismissed from their Congregational churches.
So it was agreed that Rice would come back to America and that Adoniram Judson and his wife would stay in India, and then later in Burma. And that young bachelor came back to America, and he gathered together these little groups of warring, fussing, feuding, fighting Baptists, and he laid on their hearts the great program of a worldwide missionary endeavor. And out of it came the organization, in May in 1814, of our triennial Baptist Convention; and out of it came our state conventions, and out of it came those institutions that have been built for the support of that great worldwide missionary enterprise. And out of it came the denomination that we love, and know, and reverence, and to which we are conjoined here in America.
We were born, we were born as a denomination in a great worldwide missionary enterprise; the challenge to join our fortunes, and our affluence, and our organization, and our churches, and our preachers, and our laity in one common determination that the world shall hear the gospel of the Son of God. That’s where we came from. That’s how we came to be born as a convention and as an organized people. When I stood by that baptistery in Calcutta, I felt in my soul, “I look here, I look here upon the birthplace of our Southern Baptist Communion, here,” in that baptistery in Calcutta.
Now we are becoming an increasing minority in this world, an increasing minority; the Christian faith is, the Christian message is, the Christian churches are. We are becoming an increasing minority in the earth! Like a man on a treadmill, he’s moving back, and back, and back, faster than his feet can carry him forward; for we’re going back. We’re going back. We’re going back. And there is a development in America of secularism, and of materialism, of colossal indifference to the Christian faith and the Christian message that paralyzes my soul!
One of the men on the plane said, “Preacher, how many baptisms did you have last year?” And I told him. “Well,” he said, “how is that comparatively?” I said, “To my sorrow, to my sorrow, I have to admit, every year for the last several years, every year for the last several years we’ve been going down in baptisms.” “Well,” he says, “what’s the matter?” I said, “It is a very plain and simple thing that is the matter: we have the same people more devoted, we have the same church bigger, we have the same organizations more vibrantly conjoined, and our people are giving themselves with greater abandon and unreserve to the message and call of Christ. But it is harder today to win people now than any time I’ve ever known in my life. And these old preachers say they’ve never seen it in their lives as it is now! It is difficult. It is hard. It is arduous.”
We’re not going to meet this challenge. We’re not going to answer God’s call in our generation and in this world without a tremendous program, I mean a tremendous one. And I’m not talking about just a great program for our Southern Baptist Convention. I’m not talking about just a great program for our state conventions. I’m not talking about just a great program for our associations. I’m talking about every man in every pulpit in this land must be a giant for God, and he must offer to his people such a tremendous challenge, such a vast outlay, that the people are staggered by what the pastor asks of them, and believes that they are able and capable of doing it.
One of my young doctors married a girl. I don’t mean it like that—sure, he married a girl. He married a Hardshell Baptist. And so she came to see me on a day, and she said, “Pastor, would you like to go to a Hardshell, foot-washing Baptist church?” Well, I said, “Dear, I’d like that very much, but I haven’t got time to go to the mountains of eastern Kentucky and western North Carolina to attend a foot-washing service.”
“Oh,” she said, “I’m not talking about going back yonder. I’m talking about here in Dallas.” I said, “You mean to tell me we’ve got a Hardshell, non-missionary, foot-washing Baptist church here in the middle of Dallas?”
“Yes sir,” she said, “Yes sir; I was fetched up in it.” “Well,” I said, “when are you going?” She said, “Sunday afternoon at three o’clock.” I said, “You and the doctor come and pick me up. I’ll be right there.”
And now, of course, that is amazing to me. Now, I ain’t a-saying nothing agin’ foot washing; I believe in it. I hope you do, all of you. I’m not saying nothing agin’ foot washing. I just kind of believe that it’s not an ordinance, that’s all. To me, there’s just two of them, like Charlie Bowles’ preaching; two church ordinances, just two; not seven, two; not three, two. Well, it made an impression upon me, the way they cried and washed their feet and all. I don’t have a thing against it. I really don’t. It’s all right. I just—doctrinally, I know it is not an ordinance. I know that.
Well anyway, what I’m getting at is this. The preacher stood up, and he said, “Brother and sisters, I’ve been pastor of this here church for thirty-four year, thirty-four year.” He said, “For thirty-four year I’ve been paying all the bills myself, janitor, water, light, upkeep, been paying them all myself.” I turned to a fellow next to me and said, “Now isn’t that the strangest come-to-pass? You don’t pay your preacher?”
“Oh,” he said, “we don’t believe in paying our preacher. We believe in the preacher paying us.” No, he never said that, he just acted that way. I can tell you something, the next time you get down on your knees to pray, you say, “O dear Lord, I thank Thee for this, and this, and this, and this,” and then you add, “Dear Lord, I thank Thee that I’m not a Hardshell, non-progressive, foot-washing Baptist preacher.”
Well, he worked like, he’s like Jimmy Sullivan, and he’s big enough to work. He worked and paid his own way. So he made the announcement: “Now I’ve paid the bills for this church all through these years, thirty-four year. Now,” he says, “I thought maybe you’d like to help me. And I’m going to call some of the brethren, and they’re going to take their hats and pass them through this congregation; and I want everybody to put in a dime. I want everybody to put in a dime, just a dime, no more than a dime. That’s all I’m asking, just a dime.”
