Shepherding the Church of God
October 2nd, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
SHERPHERDING THE CHURCH OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-2-66 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message. It is a message especially turned in keeping with the twenty-second anniversary of my undershepherdship in this congregation, this flock of the Lord. The title of the message is Building up the Church of God. And in this brief while that can be assigned to me in the delivery of the message, I have chosen some words, some Greek words in this New Testament that describe the church of the our Lord, and the first word is found in Revelation 21:9: "There came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the last seven plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the numphen, the bride, the Lamb’s wife." Numphen: in our English language we have the word "nymph," a beautiful maiden, and in ancient lore and mythology, who lived in the woods or in the mountains or the hills or the lakes or the streams; a nymph. And in our reference to marriage from this word comes the English word, "nuptial"; nuptial rights, nuptial ceremony, a nuptial celebration, a celebration of a marriage.
So, the Lord calls by inspiration His church a numphen, a bride. John the Baptist said, "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: and a friend of the bridegroom standing by rejoices to hear his voice" [John 3:29]. The apostle Paul said, "I have espoused thee as the chaste virgin to Jesus Christ" [2 Corinthians 11:2]. The church is the numphen, the bride of our Lord. And of that bride Christ says, "My church" [Matthew 16:18]; maybe never said, "My wife," or "My son," or "My daughter," or "My home," but He did say, "My church." And in Ephesians 5:25, Paul writes, "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it." We are to magnify, and to glorify, and to exalt, and to lift up the church of our Savior, and that necessity in the life of God’s people is almost beyond description.
I met it so poignantly in the preaching mission that I shared one time in Japan. I was taken by a Christian out of Kokora, far away, and there held a service among some Japanese people. God blessed it and there were many saved. And as we distributed cards for the converts to sign, one of those men, taking the card and reading it, a confession and a commitment of his life to Christ, as he read it he turned to me and said, "Sensei, teacher, if I sign this card, then what?" And I thought, "There’s not any church, there’s not any pastor, there’s not any fellowship. This heathen, pagan man accepts Jesus as his Savior, and he signs that commitment card, ‘I do accept the Lord as my Savior,’ but Sensei, when I sign it, then what?"
There opened before me the vital need of all of the ministries of the church of Jesus Christ. "Christ loved the church, the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25]. That is the reason that I have such profound desire to share in this program of evangelism that has been developed by our Texas Baptist Convention. I do not belittle or decry these great crusades that sweep through a city, that take religion and put it on the headlines of the newspapers. I rejoice in their triumphs. But to me, it has one colossal and gigantic weakness, and that is this; the meeting is in a football stadium, or in a coliseum, conducted by a marvelously gifted team, and so many times when the meeting is over and the coliseum is empty and the team is gone, the sweep of the revival is gone with it. It was held out there in a coliseum.
In the providence of God, our Baptist people in Texas, in its department of evangelism, has developed a program whereby we can exalt the church of our Lord, and place what revival and intervention from heaven God shall give us in the heart of the fellowships of our Lord. I have just been through one in Odessa, held in a coliseum, one that would seat seven thousand people. And night after night, and some of you I see here this morning, attended those services. Night after night several thousands of people were there. To my infinite encouragement our greatest crowd in the weeknight was last night, Friday night. God blessed those appeals; there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who responded, among them about three hundred twenty-five or more who made special commitments to God, and of them more than a hundred who took Jesus as their Savior. And had I stayed there and had this meeting continued through today, you could not have got in that coliseum. You could not have gotten near it. So many thousands of people would have crowded into that arena. That would have been a marvelous climax, yes, in the coliseum! But the climax today will be in all of those churches in Odessa! And streaming down those aisles in every church in that West Texas city will be converts, and rededicated lives, and children, and young people in the house and in the fellowship of the Lord. Not in a coliseum; in the church! I love to think that God shall move and come down from heaven, and inspire, and encourage in the churches of Jesus Christ. "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25]. And what exalts the bride of Christ pleases the Lord who loves her, and gave Himself for her.
