Building the Church of God
October 2nd, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
BUILDING THE CHURCH OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-2-66 10:50 a.m.
Now the sermon this morning is in keeping with the twenty-second anniversary. I am preaching on The Church, the building up of the house of the Lord. And in Acts 20, verse 28, Paul said to the pastors of the church at Ephesus, “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” [Acts 20:28]. Poimainō, poimēn is the word for “shepherd,” poimainō would be the word “to shepherd” and it is translated here “to feed,” to feed the church of God, to shepherd the church of God [Acts 20:28].
The word for “pastor” is poimēn, poimēn, which is the word for “shepherd” and the verbal form of the substantive, poimainō. Paul says to those pastors, “Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you episkopoi—that’s translated “bishop” in the Bible. Overseers refers to the office of a pastor—to shepherd, to pastor, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].
Now going through the New Testament, I have picked out five words that are used to describe the church of our Lord. And I shall speak briefly on each one, then press an appeal that we give our lives to Jesus in this marvelous and incomparable fellowship.
The first word is numphē, numphē. In Revelation 21:9, “And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, and I will show thee the numphē, the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” We have taken that word into our English language. Nymph, a nymph is a beautiful maiden. And in ancient lore and mythology she dwelt in the forests, or the hills, or the mountains, or the streams, or the lakes, or the rivers, a nymph. That’s the identical Greek word.
We use it also in our adjectival form of nuptial; a nuptial ceremony, a nuptial celebration, a nuptial party. A nuptial refers to a wedding, the rejoicing of a marriage ceremony, a nuptial, numphē, bride. Paul says, “I have espoused you a chaste virgin, to the Lord Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 11:2], talking to a church. John the Baptist said, “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; and the friend of the bridegroom, standing by his side, rejoices to hear his voice” [John 3:29]. The bride of Christ is His church, the numphē of our Lord.
Now the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” And in Matthew 16:18, the Lord says, “My church.” He never said, “My wife,” or “My child,” or “My daughter.” He never said, “My home,” but He did say, “My church.” And when we speak of the church, we speak of the love of His heart for whom He gave His life, as said my text, “Poimainō, shepherd, care for the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].
Now may I speak of that in this moment? May I refer to the necessity of the ministry of the church in the earth? That was so poignantly pressed upon my soul in an incident in the preaching mission in Japan, in which I shared several years ago. There was a godly man who took me from the city of Kokura, out and I could not tell where, but far and out.
I held a service in a place far from the city, and God wonderfully blessed it, and many were saved. And at the end of the appeal, they passed decision cards to those who had accepted the Lord as their Savior. And one of those Japanese men who had been converted took the card and read it. It was a commitment to Jesus Christ, “I accept the Lord as my Savior,” and then a place for his name.
He took that card and looking at it turned to me and said, “Sensei, Teacher, if I sign this card, then what? If I give my life in trust to Jesus, then what?” And I didn’t know what. No church, no pastor, no fellowship, no anything there by which he might be taught the things of Jesus, he might be nurtured in the admonitions of the Lord, that he might fellowship with other disciples of our blessed Savior. “Sensei, if I sign this card, then what?” And I couldn’t say what.
The church, the bride of Christ, is our nourishment, and our encouragement, and our inspiration, and our fellowship. And that is why in my soul of souls, I am always fundamentally a churchman. I love programs; denominational efforts that build up the churches of our Lord. I rejoice in these marvelous crusades that sweep through these cities. And in some great coliseum, there the people turn by the thousands and the thousands. And in the victories that are won, I rejoice in the favor of God upon that ministry.
It takes religion out of the back page, off of the editorial page, and places it on the headlines. And nobody in this earth rejoices more in those great crusades for Christ than do I. But to me there has always been one colossal weakness concerning it. It continues and it climaxes in that coliseum or in that stadium. And after the meeting is over, and the team has gone, so very much of the spirit of revival and triumph has gone with it. For it was out there. It was conducted out there. It reached a great climax out there, and when out there was empty and vacant, so much of the effort has perished with it.
In these days, and this last week, I have seen implemented a program of our department of evangelism here in Texas, under Dr. Wade Freeman, that blesses my vision, and hope, and dream, and prayer beyond any way that I could say it. I love to see the churches magnified. I rejoice to see our pastors encouraged. And however we might do a great work out there, “Sensei, if I give my heart to Jesus, and if I sign this card, then what?”
