September 18th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-18-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message; one, sort of, that concerns us as a family and as a people. And there is not any other way to do it except before the whole wide world, on the radio, on television, and among these wonderful and preciously welcomed guests. But once in a while, I have the persuasion that we ought to look at ourselves, and we ought to judge ourselves, and we ought to say some truths about ourselves. So we are going to do that today.
In the Book of Jude, which is the next to the last book in the Bible—Jude is a brother of our Lord, and a brother of James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem:
Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James the pastor at Jerusalem, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called; Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied. Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
That is the King James Version. The Greek of that passage, and the 1901 Revised Version, will read, “That ye contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all, forever, delivered unto the saints.”
So much so is that true that Paul said, “Though I, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel or faith unto you, let him be anathema” [Galatians 1:8]. There is not any change in it, never, ever! It was wrought out in the infinite wisdom of God in glory before this world was made. And men don’t discover something that God didn’t know in the beginning. And this, Jude here, the brother of our Lord and the brother of the pastor James, Jude avows that this faith committed to the hands of godly men by the Holy Spirit is never changed; it is the same yesterday, and today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8].
Philosophers change and add their pittance of human wisdom to speculation, and theologians change, and metaphysicians change, and men change; and what they preached yesterday, they change today, and what they preaching this minute, they will change tomorrow. That is man; but that is not God. The faith was once for all delivered to the saints [Jude 1:3], and we are to preach it, to live it, to abide by it, and to die in it, and someday shall ultimately know the everlasting and eternal truth of it.
Now the title of the sermon is Doctrinal Deviations, and it arises from the journeyings that I make from time to time and year to year, looking at and surveying our Baptist people and our Baptist brethren and our Baptist denominational groups. And when we look at it as a whole, all the way around the world, you’ll be very surprised at the people called Baptists; they differ so greatly, they differ very greatly. Some of them are strict in their habits and in their dress: they don’t cut their hair. And as I look around there are very, very few women that I see, including my own household, whose hair is not cut. And they don’t put powder on their faces, and they don’t wear any lipstick, and they don’t put on any jewelry, any jewelry, and they look upon any woman who would so dress as very compromised. And they are very, very much excluded from the spirit and fellowship of the church. Now, they’re Baptist people, just Baptist as they can be; but that’s the way they have their attitudes about how to dress. Why, I can remember, when I was a boy, a woman who cut her hair could not have been a Christian at all; I remember that. Ooh, how times have changed!
And that dress extends into the pulpit. There are many, many Baptist ministers, who stand in their pulpits this hour, this day, and they wear clerical garb, and their collar is turned around to the back. And in some of those churches, the first one I ever attended, I looked around, and I said, “What a phenomenal thing in a Baptist church. There are nuns seated all over this congregation.” They were there, dressed like a nun, with a gold chain around their necks and a cross dangling down from it. And I learned after the service was over and introductions were made, that they belonged to the order of deaconesses in the Baptist church. And they take care of homes and the elderly and a lot of other things that godly, saintly women would do. And they’re Baptist people, but mostly you will find those Baptist groups differing in doctrinal persuasions and convictions.
Why, I could not tell you the number of people I’ve seen in the congregations in which I’ve worshiped that were anti-organization, Baptist churches. And it was a product of the abyss that one would have a Sunday school, or a Training Union, or a WMU, or an organized denomination. I went to one of those services; started 9:00 o’clock in the morning, closed at 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon, preaching all the way through. That I would like, preaching all the way through! And their minister was a school teacher, and a very enlightened man, and a gifted man, and a gifted preacher; I loved listening to him. But that day he had mimeographed a little program; he had done it because in that long series of messages there was a memorial service for the dead. And on the back side of it he had mimeographed the names of the deceased, and on the front side he had outlined the program of the day. And that little innovation, that was the first time that had ever been known among those churches. And that little innovation precipitated a doctrinal discussion; and they flayed that pastor unmercifully for mimeographing that program. Those are Baptist churches.
