The Encounter Crusade in Dayton, Ohio.
July 23rd, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
THE ENCOUNTER CRUSADE IN DAYTON, OHIO
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-23-67 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message. I have changed the subject from the one announced in our publications and in your program. I am going to speak about what God has done this last week in THE ENCOUNTER CRUSADE IN DAYTON, OHIO.
I am doing it for several reasons. One is this, the whole Southern Baptist Convention, through its Home Mission Board, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas, through its department of evangelism, sought to make a pilot project of this evangelistic effort in Dayton, Ohio. They put thousands and thousands of dollars in it; about a quarter of a million dollars in it. They brought to the area, people from all over the south land. And today, at this very moment, there are more than seven hundred laymen and lay people working in those churches in the greater Dayton area. Last week was the central crusade in Welcome Football Stadium. And today begins the meetings in each one of the churches in the greater Dayton area.
It is a pilot effort on the part of our Southern Baptist denomination. And if God blessed it, and if the Lord was in it, they would continue that program, choosing another city like Detroit or like Pittsburgh or like Philadelphia. And that’s why it was so crucial and significant an effort on our part. And again because our people prayed for it, thousands and hundreds of thousands of people bore that appeal in intercession before God’s throne of grace, and especially, of course, among our own congregation.
I have a good example in the Bible for doing such a thing. At the end of the first missionary journey, the concluding verses in the fourteenth chapter of Acts read like this:
And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.
And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia:
And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.
And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
And what an appropriate text, "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles" [Acts 14:27].
Not in all America could there have been so gracious a reception, so hospitable a welcome, as was accorded us in the city of Dayton, Ohio. On Monday night, when the service was on television from 8:00 o’clock until 9:00 o’clock, the mayor and his wife attended the services and were on the pulpit platform. And after he was introduced, he called Ethel Waters – a famous TV star, and movie star, and Broadway star, and Negro folk singer, singing spiritual, Negro spiritual songs – he called her to the platform and gave to her a beautiful medallion in behalf of the city of Dayton. And I thought that was that, and how nice. Then he called me up there by his side, and to my amazement and surprise he gave to me a like medallion representing the city of Dayton. And as impressed as I am with the beautiful medallion I am more impressed with that luxurious box. That is the nicest box I have ever seen in my life, and I have walked through Tiffany’s in New York City. The whole city was like that.
I never saw such newspaper coverage as they gave to that crusade. And not in Dallas and not that I’ve ever heard of anywhere, their largest television station, WHIO, channel 7, Monday night, Wednesday night, and Friday night, discontinued their network programs and at the primetime, from 8:00 o’clock to 9:00 o’clock, they televised those crusade services.
I went early in order to go by Kentucky. One of the little half-time churches in Kentucky was celebrating its one hundredth anniversary, as we shall begin next Sunday morning. I was pastor when I went to the seminary in Louisville, ten miles north of Bowling Green at Oakland, and ten miles south of Bowling Green at Woodburn. And Woodburn was celebrating its one hundredth anniversary, and I told them if they would place the celebration on Saturday that I would come by and preach. And I so did. What a joy to my heart. I had not been back in thirty years. They looked so . . . and I looked the same way. And after the service was over they pulled up trucks, flat-bottomed trailers that you hook onto a cab, trucks. And we had dinner on the ground. I never ate so much, enjoyed it so much in my life! I miss those little churches. I preached and pastored out in the country ten years. I wish Dallas were out in the country. I wish my church was out in a rural area. I love those people, knew them, lived with them, ate with them. Ah, bless them forever.
So that made it possible for me to get to Dayton at 8:30 o’clock Saturday night. And the next morning, last Sunday morning, at a quarter till eleven, I went down stairs and up to the counter at the hotel. And I said, "I have been told that there is the First Baptist Church nearby here. I’ve been told it was within two blocks." I said, "Now which way do I go to the First Baptist Church?"
The clerk said, "I have no idea."
Well, I went to the next fellow there and I said, "Do you know where the First Baptist Church is?"
He said, "I have no idea either."
So I went to the girl there and she said, "I don’t know." And I went to everybody in the lobby, "I have no idea." I started with the bellboy, "I have no idea." I went through all of the colored help around there, "I have no idea." Well, I just thought, "That’s the way it is here in Dallas and everywhere else." I would think every Sunday there are people in this city who want to know where the First Baptist Church is and nobody knows. I’ve had people tell me they’ve called a cab and said, "Take me to the First Baptist Church." And they’ve been wagged all over this city and never found this place.
