The Ministry of Reconciliation
June 2nd, 1967
2 Corinthians 5:17-20
THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION
1967 SBC Address
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:17-20
And thank you, gracious Dr. Rutledge. I came early; I thought I would have lots of room. Man, I had to elbow my way through the door. And I have been trying to find a place of let down in the service, the presentation, for me to walk up here, but every part of it has been inspired and full of the presence and glory of God. Oh, this is a great night! First time in my life I have ever seen a commissioning service; what these dear people will mean to the kingdom of God. I wonder if I could be permitted to say a word about them, I wonder if you would like to stand up a minute. I know I felt better when I stood up and walked down here to the front. And remain standing for just a second. I would like for Dr. Rutledge to notice how many of his missionaries come from the empire state of Texas. And I would also like to welcome my new fellow citizen, bless her heart. The old boy doesn’t know how long he was married to her; it may seem like two years.
The fellow was up a’preaching away and he was saying, “And all of us were born in sin,” and an old cowpoke got up on the back row and said, “You’re wrong there, parson, because I was born in Texas.” Texas is some place, you’ll learn, where every mole hill is a mountain, and every dry creek is a river, and every hole in the ground is an oil well, and every man is a liar; that’s Texas. Well, it’s been a great night. And in the prayers of these missionaries, may it be God will bless us in this message they have assigned to me.
Well, Dr. [Henry Franklin] Paschall, I thought you had forsaken me; bless you. This reminds me of the prayer meeting crowd in the First Baptist Church of Nashville, Tennessee. I tell you I have been assigned a subject: The Ministry of Reconciliation. The obvious scriptural text would be found in the fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter:
If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
To wit, namely, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation.
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Him who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
[2 Corinthians 5:17-21]
“If any man be in Christ,” not in an ameliorating organization, not in a behavioristic program, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation [2 Corinthians 5:17] . . . and there hath been given unto us the ministry of reconciliation [2 Corinthians 5:18] . . . we pray you therefore in Christ’s stead…as though Christ did beseech you by us . . . be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20], the ministry of reconciliation to God. If a man is reconciled to God, if a man is right with God—first, to be right with God, then he will be right with all of his fellow men in the earth.
This gospel message of redemption, and atonement, and reconciliation, is denied in this modern world. The terrific attacks, theologically and ideologically, against this message is waged on every hand; they confront us boldly, and rudely, and openly. They say, and I quote, “If you have tractors to move mountains, you don’t need faith. If you have penicillin, you don’t need prayer. If you have positive thinking, you don’t need salvation. If you have the state, you don’t need the church. If you have manuals of science, you don’t need the Bible.”
And if bishops do not believe in God, why should anyone else? They say, and I quote, “If there is any God in a clergyman it is because he is a welfare worker. But if clergymen are nothing other than welfare workers, why bother with clergymen? Social workers can do it better.” The only good they see in a church is as a social agency. Then they add, “And if churches are nothing but social agencies, why bother with churches? Government rehabilitation programs can do it better.”
The answer to such a confrontation in this modern day in which we live is found in God and in the Word of this text. The Christian message addresses itself to a far deeper and more fundamental human need; the need for change in the heart, for regeneration in the soul. It is a regenerated man who is able to create a regenerated society. An unregenerate man will never be able to build a regenerate society. Vile men build a vile society. Worldly men build a worldly society. Atheistic men will build an atheistic society. Witness the whole communist world, this Marxian—militaristic men will build a Marxist society; secular men will build a secular, materialistic society; only redeemed men will ever build a Christian society. As our Lord has avowed, the issues of life come from the heart, from the heart. It is useless to salve the pimples on the skin when the trouble is in the bloodstream, in the heart. It is futile to try to change the clothes of the outside of a man when the problem lies with the man in his soul!
O God, give us wisdom. If a man is vile in a hovel, he will be vile in a palace. If a man is a thief in poverty, he will be a thief in affluence. A dirty, lazy bum breaks into a railway freight car and steals a can of tomatoes. Dress him up, send him to Harvard and he’ll steal the entire railway system, and get away with it. All of the laws in the land will not keep a corrupt senator from his corruption, or a corrupt congressman from his corruption, or a banker or a governor from his corruption. But if the governor, and if the senator, and if the congressman is a Christian man, he has no need of the law. As Paul wrote in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to all them that believe,” and in the words of my text, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation” [2 Corinthians 5:17].
