The Communist and the Living Church
March 22nd, 1967 @ 12:00 PM
2 Timothy 2:19
Atheism, Blasphemy, Church, Persecution, Russia, Worship, In Defense of the Faith (Pre-Easter '67), 1967, 2 Timothy
IN DEFENSE OF THE FAITH:
THE COMMUNIST AND THE LIVING CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 2:19
3-22-67 12:00 p.m.
And welcome again to this Wednesday pre-Easter Palace Theater service. And anytime you have to leave, you feel free to do so. All of us understand this is a busy lunch hour. And some of us can stay all the way through; some of us have to leave before the benediction. It is all right and you will not bother me at all.
These services this year, this forty-eighth year that we have conducted these convocations at noonday; the theme for this year is “In Defense of the Faith.” The message Monday, The Atheist and the Reality of God; yesterday it was The Liberal and the Deity of Christ; tomorrow it will be The Materialist and the End of the World; and Friday, the day our Lord was crucified, it will be The Sinner and the Sacrifice on the Cross. Today the subject is The Communist and the Living Church.
Our text is in 2 Timothy, second chapter: “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His” [2 Timothy 2:19]. As I face this subject, The Communist and the Living Church, I feel as though I were in the presence, in the subject of a massive, worldwide funeral hour. The death of a culture, of a civilization, of a nation, of a people awaiting the great resurrection day of the Lord. I feel as one of the mourners present in the cry and lament of Jeremiah, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow” [Lamentations 1:12]––the destruction and the decimation of the churches and the people of God by the communists in the earth.
For the first time in human history, nations now are openly and avowedly communistic, atheistic, God-hating, blasphemous. At no time in the story of civilized man has there been a people, a nation, that is openly, avowedly, pronouncedly, statedly atheistic; not until you have lived to see it in our day and in our generation. No ancient Greek would make a decision, however pagan he was, until first he had consulted the oracle at Delphi. No Roman general would go to war, however heathen he may have been, until first he had propitiated the gods. But these bow at no altar and they call upon the name of no deity. Their cry is, “Religion is an opiate of the people.” And they elucidate further saying, “God does not exist. Why worship Him?” The implementation of that atheistic, communist persuasion is sad and tragic beyond compare.
Early in the wee hours of the morning a plane on which I was riding landed in the airport in Leningrad. And when I got up the next morning, Sunday morning, I dressed, walked out on the street and down the great boulevard we were facing. The first thing I saw at the corner was a church. It had been turned into a railroad station. I walked down the wide boulevard. The next church I saw was a granary. I continued walking down the boulevard. The next church that I saw was a warehouse. As I continued walking down the boulevard, this great, massive, marvelous monument to God falling into decay, its doors locked.
Further out is the famous Cathedral of Kazan dedicated now to atheism. Walking into that massive structure, beautiful, beautiful where the high altar once stood is a statue of Nikolai Lenin. And in gigantic proportions to the right is a vast bronze cross crushing beneath its weight a peasant woman and her child and throughout the extensive structure blasphemous presentations of atheism.
And still further beyond, the largest cathedral in Eastern Europe where the czars worshipped God, St. Isaac’s. And on this day from the vast dome above the name was dropped a pendulum. And the lecture that day was on the proof of the rotation of the earth. And where there the high altar once stood, to the left a picture of the astronaut Titov, and to the right a picture of the astronaut Gagarin And between in Russian, and in German, and in French, and in English the words written, “We have searched the heavens and there is no God.”
Up and down every street in any city in the Soviet Socialistic Republic, you will find endlessly the children, the children. But they are not single or in family groups as we would see them playing in America. They are always in a kindergarten line. The little fellow holding on to the skirt of the little girl holding on to the back of the belt of the little fellow, all of them marching around, doing whatever the teacher is teaching that day. Taken from their homes, taken from their mothers, and they are called Oktoberists; and they belong to the Oktoberists until they are eight years of age. And the sign is the wearing of a little red star. Then from the age of eight through fourteen, they are young pioneers; and the sign is the wearing of a red handkerchief. Then from the age of fourteen through twenty-eight, they are members of the Komsomol the young communist organization. And from birth through age twenty-eight they are taught to blaspheme the name of God.
In Leningrad, a city the size of Chicago, in Moscow, a city the size of New York, you will find one church open. And if you go to church, you go to that one church. It is assigned by the government. It is run by the government. The pastor is chosen under the aegis and surveillance of the government. The monies are cared for by the government. The church is in obedience to the government. There is no literature. There is no Bible except one smuggled in. There is no Sunday school. There is no invitation. There is no appeal. All have been interdicted. All have been interdicted by law.
