Shepherding the Church of God
October 19th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
SHEPHERDING THE CHURCH OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-19-69 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 message. It is a message concerning the responsibility and the assignment that God has given to our church for this coming year. The men who, on our deacon board, by committees, are charged with the responsibility of framing and presenting to us the outline of our work for the new year, that committee of men has asked me at least once a year to prepare a message for our ears and our hearts concerning the program God has given us in our dear church. So I have been trying to do that. In the fall, and this year, it is today, I prepare a message regarding the work of our church. The assignment is so great, what God has laid upon us, I almost stagger beneath it. I do not think any church in Christendom has ever attempted so much for God as our congregation has. I feel like the prayer of this poem by Henry Van Dyke:
O Maker of the mighty deep
Whereon our vessels fare,
Above our life’s adventure keep
Thy faithful watch and care.
In Thee we trust, whate’er befall;
Thy sea so great, our boats so small.
We know not where the secret tides
Will help us or delay,
Nor where the lurking tempest hides,
Nor where the fogs are gray.
We trust in Thee, whate’er befall;
Thy sea so great, our boats so small.
[“O Maker of the Mighty Deep,” Henry Van Dyke]
In the twentieth chapter in the Book of Acts, verse 28, is this earnest admonition, adjuration, from the apostle Paul to the pastors of the church at Ephesus, Acts 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” There are two words in there that are alike, but they are translated so differently in the King James Version that you would never know that they were the same words. The Greek word for “flock”; a flock, like a flock of sheep is poimnē—poimnē. And the Greek word for a “shepherd”; a tender of the flock, is poimēn. And the Greek word “to shepherd, to tend, to cherish, to feed, to care for” is poimainō. The words are all alike except one will be a substantive and the other will be a verb. In the ancient idyllic vocation among the people of the Lord, to Israel, the life of a shepherd was the idyllic, ideal life. Moses, the lawgiver, was a shepherd. David, the sweet singer of Israel, was a shepherd. Amos, the prophet, was a shepherd. And that imagery was brought over into the New Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus is called the great Shepherd of the sheep [Hebrews 13:20]. And we are the sheep of His pasture, and He leads us out and brings us in [John 10:27]. This is the fold of the Lord, and we belong to Him. So in this verse, when Paul admonishes the pastors of the church at Ephesus, he uses that imagery—“Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Spirit had made you overseers, to feed,” and there is that same word again, “to shepherd,” to tend, to cherish, to care for the flock, “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].
Now, I had hoped to deliver the message in three homiletical, good preaching—three homiletical parts. But at the eight-fifteen service, I only got through two of them. This morning I may not get through but one of them. But the three parts were—that I had prepared, have prepared an outline of the program God has laid upon us—our heavenly mandate and assignment; the second, our call to commitment and consecration—why it seems to me God lays this responsibility upon us; and then third, God’s remembrance of us and reward in our faithfulness, as we accept as from His hands, our heavenly assignment. Now, I have no hope of getting to the third part at all. We will just believe God for it. If we are faithful and devout, if we are true and accept from God’s hand our assignment, God will not forget us. He will write it in His book. It will be our everlasting eternal treasure and reward in glory. And God will see us through here. He will bless us richly; aboundingly, abundantly, overflowingly in this life, in our hearts and homes and families and people. But the first two, we shall address ourselves to them.
First: the assignment God has given us from heaven—the program of the church in this coming year. It will be in three parts. Our first part is the one in which we are engaged now—the foundational stewardship program that makes possible the many ministries of this great congregation. There is no need to mention anything else—to think, or to envision, or to envisage, or to dream, or to plan for anything else—until first we do this primary foundational assignment. The whole superstructure of our church depends upon that foundational stewardship commitment. If we fail there, stagger there, hesitate there, the rest we ought to blot out. The great lifeline and life stream and lifeblood of all that we do in our church is the stewardship appeal that is being made to our people now. We must do that. Now, I will not belabor the point, nor expatiate upon it, I think it is apparent; we must support God’s work foundationally. Our ministries here in the church, the payment of the bills in the church; why, I would be ashamed to be pastor of the church that didn’t pay its bills; I would be ashamed of my own life if I were derelict in paying what I owe. And when we turn on the light, when we ask a janitor to come, when we ask a staff member to teach our children, when we send out the missionary, these things are foundational. They are primary. They are not even to be discussed. Yes, we will support them. Yes, we will pay the bill. Yes, it is a joy and a delight to pray for and to make possible the leaders who guide the work that blesses our children and our homes and our families. These things I shall not mention. Our great stewardship appeal this fall, we are ready for it, have been ready, will continue to be ready, and if God gives us another year, and we come to this same hour in 1970, we shall be even more prepared because we shall have grown in grace. We have never failed our Lord in that appeal. Every year we stand and sing the Doxology on that Sunday before Thanksgiving, and we just are so happy and praise God. It is a great thing. So many congregations stagger and stumble and fail and never succeed. We have never failed. We have never done but what God has blessed in this appeal. Now, that totals a staggering sum of almost two million four hundred thousand dollars for this year—two million four hundred thousand dollars. It seems such an astronomical sum to me. I don’t even know where it comes from. But we pray; our men go through the needs of the church; they take out every thing that they think can be removed, and they offer to us a minimum. And that minimum totals two million four hundred thousand dollars. And God will give us the victory. We shall respond. We have never failed Him. We will do it again this year.