Another word: "Paul, a called apostle, to the church" – another word, ekklesia – "to the church, the ekklesia of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints." You have a "to be" in italics there in the King James Version, "called to be saints" [1 Corinthians 1:1-2]. Well, that’s all right, but what Paul wrote was "the ekklesia of God at Corinth, sanctified in Christ, called saints," for that is the meaning of our word translated "church," ekklesia: ek, out of, kaleo, called out. I could not think of a greater contrast than those two words, the church of God which is at Corinth. So vile and so sinful, like Sodom and Gomorrah, was the city of Corinth, that in the ancient world, "Corinthian," the Greek word Corinthian, Korinthios, Corinthians, meant depravity, villainy, rascality, immorality, corruption, everything vile and evil. A Corinthian was a depraved sodomite. Yet the two words are there side by side; the ekklesia of God, called saints of God, which is in Corinth. Now that word ekklesia, translated "church," was an ordinary Greek word which meant assembly, a called-out assembly. It’s used three times in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, referring to the assembly in Ephesus [Acts 19:32,39,41].
In the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, Stephen in his glorious address before the Jewish nation, called God’s people out of Egypt and in the wilderness and on the way to the Promised Land, Stephen called them a church [Acts 7:38], a called out assembly, out of the darkness of Egypt, pilgrimaging through the wilderness of this world with their faces turned to the Promised Land; a church, an assembly. And here in our Bible it refers to the called-out children of the Lord, an ekklesia.
One of the great tragedies, to me, that happened in Christian history was when Constantine was converted in about 300 AD. And they changed the name of the church from an ekklesia, referring to the called out people of God, to a kuriakos, kurkas; kirk, and in our language in English, church! And under Constantine and the power of the Roman Caesar, they changed the name from the people, the called-out saints of the Lord, to the kuriakos, the kurkas, the kirk, the church, referring to the great lordly pile of brick and stone and mortar that makes up a lordly house. But there is no hint of that. There is no approach to that in the Word of God. For three hundred years there were no church houses! The days of the power of the evangelization under God in its height and its glory was in the first three centuries of the Roman Empire. They literally swept the civilized world into the kingdom of God. They unhinged the Roman Empire, and they did it without a house in which to meet. The church refers to the people of the Lord, and you can meet in a barn. You can have a glorious church sometimes in the dens and the dives and the caves of the earth, for God refers in ekklesia to His people, ekklesia, the called saints of the Lord, you, you.
Another word, alētheia; in 1 Timothy 3:15, the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth, alētheia, the church is the repository of the truth of God. The pillar, stulos, and ground, hedraioma, the base; that’s a magnificent imagery. Paul says that the church is like a great pillar, supporting the truth of God; like a great pillar, displaying and upholding before men and angels, the redemptive graces of Jesus Christ. The pillar and the ground of the truth: so magnificent is such an imagery that you masons especially would remember that, when Solomon built his temple, in front he had two great beautiful glorious pillars. One was called Boaz, and the other was called Jachin; "strength" and "beauty" [1 Kings 7:21]. This is the church of Jesus Christ; it is the repository of the archives of the oracles of the Almighty. This is the ground and the pillar of the truth.
That is why, to me at least, it is so grievously tragic that men who were supposed to be God called servants of Jesus, and the church which is supposed to be the repository of the oracles and testimonies of the Lord, were so many times eaten through and destroyed with error, and heresy, and compromise, and untruth. The church is the keeper of the witness to Jesus Christ in the earth, and is to shine as a light in a dark, dark night. We must hasten.
