The Christian Community
November 17th, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 2:1, 41-42, 46-47
11-17-68 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 morning message. First I would like to say how grateful I am that this latest book is off the press and delivered to our library and to our Baptist Bookstore.
When Mrs. Peters was introduced she was introduced as the mother of six children. Well, I tell you to write a book is just about like giving birth to a child. The labor, and the travail, and the agony; and this is my seventeenth child. Now there will be a series of volumes on Daniel. This is the first one. If I can ever get free from these responsibilities outside of the church and start studying again in the Book of Daniel, we shall keep publishing these volumes. But this is the first one. And the reason especially I speak of it this morning is this. Daniel is the most assailed of all of the books in the Bible. There is not a liberal in the world, not one, that believes in the authenticity of the Book of Daniel. They all say it is a fraud and a forgery. They do it because it is a book of prediction and prophecy, and that volume is a defense of the authenticity of Daniel and the authenticity of prophecy and revelation in the Bible. And if you know a young minister or a friend who staggers before the promises of God, put that volume in his or her hands.
Now, Mel said at 7:30 o’clock this Wednesday evening in this auditorium we shall look at these pictures of the Holy Land, walking where Jesus walked, seeing what the Israeli government is doing to make a garden out of that desert. And this coming Wednesday evening at 7:30 o’clock in this auditorium, I will present those pictures and speak of them. Then the next Wednesday, which is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Lee Roy Till, our minister of music, who went with me with his wife on this trip, both of us are going to take that evening. The only difference in the second evening is this. That Wednesday will be the evening before Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is a holiday, so we don’t have to quit, and we have a breakfast always here on Thursday morning, on Thanksgiving morning. So Lee Roy and I, the second Wednesday, we may just go all night long. We will have a blessed precious time together.
Now the title of the sermon this morning is The Christian Community, the fellowship of the people of God, and the sermon is made kind of like you would a chain: this link to this link to this link. So follow me this morning the best you know how, the best you can, because we are going somewhere. We are pointed toward a great thing: the fellowship of the people of God, the Christian community.
The story of the church opens with that communion. In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, the first verse starts like that: “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” [Acts 2:1]. Then the forty-first verse, after the falling, the outpouring of the ascension gift, the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:2-4], and the preaching of the sermon by Simon Peter [Acts 2:14-40]:
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto the church about three thousand souls.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, 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.
The community of God’s people, the fellowship of the saints in the Lord, the Christian community: there is a basic need in all human life; a basic need, like food to eat, water to drink, rest. There is a basic need in all human life. It is this: the need for companionship and fellowship. When ultimately you trace the initiation, the beginning of that need, you will find it in God Himself.
The first verse of the Bible declares that God created the heaven and the earth [Genesis 1:1]. And all of the wonder before sin entered it [Genesis 3:1-24], all the wonder of perfection and glory, God poured into His creation in His own omnipotent hands [Genesis 1:1-31]. There were stars innumerable, galaxies, Milky Ways, sidereal spheres. There were planets, mountains, and oceans [Genesis 1:6-19]. But how could a planet think God’s thoughts after Him? Or how could a great ocean respond to the love of the Lord, or how could stars and sidereal universes praise God in a spoken and meaningful tongue?
It was then, as the story continues in Genesis, it was then that God created Adam [Genesis 2:7], and He made Adam for fellowship and communion; somebody who could think God’s thoughts after Him; someone who could love the Lord, who could speak to the Lord, who could walk with the Lord. And as you know, in that beautiful and Edenic picture you have the fellowship of God with Adam and his wife, as the Lord walked in the garden, and as He spoke to Adam as a man would to his friend [Genesis 3:8-13].
And that beautiful fellowship continued until transgression severed it and parted the man from his God [Genesis 2:17; 3:1-24]. But the purpose of the creation of Adam lay in that desire that I am saying is ultimately traceable to the character of God Himself; the longing and the wanting of companionship and fellowship. That not only is seen in the creation, but it is found also in God’s program for the human race. In the [sixty-eighth] chapter, in the [sixty-eighth] Psalm, the psalmist says “God setteth the solitary in families” [Psalm 68:6]. Our babies are born in a home, somewhere the child has a father and a mother, and however extensive your journey to the farthest, deepest jungle or to the heart of a burning desert, there will you find the people in family units.
