My Life and My Church
March 7th, 1965 @ 10:50 AM
MY LIFE AND MY CHURCH
DR. W. A. CRISWELL
3-7-65 10:50 a.m.
Now the sermon this morning: oh, it is sort of like a personal testimony. If I were in a prayer meeting somewhere and stood up to testify, it would not be this long, but it would be this kind of a thing that I am going to do today. The title of the message is My Life and My Church. And as a background, there is a text in the Book of Acts and one in the Book of Ephesians. The first one represents the appeal of Paul the apostle to the elders, to the pastors of the church in Ephesus. And the other written to the Ephesian church is a summation of the affection of our Lord for His people.
The one in Acts is Acts 20:28. Paul says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to shepherd.” Isn’t that a beautiful word? The Greek word for a shepherd is poimēn; sometimes translated “pastor”: and of course the verbal form poimainō. And the word there translated “feed,” actually means “to shepherd, to shepherd the church of God”; to watch over it, to care for it . . . “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].
Now do you get that theology there, “The church of God, the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood?” That was the Lord God dying for us, and the Lord God raised for us, and the Lord God forming this fellowship of His saints. “Take heed unto yourselves, to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit God appointed us to shepherd, to care for, to nurture, to feed the church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].
Now the second text; in Ephesians 5:25, “Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” The work and life and ministry of our Savior issued in a church; “on this rock,” the rock of the confession of the deity of the Son of God, “on this rock, I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18]. He never said, My home, or My wife, or My children. But He did say, “My church.” The life and work of our Lord issued in a church. The great doctrines of the faith by which we are saved are summed up and portrayed and presented in the ordinances of the church.
Those ordinances do not belong to the judiciary, or to the legislature, or the executive, or to the chamber of commerce. But they peculiarly and uniquely belong to the church! And the great doctrines of the faith, of our redemption, salvation, are summed up in the ordinances of the church. As a dipper holds the water, so these ordinances hold before us the doctrine of our salvation.
In the ordinance of baptism, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He was buried and the third day He was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:4]. “And this,” said Paul, “is the gospel wherein ye are saved” [1 Corinthians 15:1-2]. The ordinance of baptism, of burial and of resurrection, is a doctrinal teaching of our salvation [Romans 6:3-5].
The recurring church ordinance, “This is the blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins. This is My body, which is broken for you” [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. This is God’s atonement that someday we might stand in His presence without fault or spot or blemish [Ephesians 5:27; Jude 1:24].
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], empowered, and baptized, and in-filled, and endued a church. They were all with one accord in one place, and the power of the Holy Spirit convicted their hearts and regenerated their souls [Acts 2:1-46]. “The Lord added to His church” [Acts 2:47]; Pentecost empowered a church. Breathed, God-breathed a church. The labors of the apostles issued in a church––the churches of Judea, of Macedonia, of Galatia, all the circle of the Roman Empire around the Mediterranean Sea––when their life’s work was finished and their tasks were done, what remained was the churches of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the labors of the apostles.
The last messages of our Lord in the Apocalypse were addressed to His churches, seven in number out of all the churches of Asia, the Roman province of Asia, seven, because they were symbolic of the messages of Christ to all of His churches through all of the ages [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. Christ walks among His churches as He walked among the seven branched lampstands [Revelation 1:12-13]. And the messages of Christ are for the angels of His churches: the pastor, the preacher and His churches, and to the people, the saints—the koinōnia— the fellowship, the congregation of His churches [Revelation 1:11, 19-20]. And I’ve read these passages to sum up all of that. The apostle sums it up by saying, “Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. And again, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25].
Now, my life and my church: it is a delight ineffable, celestial, earthly, heavenly, eternally. It is the delight of my soul to identify myself and to belong to the congregation of the Lord, to the church of my Savior Jesus the Christ. And I have been that way ever since I was a youth, a lad. These are my people. This is my life: the church, the fellowship of the saints of God.