I’ve chosen another Greek word that describes the church: numphen, His bride [Revelation 21:9; Ephesians 5:22-24]; ekklesia, His called-out saints; alētheia, the truth, the repository of the oracles and the revelations of God [1 Timothy 3:15]. One other I’ve chosen out of so many; the church is also a koinonia, a koinonia, it is a fellowship. Acts 2:42, all of these saved ones, called out ones, continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in the koinonia, in the fellowship of the saints. How often do you find that word here? "The cup of blessing which we bless," Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 10:16, "is it not the koinonia of the blood of Jesus? And the bread which we break, is it not the koinonia of the body of Christ?" Or again, in 1 John, his first chapter, "That which we have heard declare we unto you, that ye may have koinonia with us [1John 1:3]. And verse 7, "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have koinonia one with another" [1 John 1:7].
What a magnificent word; the koinonia, the fellowship of the saints of the Lord. We are to center our lives in God, not out yonder, or out yonder, or over there. The center of our lives, the koinonia, is to be in our Lord. And in our Lord, our families, and our friendships, and our love and devotion is to be expressed in the church; the koinonia of Jesus Christ. Here we rear our children. Not out there; here. Here our young people meet one another, fall in love with one another, build another Christian home; the koinonia, the fellowship, here in this house of God. That is why basically, basically and fundamentally, one of the commitments of my ministry as an undershepherd has always been this, the church, the koinonia should include the whole gamut of the interests of God’s people.
Some of our youngsters love athletics: then let’s have an athletic program, let’s have a recreational program. So many of our people, and that would include me to the utmost, love a music program. Let’s have a glorious music program. Some of our people are intellectually turned. They are academicians by nature. Let’s have a glorious library filled with wonderful Christian books. All of us are interested in the witnessing of the gospel, our blessed ministry through our missions. Let’s have these missions flower and fruit unto God. Seven of them the Lord hath given us, and in our denomination let us share in the messengers of light whom God hath called and sent to the far reaches of the earth. It is a koinonia; it is a fellowship.
I was called one time to a church, a wonderful church, but it had almost disintegrated. The people had the idea – I haven’t time to expatiate upon it – but the people had the idea that all the church was interested in was money, money, money. Upon an afternoon I went to see three men. One was an insurance executive, one was a doctor, and one was our legislator, a lawyer. When I went to see those three men, all three men did the same thing, identical, when I went into their offices. Each one stood up, greeted me as I introduced myself as the new and young pastor of the church. Then each one pulled out a desk drawer, wrote out a check, and pushed it across the desk to me. In all three instances I also did the same thing. I took the check, and I pushed it back across the desk to the men, and I said I’m not interested, and I haven’t come for money. The Lord doesn’t need our money.
God said, "If I were hungry, I would not tell thee [Psalm 50:12], for the cattle on a thousand hills is Mine [Psalm 50:10], and the gold and silver is Mine" [Haggai 2:8]. I said, "I have come for you." God needs you. In all three instances those three men did the same thing. Each one stood up again and clasped my hand and said, "Young pastor, this coming Sunday I’ll be there." And when I stood in the pulpit to preach, there sat the young insurance executive and his wife and his family. There sat the beloved physician with his wife and his family. And there sat our legislator, the lawyer, with his wife and his family. The church is a koinonia. It is a fellowship. It is me and it glorifies God in you. And if God doesn’t have us, if all He has is some money, or all He has is brick and mortar, or all He has is a program, it is dust and ashes. But if God has us, He is glorified, for the church is a koinonia, it is a fellowship of God’s sainted people. I must close. Let every day be sweeter and finer than the days before; God make it that until someday we are gathered in the great koinonia, the fellowship of the redeemed in God’s glory.
Now we sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, while we sing it, a family you, one somebody you, a child you, a you, however God shall lay the appeal upon your heart, come. On the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming, and there’s time and to spare. If many of our people have Sunday school responsibilities, we will give them opportunity to go, and the rest of us will stay here together to receive these whom God hath given us this glorious day. But come, but come: "Pastor, today I give my heart to Jesus, and here I am." "Pastor, today I come into the fellowship of the church, and here I am." As the Holy Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.