“God setteth the solitary in families” [Psalm 68:6]. We grow up in a home. We have a father. We have a mother and how fortunate the child that has a sweet beautiful circle, family. And not only that, but the worth and the worth of the existence of life itself is found in that fellowship and in that communion.
I can illustrate that so graphically. Suppose, suppose, you are the only one in the earth, and suppose you walk down through the canyon streets of New York City, and as you look, all of it is mine, all of it! These towering skyscrapers, I own them all. These vast worldwide international depositories, they are mine. The billions of funds in these banks, it all belongs to me. As you walk down the streets of the city of New York and look at it, I own it all! All of it is mine! But what would it be if you were there and alone, nobody else, no one besides? I am just illustrating the simple fact that it is the people, it is the fellowship, it is the communion that makes existence worthwhile, that gives it value.
Now not only is there a basic need in human life for fellowship, for communion, for one another—now we are going into our second link—there is also a principle in human life that is universal. It is that of acceptance and rejection, of inclusion and exclusion, and that runs through all existence. You find it in your body, in your anatomy. There are inclusions. There are acceptances for metabolism, for life. There must be food. There must be drink. But there must also be exclusion and rejection. If there is to be continuation of life, germs and harmful bacteria must be kept out.
And that principle is also seen in the social order in society. There are fellowships, communions, corporations that are productive. They are manufacturing instruments, and they are manufacturing machinery, or they are plowing fields, or they’re merchandising, or they’re running companies. And their productivity blesses mankind and raises our standard of living. But in that same society, there are also and sometimes criminal outrages, and these must be separated. They must be incarcerated. They must be excluded. They must be rejected. For without their rejection, it means ultimate destruction for the social order.
Now that same principle also obtains in our philosophical attitudes. There are areas where we ought to be inclusive, broad-minded, broad-hearted, open-hearted. We ought to be broad and open in our sympathies. Wherever there is human need, wherever there is human suffering, wherever there are people who need help, there our sympathies ought to be. And the message of Christ ought to be extended to all men everywhere, where every soul is a soul for which Christ died [Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2]. Broad in our attitudes, but also in those philosophical categories there is to be narrowness and rejection. Error and heresy ought to be thrust out, rejected, and refused [1 Thessalonians 5:20-22].
Now we continue in the next link. So we come to the people of God in the earth. There is a mingling, a commingling of God’s saints in the earth. And the Lord intends it. He made it that way, and He speaks of it for us that way. In the high priestly prayer of the Savior in John 17:15, the Lord says, “I pray not, I pray not that Thou wouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou wouldest keep them from the evil one.” It is God’s will that we be here. Jesus in another place said that we are like the light placed on a lampstand; that we are like a city set upon a hill; that we are like salt in its savor [Matthew 5:13-15]. It is God’s will that we be in this earth and that we be a part of it; that we associate with all sections of it.
One of the most interesting of all the passages in this blessed Book is in the fifth chapter of the first Corinthian letter. It came about like this. Paul wrote, Paul who was over there in Ephesus, Paul wrote across the Aegean Sea to the brethren in Corinth, and he said to them, “You are not to associate with blasphemers, and with idolaters, and with gross sinners” [1 Corinthians 5:9]. So they wrote back to the apostle Paul and said, “Now we don’t know how to live. We have your word here we are not to associate with idolaters and blasphemers and sinners, and yet we meet them every day on the street, and we associate with them where we buy and sell, and we don’t know what to do.”
And so Paul wrote and this is the fifth chapter of the [first] Corinthian letter. Paul said, “I did not mean that you were to have no contact with blasphemers and with idolaters and with open sinners, for then you must need go out to the world [1 Corinthians 5:9-10]. But what I meant, Paul said, was that in the household of faith, you are not to eat, you are not to break bread with flagrant, open idolaters and Christ-rejecters” [1 Corinthians 5:9].