This is the heart and substance of the gospel. There are not two gospels; Dr. Pascal, there are not four or five. There is one and only one gospel. In the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, the first three verses, Paul delineated, described minutely the gospel. “My brethren,” he says:
I make known unto you, I declare unto you, I define for you the gospel… wherein you are saved . . .
For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
[1 Corinthians 15:1-3]
This is not a first, “I delivered unto you first of all” [1 Corinthians 15:3], this is not a first in time. It is a first in importance. As there is a great and a cardinal law, so there is a great and a distinctive New Testament revelation, and it is this: the atoning, reconciling, redemptive work of Christ our Lord [1 Corinthians 15:3]. No other truth stands so high. And from it, all of the other revelations of the Book pour out. In the center of the Roman forum was the golden milepost. And from it the Roman roads reached out to the ends of the civilized world. And to it the roads converged from the ends of the earth. This is the heart of the gospel of the Son of God; His atonement for our sins [Romans 5:11], His reconciliation of us to God through His suffering and His blood [Colossians 1:19-20].
Somebody said to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Sir, all of your sermons sound alike.” And the great London Baptist preacher replied, “That’s correct. I take my text anywhere in the Bible and make a beeline to the cross.” Oh, Spurgeon, Truett, Scarborough, we follow in their train. There is no pardon without atonement [Colossians 1:14]. There is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood [Hebrews 9:22]. There is no reconciliation without the payment of debt [Romans 5:10]. Not by His holy and His beautiful life but “by His stripes we are healed” [Isaiah 53:5]. This is the distinctive, determining factor in the Christian faith and in the Christian religion. It differentiates us from all other religions of the earth.
The Christian religion is first, and above all, and primary, and fundamentally, and necessarily, and effectively a religion of redemption [1 Peter 1:18-19], and reconciliation [2 Corinthians 5:18]. It purports to deliver a man’s soul from the power and the bondage of sin [1 Corinthians 15:56-57]. It is not in the first place an ethic, although it is ethical. It is not in the first place a theology, though it has a theology. It is not in the first place reformational, though it has political, and cultural, and social overtones. But it is first and above all a gospel of redemption and atonement [Romans 5:11; Ephesians 1:7]
The sign and the symbol of the Christian church is not a burning bush. It is not a table of stone. It is not a seven branched lampstand. It is not a halo above a submissive head. It is not even a golden crown, but it is a cross; a cross in all of its naked hideousness, as the Roman would have it; a cross in all of its philosophical irrationality, as the Greek would have it; a cross but in all of its glory and power, as Paul preached it.
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
[“Are You Washed In the Blood?” Elisha A. Hoffman, 1878]
This is the gospel of the grace [Ephesians 2:8], and the mercy [Titus 2:5], and the atonement of the Son of God [Romans 5:11; Hebrews 2:17]; a ministry of reconciliation [2 Corinthians 5:18].
And this is our mandate to the world. “There hath been given unto us the ministry of reconciliation,” namely that God was in Christ on that cross, “reconciling the world unto Himself . . . and hath committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation” [2 Corinthians 5:18-19]. Any true church in this world and any true convention of churches, association of churches in this earth will set itself to the preaching of the gospel of redemption [1 Peter 1:18-19]. Our Foreign Mission Board with its two thousand three hundred and beyond missionaries, working in sixty-four countries, baptizing one out of ten members—Dr. Pascal, I cannot begin to achieve that magnificent result. Our Home Mission Board with more than two thousand missionaries—these, their compatriots, working in our cities, working in our mountains, working among marginal groups, language groups, migrant groups, working through the chaplaincy, working in the department of evangelism in Cuba, in Puerto Rico, in Panama—and how desperately is that ministry needed in our homeland. Our missionary frontiers in my lifetime have changed. They used to be in Africa, in China, in the isles of the sea. But the missionary frontier today is down every village street. It crosses every college campus. It is found in every man’s home.
It is like this tragic war in Vietnam. There is no line. It’s fought everywhere; in the swamp, in the highlands, in the jungle, in Saigon. As I stand in our Southern Baptist Zion, in the nation around me, there are one and one-half million more unchurched in America than when we gathered in convocation this time last year in Detroit. As I stand in our Southern Baptist Zion and look northward and eastward to our great cities—oh, oh! this America around me and these vast teeming cities.
In our church a few weeks ago, there spoke an illustrious president of a divinity school from Scotland. And he said that if the erosion in the Church of Scotland the last twenty years continues for the next twenty years, Scotland will be as pagan as it was when Columba left Iona to evangelize it. When did Columba leave Iona to evangelize Scotland? In  AD; and the paganism that Scotland faces is the paganism of England. It is the paganism of Scandinavia. It is the paganism of the American world; it is the paganism that we face in our day and in our generation. And it is found in these great teeming cities!
