Baptists, Riots, and Revolutions
September 15th, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
BAPTISTS, RIOTS AND REVOLUTIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-15-68 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Baptists, Riots and Revolutions. As a background for the message but not as a text to be expounded, in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, verses 5 and 6:
But certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, gathered a company, and set all the city in an uproar … crying,
These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also—
which is the introduction to a riot in the city of Thessalonica [Acts 17:13].
All of us who live in this present generation, if you read a newspaper or a magazine, if you listen to a commentator, all of us are cognizant of the tremendous ferment that is in the entire world, not just in America, not just in Europe, not just in the Orient; it is in South America, it is around the earth: and it becomes increasingly violent.
About two weeks ago I was in Santiago, the capital of Chile, and was speaking at our seminary and our training school in Santiago. It was one of the most delightful experiences of my life because when I had spoken they said to continue. And when I continued they said to keep on. And I spoke for two hours; one of the finest convocations I ever shared in. And when I got through, one of the young men stood up and in behalf of the student group expressed appreciation for my coming and for the address. And he closed it saying something that made everybody laugh. And the translator, the interpreter wouldn’t interpret it. “Well,” I said, “now listen, I want to know what that young fellow said that made everybody laugh so.”
“Well,” he said, “I don’t know whether you would like to hear it or not.”
“Well”, I said, “no matter what he said, what did he say? I want to hear it.”
“Well,” the interpreter said to me, “the young fellow, after he had expressed his words of appreciation for your coming, ended it like this. He said ‘That man from America who has just spoken to us has more life and zeal than any old man I have ever heard in my life.’” He’s not dead yet is he?
Anyway, at the end of the convocation, the president of the seminary asked the young men if they would like to ask any questions. They were full of them. And among them stood up one of the most brilliant young fellows I ever visited with. After it was over I spent a long time with him. He impressed me. He is the president of the Baptist Young People’s Convention in Chile and is a young theologue.
He stood up and said, “I want to ask the visitor from America what our place should be in this modern revolution in which our lives have been cast.” And the fellow was so conversant with history that he went back hundreds of years, and briefly summarizing what he said, he asked this, “In this day of the rebellion of the serfs in Germany our Baptist people worked with and for the serfs. In the days of the Cromwellion rebellion against the tyranny of King Charles I of Great Britain our Baptist people fought in the armies of Cromwell.”
He said, “In the days of the Revolution of the colonies against England, the Baptist chaplains and people marched and fought in the armies of George Washington. Now,” he said, “we today live in an era of ferment and revolution. What should our part be as prophets of God and spokesmen for the Lord in this day in which we live and in this day of revolution?”
Well, I’d submit it to anybody. That’s a good question. What part should a Baptist minister and what part should our Baptist people play in the changing times in which we live and in the revolution into which our generation has been plunged? Now, there are revolutions that have blessed humanity. As I hold God’s Book in my hand, from the beginning of it, to the end of it, I have a record of riots and revolutions. When the Lord God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and sent him down to Egypt, God commissioned him to raise up His Hebrew people in rebellion against Pharaoh and to lead them out into the Promised Land; a revolutionary trek [Exodus 3:1-2, 9-10].
When I turn the pages of God’s Book and follow the story of the founding of the churches in the Greco Mediterranean world, every page almost is a recounting of some kind of a violent outburst. Wherever Paul preached, with the exception of the university city of Athens, wherever Paul preached there was riot, there was persecution. He was stoned. He was beat. He was imprisoned [2 Corinthians 11:23-25]. Finally, of course, he was beheaded. There are revolutions that are good. They have blessed mankind.
Outside of the Bible in the secular political history of the world, some of the greatest blessings that we enjoy today have been won for us by men who have fought in revolutions. The American revolutionary overthrow of the tyrannical yoke of England, under General George Washington, was a blessing to our country. My forefathers came to Texas in the 1820s, and they shared through those wars, especially the Texas Revolutionary War against Old Mexico. And to us and their children, that revolution and that war has been a blessing.
But as we recount in history and in God’s Word the ferment and the revolutionary risings of our people, at the same time we are not oblivious or blind to the fact, the patent fact, that so much of riot and revolution, especially that that we know today, is a curse to humanity. There is a communist infiltration of violence and crime and murder that is found and felt through every nation south of our border, through Central America, through South America.
In Bolivia, where Che Guevara was slain––by the way, it was their purpose, under Fidel Castro––it was their purpose to seize that backward untutored, undeveloped land of Bolivia which is in the heart of the South American continent and to use it a base for revolution throughout the South Americas. In that country of Bolivia, I talked to a man who intimately knew the present communist recruiter in Bolivia. They are trying again to raise a guerilla army that was dispersed when Che Guevara was slain. I talked to that man and he said, “Outside of a few intellectuals in the university, the communist movement in Bolivia is full of bandits and criminals and gangsters.”