I felt that poignantly one time as a youth. For the first time in my life I went to the big city. And to a boy reared in a town of about three hundred souls, to go to Chicago was beyond anything I knew existed in the world. I got a ticket on a city bus to go around and look at the big town. And I happened to sit down by the side of a young fellow who was about my age. But he was a youngster as I had never seen before in my life. He lived in Seattle, Washington, but he never stayed at home because his stepmother didn’t like him and didn’t want him. And his father, in order to have peace in the home there, sent him away to school, and in the vacation time, gave him money to go anywhere over the whole face of the globe in which he wanted to travel.
And he’d been everywhere, and he knew everything. There wasn’t anything that boy didn’t know. There wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen. There wasn’t anything he hadn’t done. It was remarkable to me. So as we sat on that scenic bus and began to go back down to the center of town on State Street, he said to me, he said, “Would you like to visit one of Al Capone’s speak-easies?” Well, that demanded a mature answer and I was immature, so I said, “Why yes, why yes!” Well, he said, “You just come along with me, and we’ll visit one of Al Capone’s speak-easies.”
Again reared where I was in a dry town with God’s people, it was a new experience to me. Did you know that not more than three or four doors off of State Street in the middle of Chicago, in the middle of Chicago, he took me up a flight of steps and knocked a certain knock on a door at the first landing, and a panel opened in the door? And a fellow said something to him and opened the door, and he went inside. And after a little while the door opened, and I was ushered in, and I looked around, for the first time in my life. Oh, was I bug-eyed!
There was a bar, a long bar, a beautiful one with wood carving, and plate mirrors, plate glass mirrors and all the appurtenances, and the brass rail and the men standing there and leaning on it and drinking. And then over here and beyond, and how far back I couldn’t see how far back, all kinds of gambling devices and men there gambling. And all the things going around––it was just, I couldn’t believe it. And I never felt so out of place, or uncomfortable, or disjointed, or unlocated, not in my life.
That stuff they drink, why, it was a revelation to me. I lived for a little while on a farm, and when we put water and grain together, we called it slop. And we fed the hogs with it. They drink it there! They drink it there! They call it beer; they drink that slop. Oh, it tastes terrible! It tastes worse than that. Then they were drinking something else; medicinal spirits to me. You hold your nose. You close your eyes. You get it down quick. They were drinking that stuff there! Spirits, liquors, they were drinking that stuff and paying money for it.
And over yonder, to me money is a marvelous medium that God has given us in this life. You can invest it, and you can give it to God’s work, and you can buy food and clothing with it, and you can help the poor, and there are a thousand wonderful things you can do with money. And those men were sitting at tables and in a dozen different ways throwing it away, throwing it away.
Ah, the whole situation was new to me and as loathsome and unattractive as it would to you. There’s only one thing about it in which I relish: at this end of that speak-easy were all kinds of kosher foods, and they were free. Oh, Al Capone lost part of his gambling profits that day—I just ate to my heart’s content! Then I walked up to the lad, and I said, “I just don’t feel right here. I don’t feel I belong here. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to excuse myself, and walk out that door, and leave.” And he smiled, understood, and shook hands, and bid me goodbye. And I’ve never seen him since.
Then I went to the Pacific Garden Mission. Ah! that’s been years and years ago. But I can hear those testimonies and memories as distinctly as the day that I was there. And the songs they sang, and the services they held, and I thought in my heart, “These are my people. This God is my God, and this precious Book is my Book. This is where I belong. My heart is at peace and at rest with these saints of the Lord.” Well, that’s been a long time ago. I still feel that way.
If I ever fall into a company of dirty speech and dirty language, I feel dirty! I can’t help that—I feel unclean, I don’t like it—I don’t like cursing and I don’t like filthy talk. I feel dirty, and I don’t like anything pertaining to liquor, and drinking, and gambling, and a thousand other things that go with worldliness. I don’t like it.
But I love to go out to the house of the Lord. I love to hear the songs of Zion sung. And as raspy and as sorry a singer as I am, I like to make a joyful noise to the Lord when the hymn is announced. I love to read the Scriptures, and I love to study, and I love to prepare a message, and I love to preach it. If heaven is any sweeter or finer than what I feel in these services, God’s going to have to give me a strength and a capacity to receive it.