The third week in July, the Home Mission Board, with our Texas Department of Evangelism, is pouring a quarter of a million dollars and hundreds and hundreds of men into an encounter crusade in Dayton, Ohio, using it as a pilot to see if God will bless it. And if God blesses it in Dayton, we shall attempt it in His grace in the other great cities of the North and of the East. And in that central encounter, they have asked me to preach in Welton Stadium, in a football field.
I said to Billy Graham, “I’m terrified. I’m affrighted. I’m paralyzed with fear—out in a stadium, nothing in front of you but the North Star and the Milky Way.”
And he said to me, “Well, I want you to know that I am terrified too.”
I said, “You?”
He said, “It scares me to death. I’m frightened every time I face one of those tremendous campaigns.”
Well, I said, “Then what do you do?”
He said, “This is what I do. I get people everywhere to pray for me. And around this world,” he said, “there are people in every language under the sun who pray for these crusades.”
I went back to our church. When you turn southward, there are two million people who live on the banks of the Rio Grande River from El Paso to Boca Chica, and not one percent of them is saved. So we went to the lower Rio Grande Valley for a crusade; and they asked me to preach in that central meeting in the municipal auditorium in Harlingen. I stood in the pulpit of our church, and I told them what Billy Graham said: it paralyzed him, too. He was terrified, too. And he said, “I get people to pray for me.” Now, I said, “I’m going down to the lower Rio Grande Valley. I wonder if in this church there will be people who will come down to the front, and fall on their faces, and humble themselves before God, and ask God to baptize us with the Holy Spirit from heaven, as we prepare and enter this encounter in the lower Rio Grande Valley?”
They came. They are a great people. They got on their faces. They cried unto God. The next morning I received a telephone call from Buddy Dial, a famous professional football athlete, and he said to me on the phone, “Pastor, I haven’t been able to sleep. All night long I’ve been awake. I was there in that call and God had said to me that I’m to go down there in that lower Rio Grande Valley, and help you in that encounter.”
He took with him four other world-famed athletes, and they went from school to school, and classroom to classroom, and football stadium to football stadium. They testified to every high school student and every junior high student in the lower Rio Grande Valley. And when I stood up to preach, night after night in that municipal auditorium, you couldn’t get in the place. It was jammed, it was filled; God came down.
And Dr. Rutledge, one half of those hundreds who responded were Latin Americans. There is a vacuum in their life, in their souls; they need God! We have been called of heaven to mediate that marvelous message, “Now, Lord, do it in Dayton. Do it up there.” And if God will bless us there in Dayton, Ohio, in that football stadium, it may be God shall bless us in the other great cities of our North and of our East.
I turn to the golden West. I, every year, make a journey to the West. Our brethren there fight against insufferable odds; my heart and prayers follow them in that work. There came to the parsonage––which is very unusual––there came to a parsonage a young woman, and knocked at the door. Her grandfather was my assistant in the church there in Dallas, and is now in glory. Her father was a preacher, and he also is in glory. And this sweet, beautiful girl married a young minister, and they felt the call to turn to the West. And out there, so desperately needing help, she had come to visit her people in Dallas and to see me—knocked at the door, and I invited her in. And she laid before me the needs of one of these cities in the Northwest, where her young husband was seeking to build a work. And then said to me piteously, “But there is nothing. There is nothing by which we can build. And we thought maybe you and this church would help.” I said to her, “My dear child, our church is burdened and buried beneath an avalanche of requests, and we’ve tried to respond. We’ve tried to respond. I can no longer get my deacons to listen to another appeal. It is an avalanche, and they feel so helpless. I cannot respond. I cannot help.”
She smiled graciously, and apologized for taking my time, and dismissed herself with a “Goodbye, and God bless you,” and closed the front door. Our door is, the front of our house is rather a long way from the sidewalk on the street. And when she closed the door she could no longer contain her heart, and she burst into sobs. And as I stood in the house, I heard that girl cry and sob all the way the long distance down to the sidewalk and into the street.
Oh, what do you do? Where do you turn? What do you say? Is it because we are bankrupt that we cannot help? Is it because we live next to poverty and want and penury ourselves that we cannot help? There must be some thing in us that God must use, that thus far, we have not dedicated unto Him. And that leads me to these concluding words; I have four or five conclusions. As Paul––I tell you, an optimist is a man who thinks a guy is going to quit when he says, “And finally, brethren.” And that’s biblical: Paul says, “Finally,” and he hasn’t started his epistle real good.