As I walked down the streets of Santiago, Chile, half a dozen times I was stopped by men who were asking for petitions addressed to the Pope of the Roman church in the Vatican in Rome. What had happened was the Sunday before I arrived a certain group of recalcitrant priests and nuns had seized the cathedral and had held it for days in order to bring to the Roman Church their grievances in the lack of reform that ministers to the poor of Chile. But in that movement, which to me would be altogether acceptable and in order, if a group of devout priests and nuns––and I talked with some of them––if a group of devout members of the holy orders of the Roman church felt that the church needed to be cognizant and sensitive to the poor around them and to minister to their needs, it would be commendable, I would think. But the tragedy of the movement is––and it was so violently noticeable in the seizing of that cathedral––when the communists find anywhere, any group that is seeking to better itself as opposed to the older order, they infiltrate it. And that had happened in Santiago. The communists had infiltrated even the church, and the part of that seizing of the cathedral was blasphemous. They wrote signs inside the cathedral blaspheming the Lord and the church.
As you know, in Guatemala there was assassinated by these communists an American ambassador; the first time in American history that an ambassador had been killed. I was in Rio at that time. And the missionaries in Brazil were in deep grief and mourning over the assassination of Gordon Mein. In 1950 when I spoke at our seminary in Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco, the man who presided over the chapel service was Dr. John Mein. He had two illustrious sons. One was named Gordon, who became the ambassador to Brazil and to Guatemala, and the other was named David. David Mein took me to his mother’s grave and talked to me of the sadness in his heart in the loss of his mother. David Mein is now the president of the seminary in Recife, upon the death of his father, Dr. John Mein. But the assassination of Gordon Mein by the communists in Guatemala brought great grief to the missionary community in Brazil. They had known him for the years of his life, and he had been our finest American leader and representative in Brazil when the communist sought to take over that nation and almost did just a few years ago.
In the seminary and training school at Rio, one of our deacons, Orville Rogers, one of our deacons had sent the missionaries the money to translate a book that I had written, The Bible for Today’s World, into Portuguese. And he also had sent the money to give each seminary student and each training school girl a copy of that book. And when I had finished speaking there, one of the girls stood up and asked me to bear back to America, to you and to our wonderful deacon, Orville Rogers, their gratitude for what he had done in translating the book and in giving each student a copy of it. So, after I had delivered my message, all of those students came by and wanted me to autograph it. And that girl came by and handed me her book. And as I was writing in the book, the interpreter standing by my side whispered into my ear and said, “The girl whose book you are autographing, just a few days ago, her father who was a pastor in the interior of the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, her father was assassinated in front of his church.”
I mentioned these things just to point out to us poignantly, sorrowfully, that in the revolution that [is] now confronting the world, our Baptist people are involved, and our Baptist people are also laying down their lives. But as we look at the movement of this greatest challenge and darkest that Christendom has ever faced, we are not oblivious to the stark and startling fact that we have a revolution now going on in the United States of America. And it has a visage that is dark and ominous and full of dreadful foreboding for us and for our people.
For example, the first day of September I sat in the hotel lobby in Rio and read a newspaper published in Rio in English. And the article was captioned with a black headline concerning us. And as I read the article I copied down five or six of the things that were written in it. One––and I am quoting from that article––
- “If you live in the United States and there are one hundred people in your block, two of you will be murdered, raped, robbed, or beaten this coming year.”
- Another one: “Since 1960 there has been increase of 89 percent in violent crime in the United States.”
- Another one, “Seventy-six policemen were killed, murdered, last year in the United States of America.”
- Another one: “A total of 59,015 people were murdered in the United States from 1962 to 1967.”
- Another one: “Seven thousand six hundred American citizens were shot to death last year, 1967.”
- Then it continued: “4,400 American citizens were stabbed, clubbed, and beaten to death in 1967.”
- And then to my amazement, the last paragraph in the article said, “Texas recorded the greatest number of murders in that period from 1962 to 1967, 5,104.”
Can you imagine the image of our American nation when people abroad read such statistics as that? They look upon us as brutal, and barbaric, and boorish, and murderers, and violent. And though I wasn’t here, from what I can read in the repercussions of the television of our Democratic National Convention, I would suppose that people of other lands would have cause to think America as a nation of riot, and violence, and bloodshed. All of which is but a part of the observation that in this day in which our life and lot have been cast, in this day we live in a worldwide confrontation. And we live in a world of riot and revolution.
What would you say to that young fellow, just a student? What would you say to that young theologue who stood up in the seminary in Santiago and said, “We live in a day of revolution, and we are to be the prophets of God and the spokesmen of the Lord. What shall be our part and our place in this revolution?” What would you say?
This is what I think. I have not gone through the experiences that I share with you now when he asked me the question. But the things that I cipher are but affirmations of the spirit of the answer I made to the young man. Baptists have always been identified with the people. We are a people’s church. We always have been. As long as there are Baptists, they will be identified with the people. Our Lord was: “The common people heard Him gladly” [Mark 12:37]. And wherever there is poverty, or ignorance, or oppression, or injustice, there our Baptist people ought to be delivering the message of God. We have been; we are now. And I think as long as we shall continue to exist as a testimony to our Lord, we will always be on the side of the people, whether they be the serfs of Germany, or whether they be the roundheads of Cromwell, or whether they be in the revolutionary army of General Washington. We are that way. We are a people’s church.