I love to be identified with America. With all of its weaknesses, everywhere I go in this world, I’m proud to be an American. As Sir Walter Scott said in “The Lay of the Last Minstrel”:
Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart within him never burn’d,
As homeward his weary footsteps turn’d,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
[“Breathes There the Man” From the Lay of the Last Minstrel; Sir Walter Scott]
I feel that way when I’m gone and time returns to America. I love being a citizen of Dallas with all the things that we hope to make better. I love being a citizen of this queenly metropolis. You who knew Dr. Truett heard him say many times quoting Paul, “I am a citizen of no mean city” [Acts 21:39], referring to our queenly city of Dallas.
And I love being identified with this dear church. As I preached this morning and walked across the street, one of these fine godly men who belong to the congregation stopped me and shook hands with me. And he said, “Pastor, you know my desk is at the front in our office.” And he said, “On my desk I have a big picture of you.” And he says, “Everybody that comes by, they look at that picture,” and he says, “they know where I belong, and they know who is my pastor.” And he said, “I want them to know that I belong to the First Baptist Church in Dallas,” amen! That’s the way I feel about it too. I love this place and this congregation and these dear people. And I love to be known as their undershepherd, to be identified with them.
You see this isn’t false egotism or pride. I feel that the Lord needs me. He elected, He elected that the gospel of the grace of the Son of God would be preached by mortal men. He didn’t commission the angels, but He gave it to us, and when we say, “God has no hands but these; and no feet but these; and no tongue to testify but our tongues,” they’ve said it right. God needs us! As Stradivarius said, “God Himself can’t make Stradivarius violins without Stradivarius.” And God Himself doesn’t elect to preach the gospel but by us.
God needs us. And my brethren need me. My brethren need me. It’s a big task. It’s a big assignment. It’s a heavy load. We have all the world to preach the gospel to, all the lost to win, these children to teach, these young people to encourage, the house of the saints to build up, the association of the faith to rejoice in. We’ve got so much to do. And my brethren need me. Whether I can do much or little, what I can do help me to do. Like a man with a heavy load on his back, and somebody helps him, and he turns around, and says, “Thank you, mister.” That’s the way I feel when I’m down here working in the church. It’s a big task. It’s a vast responsibility, and my brethren need me.
Now we must hasten. May I speak? I have just spoken that I love to identify myself with God’s house, the Lord’s people. Now I want to speak of the investment of my life in the merit and in the worth of these many ministries. And they are tremendous. Did you ever consider them? We don’t have time to name even the tithe of what could be said, but I want to name one, two, or three as we have opportunity.
First: did you know according to the Word of the Lord this world stands because of God’s saints? That’s the reason it’s here. The Lord withholds His judgment, and the fire from heaven, and the destruction of this civilized world, and the destruction of this Adamic race. God withholds His judgment and the fire because of you; because of us, God’s people.
“And the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Abraham, I will search through Sodom, and if I can find ten righteous men, for ten, Abraham, I will spare the city” [Genesis 18:32]. And the Lord went through Sodom. The Lord walked down the streets, and the Lord went into the houses of business, and the Lord went into the mayor’s office, and the Lord visited through all the hearts and searched the souls of all the people of Sodom. And had He found ten righteous men in Sodom, the judgment would not have fallen upon that wicked city. But for the lack of ten, God destroyed it [Genesis 19:24-29].
But do you remember? “And the angel took hold of Lot, and Lot’s wife, and two daughters, and said, ‘I can do nothing until thou be come thence’” [Genesis 19:16, 22]. Judgment can’t fall and the fire can’t consume until first God’s people are taken out. And as long as God’s people are here, the judgment doesn’t fall and the fire doesn’t burn. But there is coming a day when God’s people shall be removed [2 Thessalonians 2:6-7; Revelation 4:1]. And when that day comes, judgment shall fall, and the awful fire of the days of the tribulation shall burn [Jeremiah 30:7]. And when you go around and see these tall buildings standing skyward, and when you read about government and civilization, the reason you’re able to read about it and to look upon it is because of you, God’s people. We stand between the wrath of God and the ongoing of present civilization and government and human life; we do, speaking of the worthwhile-ness of the investment of our lives in this ministry.
All right, a second one: all true values are God values. They are church values. They are Christ values, all of them. And without those true values, life disintegrates and becomes a monstrous, ominous judgment to us, to us, to me. I can prove that so easily.