Then when I asked a little private group, “Why is it that the government opens one church, having closed the rest, why don’t they close them all, why leave one open?” And a Latvian said, “I can answer that for you. If the government closed all the churches, it would give a lie to their boast of religious freedom.” So one is on display in order that if you go to Kiev, to Odessa, to Karkov, to Moscow, to Leningrad, any of those cities and you want to go to church, here is a church; for Russia believes in freedom of religion; such freedom.
And the church is always assigned behind a wall, a miserable, unhappy, pathetic situation. Oh, oh, oh! And beyond what we could see and know in Russia, where you are privileged to visit under the guidance of an Intourist Soviet agency, and you never go outside of that prescribed visit, no matter who you are, government official, tourist, anybody, in those lines you visit. And beyond what can be seen in Russia, there is an unknown equation of our brethren in China, in North Korea. In 1959 and in 1960 North Korea liquidated more than three million of its finest citizens, including every known Christian. So far as is known, there is no living church in North Korea.
And the words, few as they are that come to us now, today, out of Red China, seems to indicate that the Red Guard has statedly, viciously liquidated the known Christians in China. I said as I faced this subject, “I have the same feeling as if I stood at a massive, worldwide funeral service.” And our hope lies in an intervention from God in the imponderables of the Lord, in the judgment that certainly someday shall fall upon such blasphemous decimation.
In Riga, the capital of Latvia, in the heart of the city was the First Baptist Church, built with an unusually high steeple; above that a high spire and on top of the spire a tremendous cross made out of heavy wood and covered with heavy gilded metal. In 1940 the Soviet government sent their armies crashing against the treaty that they had made with the little country, crushing into the Republic of Latvia. They herded in the cattle cars its finest citizenship including their religious leaders, and sent them to slave camps in Siberia. And Latvia became a part of the Soviet Union.
In the summer of 1961, a commissar, a representative of the secret police in Russia, was visiting in Riga. And as he sat in the office of a Latvian stooge, looking out the window he turned to the communist Latvian and he said, “Comrade, do you see that cross? Why does that symbol of superstition and reaction remain in the heart of this city?” And the Latvian explained to the Russian commissar, “The church has been here a long time. It is loved by the people. And for me to seek to destroy it would bring a reaction from the pulpit.” The commissar said, “Comrade, you are not doing well your assignment. That myth leads the youth who must be taught that religion is reactionary and superstition. And by the way, we need a hall and that auditorium would be fine for a dancing school.” In September, the first Sunday in September of 1961, the Baptist congregation in Riga met for the last time in their beloved church house and sang together:
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love!
The fellowship of Christian minds
Is like to that above.
[from “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” John Fawcett, 1782]
And the commissar left town with the mandate, “Tear that steeple down but first cut down that cross.”
The following week there appeared a communist foreman with some men that he had preempted into his service. And with ladders and tools they set themselves to chop down that cross. The foreman cursed, and cajoled, and threatened but not a single one of his men would volunteer to cut it down. Out of the crowd that gathered round a young Komsomol volunteered, “I will cut it down.” Up the church, up the steeple, up the spire; it was a heavy, heavy assignment. He came back down. His legs had become numb. Having rested, he went back up. And he chopped and he cut until finally when the ropes tightened, the cross came tumbling down on the pavement below. Then in an instant without any explanation, the safety belt broke and that young Komsomol spread-eagle, fell down and with a sickening thud was crushed by the side of the fallen cross.
The ashen foreman dismissed his men. And in an hour a car came, picked up the remains, and carried another cadaver, a would be hero to a medical school––a harbinger of a coming day in the intervention of God in the judgment of Him who holds the nations of the world in the balance in His hands [Psalm 22:28, 82:8]. “The stone which is rejected, is become the head of the corner [Matthew 21:42]; and whosoever shall fall upon this stone shall be broken in pieces: and upon whomsoever this stone shall fall, it will grind him to powder” [Matthew 21:44]. There is in the Christian faith love, yes, and forgiveness, yes, and atonement, yes, and mercy, yes. But there is also in God judgment and accountability [1 Peter 4:5]. And the Lord one day shall say, “It is enough. It is enough.”
