Our Far-Flung Mission Line
March 5th, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
OUR FAR-FLUNG MISSION LINE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 1: 8
3-5-67 8:15 a.m.
On the radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Our Far-Flung Mission Line. It has been a long, long time since I have delivered a message as such on home missions; on the ministry of the Word of God to our own nation, our own land and people. It is therefore most apropos and most acceptable and pleasing to the Spirit of God that a message be prepared and be delivered regarding the estate of our own nation.
This week is dedicated to a week of prayer for America. And Friday night, this Friday night at 7:00 o’clock here at the church, there will be a family convocation of all of our people. We will sit around a dinner table, and our children and our fathers and mothers, our young people, all of us are to be present. And the address this Friday night will be made by the executive leader of our Home Mission Board, Dr. Arthur B. Rutledge. And every day will be a day of prayer sponsored by our Woman’s Missionary Union in behalf of our native land. So the message today is in keeping with that intercession for the mission enterprise in the earth, and especially and particularly in America.
Now the background of the message in the first chapter of the Book of Acts:
And Jesus, being assembled together with the disciples, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father, which, said the Lord, ye have heard of Me.
For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.
When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
And He said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has kept in His own authority—
here it is translated, hath put in His own power—
But ye shall receive power. . .
Now those are two different words, so let us translate the first one, authority, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath reserved in His own authority” [Acts 1:7]. The denouement of the age, the consummation of this human story, the end of the world, the great and final judgment days, these are in the sovereign purposes of God. They are in His will and in His election.
But for us, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” [Acts 1:8]. That is our assignment now, in this day, in this generation, in this age, in this dispensation: waiting and watching for the coming of the Lord and the consummation of human history. In the meantime, now our assignment is to be witnesses for Christ in our Jerusalem, in our Judea, in our Samaria, and in our earth. It’s a rather wide commission, don’t you think? But a true church and a faithful association of churches, a denomination, will be found in obedience to that Great Commission. In our Jerusalem, in this city; in our Judea, in this state; in our Samaria, in our nation; “to the uttermost parts of the earth” [Acts 1:8], on the foreign mission field; there you will find our witnesses.
Now Dr. Truett used to say, “This is a missionary church, and if there is any member in it who is not missionary he is out of place.” And that is so preeminently correct. Nobody, it would be inconceivable for anybody to be a member of this church who was not at heart, preeminently missionary. And our witness in our own testimony and in the sending out of others whom we support is to encompass the face of the globe. They are to be deployed over all the nations of the earth.
Therefore, we have our Foreign Mission Board. There are 2,308 foreign missionaries that we support. One half of everything we bring to this church, we place on the missionary benevolent denominational side of our giving program. Anything you place in the collection plate today, any gift you bring to Sunday school or send to the church, one half of it is dedicated for a ministry of Christ outside these church walls. Those 2,308 missionaries are deployed over 64 countries. And last year they baptized something like 51,600 souls. They have a far greater proportion of converts than we do in the homeland; they baptized one for every ten members.
Then we have another agency, medium, through which we work, in seeking to carry out this great commission. We have a Home Mission Board whose assignment is to seek in the combined efforts and prayers and devotion of all of our churches to seek the winning of our America to Christ. In that Home Mission Board, there are something like 2,500 missionaries. They work and they help us in these great metropolitan cities, in rural areas, in minority groups such as the American Indian, in chaplaincies, in migrant workers, in the department of evangelism, among our deaf-mutes, and in the arrangement of our convention in Panama. And until Fidel Castro removed Cuba into the orbit of atheistic socialism, our witness of the Home Mission Board was also in Cuba. There have been languishing in the prisons of Cuba two of our greatest missionaries for several years now, Herbert Caudill and David Fite. The Home Mission Board is an integral part of our association of churches, our Southern Baptist Convention. When the convention was organized in 1845, the Home Mission Board was established and given the assignment of the Christianizing, the evangelizing of the homeland.
Things have changed, greatly changed since the organization of our convention and since its partition of work in a Foreign Mission Board and a Home Mission Board. Our frontiers used to be in China and in Africa, and in the isles of the sea. That is no longer true. Our missionary frontiers now, today, are in every metropolitan area, on every city street, and sometimes through almost and nearly every home. There are no delineated missionary frontiers today across the seas; these frontiers are everywhere.