There are some great needs for these—for our church, for Dr. Paschall and his church, for every pastor here and his church, every association of churches—in our Southern Baptist Zions. One: we need, we need to remember that our humanity, our world, our people are inextricably bound together. We cannot escape it.
I lived in Amarillo when I was a boy; I went to school in Amarillo. I was in Amarillo when the oil boom came to the Texas Panhandle, and those tall buildings—to me they were fantastic—those tall buildings were built in the queen city of the plains. And in the middle of that oil boom something happened. On the other side of the Santa Fe railroad tracks was a little Mexican community. Nobody paid any attention to it, nobody was even sensitive to its presence. But in the middle of that oil boom, in the middle of the furious growing of Amarillo, there broke out a smallpox epidemic in that Mexican community on the other side, the wrong side of the railroad tracks. And that smallpox epidemic swept through Amarillo like a prairie fire, and the United States government came down to Amarillo and shut down that city. There was not a train allowed to enter it or to leave it. There wasn’t a car, a bus, a truck, there was no person allowed to leave or to enter it. And when the United States government lifted that ban Amarillo was dead. And it took a full generation for it to recover its thrust and its march toward affluence.
I never heard of Vietnam, a swamp somewhere south of Red China; but now it seems to me that the whole earth is Vietnam. I never heard of the Viet Cong. And I’m beginning now that sorrowful journey that I knew in World War II and in the Korean War, knocking at the door of a home, “The boy has found an early grave in the jungles, or in the highlands, or in the swamps of Vietnam.” I cannot disassociate myself from the families and the peoples of the world. We are one, to live or to die, whether we choose or no, God help us to remember.
A second tremendous need: we need and that note has been sounded tonight. Dr. Sullivan did it. Other of our leaders are doing it, and we need to do it: we need the spirit of missionary conquest—victory. “God is with us,” Immanuel, that is His name [Matthew 1:23].
In 1908 there was held a World Mission Conference in Northfield, Massachusetts, presided over by John R. Mott and Robert E. Spear. And this great caption above that platform read like this, “The evangelization of the world in our generation.” Every college campus had its aggressive student volunteer band. Such a motto like that today in our generation is unthinkable and inconceivable. Why? Because we have lost the spirit of missionary conquest! We act like a cowed and defeated band instead of the victorious Christians who with eleven men faced the pagan Greco-Roman world. I feel like the cry of the mystic English poet William Blake,
Bring me my bow of burning gold;
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: oh clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
We shall not cease from battle strife,
Nor shall the sword sleep in our hands
Till we have built Jerusalem
In this fair and pleasant land
[adapted from “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time,” W. Blake, 1808]
That’s a good place to quit, but I’m not through. We haven’t got anything to do but to waste our time till we come back here in the morning. So let’s just listen again.
And we need—and we need that spirit of witnessing, and praying, and giving together. If I could, I would lead our wonderful church to subsidize the missionary outreach of this whole world. But I am one, an infinitesimal before so great a sea. Somehow we must join hands; we must combine, we must share. We must do it together, we have no other choice; we must!
In one of these visits that I made to a western city, I was walking one evening before speaking that night, and I found a little crackerbox of a church house. It looked like a doll church house to me. I tried the door, and it was open; I walked inside. My hand could touch the ceiling, I could almost touch the walls from side to side; it was the smallest little doll church I ever saw. And typically, no sign on it; and I wondered, “Well what kind of a church is this?” I could have known. And I saw on the wall a large, large presentation. So I walked over to the wall and looked at it. It was a week of prayer. And there, Dr. Rutledge, were the pictures of our missionaries, and the announcement of the stated services of intercession and an offering for their support. Well, when I looked at the thing I at first thought, “How little, how small.” And then, looking at those missionaries and thinking what it meant, I began to think, “How big, how great, how tall, how high, how deep, how broad, how round the whole world; this is our association of churches in the earth, great congregations, numbering a handful, great visions, so small but God is in it.
And may I add before I close, I think in our dedication, in our praying, in our commitment, in our giving, I think by the Word of God that we have a right, a right to expect that God will bless our effort. And from the days of John the Baptist, the first Baptist preacher until now, “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” [Matthew 11:12]. We have a right, I think, when we dedicate ourselves to this assignment to expect that God will bless it. Dr. Rutledge, in the last century you had a great, and an eloquent, and a gifted predecessor. His name was Dr. I. T. Tichenor.