Then of course there are Baptist churches that find their doctrine in financial, political expediency. One of those associations in Kentucky, after a long and serious debate, came to the conclusion that there were three ordinances: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and foot washing. I believe in washing feet and I hope you do too; it’s just whether it be an ordinance or not in the church. Well, they decided that it was, and when the printed minutes of what they had chosen to believe came to the secretary’s desk in Louisville, well, he read it. And he wrote to the brethren and said, “Since you are no longer in the faith, why, we hereby take away all of the blessings and gifts and annuities of the Annuity Board.” Well, if you’ve ever been among those people, if any man has an experience of any kind, he’s called to preach. There may be fifteen members in the church and eleven of them are preachers; you can imagine what they were receiving from the Annuity Board. So I went to the associational meeting the following year after they had received that letter from the secretary. And after long and prayerful discussion, they came to the conclusion that there were two ordinances in the church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And they were reinstated then in the Southern Baptist fellowship.
Ah, but you’ve never seen such divergence of opinion as when you arise and listen to the members of a Baptist church talk. What this one believes, and that one believes, and the other one believes; if you’ve got ten Baptist together you’ve got ten different ideas of anything and everything. I heard a fellow say, “The only thing two Baptists could agree on is what a third ought to give.” Everybody, everybody has his own ideas, everybody. We had a president of the United States in recent years who is a Baptist; and he proudly announced to the world that his religion was the religion of the Golden Rule [Matthew 7:12], and that was all that was needed or necessary. And it reminded me of that story that I ran across: one of the members of the church was not regular in attendance, and when the pastor talked to him about it, the irregular attendant said, “Pastor, my religion is the Golden Rule, and that’s all I need.” And the pastor replied, “That reminds me of a man who would say, ‘My astronomy is twinkle, twinkle, little star, and that’s all I need.’” The gamut of our doctrinal convictions run the limit, up and down, east and west.
So that brings to my mind a summation of some of these things that I have witnessed as I looked upon our Southern Baptist fellowship in Canada, in British Columbia and in Alberta. The phenomenon of the expansion of our Southern Baptist work into northwestern Canada is easily rationalized, most so. There is an imaginary boundary, international boundary, through that country. But you couldn’t see it, nor could you ever tell such a demarcation is there. It is the same country, it is the same people, it is the same language, it is the same culture, it is the same highly industrialization, it is the same vision and dream, and the people below that boundary in Washington and Oregon and the people above that boundary in British Columbia and Alberta are the same people. So it was inevitable that the work of the Oregon Baptist Convention should spill over into the provinces of western Canada.
Now as I listened to those preachers, and as I watched them, I want to make a summation of some of the things to which I was especially sensitive. First is this: that that little band of Southern Baptist preachers, in those little churches, live in a sea of liberalism, around them on every side. One of their pastors who had become discouraged after twelve years in one of those little cities, and had returned to the states, said to me, he said, “The preachers are so few. We so are hungry for some kind of fellowship. So,” he said, “I attended the meetings of the ministerial association. But,” he said, “it tore my soul to attend those meetings and to listen to these preachers degrade the Bible and belittle our Lord. “And” finally,” he said, “it became so lonely to me that I left and came back to the states.” From one of the letters of a pastor in one of those little cities, I clipped out this paragraph:
At a recent ministerial meeting I realized why there is so little being done in the two largest Protestant denominations in Canada: the Anglican minister said, “Let’s discuss the subject of de-mythologizing the Bible.” He proceeded to discount the miracles, the story of Genesis, and the virgin birth of Christ. One of the leading men in England wrote a book on this subject called Honest to God, which is an affront to anybody that would believe in the Holy Scriptures. And in Christian morality the United Church minister was in complete agreement with the Anglican minister and has ordered copies of this book for his people to study. What would you do in a fellowship like that? As Amos said, “How can two walk together, unless they be agreed?” [Amos 3:3]. If this minister, however he may be blessed, and however he may be personally exalted, if this minister derides the faith, scoffs at the Bible, looks upon Jesus, God’s Son, as any other man, how could you walk together in any kind of a fellowship with a man like that?
They live in a sea of liberalism.