The communist and the living church; our brethren behind these Iron and Bamboo Curtains; who are they and how do they fare? Not in my life have I seen more tears than I saw in the Baptist church in Leningrad. Their hymns, their prayers when they kneel they raise their hands to God in supplication, a pitiful, persecuted congregation. I finally turned to the Intourist guide and said to her, “Why are they crying so, reading these letters?” And she replied, she had never been at a service before––I could tell it deeply moved her––she said, “These are letters from families who have renounced the faith but have come back home asking the church to forgive them and to receive them.”
Oh, the burdens of persecution laid upon the members of the churches! How do they fare? How do they live? Oh, oh, such a sacrifice, such a hurt, such a cry, such a sorrow! And yet they are faithful unto death [Revelation 2:10]. One of those churches in Prague, the Baptist church downtown in Prague, their beloved pastor was sent away by the communist government to the Polish frontier where he would die of starvation and exposure. His family was left behind. And as you sat in the congregation you could feel the sorrow of the people. The man up there in the pulpit assigned to them by the government, they felt was a collaborator. Their real pastor was on the Polish frontier.
I made the friendship of a young doctor in the church. After the service was over I went to the hotel room, took off my suit, and brought it back and gave it to him. A poor, miserable, and despised people but faithful unto death; I felt as I looked in their faces, as I visited with them privately, as I watched their lives, I felt that I was standing in the presence of first century Christians of whom the Roman Coliseum is forever a type and a symbol of their devotion unto death. The Smyrnan church, the martyred church of which Jesus had no fault to find but said, “Be thou faithful unto death, even if it costs you your life, and I will give you the crown of life” [Revelation 2:10]. I must close.
In Hong Kong, I listened to the stories of the missionaries and the refugees who were pouring out of China. In the far interior of China was a little church. And those Chinese soldiers gathered all the members of the little church inside the church house. Then their leader took them out one by one, one by one. And if they refused to renounce their faith, he chopped off their heads, one by one, by one, by one. The last one was a little boy. Seemingly however rough and cruel a Chinese soldier is, he seems to have pity in the presence of a little child.
And when the last member of the church came out, he happened to be this little boy. And the rough Chinese army soldier looked at him and said, “Now son, you are just a little boy. We don’t want to cut off your head. Now,” said this Chinese soldier, “now I am going to put down here on the ground a picture of Jesus. And you take your foot, and you grind that picture into the ground, and we will let you live.” He put the picture on the ground and the little Chinese lad looked at the picture of his Lord down in the dust. He looked up to heaven and said, “Lord Jesus, one time You died for me. This time, I’ll die for You.” He put his head on the block and the last member of that little Chinese church died for Jesus. These things are going on this day, this hour, this minute.
The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain
His blood red banners stream afar, who follows in His train?
A noble army, men and boys, the matron and the maid
Around the Savior’s throne rejoice in robes of light arrayed
They climb the steep as said of heaven, through peril, toil, and pain
O God, to us, may grace be given to follow in their train
[“The Son of God Goes Forth To War,” Henry S. Cutler]
And our blessed Lord, in this day when the faith is assailed as it has never been confronted in human history, may we, Lord, where we are, be faithful unto death [Revelation 2:10]. Bless our brethren who suffer. Receive unto Thyself those who lay down their lives. And someday, Lord, in God’s elective purpose, O God, intervene. Intervene and use us for that holy and heavenly purpose that the Lord hath chosen when He matched our souls against this day, in the Spirit of our conquering and reigning Christ, amen.
COMMUNIST AND THE LIVING CHURCH
2 Timothy 2:19
Feel as at a massive, worldwide funeral service(Lamentations
The destruction and decimation of the churches and people of God by the
Communists in the earth
time in history nations are openly atheistic
Implementation of atheistic, Communist persuasion tragic beyond compare
churches now railroad stations, warehouses, granaries
Cathedral of Kazan now dedicated to atheism
St. Isaac’s displayed Russian astronauts Titov, Gagarin – “We have searched the
heavens and there is no God.”
Up and down city streets find groups of children – the Oktoberists
a. From birth to age 28
they are taught to blaspheme God
One church open in Leningrad – run by the government
Can only guess the destruction in other Communist lands
Riga, capital of Latvia – steeple of the church
II. Does the church live?
Some can be seen openly
at Leningrad – hymns, kneeling in prayer, tears over those who have renounced
the faith but have come back asking forgiveness
Pastor of church in Prague sent to Polish frontier
Loyal unto death (Revelation 2:10)
“The Son of God Goes Forth to War”