I don’t know how to do it, but every bellboy and every maid who makes up a hotel room, every clerk and every employee in this downtown earth ought to know where the First Baptist Church is. Maybe we ought to blow it up, or build a fire or something. But we ought to be able to have our people know where this place is.
So I just started off. Out my hotel window I had seen three churches. So I just made my way to the first one that I had seen out my hotel window. Well, they were concluding a liturgical service with all kinds of amen’s and litanies and responses and all the things that go with a liturgical hour. And they closed it with the collection. So I got in on that.
Well, I left that service about 11:00 o’clock or a few minutes till eleven. And I went to the second church. And they had a little lawn there on either side of the church. And they were having "punch on the premises," that’s what I called it. People were being served punch. But when I remarked about "punch on the premises" they were greatly, greatly offended and said, "Oh no, no this is not ‘punch on the premises’! This is ‘lemonade under the linden tree.’"
Well, I said, I said, "You have a linden tree?"
"Yes," they said, "that is a linden tree, and that is a linden tree, and we call it, ‘lemonade under the linden tree.’"
"Well," I said, "I’ve come to go to church."
"Well, we don’t have church; we’re having lemonade under the linden tree." At 11:00 o’clock on Sunday morning.
Well, I was determined I was going somehow to church. So I made my way to the third one. And I sat there in that church, and with the program they gave me, why, I took a pencil and outlined the preacher’s sermon as he preached up there. His sermon was entitled, "Appropriate Words." And he had three points. Our words ought to be timely, that was the first point; they ought to be truthful, that was the second point; and they ought to be helpful, that was the third point. And when he got to the end of his message, I wrote down here, "He has never mentioned Jesus or the name of God." Then I wrote, "Oops! In his last sentence he named God." He said, "Pray for these gifts, that God may give them to you." And I thought, "Well, hallelujah! He named God at church." Wasn’t that nice? Wasn’t that nice? Yeah, to call the name of God must have been a great compliment to the Lord. Ah!
Well, anyway, the next day I went back. And I had a conference with the minister of the church. So I introduced myself and I said, "I just came to talk to you." I said, "Do you have an evening service?" I knew he didn’t have an evening service. I said, "Do you have an evening service?"
"Oh, no, oh, no, no!"
Well I said, "Why don’t you have an evening service?"
"Well," he said, "we’re a downtown church and you cannot have an evening service in a downtown church." He said, "If we were out in the neighborhood, why, people might come, but not downtown." He sure hadn’t heard about the First Church in Dallas, had he? You come back here tonight. This church is full now. It’ll be fuller tonight and every Sunday night.
"Why don’t you have a night service?"
"No," he said, "we cannot. We’re downtown."
Well I said, "Do you have a mid-week service? Do you have a prayer meeting or any kind of a mid-week service?"
He said, "No we do not."
Well, I said, "Why don’t you?" Now this is a tremendous church. Man, the building cost millions of dollars, down in the heart of Dayton. I said, "Why do you not have a mid-week service?"
"Well," he said, "we are downtown and you cannot have a mid-week service downtown." On most any ordinary Wednesday night here at this church there will be from seven hundred to a thousand to twelve hundred people downtown in this church on Wednesday night, in different things. We’re downtown, "Can’t have a service."
"Well," I said, "I have one other question to ask you. Why don’t you give an invitation? When you get through preaching, why don’t you give an invitation?" For to my amazement they closed out their service also with a collection. Well, I learned how to beat that rap. I tell you, when you go to the church and they close with a collection and you just going from one to the other, I found out that if you don’t put something in that usher will just glare at you just like that. Well, what you do is you fill out the visitor’s card and put the visitor’s card in. And then you don’t have to put in an offering. It saves you that. "How many of you visitors here this morning?" That’s smart! Put in the visitor’s card and the usher will just smile at you. And don’t put in any money. Well I said to him, "Why don’t you give an invitation?"
He said, "Well, an invitation at a church service is Pentecostalism."
I said, "It’s Pentecostalism? What do you mean it is Pentecostal?"
"Well," he said, "to give an invitation at church is just like rolling on the floor like holy rollers. You’re just like screaming in those emotional fantasies. It’s like that gibberish when you’re speaking in unknown tongues. And to give an invitation is Pentecostalism."