Now the second part of the program of the year into which we are now entering is the expansion of this work—the building program: we are going to build, with God’s help and in God’s grace, we are going to build a facility in which our people can teach and train and guide and direct and inculcate and mediate the mind of God in Christ Jesus. It is a vast program. It is a tremendous program. It involves millions of dollars. And it will be brought to our people this coming spring in this present church year. But we will be ready for that too and eagerly ready, aboundingly ready. Why, when we have directors and dedicated leaders who visit and who pray and who bring together hundreds of children and hundreds of teenagers—and these leaders of our children and of our teenagers, come to me, and they say, “Pastor”; and they come to you and they say, “Dear First Baptist Church, will you provide us a place for our children? Will you provide a place for our teenagers?”—why, it is all almost unbelievable that they have them in such numbers that they make the appeal to us. Last week in Tennessee, I was attending a meeting, and in that meeting was a liberal. And he said to me, “Surely you have no young people, no teenagers,” for, he says, “the young people of today will not listen. And they are not interested, and if they come, they close their ears, and they close their hearts. They don’t come, and they don’t listen.” That is what he said to me.
I said, “What you ought to say is like this. They don’t come to hear you, and they don’t listen to you.” I didn’t say it because I was trying to be nice. If I were a teenager, I wouldn’t come either, and I wouldn’t listen either. But I said, “I invite you to come to the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and there, you will see these youngsters by the acres and by the acres. They are here by the hundreds and by the hundreds.” I published—if it isn’t published, it will be in this coming “Pastor’s Pen.” One of our directors of a teenage group made appeal to me: “We need five new departments now.” In the letter, the director said, “We had about five hundred when I came here, and we have over eight hundred now in this one division—our older teenagers, and yet no provision has been made for us at all.” Well, I have said to you as I say now, “When these youngsters come and when these visitors and teachers and directors gather these children and these teenagers together, it would be unthinkable, and it would be unimaginable for us to say that we will not provide a place for you. You can meet out in the cold in the winter, you can meet out in the heat of the summer, but there will be no shelter for you provided by us.” We would drop dead under the judgment of God if we thought much less were to say a thing like that. If these teenagers want to be taught the Word of God and these children are brought to the church, the least that I can do is to join hands with you and provide a magnificent place for them. That’s the privilege. I don’t dread it, nor do I accept the responsibility for helping guide it through with reluctance. I say in my soul and to God, “That is the finest thing God has ever assigned a pastor since the world began.” Just think of it, in this day—and you are going to see more of it in a moment—in this day, that we have so many children, and so many teenagers, and so many young adults that they say, “Please, pastor, and please, First Baptist Church, give us a place in which to grow.”
Well, if I could take time to speak of the nature of that campaign, it would be twofold. First, we will give all that we can. Everything that we are able to give, we will give all that we can. Then after that, we’re going to make an investment of it. We’re going bring to you first mortgage notes and let you buy them—going to chop them up in little pieces; some of us can take a hundred dollar note and invest that hundred dollars; some of us five hundred; and some of us a thousand; some of us ten thousand; maybe some of us fifty thousand. That will be the first mortgage note. And it will be like any other investment—you will have interest paid to you semiannually. And I want us to do it here in the church; not going outside; not going anywhere, but doing it right here. I have wanted to do that all along. Sometimes, some of these things that God puts in my heart and they are not accepted by the church—by the deacons, some times I’ve learned, well, you just wait. You don’t need to say anything, you don’t need to argue. If it is of God, just wait. So what has happened is interest rates have risen so astronomically, that when I say now to our deacons, let us do it ourselves, and let us make the investment ourselves, the deacons say, “Pastor, that is great. That is inspired.” Isn’t that amazing how God works with you? So just to be mighty sure, because when I enter a world like that, I don’t live in it, and I have to be very sure that I am correct when I say that’s the way we ought to go.
So Ned King, one of our deacons and a co-chairman of our building committee, had three men at the Dallas Athletic Club this last week for me to talk to. One of them was—not any of them members of the church; they are outside the church; just men for me to talk to; they live in that business world. One is Neeley Landrum, a great, wonderful Christian man, an investor, a very God-blessed friend. And one was Charlie Pierce of Rouscher Pierce and Company, an investment firm. And then he brought his finest, most knowledgeable man in bonds, Morris Dudley. So I told the men what I wanted to do. I laid it before them, and they discussed it at great length. And all of those men said to me, “Pastor, we had not thought of doing it like that. But that’s right. You’re correct in what you’re saying. And you do it. And God will bless you in it. You’ll succeed in it.” So having that confirmation from businessmen who are not even members of the church, I am ready and prepared. And when the time comes—as I said to them, so I say to you—when the time comes, we’re going to have a great revival in our church. And you say, “Well, pastor, I don’t see how you can have a revival getting money together to build a program.” Well, God sends the revival, and the work is of God, and what we are doing is for Him. And when He works with us, that’s revival, the presence, the Spirit, the moving of God. It is a great day, it’s a great prospect, it’s a great assignment, and we’re praising God that He matched our souls against it.
