The Christian Community
November 17th, 1968 @ 8:15 AM
THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 2:1, 41-42, 46-47
11-17-68 8:15 a.m.
Now the sermon today is like a chain, and I want you to follow it; to leave off a piece of it, you are going to miss the whole message. This part belongs to this part, and leads up to the next part. And the title of the sermon is The Christian Community: the fellowship of God’s people.
The second chapter of the Book of Acts is the story of the empowering of the church. And it starts off with a verse about the community, the fellowship, “And when the Day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” [Acts 2:1]. Now it ends in the same note of community love and fellowship as R. B. Clem prayed in his prayer. Verse 41:
Then they that gladly received the word preached by Simon Peter were baptized: and the same day there were added to the church about three thousand souls.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Well, it’s a happy picture, isn’t it? A sweet one. Now let’s begin. There is a basic need in human life, such as food, such as water, such as rest, such as breath—there is a basic need in human life for companionship and for fellowship. And if you will ultimately trace that initial beginning of such a need you will find it in God Himself. Why God created Adam, the first man [Genesis 1:26-27], why the Lord created the human race was for communion and fellowship; someone who could think God’s thoughts after Him; someone who could love God and talk to God and respond to God.
Now the Lord, the Bible says, now the Lord created the heavens and the earth [Genesis 1:1]. And there are stars innumerable, there are suns and planets, there are mountains and oceans; but stars and planets and mountains and oceans can’t think God’s thoughts, or love God, or respond to God, or praise God out of a living soul.
God created the man [Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7], for companionship and fellowship, for communion. It was sin, of course, that separated in between, but until the transgression God walked with Adam [Genesis 2:8] and Adam walked with God in the beautiful garden of Eden [Genesis 2:17; 3:1-6, 22-24].
All right, the next: this is the arrangement of God for the human race. In Psalm 68 the Lord says, “God setteth the solitary in families” [Psalm 68:6]. There is no child born without mother and father somewhere, and it is the will of God that we be together in families, mother, and father, and little baby, and the circle of the home. You don’t go anywhere in this earth, in the farthest desert, or in the densest jungle that you don’t see whatever kind of culture or life or civilization, but that you see the people clustered together in family groups. This is the will of God for the human race. We are to gather. “God setteth the solitary in families [Psalm 68:6].”
Now the third: outside of that community and outside of that fellowship there is no value in existence but the value of existence, itself is found in that community. I can easily illustrate that. Suppose you were the only one left in this earth and you were in New York City and you walk through the streets of that great city. All of those towering buildings are yours. All of the billions of dollars in the banks is yours. The whole vast accumulated fortunes of the centuries of building here in the New World, all of it is yours. But I could not imagine the more worthless kind of an existence than to walk up and down the streets of New York City and saying, “This is mine, this is mine and that is mine” and nobody there but you. I am just illustrating to you. It is the community that makes existence of value, and it is the personal relationships in life that sweeten and gladden and rejoice the soul.
All right, we are coming now to our second principle, this chain I see. We are going along with it. You think along with me. There is also another principle in human life which is this: there is a principal of acceptance and rejection, of inclusion and exclusion. You will find it, for example, in your human anatomy, in the body, in life, and life is impossible without it. In our physical anatomies, in the metabolism of life there is acceptance, assimilation. We eat food and we drink water. But there is also rejection and exclusion. If we are not able to exclude germs and harmful bacteria, we are finally sick and we die.
Now that same principle also obtains in the social order just as it does in your physical body, that principal of acceptance and rejection, of inclusion and exclusion. There are people who band together for great productive purposes. Maybe they are manufacturing machinery, or they are running a hospital, or they have a store, or they are plowing land, and they are working for a productive end. But there is also in society criminal outrage, and the only way that government, or life, or the social order can exist is by the separation, and the exclusion, and the incarceration of those who do violence and who are destructive.
That same principle also you will find in our philosophical attitudes. There ought to be in us, in our attitudes, there ought to be some great broad inclusivenesses, such as our sympathies; our sympathies for all mankind, and for human need wherever it is found, and the preaching of the gospel for the souls for whom Christ died. Our sympathies, our message ought to be as broad as the world is broad. But at the same time there ought to be a narrowness about our philosophical attitudes that are confined as narrow as truth is: the rejection of error and heresy.
Now we are going along, thinking it through. When we look at God’s people in the earth, you and I and our church, we find those things obtaining, all of them in us. There is a mingling of our people in the earth, and that is the will of God. For example, the Lord Jesus prayed in His high priestly prayer in John 17:15, the Lord Jesus prayed saying, “I pray not that they be taken out of the world,” His disciples, “I just pray that You keep them from the evil one. I pray not that they be taken out of the world.”
No, God set us in it. Sometimes He would say we are like a light set on a lampstand, or like a city set on a hill, or like salt that savors. God set us here in the earth and we mingle in the earth.