Well, I walked away. I can’t believe what my ears hear and what my eyes see. For a minister in the name of Christ [not] to invite people to accept Jesus as Savior is something that is not worthy inside of God’s house. I cannot conceive of it. If an insurance company ran an insurance company like that they’d go broke. If any company in the world didn’t try to sell its products it would go out of business. But in the church we’re not to ask people to accept the Lord as their Savior. That’s why they insisted when I preached last week, "Preacher," they said, "by all means give an invitation on television. Give it on television. Make your sermons so that you’ll have time to present an appeal for Christ on television." And they said, "Because there are practically no people among the hundreds and hundreds of thousands who will be listening on WHIO, there will be practically none who has ever heard an invitation to Christ in his life." Those things are overwhelming to me.
Well anyway, the crusade last week was held in Welcome Stadium. That is a football field in Dayton with a large grandstand west and a large grandstand east on either side. And because the people who run the stadium would not let us on the grass, on the playing field, the pulpit had to be built on this side of the field, and I had to preach across the field to the people in the stands on the western side.
And then the choir and the people who sat on the stands on the eastern side were back of me. And as though that were not handicap enough, in front of me about thirty to fifty feet in front of me were two big towers. They were literally towers. They were big platforms made out of those rods of iron like you’d build a building with. And on those platforms were the television cameras and the men who operated them. And there in that pulpit and the people across the playing field and back of me and those two towers in front of me, I thought, "I cannot imagine, I cannot imagine how God could work in a context like this."
Well, I learned, I am still learning, there were some of the most moving hours in that football field that my heart has ever experienced. It’s been a long time since I have seen so many tears and heard so many sobs unto God. That place was a literal Bethel, a "House of the Lord." God filled it from side to side. And the world of miracle and glory in which we live was simply incomparable.
I could not help but notice how every part of that effort was the First Baptist Church here in Dallas. It was an amazing thing to me as I watched it and listened to it. The preacher, of course, is the pastor of the First Church here in Dallas. The singer was Lee Roy Till, the minister of music of our church. And oh, what an incomparably glorious task did he offer unto God. It was marvelous how Lee Roy did, and our three soloists, our daughter Ann, Martha Branham, and Dan Beam. I never heard such singing in my life. It was like heaven.
And we had the four Lively ones; the four teenagers from our church. David Baker, and David Bolin, and Swanee Hunt, and Carol Edgar, and June Hunt to guide them around. And they sang for the hippies. They got more hippies up there in that place than I knew lived, outside of San Francisco. They’re just everywhere, those hippies. They work with the hippies. They sang for three hundred Catholic nuns; they sang for a one hundred fifty Catholic priests. I don’t mean by putting the priests and nuns with the hippies, I mean they’re just doing everything – everything.
While I was there, they invited me, a dear couple did, invited Mabel Ann, and Lee Roy, and me to go to dinner with them at midnight. Well, that’s unusual for me. So we went to one of those places where you feel your way in through the gloom. And sat down, and when finally my eyes got accustomed to it and I could work on the thing with my bifocals, why, I looked, and I just nearly had a heart attack. Nine dollars, ten dollars, eleven dollars, twelve dollars, which is against my religion to pay that much for a bowl of soup. But our host said, "Why, this is just usual; why, now you enjoy this." So I tried to forget the taste of silver and gold and tried to eat. Well, while we were eating the meal there and just enjoying it together, I heard some singing back of me. And I thought, "Well, that sounds familiar." And I turned around and there were those four Lively ones in that supper club at midnight. And they were doing that all over the city, everywhere. It was just wonderful.
And up on the platform Ralph Neighbors belongs to this church, Wade Freeman belongs to this church, Dr. Charles McLaughlin belongs to this church, and Dr. Ray Roberts, the executive secretary of this state, whose daughter Becky is the leader of our WMU. The whole meeting, from beginning to ending, was a product of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I could, oh; I could just praise God for what the Lord does with His dear people here in this place. And the miraculous of all that God is able to do was just everywhere, everywhere.
That Negro woman, Ethel Waters, she’s very old. You have to help her up and you have to help her down. She said to me, "I weigh three hundred eighty-five pounds and now I’m really slim." She’d lost one hundred fifty pounds. She’s an unusual person.
"Well," I said, "were you reared in a Christian home?"
"No, my parents were never Christians."
"Did they ever go to church?"
"Well how is it you are so glorious a Christian?" And she is, ah!
She said, "I was saved as a little girl, twelve years of age, at a mourners bench in a Nazarene church." And she’s been praising God ever since.