Just exactly what is your house worth? What is your business worth? What is your property worth? In a godless, atheistic, communistic society what is it worth? Suppose you own something. What is it worth in a godless, atheistic society? What is it worth? What is your life worth in a totalitarian concept of political government? For them to starve forty million people to death to advance their atheistic, political program is a peccadillo! And for them to feed five hundred thousand men into the roar of a cannon is nothing! For when you lose God’s values, Christ’s values, church values, you’ve lost all true values. There are none left, not what you’d call values.
Isn’t that a strange thing, when godless, unchurched people seeking refuge and seeking security for their souls and for their lives, they have no other alternative but to turn to the second most powerful thing they know, and that’s the state; with the result of what you can see for yourself as you look at these communistic empires or as you might read about a fascist Germany. You see value, true value is anchored and grounded and founded in the character of Almighty God. And when you get godless in your society and when you become un-churched in your life, then you lose the foundation upon which all we hold dear has ever been built. It’s worth it, I’m saying, the investment of our lives in the congregation of the Lord.
Now may I apply that here in America? In any situation, in any social group, the value lies in God value, church value, Christ value. All right, let’s start. Just exactly what would a man’s house be worth in the city of Sodom in the days when Lot vexed his soul with the brutality of that people? [2 Peter 2:6-7]. Just exactly, what would a farm be worth in the suburbs of Sodom when God looked down on the wickedness of men? [Genesis 18:20-21, 19:13, 15, 24-25] Or just exactly, what was Naboth’s vineyard worth when Jezebel sat on the throne and the prophets of Jehovah were excluded and banished and imprisoned out of Jezreel? [1 Kings 18:4].
Or here in America, you, doubtless some of you have heard this. This is one of the most famous instances that ever happened out in the West. There was a miner out there who made a fortune in his mining. And he was a godless, blasphemous infidel. So he built a little city out there for himself, and he had no churches in it and no preachers among the people. But he had everything else, everything else.
He got a thousand acres of land to start off with. And in that thousand acres of land, he beautified every section of it. He put in paved streets, and he put in utility lines and gas lines and electric lines. And he built beautiful parks, and playgrounds, and schools, and all kinds of things, and then filled it with saloons and gambling houses, and then sold the houses to the people that he invited to come and be a part of the corporate limits of that little city. And it was an unusual experiment, an unusual experiment.
The only thing about it as it developed, it was hard to get fine women to come and live there. He had plenty of the other kind who plied their trade. But it was somewhat difficult to get fine women to come to live in his little city. And another thing, he didn’t have many children there. For those parents who were rearing little children didn’t much like the idea of rearing their children in a city like that. And another thing; he had great difficulty finding school teachers, good school teachers. For fine school teachers didn’t much like to go to a city like that. All the saloons, the saloons were all open, and the bawdy houses were all open, and the gambling joints were all open, and everything was open for a hilarious and good time. But there were no churches, and there were no preachers.
And after five years the thing was facing bankruptcy! And so, and so, that developer, he sent out a manifesto that he put in magazines and in handbills and distributed all over the West. And what he wrote is a curious mixture of mental incongruity and irreverence. Never was a thing like this in the history of mankind; now this is the manifesto that he put out:
To whom it may concern,
God knows that there is no such person as God, and my motto has always been “To hell with religion.” But for some fool reason which no man can fathom, I have found by experience that we cannot do business in this country on any other basis than that silly bit of sentiment which we stamp on our coins “In God We Trust.” Therefore, infernal foolishness though it is, I have sent out for a parson, and we’re going to build a church.
Man, there’s a lesson there. There’s a lesson there.
Values, values, name them, values. Any kind of value is grounded in the righteous, holy character of Almighty God and in the people who reflect the spirit and the life of our Lord. Our house, our home, our lot, our business, our investment, all that we have beside our children, our lives, everything we hold dear, it is grounded on the character of God. Now that’s just one thing I’m talking about, the worth of the investment. May I speak now of our children, our children?