For example, last Friday night in the gymnasium of our church, the Business and Professional division of our Sunday school and Training Union had an annual banquet. And to that banquet, they invited Dr. James Forrester—the president of Garden College and Divinity School in Boston, Massachusetts—to be their speaker. It was my first time to see him and hear him. You will hear him tonight. He is a great man of God. He is a Scotsman; he was born and reared in Scotland. He was dressed that night in his kilt and all the other paraphernalia of a Scot soldier.
And he said, in that address—and you listen to this!—he said that if the erosion in the church of Scotland continues for the next twenty years as it has in the last twenty years, twenty years from now, Scotland will be more pagan than when Columba evangelized the country from the island of Iona. Do you know when Columba evangelized Scotland from that little island of Iona? It was in 550 AD, about 1,500 years ago.
And what this distinguished ecclesiastic and theologian has said about his native land is true of the lands of the world. There are no more Christian nations, never, not one. England is a pagan land. Sweden is a pagan land. Norway is a pagan land. Scotland is a pagan land. There are not more than two percent of the people who even bother to attend churches, to attend services to worship God. And America is increasingly becoming pagan, materialistic, secular. Our schools, our colleges, the outlook of our people, the thinking of our government, the whole issue of life—material, secular, mundane—pertaining to this physical world. There are between one and two million more people un-churched in the United States of America this minute than there were when I stood in this pulpit this time last year. In our country, we are gaining statistically with names on church rolls, which means nothing at all; we are losing the evangelization of our people.
Stand with me in Dallas and look at America clockwise as the hand of the clock turns around. Look at America: the north and the east, the north and the east. In the great, vast metropolitan areas of our nation, the megapolises of the United States, the uncounted thousands and thousands and millions of those people that are lost, lost, lost. That is why even now I have been laying on the hearts of my fellow members in this dear church, under the aegis of the Home Mission Board of our Southern Baptist Convention, and under the aegis of our Department of Evangelism of our Texas Baptist Convention, your pastor is going to Dayton, Ohio as a pilot project, to hold a revival meeting in a football stadium there, to see if God would bless an appeal that that city turn in saving faith to Jesus our Lord. A like series of appeals will be made in the city of Dallas and elsewhere. But this pilot project has been set for the third week in July of this year. And if God blesses it, there will be a like appeal made in the other of the great cities of the north and the east. The fields are unto the harvest, we pray, white [John 4:35]. But the people are lost, lost, lost.
Now follow the hand of that clock around as we look at America, to the north and the east, now to the south of us here in Dallas. I went down—as you know, and for which appeal you so earnestly prayed—I went down to the Rio Grande Valley and held one of those revival convocations there. There are two million people up and down that Rio Grande river from El Paso, where it enters Texas, down to Boca Chica, where it pours into the Gulf of Mexico. There are two million people living on the banks of that Rio Grande river who are lost, who are lost.
Having looked at the north and the east and the south of us, now let us turn to the west. For the years and the years, I have been going out to the west, preaching in Arizona, and Utah, and California, and Oregon—and this last mission in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada—that great, giant, expanding country to the west of us and the great host of the throngs in the millions to the west of us, lost, lost; outside of the mercy and regenerating grace of Jesus our Lord.
A girl grew up in this congregation. Her grandfather belonged here, and his family. Her father belonged here, and his family, wonderful people. And this child grew up here in this church; she married a young minister of the gospel. And in the providence of God, he went west and was witnessing to the grace of Jesus in the far western part of our nation. Upon a day, she came to see me in my study at the parsonage and laid before me the illimitable need of the city in which they were ministering in the west, and asked me for financial help in that struggling church to which God had called her young husband and in which her life was being invested.
I explained to her, the most prayerfully that I could, that our church was flooded with a multitude of those appeals, coming day and night by letter, by telephone, by personal presence of preachers who needed help. And that our church staggered underneath the enormous need of so vast a segment of our nation. And I said, “We are unable to do more than we’re now doing. It would be of no profit at all for me to lay it before the people or the board of deacons. It is too much for us. We cannot help.” She said, “Yes,” she understood. She understood. So she thanked me for listening to her appeal, asked God’s blessings upon the church she loved and in which she grew up, and bid me goodbye to return to their mission field in the west.