I think one of the most unusual interviews that has ever happened in the history of the world was over WHIO television with a famous athletic star that they brought from Cincinnati to give his testimony. And the man who was interviewing on the station evidently didn’t know why he was there. He just was assigned to interview him. So being a very famous athlete, a world famous one, he was an All-Pro college star, he is an All-Pro present star, and had a gold medal at the world Olympics, and oh, I don’t know what all. I don’t live in that kind of a world, but the sports people are greatly impressed with people like that. Well, he came up there to speak and give his testimony. So this man was interviewing him, and he said, "Why are you here in Dayton?"
"Well," he said, "I’ve come up here to help in a crusade."
And the fellow said, "Where is the crusade?"
And he said, "It’s out here in a football field at Welcome Stadium."
And the interrogator said, "In a football field?"
"Well, why you out there in a football field?"
And this athlete said, "Well, you can get more people to go to a football field than you can to get inside of a church house. There’ll be people who go out there who never go to church."
"Well," said the interviewer, "I guess that’s right. Now," he said, "what are you going to do?"
"Well," he said, "I’m going to give my testimony."
And the interviewer never had heard of a testimony. He said, "You’re going to give your what?"
And the athlete said, "I am going to give my testimony."
"Well," he said, "what is a testimony?"
"Well," he said, "I’m going to talk about how Christ saved me and how I found the Lord."
"Well," said this interviewer, "haven’t you been in church all your life?"
The man said, "Yes", that athlete said, "Yes."
"Well," he said, "what do you mean you found the Lord?"
"Well," he said, "I’ve been going to church all my life but I wasn’t saved." And he said, "Four years ago I had an experience, I had an experience with Jesus. And Jesus came into my heart. And I was saved. And I am here to give my testimony. I am going to tell the people what Jesus has done for me." All that going on at a sports time, at the time when they have the sports broadcast.
Oh, and the things that happened, wonderful and precious things, and the things that happened in that stadium. I, preaching, you know, there and giving the appeal, and down the way and across the field was a man who seemed to be so crippled, kind of arthritic. And a little child was leading him by one hand, and a man was helping him with the other hand, slowly, coming across the field. And when he came close enough for me to see, he was blind, blind and crippled. Somebody had brought him to the services. And when I made the appeal he said, "Won’t somebody lead me to the Lord? I want to give my life to Jesus. I want to take the Lord as my Savior." And they led him across the field to the Savior.
We had more deaf people there than I’ve seen. I don’t know where they all came from. Every night there was a large section of deaf people. And every night they were down there at the front before me, every night. And the signer, the interpreter, would come with them and interpret to them as I would make the appeal. Many, many of those deaf people were saved.
And some of the most incomparable things; stand over there before on the west side, there was a woman with her husband, and her husband made a decision to give his life to Christ. And he stepped out into that aisle and came down and across the field. And his wife, not thinking, but knowing all that it meant and did mean, she just burst into tears and said, "I’ve been praying for him for twenty-five years." And it sort of melted all the people who sat around her, and they came down with many tears. And in the group, overhearing that woman say, "I’ve been praying for my husband twenty-five years," in that little group around, there was a woman who had been separated from her husband three months. And he was on the other side of the stadium, seated back of me on the east side. She came down and across and up to the top of the stadium on the east side. And there they put their lives together in Christ, and came down and stood before me.
There was a woman, who listened on television, and she had been so deeply moved, and with many tears, we had telephone lines, she called the stadium and wanted to come to the counseling room. And they said there is time, and she came rushing, driving the car as rapidly as she could. And when she came in she was dressed as she was there in her home before television, she had on her shorts. She hadn’t planned to go outside at all, but she was weeping so. God had moved her heart so that she came just as she was, and there made a full commitment of her life to the Savior. Over and over and over again.
I have here, night by night, the results of that appeal:
· On Sunday night we had 71 to go to the counseling room and to fill out decisions. There were many, many more every night who came, but this is the number who went to the counseling room. There were 71, of whom were saved and 22 committing their lives to Christ.
· On Monday night we had 137, of whom 62 were saved and 75 other commitments to Christ.
· On Tuesday night we had 148, of whom 66 were saved and 82 committing their lives to Christ.
· On Wednesday night we had 138, of whom 83 were saved and 55 committing their lives in other ways to our Lord.
· On Thursday night, and I cannot imagine last Thursday night. At 5:00 o’clock in the afternoon, Dayton was hit by a storm. It looked like a hurricane to me. The clouds were black, and the wind was strong, and it was boiling rain and hail. I had no idea we could have a service that night, but by head count we had over 6,100 Thursday night. At the end of that storm we had 153 to come, of whom 64 were saved and 89 were committed to the Lord in other ways.