One of the most unusual passages you will find in the Bible is in the fifth chapter of the [first] Corinthian letter. Paul wrote a letter over there to those people in Corinth saying, “Do not associate with fornicators, and idolaters, and blasphemers” [1 Corinthians 5:9-10]. So they wrote back to the apostle Paul who was over there in Ephesus, they wrote back to the apostle Paul and said, “Why, every time we go down the street we meet an idolater. And every time we do business we do business with people who blaspheme the name of Jesus. Now how is it we are going to live in this earth and not associate with idolaters and blasphemers and sinners?”
So Paul wrote back in that fifth chapter of the [first] Corinthian letter; Paul wrote back and he said,
I did not mean, I did not mean that you were not to have contact with idolaters, and blasphemers, and sinners, for then you would have to go out of the world. You would have to die. You would have to escape this planet. But I was writing to you that in the fellowship of the church there ought not to be the breaking of bread with idolaters, and blasphemers, and open and public and known sinners.
[1 Corinthians 5:10-11]
We’re in this world, and the Lord sent us here for that great purpose, that we might witness; that is your commission to preach the gospel to every creature [Matthew 28:19-20]. But at the same time that other tremendous principle also operates, the principle of exclusion and rejection. We may be in the world, but as the Bible so carefully phrases it, we are not to be of the world [John 17:16]. There is to be a difference, a separation, an exclusion. You see that in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Acts when Paul separated the disciples in Corinth [Acts 18:6]. You see it also in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Acts when the Bible tells the story of how the apostle Paul separated the disciples of Christ, the Christian people, into a fellowship of their own [Acts 19:9].
You see that in the word of Paul in the sixth chapter of the second Corinthian letter. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” [2 Corinthians 6:14]. If you marry, you are to marry only in the Lord; and in the close friendships and associations that you make, you are to make them, if they tie you together, you are to make them in Christ.
And you see that also in the missionary strategist. For these years I have watched and listened to these missionaries who work in difficult lands. Why, I heard a missionary say one time, he is mistaken in it, but I heard a missionary say one time, “I do not know of a single Mohammedan woman in the world that has been won to Christ.” Well, the difficulty that arises in the preaching of the gospel in heathen lands, where there are no Christians, the tremendous difficulties a missionary faces is this: if one is a convert the convert may be slain. The family will slay. The community will slay; sometimes the religion itself is blessed, they think, in slaying. So, I have listened to some of these missionaries as they say, “The only hope that we have in spreading the gospel and in asking God’s blessings upon our ministry is the creation of a Christian community, where we can be together, where we can have fellowship with one another.”
And when they come out of heathenism or out of paganism or out of unbelief, they also come into a wonderful fellowship and a glorious communion. And if I had opportunity this morning, I would tell you of one of those Christian communities that I have visited that is created in the midst of a land that violently rejects the Lord Jesus Christ.
All right, now we are going to apply this to us. We also live in a floodtide and in a world of materialism and secularism. And as I look, and as I read, and once in awhile if I spend a minute before a television, the values of our secular and material world are anything but Christian; anything. Their values are not Christian. Their codes of morality are not Christian.
I had some of these educators talking to me within these last few days. They are beginning now to build dormitories where young men and young women live together in the dormitories on state university campuses. Well, I say the promiscuity of young people leads to disastrous things in the soul, and in the heart, and in the life, and in the building of the home. But the new morality and the new psychologist says not so. For how are young people really going to know whether they really like one another if they don’t live in those intimacies? And how are they going to enter into all of those facets that concern the things of the building of a home if they don’t have opportunity really to get acquainted with one another?
So the society is becoming open. There is nothing prohibited. There is nothing denied. And if you can believe these reports that they write in these magazines and in some of these books, the girl who is a virgin is a freak nowadays and the boy who is not fully experienced in promiscuity is a strange creature. This is the new morality.
And, my dear people, things of a secular nature do not have a tendency to go this far and no further, but they feed on themselves. When you lose this principle, and you throw away this standard, and you turn aside from this page of God’s Word in God’s Book, it isn’t long until the whole fabric of the social order has disintegrated and you don’t recognize it. The only thing left to look at will be the ruin of a great empire like Rome, or the fall of a great civilization like Babylon. Now we live in that kind of a world.
What shall we do? This is what we shall do. With God’s help we shall build in this secular and material world, we shall build a Christian community. We shall build a Christian fellowship. We are going to build homes. What kind of homes? We shall build Christian homes. We are going to raise our young. What kind of young? We are going to raise Christian young.
And for that purpose, our church must dedicate itself to the creation of a marvelous community, a Christian fellowship and communion. You don’t need, sweet girl, you don’t need to find a boyfriend at a bar or at a drinking club or at a house where they gather together for unspeakable promiscuities. You don’t need to find your friends there. Come down here with us and meet a wonderful Christian boy. Or young fellow, you don’t have to go out on a parked lane or in the middle of the night in a compromised position and place to meet a wonderful sweet girl. Come down here with us and meet a glorious Christian girl.
