The Church of the Open Door
June 9th, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
THE CHURCH OF THE OPEN DOOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-9-68 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. Before I do, there are two things briefly I would like to mention. As you know, today is a day of national mourning, set aside as such by the executive of the government of the United States, and in keeping with the spirit of that executive order, all of us personally and corporately would express to the Kennedy family our sympathy in this hour of tragic bereavement. And for our part we would rededicate ourselves to a nation committed to law and order, a nation of government, a nation dedicated to those high holy ideals that brought to these barren and rocky shores our Pilgrim Fathers; the strength that carved out of the vast wilderness this nation of America. Anarchy and strife and murder are tearing our people apart, and today we would consecrate ourselves to a rebirth of America. I have not opportunity to speak of it this hour. I shall speak of it next Sunday morning.
The other preliminary word concerns an appeal for a clemency and an understanding on the part of our people in these immediate days that lie ahead. Several weeks ago the representatives of our Baptist Press, the Broadman Press, came to me and asked that I write a book. In the unusual way that appeal was made, I acquiesced, but the book had to be written immediately. Nor has there been any other time in my life when I have been so consumed with encounter crusades, revival meetings, and other ministries of the church and beyond, but I agreed to do it.
I now have the material gathered, all of it, but I must write that book within three weeks. Heretofore, I have taken a year to write a book. I have written sixteen. Sometimes I have taken two years. But what I have taken a year to do or two years to do, I must do now in three weeks. Now I am going to stay here. If I find that the responsibilities of the church so interfere, I will have no other choice but to leave and finish that book. But I want to stay here, and you understand that I am hibernated, and day and night and in between time I am coining words that aren’t in the dictionary. Words sometimes just get in my way; I am just writing them out, thinking them out, praying them out; and you understand. Then, after three weeks, why, we will get out of that exigency and immediately fall into another one, but I know I have your sympathy in this task and assignment, but that I must deliver.
Now the title of the sermon is—and if you’ve just come in on radio or television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Church of the Open Door. Not as a text nor as a context, but only as a title to the sermon do I take the words of our Lord as He addressed the church at Philadelphia, the church of brotherly love. In the third chapter of the Revelation, 7 and 8: “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: Behold, I have set before thee an open door” [Revelation 3:7-8].
And from that text and address of our Lord I have taken the subject this morning: The Church of the Open Door. Time and again, repetitiously so, have I been asked by a multitude of friends and have I been pressed in the press conference—“It is a strange thing,” they say, “that in all of these years past, many years, you have refused to be nominated as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. And now you are acquiescing in that nomination and, as it developed, accepted that post of leadership. Why is it that in days past you refused but now you accept?”
And my answer is in three categories: I refused in days past for three reasons. First: I did not feel that it was God’s will for me to accept that assignment. Nor could I enter into in a brief discussion like this, nor could I enter into all of the reasons that lay back of that persuasion, but I did not feel that God called me to assume that responsibility. My classmates and my intimate friends, one after another, were elected to that place, and I loved them, rejoiced in them, prayed for them; but I never felt in these years gone by that it was God’s will for me.
Second: I did not feel worthy of that high place. Nor am I cheaply or falsely modest or humble when I say that. I am but baring my heart to you. The second reason I did not allow such a nomination was because I felt unworthy of so great a responsibility.
The third reason that I refused is you, this dear church. Whoever is president of the Southern Baptist Convention is immediately thrust into a thousand places and committees and conferences and has developed—though I have already said I refuse thus to go away into extensive mission tours around the world—and I have noticed both in days past, when I was a youth, and of course meticulously so in these present years, I have noticed that the churches suffer when the pastor assumes that responsibility. Dr. Truett was gone and gone and gone; Dr. Truett was gone so much of the time, and the First beloved Church here in Dallas suffered because Dr. Truett was gone. He was ambassador plenipotentiary to the whole world, and the church suffered because the pastor was gone.
When I came here to this church I gave myself—all of me—to this shepherdly ministry. For years I accepted no revival meeting at all. I stayed here all the time. Then, as the pastoral years multiplied, I finally agreed to accept a meeting in the spring and one in the fall. But I stayed here and tried to be a good shepherd for God’s flock, and to be taken away with so many other and beyond assignments was something that I did not want to do.