So the brethren came, started passing their hats through the congregation; and I was seated toward the back of the little cracker-box church; and I reached in my pocket, and I got out a dime. And while they were coming through the collection taking to me, I got to looking at that dime. I got to looking up at him, and back at the dime, and back at him, and back at the dime.
I never said he was a ten-cent preacher. He did. He said ten cents. I never said that he had a ten-cent program, he did. He said ten cents. I never said that he had a ten-cent gospel, he did. He said ten cents. I never said that he had a ten-cent Christ, or a ten-cent church, or a ten-cent message, he did. He said ten cents! And when the hat passed in front of me I dropped in ten cents. What did it matter one way or another, ten cents?
Now preacher, let me tell you what you do. I’ve been doing it myself so long I’ve forgotten when I started it. Let me tell you what you do. When those deacons get together and you stand up there in front of them, you say, “My brethren, I’m doing a great job for Jesus, I’ve got to have some money. I’ve got to have ten dollars and fifty cent for this; and I’ve got to have eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents for that; and I got to have eighty-seven fifty for that. I’m doing a great job for Jesus.”
After the deacons meeting is over, they’ll go out two by two, three by three, talking about you as they always do. And they’ll be saying to one another, “That preacher of ours, that preacher of ours, he’s got money on the brain, that’s all he can think about. He doesn’t think about anything else. It’s ten dollars and fifty cents for this, it’s eighteen dollars and seventy-five for that, it’s eighty-seven fifty over yonder; it’s just money, money, money, money. He’s got it on the brain; that’s all that he thinks about, that’s all he talks about is money; that’s our preacher!”
You listen to me, let me tell you what you do. You get you a good stance before the deacons. You throw back your shoulders. You get a good deep breath, and you look them right square smack-a-doodle straight in the eye, and you say, “My brethren, I’m doing a great work for Jesus. I’ve got to have a million dollars over here, and I’ve got to have two and a half million dollars over there, and I got to have five hundred thousand dollars over there! I’m doing a great work for Jesus!”
Well, when they all come to, they’ll be walking out the door two by two, three by three as they always do, talking about you. But this time they’ll nudge one another, and they’ll say, “Did you hear our pastor? Say, did you hear him? Man, what a leader, what a pastor we have! None like him in the earth, none like him in the earth.”
I never saw a man in my life that wanted to go on a flea hunt. I never saw a man in my life that was challenged by nonentities and nothings. If a man has any vigor, and virility, and manhood in him at all, he wants to give his life to something that counts. Well, brother, you’re the man to make his life count for God. Put a program out there so big, so staggering that the men are overwhelmed by it. “Why, we can’t do this!”
“Yes, but God can.” And then call a prayer meeting. “Let’s pray about it, and let’s do something so big that we’ve got to ask God to help us. We can’t to it ourselves. God’s got to help us.” And I tell you, my brethren, when they start getting under that load and they start doing great things for Jesus, they’ll forget about all of that little old pickiness, bitterness, and gossiping, and criticism, and sarcasm, and carping criticism in the church. They ain’t got time for it no more. Man they’re doing something great for Jesus.
And what we need in the church we need all through our life as disciples, and preachers, and emissaries, and plenipotentiaries for God. Man, do you know, do you know, do you know this whole world is turning dark? The lights are going out over this whole world. Our own nation and land is becoming increasingly paganized. Man, this is a day to march! “What did you say, preacher, it was?” March! That’s what we need. That’s what we need. We need it desperately. We need it desperately.
I heard an old boy stand up and say, “This ain’t no time to complain, for complaining and analyzing. This is a time for campaigning and evangelizing.” And oh, I like that! Get on the move; let’s get on the move. People are getting difficult to win, I must be doubly consecrated. This world is doubly hard to reach, doors are closing against us in every continent of the earth. This is a day for march! This is a day for tremendous outreach.
The name of Wayne Dehoney’s sermon for me, The Divine Mandate, The Divine Imperative.
And the Lord God whispered and said to me,
“These things shall be, these things shall be,
Nor help shall come from the scarlet skies
Till my people rise!
Till my people rise, My arm is weak;
I cannot speak till my people speak;
When men are dumb, My voice is dumb—
I cannot come till My people come.
From over the flaming earth and sea
The cry of My people must come to Me.
Not till their spirit break the curse
May I claim my own in the universe;
But if my people rise, if my people rise,
I will answer them from the swarming skies …”
[adapted from “God Prays” by Angela Morgan, 1918]
This is a day to testify. It’s a day to win people to Jesus. It’s a day to send out missionaries. It’s a day to hold revival meetings. It’s a day to teach the Word of God. It’s a day to visit. It’s a day to pray. It’s a day of march! God help us!
O Lord, not just in the main and in the abstract, metaphysically, philosophically, theoretically, but Lord, where I am, where God has placed me, O Lord, build a fire in my soul. Let the church catch the flame and the whole world come to the burning to warm itself by the blessed gospel of the Son of God. Bless us brethren as we turn from this convention facing these tasks ahead. O Lord, give us victory in our day and in our time, amen.