Well, there is that thing I am talking of. The Lord has placed us here in this earth. And as long as the Lord delays His coming [2 Peter 3:9], and the new heaven and earth has not arrived [Revelation 21:1], and He has not purged the sinful planet [2 Peter 3:10], then our association every day in business, in life, in a thousand ways will be inter-commingled with people who are gross sinners [Matthew 13:29-30]. But at the same time—that it is plainly writ on the page that we are to be in this world, and that our message is to be addressed to the world, and that we are to associate with the people of the world, and we are to try to convert the whole world to Jesus [Romans 10:14-15]—at the same time those mandates are found in the Bible, there is also that principle of separation and rejection [2 Corinthians 6:17].
For example, in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul took the Christian community at Corinth and separated it to itself. When you turn the page you will find in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Acts that Paul took the Christian community in Ephesus and separated it to itself [Acts 19:9]. He divided the brethren who believed in Christ from those idolaters and rejecters who did not accept the Lord [Acts 19:8-19]. You will find one of the most trusting of all of the passages in the New Testament, [in] chapter 6 in the second Corinthian letter, where Paul says, “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers” [2 Corinthians 6:14] and then the verses that follow after [2 Corinthians 6:14-18].
If you marry, you are to marry only in the Lord and those intimate associations that guide and color your life are always to be made in the Lord. There is that great separation between God’s saints and the filth, and impurity, and blasphemy of the world [2 Corinthians 6:14].
Now that leads us to our present time, and this present moment, and to ourselves. How does God will for us? How are we to do? Ah, we stand in a flood, in a veritable sea, in an illimitable ocean of secularism and materialism; and almost it seems, sometimes I think the witness and the church of God shall drown in it and be overwhelmed by it; everywhere, everywhere.
But what are we to do? To escape it would be to go out of the world. But God set us here in it. Therefore we are to build in the midst of the secularism, and materialism, and gross iniquity of this age and time, we are to build in it a Christian community, a fellowship of the saints. There are homes to be built. What kind of homes? There are young to be reared. What kind of young? Our answer is, with God’s help and in His grace, we shall build Christian homes. With God’s help and blessing, we shall rear Christian children. And in a world of compromise, and iniquity, and flagrant sin, where Christian values are scoffed at, and laughed at, and ridiculed, and scorned, there shall we build a monument to Christ, a lighthouse to shine for the Lord; the fellowship of a Christian community.
And these things that you see around our church, these things that we do around this church, sometimes some of us may sometimes think what a waste of time, or what a waste of money, or what a waste of effort. As I look at it, oh, I think what an incomparable investment. If the Lord will just help us and guide us and give us wisdom in it, to gather children and teenagers and young people in a fellowship in God’s house, oh, what it shall mean!
I have been visiting in these several years our mission fields. And I remember listening to a missionary strategist as he said to me, “In a country that is heathen and pagan and that rejects Christ, to win a convert sometimes means the death of the convert. The family slays her or him. But in any event it means ostracism, loss of job, and loss of social contact.” And he said to me, “The only thing to do is for us to build in this heathen and pagan land a Christian community.” And I have visited the work that he has done. And it magnifies the Lord. To be cut off, to be ostracized is almost more than a poor human spirit can bear. We need the community, the fellowship, the encouragement of one another.
So, we say, we dare to say to a sweet girl, “You don’t need to go there or there or there to find friends. No. Come here. Come here.” We can say it to a boy. “You don’t need to pick up that girlfriend at a bar. You don’t need to meet her at an off-colored dance club. You don’t need to meet her over a drinking glass. Come. You can find a wonderful girl and a sweet Christian girl who would make the finest wife and mother and home-builder in the earth. Come. Find life and hope in the fellowship of a Christian community; God’s house, God’s people.”
This material world, secular, increasingly presses us. It does from every angle. I was talking to an educator this last week, and he was describing to me, on the campuses of some of our great state universities, they are now building dormitories where young men and young women live in the same dormitory. And some of their psychologists are saying that, “How could a boy hope to find happiness with a girl unless first he is intimate with her, and he decides for himself whether he would like to live with her or not?”
So, all of the Christian values of life, and of home, and of children, and of family are being broken down. And on television and in our modern literature and in a thousand ways, we are beginning to see the scorn and the rejection of all Christian values. And in its place are these ways that are not new! No psychologist of this generation invented them. Go back to the civilization of the Canaanites. Go back to the civilization of the Babylonians. Go back to the civilization of the corrupt Roman. Go back to the decadent civilization of the Greeks. You’ll see the same patterns of life that America is following today.