And the other reason in you is this thing of race, and racial strife, and racial tension. From one side of this nation to the other have I seen churches torn apart by ugly, bitter racial incidents, and I refused to enter a position of leadership because of the possibility of infinite hurt and injury to our church. So the years passed and I would always say the same words: “I will not allow my name to be presented, nor will I serve if elected.”
Now this being so widely known among our brethren of the Southern Baptist Convention; then I turned. So they asked me at the press conference, they asked me, and pressed me about it, and a great host of friends have said, “Now why is it that you have changed?” For all three reasons.
First: I came in my deepest soul to the conviction that this was God’s will for me, that it was God’s call to me. Mrs. Criswell, my wife, steadfastly felt that I ought not to do it; I ought not to do it. There is so much involved, she never turned from that feeling I ought not to do it. And many of these who have loved me most and most deeply had that same persuasion. “We feel you ought not to do it. You are a preacher, and this pulpit is your throne, and this church is your parish, and to be taken away from it, it is not the thing you ought to do.” But in the exigencies of time and the turns of fortune and a thousand things that I haven’t time to mention, as I prayed and as I sought the will of God, I came to the very deep and definite conclusion that this is God’s will for me.
Second: I still feel unworthy, but as I bared my soul and opened my heart naked before God, I told the Lord that if this is God’s call and God’s will for me, I will answer again and today as I did when I was a child, when I was a teenager, when I was a youth, and when I was a young man. I felt God’s call when I was a child, and attending grammar school, elementary school, as a child, I gave myself to that ministry as seriously as I do today.
As I look back over those years, so long ago now, and as I look at these small children, as little Cris—when I was his age, I had the same deep feeling and conviction of God’s call and will for me as I do today; and when I was a teenager I gave myself to that call. Reared so far away in so small a place, how many hours and hours; no radio, no television, no picture show, no anything but out there on those broad, vast prairies—almost by myself.
How many hours as a boy, as a child, have I taken God’s Book and read it and prayed? Take the hymn book and sing the songs by myself and cry as I sang. I played the trombone, practiced playing those hymns because I played at the church. And lay that trombone down and weep just out of the fullness of my soul, loving God.
I was that way as a child. I was that way as a teenager. I was that way as a young man. When I went to college and to the seminary, I studied like a monk in a cell. I never shared in any social activities in my life; only as I was a young pastor, breaking bread with my people. I gave myself in those so-long-ago days, and I have done it again today. I have consecrated my whole life; all of it, with all that it shall mean, with all that God shall do or not do. I have consecrated my whole soul and life to God. I am not worthy, but such as it is, I offer to the Lord.
Third: you, what of you? I have come to the very deep and precious persuasion that God will not let our church suffer. Is it strange that I should feel that way? I can point to you congregation after congregation that is smaller now than when the pastor, elected president of the convention, assumed the responsibility. His Sunday school has gone down. His congregation has gone down. The church has gone down. Why do you think your church will not also stagger before the years that lie ahead? I’ve just talked to God about it, and God told me He will see it through, and I believe that as I believe in God Himself.
Our staff will doubly consecrate themselves. Our deacons will doubly commit themselves. Our teachers and leaders will consecrate themselves, and every member of this church will be doubly faithful and doubly committed. God will not let our church suffer. We shall advance these two years that lie ahead. We shall not wane or ebb or decline. We shall grow; we shall advance.
Now about you: what of this race tension? And what of this race turmoil? Again you cannot know how many people have asked me, “Pastor, I cannot understand: of all of the churches that have been hurt and torn apart by ugly and vicious and bitter racial incidents, your congregation in Dallas has never experienced such a trauma. We cannot understand: out of all the prime targets in the earth, none would be greater than this Southern Baptist church, the First Church in Dallas. And out of all of the pastors in the South, none would be so prime a target as you, and yet it’s been many years since this agitation took bitter form, and yet there has never been any incident in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I cannot understand why.”
I know why. I believe in a prayer-answering God, and years ago, when this ugly cloud began to form on the horizon, I took it to God and I asked God that in His grace, and love, and goodness, and mercy, that He would deliver our people and our church from an ugly, bitter racial incident. And I felt God speak to me from heaven, and from that day until this I have never been afraid. I had the assurance in my soul that no ugly, bitter, vicious racial incident would ever come to pass, would ever develop in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And through these years I have been full of assurance and unafraid. It has never happened. It will not happen. God has promised me.