And last week, I took part in a tremendous effort in the West Texas city of Odessa. For months those pastors and their people had been praying, and preparing, and teaching, and visiting. The spirit of revival was in those churches in the Sundays preceding. Then beginning last Sunday night through last night, Friday night, we were in the Odessa coliseum. It seats seven thousand. And in the love and prayers of those pastors, people were there by the thousands and the thousands.
And to my glorious confirmation that I asked of God from heaven, we had about our biggest crowd last night, Friday night. Even through the week God blessed and God answered. Had we been there today, had we climaxed that service tonight, you could not have got in that coliseum. I don’t know whether you could have got near it or not.
But instead of climaxing that tremendous effort in a coliseum, what we did, we prayed, and we preached, and we visited, and we met with the pastors. And God wonderfully blessed it. I do not know the hundreds and hundreds of people who came down those aisles. There were more than three hundred twenty-five who made definite commitments to the Lord. There were more than one hundred saved. Lee Roy led those invitation hymns on, and on, and on, and on.
But today, God’s day, the Lord’s Day, in God’s church that He purchased with His own blood [Acts 20:28], you’ll see those people streaming down those aisles in every church in Odessa. They’ll be coming forward to join the church. They’ll be coming forward to dedicate themselves to a special ministry in the church. They’ll be coming forward to be baptized into the fellowship and the church of God. And they’ll be going down those aisles, I don’t know how many.
And today will be one of the greatest days in the story of the churches in Odessa that could ever have been written in their history, Dr. McVey. And instead of the great revival climaxing in a coliseum somewhere, it’s climaxing this very minute in those churches in the city of Odessa. I like that. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. God bless them there as they meet, and the pastors are in those pulpits, and they’re pressing the appeal for Jesus. God bless them there as God blesses us here every hour.
Why, we have more than twenty join this morning, at 8:15. And you watch it. God will give us another great harvest this morning. And God will do it again tonight.
Now I spent fifteen minutes on, I spent twenty minutes on my first point, and I’ve got five of them. Now I wanted to finish before we go off of television. I’m in favor of giving the preacher two hours to preach every time he stands up; never heard an “Amen,” not a one. That doesn’t change me at all. I’m still in favor of it.
God calls the church His bride and He loves the church [Ephesians 5:25]. A second word: “Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints” [1 Corinthians 1:1-2]. You have it here in italics “called to be saints, called saints.” Now this is an emphasis Paul is writing there on the Greek word ekklēsia. “Paul, unto the ekklēsia of God which is at Corinth, sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints” [1 Corinthians 1:1-2]. And that’s the same word. Ek, “out of,” kaleō, “called, called out.”
And the contrast lies there in a most vivid way; the ekklēsia, the church, the called saints of God at Corinth, in Corinth. So vile, so villainous, so immoral, so corrupt was Corinth, like Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:4-29], that in the ancient Greek world and in the Greek language, one depraved, and vile, and corrupt was called a Corinthian. And there they are, side by side: “Unto the ekklēsia, the called out saints of God in vile and sodomite Corinth” [1 Corinthians 1:2], side by side. What an astonishing thing! Like a lily, beautiful, pure, in a morass, in a filthy pond.
Isn’t it a shame that they change that idea? For three hundred years, three hundred years, the church was called an ekklēsia, no other word. Then in about 300 AD Constantine was converted. And after Constantine and the affluence of the Roman Caesar was poured into the coffers of the churches of the Lord, they changed the name from ekklēsia to kuriakos, kuriakos; it became known as the kuriakos, kurkas, kurk, in our English language, church. But for three hundred year the world never heard of a kurkas, a kurk, a church. It was called an ekklēsia.
The word kuriakos is “a lordly house,” and it refers to the piles of brick, and stone, and mortar that those great Roman emperors piled up in the name of the Lord. And the word changed from referring to the called out saints, the ekklēsia, to the kuriakos, to the piles of masonry. And one of the most phenomenal things in human history is this; that the most effective work, and witnessing, and evangelization that the churches of Christ have ever done was in those first three hundred years. They literally swung the Roman Empire off of its hinges, and brought it in fealty to God.