In his day, appeal was made to send missionaries to the wilderness of Texas. Oh, it was unthinkable, that wild outreach, Texas! Why, some people go from bad to worse and others from worse to Texas. Oh! A lieutenant was on maneuvers out there a week or two ago, and he wrote back and said to his wife, “Wife, if this is what we’re fighting for I’m ready to quit right now,” Texas!
But I. T. Tichenor, the executive secretary of the Home Mission Board, set himself to pouring money and men and missionaries into that wild wilderness of Texas. And today, I cannot help but say it—and today Texas is a trophy and a tribute to the vision and dedication of our Home Mission Board. I grew up long time ago in West Texas and was converted and listened to the preaching of those first missionaries. Oh, oh! I don’t mean in the last century, I mean in the early 1900’s. I don’t want you to think I’m older than I really am, and that’s enough!
And when I was a boy, one of those old pioneer preachers out there in West Texas told a story. He said that in Georgia there was a dear couple who had one boy, and they were saving up money for the education of that son. But he was prodigal, and wayward, and instead of going to school he left home, and they knew not where he went. And that couple, in a church in Georgia heard I. T. Tichenor, the executive secretary of the Home Mission Board, make an appeal for Texas. And the couple said, “We have this money for the boy, but he’s wayward and gone; we know not where he is. We shall give it for the building of a church in Texas.”
And this old pioneer preacher said, “Upon a day, upon a night, there walked down the streets of a West Texas town a wayward and a prodigal boy. He saw the lights on in a little church. He heard the singing and he remembered Georgia, and mama, and father, and home. And the boy walked in the door, and sat down in the service. And that night,” the old pioneer preacher said, “that boy was saved.” That’s a typical story I used to hear when I was a boy, listening to those old-time preachers.
Man, we’ll not lose it. The investment we make in this world, in this work, will come back to us ten thousand times as a church, as a denomination, and God shall write it over your name in glory. What a day to be alive, that God should have matched our souls with a time like this! O God, may we rise up.
Stir me, O stir me, Lord, I care not how,
But stir my heart in passion for the world.
Stir me to give, to go, but most of all to pray;
Stir till thy blood-red banner be unfurled
O’er lands that still in deepest darkness lie,
O’er plains where no cross is lifted high.
Stir me, o stir me, Lord! Thy heart was stirred
By love’s intensest fire, till thou didst give
Thine only Son, Thy best beloved One,
E’en to the dreadful cross, that I might live;
Stir me, o stir me, Lord, that I might give myself so to Thee
That Thou canst give Thyself again through me.
[“Stir Me,” Mrs. Albert Head]
Bless you, Dr. Rutledge. Bless you missionary appointees. Bless us, the association of churches who comprise the bulwark of prayer, and intercession, and giving of our glorious, marching, conquesting, victorious Southern Baptist Convention.
MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION
I. The gospel of reconciliation
Modern denial for the need of such a gospel
answer of God is the text
The message of the gospel addresses itself to a far deeper, more fundamental
need – change in the heart, regeneration in the soul
Unregenerate man cannot build a regenerate society
Out of the heart are the issues of life
If in Christ, there is no need for the law (Romans
10:4, 2 Corinthians 5:17)
heart and substance of the gospel
There is only one gospel(1 Corinthians 15:1-3)
No other truth stands so high
There is no pardon without atonement, no remission of sins without shedding of
religions is first and above all a religion of redemption and reconciliation
The symbol of the church is a cross, in all of its naked hideousness
Hymn, “Are You Washed in the Blood?”
II. Our message of reconciliation to the
true church will set itself to the preaching of the gospel
Our Foreign and Home Mission Boards
mission frontier has changed – it is down every village street
face a pagan world
Erosion of the Church of Scotland
and a half million more unchurched in U.S. than when we met last
look to the North and East
a. Dayton, Ohio crusade
We look to the South – two million along bank of Rio Grande
The golden West – our brethren fight against insufferable odds
remembrance of the interdependence of all humanity
Amarillo oil boom; Mexican community across Santa Fe railroad
The small world today
The spirit of missionary conquest
World Mission Conference, 1908
Poem, “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time”
sharing of the missionary endeavor
Far west, little doll-house of a church – offerings and intercessions for
We have a right to expect the blessing of God upon our dedication(Matthew 11:12)
Dr. I. T. Tichenor
Poem, “Stir Me”