The sidewalk is somewhat lengthened from our front door to the street. And when that girl closed the door and walked down the sidewalk she could no longer keep back the sobs and the tears. And I could hear her crying all the way down the sidewalk to the car though I had returned to my study which is on the back side of the house. These are but typical of the immeasurable, indescribable burdens of heart that lay upon our true witnesses for Christ in this nation and in this world. They battle against insuperable odds. That is why our church, in this hour and in this appeal, there are some things that we ourselves desperately need.
First: we need to remember, we need a remembrance of the interdependence and the interlinking of all humanity. We’re all bound up in one great family and what affects one, affects us all; wherever in the earth that it happens. In this pulpit at a convocation of our Baptist General Convention, in this pulpit one time, I heard one of our pastors tell a story of a farmer. I can’t quite put it back in my mind. It is a long time ago, but there was a farmer who was gifted and talented and progressive. And he looked with contempt and disdain and superiority on those knucklehead farmers all around him. And this farmer was producing a hybrid type of corn that just out produced any other thing the world had ever seen. But, he was having trouble and having difficulty because the pollen from his farmer-friends all around him blew over into his field and made his hybrid corn impossible to produce. So upon a day, his wife saw him with sacks of that fine hybrid seed corn leaving out. And she asked him, “Where are you going?” And he replied, “I am taking these sacks of seed corn and giving them to my neighbors, for I cannot grow fine corn unless they plant fine corn too.” That’s what I mean about us all.
I grew up as a boy on the western plains in the Panhandle, and I went to high school in Amarillo. While I was there in those days in the middle 1920s, while I was there, that great productive oil field around Borger, Texas, was discovered and Amarillo boomed. Those high sky scrapers were built in those days, and the city was a fury of growth and expansion.
On the other side of the Santa Fe railroad tracks was a community of people that nobody thought of; they were forgot. They were Mexicans, nobody remembered their being there. They were blocked there mostly by the Santa Fe rip track crew. Nobody paid any attention to them. But in the midst of that boom in Amarillo in the middle 1920s, in the midst of it, there suddenly broke out an epidemic of smallpox on the other side of the Santa Fe railroad tracks, and it swept through the little city of Amarillo.
The federal government in their health department, and the state government in its health department came to Amarillo, and they shut down that city. There was no railroad train allowed to run into it. There was no bus allowed to run into it. There were no automobiles allowed to go into it. There was nobody allowed in or out of Amarillo while that epidemic of smallpox was raging. And when the thing was stopped and the smallpox epidemic was over, the boom of Amarillo had died. And it is only been in recent years that the economy of that city has really been able to rise again. And that was in the middle 1920s! We are interrelated and interlinked and interdependent.
I never heard of that sorry piece of real estate where our men are fighting today, until in the headlines of our newspapers, I began to read about that Malayan peninsula and the Viet Cong, and Vietnam—and “Vietnam,” as some of them say—and all the rest of those places that are so strange to me. How is it that I could be affected by what happens in that out-of-the-way, unknown, darkened corner of the world? That’s this generation, that’s today! And that was in the mind of God when the Lord sent us for the evangelization of the earth.
Second, we need a remembrance of the interlinking of all mankind. Second: we need—oh, so desperately! We need the spirit of evangelistic missionary conquest that has fled us. It is gone from us. We do not possess it anymore. May I illustrate? Dr. Fowler, surely you remember such a thing. In 1908, can you remember back to 1908? He and Methuselah and Noah ought to remember 1908. In 1908, there was held a great missionary convocation in Northfield, Massachusetts. And above the platform in that missionary convocation, were written these dynamic and meaningful words, “The evangelization of the world in our generation.” And when I was a boy and entered school, I remember the echo of those dynamic and meaningful words, “The evangelization of the world in our generation.”
The convocation was led by John R. Mott and Robert E. Spear. And in that day, every college campus in America had an active, aggressive, dynamic volunteer missionary movement band. And when I went to school, I belonged to one of them. Such an idea is foreign to the churches of today. There is no proposal, there is no feeling, there is no burden, there is no call of responsibility for the evangelization of the world today. We are sort of stuck by these scientific achievements of our generation, and sort of have fallen into the atheistic persuasion that God somehow has been read out of the universe and is dead. We need a resurgence, a renaissance, a recrudescence of that spirit of evangelism and witnessing that our fathers knew when they faced a pagan and lost world, and sent missionaries and preachers and built churches and institutions to make the name, the saving name of Christ known in the earth.