Second: they are almost alone in their evangelistic ministries. In the little city of Kamloops, which is about thirty-five thousand in number, in the city of Kamloops they had lost their pastor at the Baptist church and their new-called pastor had not yet arrived. And the service was presided over by a layman, a beloved physician by the name of Dr. Osborne. And it is the glory of our Southern Baptist people that laymen have such a tremendous part in it. The executive secretary of our executive board of the Southern Baptist Convention is a layman; the president of our largest Baptist institution, Baylor University, is a layman. This beloved and gifted son of a great Baptist preacher and leader, Dr. John Peter Heard, who is the elect editor of our Baptist Standard, is a layman. This godly doctor presides over the church. And he said to me, he said, “The tragedy of the churches in Canada is this: that they build beautiful houses of worship, they open wide the door, they welcome all who will come in; but it never occurs to them to go outside and to tell others of the good news of Jesus Christ.”
I do not decry, nor do I belittle or seek to discount the marvelous effort on the part of a church to build a glorious building, pile up stone and steel and stained glass to the glory of God; I am just saying that the heart of the Christian faith is not that. For three hundred years, the churches were called ekklēsia, “called out assemblies.” When Constantine was converted, they changed the name from ekklēsia, referring to the people called out who love God, to kuriakos, referring to the gorgeous cathedrals and temples that the emperors built. And as time when on, kuriakos in another language came out “kirkas,” and in another language “kirk,” and finally in the English language “church,” but there is no such thing as a “church” in the Bible! There’s no such thing as a “church” in the New Testament! For the kuriakos, the “kirkas,” the “kirk,” the “church” was changed in the days of Constantine, referring to piles of stone and mortar and brick. But ekklēsia referred to the people, the saints of God; and it could meet in a barn, and many times met in dens, and dives, and caves of the earth. The very heart of the Christian faith is not its house of worship, nor even its stated services, however exalted, beautiful they may be; but the heart of the Christian faith is its missionary and evangelistic outreach! The work we do to be confined in these four walls would be a repudiation of what Jesus has called us to do. The great work of the faith is outside, always.
It was so in the example of our Lord and in the teaching of our Savior: “Go out into the streets and lanes of the city; and then go out into the highways and the hedges and compel them to come in” [Luke 14:21-23]. Or again, in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, the story of the first church at Jerusalem: “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere telling the good news,” announcing that Jesus has died for our sins, been raised for our justification [Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4], preaching the gospel [Acts 8:1, 4]. Or once again, “Remember,” said the apostle Paul to the leaders of the church at Ephesus, “Remember, that by the space of three years I cease not to warn everyone night and day with tears [Acts 20:31], testifying publicly and from house to house repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:20-21]. To build a house of worship is the least part of it; and to have stated services is the least part of it; the great part of it, the big assignment in it is always outside: the missionary evangelization, the outreach of the people of the Lord. We must hasten.
Third: those pastors minister among a people who have no background of stewardship whatsoever, none at all, none at all. The people have never been introduced to, have never been taught the stewardship responsibility of God’s servants. I don’t know why it is, I’m not able to explain it, but wherever you have a people, and wherever you have a church that does not realize that we are stewards under God—we receive from His gracious hands all that we have, and a part ought to be dedicated to Him for His ministry, His work in the earth. Wherever you have a people who have not that in their teaching and in their background, you have a feeble flame and a staggering witness. The preacher may think, “I am being kind to these people, not to lead them into a great stewardship commitment.” He doesn’t know it, but he is leading his people into poverty, and sterility, and barrenness, and God never blesses, never!
You know what we’re going to do this year? However big that budget was last year, what was it last year, a million, five hundred thirty-two thousand dollars? You know what it’s going to be this year? They’re going to add to that budget almost two hundred thousand dollars. Why certainly, haven’t we grown since last year? Haven’t I been preaching and pouring out my soul, and hasn’t God blessed it? Then we ought to be stronger in the faith; we ought to be doing more for Jesus this coming year than we’ve done in any year past. Why certainly, and the highest spiritual hours in our lives we will find during our stewardship appeal; it’s never failed, like a revival meeting, God blesses it, the Lord honors it. And when people hear of our church, they say, “Why, you have given a million six hundred thousand dollars to the work of the Lord. Why, that’s easily explained: you live down there in Texas, you live down there in Dallas, and every member of your church is a millionaire. It’s very explicable.” And when I stand up here Sunday by Sunday and look into the faces of these poverty-stricken people, I marvel at those judgments, I marvel at those judgments; all of us poor as Job’s turkey, just fighting to keep the wolf away from the door and hoping we can pay the bills that come in on the first of the month. What does that when God adds us up? It’s the great commitment of our lives to God, and this is a part of it. They have nothing of that marvelous background in those little churches and in all of that Pacific Northwest.