Lee Roy and I in a shop, the proprietor there in Jerusalem, we were looking at old things, and he had there a piece. And the piece depicts life as it was in Canaanitist religion, the depravity of the human soul seen there, depicted there. Well, let me tell you what it was. We like things said nowadays. The worship of Baal was intercourse with animals.
And finally, finally, finally these avenues of secularism and of materialism never go just so far and stop, but they feed on themselves! And it becomes more crass, and more vile, and more blasphemous until finally you stand and look at what once was a great civilization in Babylon or what once was a great civilization in Nineveh or what once was a great civilization in Egypt; but the disintegration of human values finally eroded the soul. America in its life, in its delineations, in its patterns, is following those same destructive, inconceivable debaucheries. What shall you do? This is what we shall do.
We shall build a Christian fellowship. Come. Come. Come. The home we build will be a Christian home where our young people court, fall in love, will be a Christian fellowshipping of young people. And if we are going to have young marrieds, we will have them in the Lord. And if they have children it will be in prayer and in the love and nurture of Christ Jesus, a Christian fellowship [Ephesians 6:4].
If I had about five hours longer we would continue this message. Yesterday, I want us to start this building over here. Yesterday, I want us to start it. That big parking building on the other side of the Burt and the parking Veal building, and on top of that parking building where the sixth floor is congruent with the recreational building and the Burt Building, I want us to put three floors above it. We have a hamburger joint. We have a rectangle over there. We can’t use it for our teenagers now. We have outgrown it. They can’t even get in it.
Well, there are two ways we can face that problem. Let’s tell these teenagers: two-thirds of an acre of you don’t come down here anymore! We don’t have any place and we don’t have any room for you. That’ll solve it. You don’t have any problem then. Just don’t come. You go out there and park in the lane, and you go out there and learn to drink at the bar, or you go out there where all of these off-colored promiscuities are carried on. You go out there. That’s one way to solve it. Don’t come down here. Or the other way to solve it is by God’s grace. Let’s build a room for another acre of them, besides the acre we’ve already got. You can do one or the other, one or the other.
I must close. Skipping over forty dozen things. I want to speak just a minute of the reward of the investment we make in this place and in this ministry. As you know, between Sundays now, I am preaching through these state conventions. And one of the state conventions to which I preached last week was Louisiana. And when I got through preaching, I was standing there on the podium. It was in a civic center. I was standing there on the podium shaking hands with the brethren whom I love in the truth.
And a pastor came up to me; just outside of the city he had been pastor of a Congregational church there for several years. And he said, “I never have told you, but I owe it to you. I think I should.” He said, “In 1946 after the war I was discharged from the army. And I found myself in your city of Dallas. I was lost, I was degraded, I was debauched, and I was in the gutter in the city of Dallas.” Then he added, “I am not using the word ‘gutter’ symbolically. I mean literally I was in the gutter.” He said, “It was on a Sunday night and a dear old couple who are now in heaven saw me and lifted me up and took me to church. And I heard you preach that night, and that night I was saved. I was saved.”
Then he said, “As I continued to attend the services, I felt God’s call to preach the gospel.” And he said, “I went away for my education, completed my work, and for these several years I have been out here pastoring this church.”
But he said, “I never told you that, but this evening I just wanted you to know.” And as he said this story, all of the preachers around listening to it began to say, “Bless God, praise God that such a thing could happen, that such a thing could be.” I had no idea of it. I never dreamed of it.
Oh, my fellow members there are ten thousand, ten thousand instances where God has blessed this effort. There is a home that is Christian because of this ministry. There is a man on the mission field because of this church. There is a young fellow like a firebrand plucked out of the burning because of this appeal. There is God’s light and love because of this work. What a sweetness, what a gladness, what a glory, Lord, just to have some small part in it.
We must sing our song now. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you to give your heart to Jesus or to put your life in the fellowship of the church, would you come and stand by me? “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming this morning.” Or just you, in that balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, make the decision now. Do it now. In the Spirit of Jesus, say yes, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming, and may the angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.