Now in this revolution that we face and in which God has cast our lives, what is to be our part? As I said, there are revolutions that curse and damn and destroy; revolutions that are violent, revolutions of murder and crime, revolutions of pillage and destruction. In those violent confrontations our people draw back in horror, never, never: but there are great confrontations that our people ought to make. And I cite two of them. One: we ought to be in the marketplace and on the street and in the public inviting to godliness and to Christ-likeness and to salvation and hope in God. Let me show you. I preached in Buenos Aires at the Once Baptist Church and was introduced to one of the finest looking young pastors I ever saw, a handsome, young Argentine. I asked about him. I found out he had a PhD from one of the great universities of America. He had a medical degree, a doctor’s degree in medicine from one of the great medical schools in America. He had a doctor’s degree in psychiatry from one of the great psychiatric schools in America. He had a theological degree.
When he had finished his long and intensive course of training in America, he was invited by the universities and by clinics to stay in America at a fabulous salary. He returned to his native Argentina and had accepted the pastorate of that Once Baptist church, which was unable to pay him as a minister ought to be supported, trained and educated like that. So he has a psychiatrical practice outside the church, while he is the minister and preacher of the congregation inside. As I say, he impressed me greatly. He is a handsome young fellow and brilliant and had poured his life into the building up of that congregation. And God has blessed him, doing it for the love of God, when he could have been so affluent beyond the ministry.
The next day I was in the apartment of one of our sweetest, noblest missionaries in our seminary in Buenos Aires. Her father had founded the seminary. Her grandfather was Dr. Bagley who began our work in Brazil. So, I mentioned to her, I said, “Last night I preached in the Onse Baptist church, and I have never seen a young minister who impressed me like Dr. Daniel Tinajo, that pastor.” And she said to me, “Did you know that my mother was at the marketplace” and you understand what I mean by the marketplace. You’ve been in Old Mexico––all those countries; those marketplaces where the poor people mostly mingle, and buy, and get groceries and necessities for the day; the marketplace. There was a young mother in the marketplace with a little tiny boy, and she said to me, “My mother won that young mother to the Lord in the marketplace, and she is the mother of Dr. Daniel Tinajo. And that little child is the brilliant young minister that you saw last night.”
That’s the kind of confrontation, public, in the marketplace, that graces and blesses our Baptist witness. And beside that personal witness, that open and public testimony, there is the parade and the demonstration—when oh how different—in the hands of God and in the hands of our devout people. As most of you know, I did not attend our Baptist World Congress in Rio de Janeiro. I read of it as you did and, of course, read where the last night of that congress Billy Graham brought the concluding message. It was held in the Maracanӓ, that enormous football stadium. They call it football. We call it soccer. It holds, it seats one hundred and twenty thousand people, one of the largest stadiums in the world.
So in reading of the congress in Rio, I read where Billy Graham had filled that Maracanӓ the last session of the congress. Well, I thought nothing of that. If Billy Graham were in Afghanistan, or Timbuktu, or Kalamazoo, or anywhere you place him, Billy Graham will fill the largest stadium in any city. But what I didn’t know was this. Before the congress met in Rio, those Brazilian Baptists had done it before. On the thirtieth day in January of 1965, Brazil and her Baptist people launched a national evangelistic crusade.
And on the thirtieth day of January 1965, on Saturday, thirty-five thousand of them, all of them, had marched through the streets of Rio, paraded through the streets of Rio with signs and banners exalting our Lord. And when they came to the central square at which they proposed to have their meeting, they had gathered more than one hundred thousand Brazilians in Rio. I saw pictures of the sea of faces, and there they preached the gospel. The next day, the thirty-first day of January in 1965, that afternoon they gathered in the Maracanӓ and they had one hundred and sixty thousand people in that vast stadium. Not only the one hundred and twenty thousand that can be seated around, but they filled the playing field and every available space. And Reuben Lopez, the pastor of the Villa Marianna Baptist Church in Sao Paulo brought the message. And when the year was done, when the year was done, one hundred thousand converts had been laid trophies of grace at the feet of our Lord. And they had organized three hundred new Baptist churches throughout the nation. That’s the kind of revolution our people are engaged in.
That’s the kind of public confrontation to which our ministers and our missionaries are dedicated. And that is the kind of a revolution the world needs today; one that lifts up a people, heavenward, God-ward, Christ-ward. And that’s the revolution in which all of us have a dedicated part today.
If you have listened on television or on radio and you haven’t given your heart to Jesus, will you do it now? In the bedroom, in the living room, wherever you are, bow your head and give your heart and your life to the blessed Jesus. And in the throng in this First Baptist auditorium this morning, in the balcony round, a family you, a couple you, one somebody you, there is a stairwell at the front, at the back, and on either side. Come, there is time and to spare. And the press of people on this lower floor, a family you, a couple you, or one somebody you, while we sing the song of appeal, come. Make it now. Make it this morning. “Pastor, this is my wife. These are our children. All of us are coming today,” or just you. In a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. And God bless you and angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.