All right, we hasten to the next observation. And they agonize, those people, those preachers, they agonize before these doctrinal deviations. One of those ministers in a little town of about twenty thousand people, building his little church, borrowed from the Fleming Trust and erected the building. And as he preached and visited and loved the people, he gathered together a little congregation; and half of the members of that little congregation in church and in Sunday school belonged to another communion. So they earnestly importuned the pastor and the members of the little church that they be allowed to come into the fellowship and to belong to the church. But the pastor said, “But you must be baptized, you cannot belong to the church unless you are baptized. You must be baptized.” Now, to everybody who listens to me on radio and on television, I would say practically all of the people who are listening to me now would say, “Why, that narrow, that obstreperous, that hard-hearted and unsympathetic preacher! These people have belonged to another communion, and when they want to join that Baptist church, they ought to be allowed to join the church, baptism or no baptism!” But that is the agony that those preachers live under and in as they try to build a pure, New Testament faith [Matthew 28:19]. So the day came recently when that little group, numbering about half of the attendants, that little group rented another hall and went off. And can you imagine the discouragement, and the courage, of that young pastor as he stands up and he faces his congregation, half of them gone, half of them gone, all trying to build a pure witness for Christ, a church as the New Testament says a church ought to be.
And their tremendous agony is multiplied by the lack of conformity and unanimity on the part of our own people. When I went up there to Canada, one of those pastors said to me, “Have you read this article about Landmarkism, that is, one has to be baptized to come into a Baptist church, have you read that article which has been spread on the pages of our Baptist magazines and periodicals?” And I said, “Yes.”
And they said to me, “Well, our surprise was not that it was written and published, but our surprise was that one of the states in the west published it.”
I said, “Yes, I was no less surprised.” Then when I came back last week, I was more surprised when I read the editorial page of this Baptist weekly, published in one of the states in the west.
And he said, “Surprisingly, readers’ responses have run four to one in favor of receiving these people without their being baptized into the Baptist church. They consider baptism as an act of individual obedience rather than a function of the church.” Anybody can baptize you, anywhere, anytime; it doesn’t concern the church. This is our Baptist communion.
Way up there in the northern part of British Columbia, I found a pastor in an agony. He had refused to receive into his church people of another communion. They had to be baptized to belong; so he wrote a professor at our Southwestern Theological Seminary here at Fort Worth. And the professor wrote the man who heads that group, and he said, “The pastor there of that Baptist church in Canada has no right to exclude you or your people, whether you’ve been baptized or not.” And so that man in Canada took the letter of the professor from the seminary in Fort Worth and carried it all over the country. And they are agonizing; they are agonizing now. They call that “Landmarkism.”
When I went to Penticton, the pastor saw me before the service; we had a dinner together, all the people at a dinner. And the pastor said, “See this lovely couple here to your left?” He said, “They are from New Zealand, and they have just come to Penticton.” That’s a beautiful city at the lower southern end of the Okanagan Lake, a beautiful fruit growing valley of Canada. He said, “He has come to be principal of our high school, and to have a Baptist and a lovely couple, oh what a hope!” But he said, “They joined the Baptist church in New Zealand from the Anglican Church, in which church they were sprinkled, they were christened as infants. And,” he said, “now they’ve come to Penticton, and they are expecting to join our church by letter. And I am in an agony; I don’t know where to turn and I don’t know what to do. We are so prayerful and eager and anxious for somebody to help us, and that strong young man, but he has never been baptized, never. And I don’t know what to do. Could you help me?”
I said, “Preacher, not in a thousand years would I have expected to preach as I pray God will help me to do tonight.” So I changed the message and I preached from this text:
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.
[Acts 8: 35-37]
Before one is baptized, first he must believe, trust in, commit his life to Jesus our Lord, first; no unconscious infant could ever, ever qualify to be baptized. “What doth hinder me to be baptized? [Acts 8:36]. Philip said, “If thou believest.” First, you must trust in the Lord, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” And he answered and said: “I believe.” I accept Jesus as my Savior; I trust Him, all that He said He was, all that He has promised to be” [Acts 8:37]:
Then he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.