You’re going to find an increasing interdiction on the part of the courts of the United States. You’re going to find an increasing interdiction against teaching religion; any kind of religion, even the practices of some of the paraphernalia of religion. You’re going to find an increasing interdiction on the part of the judiciary of the United States against religion in the public school system. Now when you look at that carefully, that’s not as bad as you first might think.
We’ve got a little grandson as you know traipsing off to school this fall. I’m not thinking of that little fellow traipsing off to school to be taught the religion of Rome, because I don’t believe in it; or the Mormon faith, because I don’t believe in it; or Jehovah’s Witnesses, because I don’t believe in it; or Christian Science, I don’t believe in it. I am a Baptist. And to me the reflection of the true doctrine of this revelation is in our fellowship and in our faith and in our communion. And I want the little fellow taught the faith that I know, and the Lord which I believe, and the Holy Scriptures that I preach, and all of the things that make up the sweet fellowship of this dear church. That’s what I want him taught.
Well, where you going to teach him that? The court says, “You can’t do that in the public school.” Because, when I want him taught my Baptist religion, right over there by his side is a little fellow from somebody else’s home, and they want to teach him their religion. So the court says “You don’t teach any religion in the public school.” Then what am I going to do, and what is our responsibility?
My brother, it is a golden opportunity. The interdiction has laid the responsibility of the guidance and training of our children in the home and in the church. And to assume that is our God-given liberties and opportunities and responsibilities. And if whatever it costs—the retreats, the building of these buildings of instruction, their furnishings, the gathering together of our people, the effort and the time, whatever it is to guide these children up in the love and nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4], is worth the investment, so help us the living Lord.
And to take time to do it, and to invest money and life in the nurture and training of these children, it’s worth it, it’s worth it. And if it’s going to be done, we have to do it. By law and commandment and judicial edict, we have to do it. And I don’t object to that at all. I’m glad to assume the responsibility. Aren’t you? Aren’t you? Look up there, look up there, there’s not a more heavenly sight in the earth; these are our children, and this is our church. When I’m dead and gone and in heaven and looking down on this dear place, these are our riches; God’s endowment, these children, and to assume that responsibility is not an onerous and hateful burden. It’s an open door, God help us.
Upon a time in London going through the city in a bus, we went through Charing Cross, a section of the city. And one of the preachers there said, “By the way, there’s a beautiful story of Charing Cross. Do you know it?” I never had heard it. Some of the others hadn’t. So I said to the fellow, I said, “Tell us, what is it?”
“Well,” he said, “it was like this.” He said:
There was a little girl, lost on the streets of London. And the little thing was crying, just meandering around. And a bobbie, a London policeman, saw the little child crying, wandering aimlessly and asked of her. And she said she’d lost her way home. So the bobbie said, “Well, take me by the hand and we’ll find your home.” So they went up a certain way, and he said, “Do these places look familiar?”
“No,” said the little child. Then they walked another way.
“Anything look familiar?” Then they walked another way.
“Look familiar?” So he sat down on the curb, and he said, “Now honey, now I’m going to name some of the streets of London, and if one is familiar to you, you tell me.”
So he started to name the streets of London:
“Regent Street?” “No.”
“Oxford Street?” “No.”
“Uh, Whitehall?” “No.”
“Piccadilly Circus?” “No.”
“Trafalgar Square?” “No.”
“South Hampton Road?” “No.”
“Oh!”’ said the little child, “Charing Cross, yes,” she said. “Take me down to the cross, and I can find my way home from there.”
There’s a parable, there’s a sermon, there’s a lesson, “Take me down to the cross, and I can find my way home from there.”
I must needs go home by the way of the cross,
There’s no other way but this;
If I e’er get sight of the gates of life,
The way of the cross I mustn’t miss.
Oh how sweet to know, as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home.
[adapted from “The Way of the Cross Leads Home”; Jessie B. Pounds]
That’s 196 in your book. And I want to change this invitation hymn, and sing it, and sing it––196.
And while we sing that gospel song, somebody you today give your life to the Lord. A couple you put your home in the church. One somebody you, to whom the Spirit of Jesus shall make appeal, while we sing this hymn, come and stand by me. Make the decision now in your heart, and when you stand up, come. And in the name of God our Lord, welcome, while we stand and while we sing.