· On Friday night, we had 245 to come, of whom 76 were saved and 169 gave their lives to God in other ways.
· Last night, under Ralph Neighbors, they had 279; last night was youth night, I returned to Dallas to be here for the service this morning, they had 279, of whom 122 were saved and 157 others committing their lives to Christ.
In those brief days of last week there were 1,179 who came forward making decisions for our Lord, of whom 522 were saved and 657 committing their lives to Christ. Now this is our Baptist people, Southern Baptist people, in the greater Dayton area. It was a moving thing from the Holy Spirit.
God is still alive. When I held that meeting in Clarksdale, Mississippi, for the Mississippi Delta, on the last night of that crusade meeting, we had about three hundred who were there at the front. And when I would have the choir to be quiet while I made appeal again, it seemed to me that practically all of those three hundred were quietly sobbing. That is a sound of its own, the quiet sobbing, crying of hundreds of people.
Well, in those appeals in that football stadium, when I would have the choir not to sing, and I would speak, pressing the appeal for Jesus, in the quietness of those moments in between, I could hear people sobbing, sobbing, sobbing. God moving, the Holy Spirit breaking up, plowing fallow ground, in order that the seed of the Word that grows to eternal life might take root and flower and fruit unto God.
All these days, these days, if we have any hope and any future as a people, and as a nation, it lies in our ableness, God helping, inspiring, and leading, to turn our nation heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward. Whether we live or die lies in the imponderables of Almighty God.
Now, I have something to ask of us. We plead with the Lord, "O Lord bless! O Lord give us, bestow upon us." Sometimes I refer to us in our praying as "celestial beggars," "Give me Lord, give me Lord, give me Lord." But how few times do we ever return gratitude and thanksgiving to the Lord for His wonderful remembrances? Publicly, we had a call to prayer in behalf of this Encounter Crusade in Dayton, Ohio; and publicly we asked God for His blessings upon it.
I think publicly, openly, we ought to have another call to prayer to thank God for that unusual and marvelous outpouring of His saving grace. So let’s do it, let’s thank God for His help, for His blessing, for His saving grace. And you men on the platform, you kneel, and you deacons you come and you kneel. And if you would like to join us in this prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude to God before this front row, on either side, to the right and the left, you come and kneel, and thank God with us. Do it, dear people, do it. And the Lord will look upon it and be pleased with the sacrifice and praise of our thanksgiving.
Our Lord we are told in Thy Word, "with thanksgiving, with thanksgiving, to make your requests known unto God" [Philippians 4:6]. Precious Savior, we have not words to say it in syllable or in sentence, our gratitude to Thee for the outpouring of grace and mercy in this Encounter Crusade in Dayton, Ohio. God has blessed it, and in His goodness and mercy our people have been so vastly encouraged. Hundreds have been won to Thee, literally thousands have been encouraged in the faith.
And now, Lord, with thanksgiving may we make request that God will bless the preaching of His Word and the appeal in His name in all of those Southern Baptist churches in the Miami Valley. Ah, Lord, be with those laymen and lay people who have gone up there to witness and testify to Thy love and grace. And be with those evangelists and preachers, some of whom belong to our church, like Dr. Ford. Be with them, Lord, as they preach the gospel, beginning today and in this coming week. And our Lord, bless this dear church.
Oh, O God, reward our wonderful people in their singing, in their testifying, in their praying, in their attendance, in their invitations that others come to know Jesus. Oh, may the fullness and the abounding glory of the saving grace and mercy of Jesus bless our lives, making every day sweeter, finer than the day before. We thank Thee, Lord, for answered prayer and for what God hath done through us, in His precious name, amen.
Thank you dear, dear people.
Now we’re going to sing our invitation hymn, and while we sing it, you, somebody you, to give himself to the Lord; a couple you, to put your life with us in the fellowship of our precious church; a family you, coming together, "Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming this morning." As the Spirit of God shall lay the appeal upon your heart, come, come. Make it now this morning. Where you sit, in the balcony around on either side, where you sit make the decision now, "I am coming. Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God." And in a moment, when we stand to sing, stand up coming. There’s a stairwell on either side at the front and the back, into the aisle and down here to the pastor, "Pastor, here I come, here I am. I decide for Jesus now." And see if God is not able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all that we ask or think [Ephesians 3:20]. Come, and see if God is not good, abounding life in this world and eternal life in the world that is to come. Do it now, make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.