[Acts 8: 38-39]
The first thing that a child of God wants to do when he is saved is, “I want to be baptized.” There’s no exception to that; God made it that way. “I want to be baptized, I want to be baptized. See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?” [Acts 8:36]. There’s not much we can do for God. The Lord said, “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee [Psalm 50:12]; the cattle of a thousand hills are Mine [Psalm 50:10], the gold and the silver are mine” [Haggai 2:8]. There’s not much we can do for God; but what we can do, let us do. And one of the things that I can do is I can be baptized! There never was a child, never, there never was a child who reached that age of quickening, where God spoke to the heart of the little boy or the little girl, there never was a child but when his heart was quickened and he was led to accept Jesus as Savior, there never was a little child but that also said, “Now Mommy, now Daddy, can I be baptized? I want to be baptized.” God did that. God put that together; and when you teach that child the Word of the Lord, and when you follow that child in loving prayer and tender, spiritual, shepherdly love, that child will follow just as God has written in the Word. “I want to take Jesus as my Savior. And then Mommy, then Daddy, may I be baptized?” It is God’s Word and will for us.
Now, oh these things hurt my heart; Lee Roy Till gives me forty and forty-five minutes in which to preach, and yet it seems to me that I just start and the time’s gone. Bear with me, bear with me, please, bear with me another moment.
The spiritual commitment of those dear people is an astonishment to me; the spiritual commitment of those dear people. The pastor in Calgary said, “Now, this young man and his wife, I want you to look at him real good.” And so I did. After the service was over, he said to me, “That’s one of the most brilliant young geologists on the face of the earth.” And one of these great oil companies in Canada, in Calgary—they have vast illimitable oil discoveries up there—one of those great oil companies made a list of forty geologists in the world, all over the world, they made a list of forty of them. And finally, they reduced it down to six; and that young man was one of the six. So they sent for him and he came to Calgary to appear before the officials of the great oil company. And when that young man sat down in the office of the chief executive, he began the interview with these words: “Now sir, before we start, I want you to know that I belong to the Baptist church. And I want you to know that I will not carry on my profession over a glass of liquor, and I will not do my work in a bar. And if you want to talk to me, fine.” He got the job; and that pastor said he’s just started, and the first five wells he has dug have been gushers. I’m just reporting.
Mr. Fleming said to me, this great oil man who established this trust, Mr. Fleming said to me, “I have never failed to find a producing well when I prayed and asked God about it.” Then he said, the other side, “and I have never failed but to get a dry hole when I didn’t take it to God.” I’m just reporting; I am not avowing that for a man to become rich in oil, if he’d pray about it he’d find gushers and oil fields, I’m not saying that, but my observation is this: that if a man loves God, and if a man is true to the Lord, God will stand by that man, and the Lord will see him through. And if that’s not so, there’s not any God; there’s not any purpose particularly in being a Christian. The Lord blesses a man who will stand by the Savior, the Lord, and trust Him and believe in Him. God will bless a man and prosper a man who will live his life close to the Savior.
Oh, and I haven’t time to speak of the spiritual commitment of those preachers; praying for the lost. One of them drove a hundred-fifty miles through the rain to bring some teenagers, and I never was in a service that had more tears in it in my life; and those teenagers were saved, converted. God, make us like that and more so, and every day a soul-saving day, and the Lord adding to the church daily those who are being saved [Acts 2:47]; every day a witnessing day, every day a glory day, every day a day to say something good about Jesus, and every Lord’s Day a Pentecost [Acts 2:1-41]; God grant it, God grant it.
Now, don’t anybody leave yet. Stay in an intercession and a prayer, and I’ll let you go in a moment. Prayerfully, earnestly sing this commitment of our own souls to the faith. And somebody you, trusting Jesus, come, give the pastor your hand, and your heart to God. A couple you, a family you, however the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, come this morning. In the throng around, in this balcony, on this lower floor, into that aisle, or down one of these stairwells at the front and the back, come, “Here I am, pastor, I make it this morning.” Decide for Jesus now, decide now. Then when you stand up, stand up coming, “Here I am, preacher, here I am.” Do it, make it now. Come, come while we stand and while we sing.