Third: we not only need a remembrance of the interdependence of all the human family; second, we not only need a resurgence of that great spirit of evangelism and missionary endeavor—we need to give ourselves to a common determination for the implementing of that evangelization and that missionary winning and Christianizing that has been the soul of the commission of the church ever since Christ lost His life in the earth. Together we are to pray, “O God, save. And dear God, deliver our nation and our world from the destruction of war and blood and the holocaust of disaster.” We need to pray, pray, pray.
We need to witness, however God can open a door for us personally, as a band, as an association of churches. And we need to give, to support, to take of ourselves and pour it into this ministry. In a city where I had an assignment, I went out walking one day. I was somewhat toward the edge of the city and I went out walking, just to think, just to refresh my mind, just to breathe the fresh air; went out walking. And while I was walking at the edge of the city, I came across a little dollhouse of a church. I had never seen one like it. It looked like a play church, but it was real. It was a real church. I tried the door and it was open. I walked inside. With my hand I could touch the ceiling and almost, not quite, but almost I could touch from side to side the walls. It looked like a little dollhouse of a church.
Well, I looked around and I thought, “This is the smallest, tiniest church I ever saw. I wonder what kind of a church it is.” And I noticed at the front, I noticed a large, large placard, a printed piece tacked up against the wall. And I walked over there and looked at it. And there on that piece of paper pressed against the wall were the pictures of our missionaries and the announcement of our week of prayer for missions. And as I looked at that and the little church, “So this is a little Southern Baptist church, and they are having a week of prayer for our missionaries.” And as I stood there and looked, its dimensions grew greater and greater and stronger and higher until it seemed to me they covered the earth and touched the very throne of glory. Ah, the bigness and the greatness of a people when they open their hearts and their lives and their souls for the missionary enterprises of the earth.
Oh! I had more to say. Let me conclude with one word bringing to your remembrance. There was a time; there was a time when Texas was a wilderness. My great-great-grandparents came to Texas in the 1820s, it was a wilderness. They had a saying, “Some men go from bad to worse and some men go from worse to Texas.” It was a land where convicts escaped and ran to, across the Sabine, and outlaws and thieves. It was a wild, a wooly, a rugged pioneer land. I sometimes marvel at our forefathers who came to this wilderness.
In my study at the house is a picture of my great-grandfather. Everything you see in that picture he built with his own hands; the log house in which he lived, and the split rail fence, and everything there. I would starve to death if I were in a barren, howling wilderness like that. But he established a home there. And the first Baptist church in central northwest Texas was organized in that log cabin, in my great-grandfather’s house.
But in those days, when Texas was a howling wilderness, there was a secretary of the Home Mission Board by the name of I. T. Tichenor, Dr. Tichenor. And to the amazement of the convention, he led the Home Mission Board to send preachers and missionaries and pioneer witnesses to Texas to build churches, to preach the gospel, to hold revival meetings. And one of those old pioneer missionaries finally found himself on the high northwestern plains of this state, and I was saved. They founded these institutions. They built these churches. And it has become a Zion for Jesus, because of the foresight and the dedication of that glorious and gifted secretary who lived so many years ago. We are their children. We are the fruit of their hands. We are an answer to their hopes and prayers.
O Lord, let us measure up. We must in our day, in our generation, in our time, we must be as faithful and as fine and as true to that great commission as they were in their day and in their time. And please, God, we shall be. Lord, here is a hand to help. Here is a gift to bless. Here is a prayer to offer. Here is a life to dedicate. And here I am, Master, bless me and my witness. Bless this church and our witness. Bless our association of churches and our combined prayers and witnesses. Lord, save the lost. Lord, deliver our nation from war. Lord, bless and intervene in our day and in our time. Come down, Lord, come down.
Oh, our time is much gone. On the first note of the first stanza, while we sing this appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]; a family you, to come into the fellowship of the church; one somebody you, to answer God’s call; make it this morning. Make it now. “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Down one of these stairwells, we’ll wait for you. In this lower floor, here to the front, “Here I am, preacher, I want to give my heart to God. Want to give my life to the blessed Savior [Romans 10:9-10]. I want to put my whole family in the fellowship of this praying church.” As God shall press the appeal, make it today. Make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.