Then as the days have passed I have watched you. Down these aisles have come people of every color and nationality under the sun, and in thanksgiving and gratitude to God, as I have seen it develop, there has been no other thing in our church than the spirit of love and thanksgiving and welcome.
The Chinese have come, and they have been loved and welcomed. The Japanese have come; they have been loved and welcomed. We have a Chinese division in our church. We have a Japanese ministry in our church. The Indian has come from India and from America; has been loved and welcomed. The Mexican has come by families, by youth, by children; they have been loved and welcomed. And as the days multiply, colored people have come.
At a press conference, one of the men spoke to me and said, “Colored? What do you mean by colored?” “Well, I said, “I will ask you a question first. Is Adam Clayton Powell a Negro?” He said, “Yes.” “Well, have you seen him?” “Yes.” “He looks like a white man to me, but he is a Negro, is that right?” “Yes.”
Time and again have people come down these aisles that you would call colored. And in every instance as they have stood here, colored, not white, our church has received them in love, in thanksgiving, and in welcome. And upon a day a man from Central America with a black skin came and was received in love, in welcome. And finally a Nigerian came, and this same dear church received him in gratitude and in welcome. It has been the love and the spirit of the church through the years. There has never been one yet of any race, of any color, of any background, who has been refused in this dear church. All have been welcomed.
Then the incident came of the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as the brethren began to speak and to write, I received a letter from our former executive secretary who loves us and loves me. And in the sweetest way, so Christian and precious in which a man could bear his heart, he said, “I was stabbed awake in the middle of the night in South Carolina where I was holding a meeting. And the burden on my heart I cannot escape, and I must share it with you.” Then he spoke of the possibility of designed destruction and hurt and embarrassment to our church.
Incidentally, I mentioned to our finance committee that is preparing for the enlargement of these facilities—a program that shall entail several million dollars—I incidentally mentioned to the finance committee that I had decided fully not to allow my name to be presented to the convention because of the possibility of hurt to the congregation, to this church. And as though those men had been thinking about that for a hundred years––just like that, in the twinkling of an eye––those men said, “Pastor, pastor, the presidency of the convention has nothing to do with this one way or another; but sometime, somewhere, some place, this church must face that question, and let’s face it now. Let’s do it now.” I said, “I don’t want to because of the brethren and the hope that I will enter into that presidential picture.” And they said, “Pastor, there is nothing of the presidency that enters into it at all. We are going to face it now. We are going to do it now, right now!”
So the deacons were called together, Tuesday of last week, and after some matters of business were disposed of, the chairman of the deacons said, “Now, pastor, stand up here and tell us what God has placed in your heart. Bare your soul to us and let us listen.” I stood up before the deacons and for an hour I bared to them my soul.
Here where we are and where we live is the Buckner Home, and in that Buckner Home there are colored children. When the possibility of bringing the Buckner children to our church was advanced, one of the leaders came to me and said, “But, pastor, they have colored children in that home. What will you do?” I said, “We shall welcome all of them. White, red, black, yellow, we shall welcome all the children in the Buckner Home; all of them. Bring them.” And they have been brought through these years to our dear church here in Dallas.
I went out to speak at our Dallas Baptist College, and sprinkled all through Dallas Baptist College, you will find colored young men and young women. When you go to Baylor University Nursing School, you will find colored young women in the nursing school, in the dental college, and when you walk up and down the hallways of Baylor University Hospital, you will find all colors and races in those rooms, ministered to by our beloved staff, and administrators, and nurses, and doctors in Baylor University Hospital. And when you go and visit our retarded department in the church where retarded children are taught the Word of God—an institution here in the city said, “May we bring our retarded children to you and you teach them God’s Word?” And when it developed, about half of them, it seemed to me, were colored. What should I do? I said we shall receive them and teach them the best we know how, and these who have led in that ministry have been sweet and precious and dear in teaching those retarded children of any color, of any race, the blessedness of Jesus.
All through our institutions you will find those intermingling of white, black, yellow, and red. I have said ten thousand times, “You cannot separate the institution from the church. They are the same.” I have said it in days past regarding tax money. To give tax money to the institution of the church is the same thing as to give tax money to the church, for the institution is as much of the church as the church itself.