And in that fellowship and in that community and in that communion, we may be in the world; go to school in it, work in it, associate in it. But in our spirits, in our love, and in our life, and in our dedication we are not a part of it. We are Christians in a dark day.
Now to implement that, that’s why in the church here there ought to be the finest ministries and programs, better than the world could ever offer. I have always said that if God’s people would give themselves to it, there is no joy and no ecstasy; there is no happiness; there is no gladness; there is no fullness of life, and glory, and spirit as God has made possible for us in the church right down here.
So in the implementation of that we are going to try to get our youngsters together in Christ in the church. We are going to try to encourage our teenagers to find their friends, to fall in love, to marry here in the church. We are going to try to encourage our young marrieds to build their homes in the fellowship of the church. And we are going to try to encourage our adult men and women to find their social life and to make their close friends in the association and in the communion and in the fellowship of the church. Why, I don’t need to go to some off-colored entertainment. I have the best time in the world down here. Nor do I need time to be employed like the devil’s workshop in idleness. I love coming down here. “I was glad,” you just read, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go up to the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1]. This is where we have a wonderful time, a glorious time.
Now I meant to expatiate a whole lot on some of the problems that that arises. For example, we have got so many teenagers here they can’t ever use their little place over there that we built, that hamburger joint, that rectangle. They can’t use that over there any longer, we’ve got so many of them.
Well, we’ve got two problems then. We can solve it either way. First, let’s cut out these teenagers that come down here to the church. There are too many of them. Let’s cut them out. Let’s go back to the days when that rectangle would take care of them all. Well, that will solve it. Or, there’s another solution: let’s expand that thing over there for another acre of them. Why not? Why not?
Now I want to say something officially from my heart. I’ve already written my “Pastors Pen” for next week. I want us to start that parking building over there yesterday, yesterday. Let’s start digging. Let’s start making dirt fly. Let’s start building that. We’ve got all the property. Let’s start building that self-parking building tomorrow, yesterday. Let’s do it on Sunday. The ox is in the ditch [Luke 14:5]. I think God would forgive us. Yeah, I think He would. I think He would.
And on top of that building, when we get to the sixth floor, where it enmeshes there with our brick building, and where enmeshes there with our Veal building, let’s build three more floors and expand these ministries now. Let’s do it now. Let’s do it now.
I realize nothing is possible without the response of our people to our stewardship program. I realize no businessman could extend his business if he were going bankrupt, like no cattleman could extend his herd if his herd was starving to death. This is basic. But my people let me tell you something God is doing for us. In the capital gifts that our people are going to make to our church, we can finance all of this in bequests that are coming to us, in wills that we are going to make, and in insurance policies we are going to assign to our church.
For us to stagger or stumble when our Father has all of the wealth in the world is of all things to be little in our faith. God will do it. The Lord will see us through it. It’s just for us to shine for Jesus. Oh, I had so much on my heart to say! Let me close with this; the investment, how the ministries, how what we are doing blesses.
As you know, these weeks between Sundays now I am preaching through these state conventions. And last week one of the conventions to which I preached was in Louisiana. And when I got through preaching, standing up there on the platform, shaking hands with the brethren whom I love in truth, there came a pastor and shook my hand. He introduced himself, told me his name and where he’s pastor. He is pastor just at the edge of a city; a fine man.
And as he told me his name and where he was pastor and how long he had been there and how God was blessing his church, he said, “You know I have never told you this but I think that I should.” He said, “In 1946, I was in Dallas on a Sunday night in the gutter. Now,” he said, “I don’t use that ‘gutter’ symbolically. I was literally in the gutter.” He said, “I had been discharged from the war, the war was over and I was out. And I was in a life of sin and debauchery and misery. And I was in Dallas in the gutter.” He said, “There came walking down the street two dear old people who saw me in the gutter.” And he said, “They picked me up and they took me with them to church.” And he said, “That night I listened to you preach. And that night God saved me.” And he said, “As I attended the services of the church I felt God’s call for me to preach. So I went away to school, finished my education, and now God is blessing me in the pastorate.”
Why, I never dreamed of such a thing. I didn’t know it. And as the men standing around, preachers, as they listened to the story, as that man talked to me, the brethren said, “Praise God, thank the Lord, bless the name of Jesus; oh, what God is able to do!” Why, these things should happen all the time, just all the time. What God does. That is benedictions to the dedicated effort we lay at His blessed feet in this dear church.
Well, my time has gone and we must sing our hymn of appeal. A couple you, a family you, or one somebody you, to give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], to come into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], to pray with us, to work with us, to praise God with us, to love us, to associate with us, to fellowship with us as the Spirit of the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart; come now. Make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. If you are in the last row of that far away balcony, there is room and to spare and there is time and to let for you to come. Make the decision now. In a moment when we sing, at the first note of the first stanza, into the aisle, down to the front, come. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.