And that was done before there was anything known as a kurkas, a kurk, a church; for the word refers, in the Bible, always to the people. And you could have a glorious ekklēsia in a dive, in a den, in a cave, in a barn, anywhere in the earth where God’s called-out saints gather together to worship in His blessed name [2 Corinthians 1:2]. An ekklēsia, it refers to the people, you. “And Christ loved you, and gave Himself for you” [Ephesians 5:25].
Now, briefly, a third word, alētheia: 1 Timothy 3 and 15, “The church of the living God, which is the pillar and ground of the truth, alētheia, the church of the living God, the stulos, the pillar, the head raioma, the base, the foundation of the truth” [1 Timothy 3:15]. I haven’t time to expatiate on that but that’s the most magnificent imagery you could think for. Paul likens the church to a great pillar, exhibiting before angels and men the redemptive graces of the Son of God, supporting and upholding before the world the truth of the living Lord.
Some of you men who are Masons would immediately recognize those two great pillars that Solomon erected before the temple. One he named Boaz, and the other he named Jachin [1 Kings 7:21, 2 Chronicles 3:17]. One was strength, and one was beauty. That is the church of the living God, a great supporting establishment, a pillar, holding up the truth of God.
The church is the custodian of the archives of the Almighty, the receptacle and the guardian and the keeper of the oracles of the Lord. That’s why it grieves my soul beyond any way that I could be grieved when I think of the church giving itself to error, and to compromise, and to heresy, and to every humanistic doctrine that men can think of. The church is to be the custodian of the truth of God. In the pulpit, and in its doctrines, and in its ordinances, it is to keep inviolate forever the revelations and the testimonies and the oracles of God; “alētheia, the pillar and ground of the truth” [1 Timothy 3:15].
Well, let’s go to this last one: the church is a koinōnia. Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and koinōnia, fellowship.” That word, koinōnia is used beautifully, wonderfully here in this Bible. Look again in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the koinōnia of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the koinōnia of the body of our Lord?”
The koinōnia, the fellowship we have in Jesus, in God, in this precious congregation [1 Corinthians 10:16].
Just once again, John will use it in 1John chapter 1, verse 3, and again in 7, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have koinōnia, fellowship with us” [1 John 1:3]; and again, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have koinōnia, fellowship one with another, and our fellowship, our koinōnia is in Christ” [1 John 1:7]. The church is a great fellowship, a marvelous koinōnia.
That’s why in my own soul I have always been so persuaded that the church ought to put its arms around all of our people, all of them. Our friendships ought to be made in the church. And our fellowships ought to center in God. Children, young people, young married couples, little babies, strong young men, our feeble aged parents who are looking over the vistas to the life beyond; there is no group that ought to be forgot. Each is a part of the koinōnia, the fellowship of God.
So in the church it has always been a delight to my soul to see it faceted like a diamond, a thousand different colors, and lights, and glories. Some of our youngsters are interested in athletics. Wonderful, that’s just fine. As wholesome as it can be, let’s have an athletic program for these youngsters and we have.
So many of our people, and I’m one of them, I’m no trained musician, but when Lee Roy stands up here, and the Levites sing, I just go to glory. I don’t know about some of those dead notes we have out here, I don’t know about that, but oh, I just love it. I love to hear God’s Levites sing. I don’t know of any more glorious thing in this earth than to have attended a worship service at the temple. Seven thousand Levites singing, and two hundred seventy-eight instruments a-playin’, just praising God. Oh, wouldn’t you have loved to have been there! I love that. It’s a facet in the fellowship of the church.
Many of our people are academicians. They are intellectually inclined. We have a library for them. Oh, I can go on and on! It’s that that makes God’s house precious. When our young people know each other in the church, and when they marry each other in the church, and build a home in the church, God is pleased. It is a koinōnia, a fellowship.
I’m going to quit. Oh, how many things can you say about Jesus and about His bride, His church!
To give your heart to the Lord, to come down this aisle, “Preacher, I give you my hand. I have trusted Jesus as my Savior. I’ve given my life to Him” [Romans 10:8-13]. You come. You come. A couple you, a family you, as the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, make it this morning. Make it now. In this balcony round, down one of these stairways, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, on the first note of the first stanza, come. And God bless you as the Spirit welcomes you and we clasp hands in our Lord together, come. While we stand and while we sing.