And all around us we see these institutions with every color and every race. Now, I said down here at the church, “How shall I do and how shall I be and what shall I say, for I stand up in that pulpit and preach the gospel of the Son of God and press an appeal for Jesus on the basis of what He has done to save us from our sins, then stand there afraid that a man might accept that appeal and might accept that invitation, whose pigment might be different from mine?”
Preaching the gospel of the Son of God and the grace of Jesus, what if down one of these aisles upon a day comes a little girl from the Buckner Home and she is black? How could I explain to that child in a thousand years that what I was preaching I didn’t really mean? “You go back and you go out.” But not only my inability to explain to that child the emptiness of my appeal and my invitation; what shall I say to God? When I return an answer to God, what shall I say? How shall I frame the words to pronounce it? How shall I put together the sentences to say it? So I close to those deacons that, as for me and my heart and my life and my pulpit ministry, I am done with the emptiness of an appeal—to say it and to preach it and fear that somebody of a different pigment might accept it and come forward.
When the baring of my soul was done—the deacons had planned apparently to discuss it and to speak of it, but when I had done, and sat down, one of the deacons stood up immediately and said, “Mr. Chairman, all of us rise to our feet; we shall stand by the pastor to the last man in the convictions that God has placed on his soul,” and they all stood up, and with many sobs and tears the chairman called them to the altar. They knelt and our Nigerian missionary deacon led us in the prayer of consecration and commitment. I stood there after the meeting was over, shaking hands with those godly consecrated men who one by one avowed to me, “Pastor, this is the highest spiritual hour of my life.”
Not in dramatics, not in fanfare, but in the spirit of Jesus, humbly, simply, the First Baptist Church in Dallas is now and forever a Philadelphian church of the open door [Revelation 3:7-13]. Anybody can come, anybody. And God bless him and God attend him in the way as he comes. Isaiah 55:1:
Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; come without money; buy and eat without money and without price. Ho, everyone, anyone.
Matthew 11:28: “Come,” said our Lord, “unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Anybody, come. Second Peter 3:9: “For the Lord wills that none perish, but that all come to repentance.” Anybody, everybody. Revelation 22:17:
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, anybody, let him take the water of life.
This is a church of the open door, and as we turn and face the world our gospel shall be to all men everywhere. Come. Come. Come, and God bless us in the way. It is in His hands, in His purview, in God’s will, and in God’s blessings.
Now as we sing our hymn of appeal, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, you, into the aisle and down to the front: “Pastor, we are all coming today. My wife, my children, all of us today, we are all coming.” Do it. Do it. A couple you, a one somebody you, in that balcony to the last row, if God invites you, come today. “I am giving my heart and life to the Lord, and here I am,” or “I am coming to be baptized like God says in His Book” [Matthew 28:19-20], or “We are coming to put our lives in the church.” A family, a couple you, come, on the first note of the first stanza, come. God bless you as you respond with your life. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE CHURCH OF THE OPEN DOOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. I have been asked, why in years past have I refused to be nominated as president of Southern Baptist Convention
B. Refused in the days past for three reasons
1. Did not feel it was God’s will
2. My own unworthiness
3. It would hurt our church
a. Dr. Truett gone much of the time
b. Racial tensions
C. Why I now accept the position
1. Felt it is God’s will
2. Still feel unworthy, but give my life in dedication
3. God will not let our church suffer
a. Our staff doubly committed when I am gone
b. Racial tensions
i. Why we have not had an ugly, bitter, racial incident
ii. Watching the church – down the aisles have come people of every color and nationality, all welcomedII. The presidency
A. Letter from our former executive secretary
1. Mentioned it to our finance committee, who said we must face the question now
B. Deacon’s meeting last week, I bared my soul
1. Our institutions – cannot separate institution from the church
a. Welcome all the children in Buckner, including colored
b. Dallas Baptist College, Baylor Nursing School include colored students
c. All colors and races ministered to at Baylor University Hospital
d. Our retarded department includes colored children
2. My preaching – how can I make an appeal, then deny someone who comes forward just because they are colored?
a. I am done with the emptiness of an appeal – to say it, preach it, and fear that somebody of a different pigment might accept it and come forward
3. The deacons responded by standing immediately and committing to stand by me in my convictions
C. We are now and forever a Philadelphian church of the open door(Isaiah 55:1, Matthew 11:28, 2 Peter 3:9, Revelation 22:17)