Now the third part of this program is in something that we’ve never done before. When you receive this pledge card, it’s going to be two cards. We’ve never had but just one, and that’s the pledge to the stewardship program—the great, primary, foundational undergirding of all of this work. But this year, you’ll have two cards perforated in the middle. And the second card is the support of our Chapel Choir in their mission tour to the Orient. We have several hundred of those teenagers, and it is our appeal to our people that we make it possible for that glorious group of teenagers to make a mission tour to the Orient. The reason for that this year is in the summer of 1970 the pastor is going to hold a revival meeting in Tokyo. And in that same time, and a week earlier, the Baptist World Alliance is meeting in Japan. So that’s why the mission tour is oriented toward the Orient. Now to make a tour like that, of course, is very expensive. So when it was discussed at great length among the deacons, why, after a long, long discussion, the chairman turned to me and said, “Now, pastor, our men want to know, what do you think? What do you think? Do you have a word for us? Is there an answer from your heart? What do you think?” I stood up and I said, “Well, I have answered this thing in my own heart. And I have answered like I pray every other member of this church will answer it, and like our deacons—and in a moment when the deacons vote whether to recommend it to you or not,” I said, “I want you to make the decision as I have done it in my own heart. I got down on my knees before the Lord, and I settled in my own heart what I was willing to do. I don’t think it is right for me to vote for the sending of that choir and I do not propose to help make it possible for them to go.”
So I said, “First of all, I decided in my own heart what I was willing to do. And, after I got through praying and thinking about it the best I knew how, I came to the definite commitment that I will send one of those youngsters on the mission tour to the Orient. I will fill out the top part—my stewardship covenant with God—the great foundational support of all of the superstructure above. And then I am going to take this second card and above what I am giving to the church, I’m going to send one of those youngsters to the Orient. Then the card is made out. I will be responsible for two of them. Well, I am not going to be responsible for two of them, Lee Roy. I am just not going to lie to you, much less to the Lord. I’m not going to fill that first one out. But I am going to fill out the second one. I will be responsible for one of those young people, seven hundred and ninety-four dollars. Then the one below, I will responsible for one-half of a young [person]—I don’t know which particular half we are going to work on, but I will be responsible for one-half of a young [person]. And then the other one, I will be responsible for one-fourth of a young [person]. And then the last one, I will pray for the young people and give this amount. Some of us may give fifty cents, or fifty dollars, or nothing at all. It’s in our hearts, that’s all, altogether in our hearts. But when I think when it is added up, Lee Roy, I think you’re going to be surprised at how very much our people are committed to supporting that group of teenagers.
They do more good than any embassage or any economic group sent outside of the United States. When we sent our Chapel Choir through Western Canada, we received a letter from the prime minister of Canada. And in that letter, he said, “What we need up here in Canada is not more embassies and not more councils and not more political interventions from the United States.” He said, “What we need are more tours like that young people’s choir you sent up here from the First Baptist Church in Dallas,” those clean-cut boys and girls. For the image that the world has of America is that we’re dirty, and we’re barbaric, and we’re unclean, and we’re filthy, and we don’t have any vocabulary except dirty, four-lettered words. That’s what they think of us. They think we’re a nation filled with violence, and plunder, and destruction. That’s what the world thinks of America. Why, those kids do ten thousand times good just walking down the street, just looking at them—about two hundred fifty or three hundred of them—think of the impression they make upon the world. Well, I want to have a part in it. And I decided in my own soul, and I told the deacons. So I said, “You men pray it through and in our own hearts decide what you are willing to do. And then we will just leave it with God, and that’s the way it is.”
Now, I come to the second part of this message. I speak of the call and commitment that attends it. There is a phrase in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. And it goes like this, “for necessity is laid upon me” [1 Corinthians 9:16]. And when I look at our program and its call for commitment from us, that verse poignantly is laid upon my own heart: “for necessity is laid upon me.” And I speak of two of them: first, by law, and I would support that law—by law, we are interdicted from teaching religion in the public schools. I would support that law. I am for it, for I don’t want an infidel teaching my child religion. By law, we are interdicted from teaching religious faith in the public school system. Then, if by law you are interdicted, where are you going to teach that child the mind and faith of Christ Jesus? I wish that the home would accept more of that responsibility. But religious teaching in the home has become almost nonexistent. That means that the church must increasingly bear that responsibility and that assignment. We must. Necessity is laid upon us. And if there is any religious knowledge and any Bible teaching in this country, it has to be done through the church. Now, that is plain, self-evident, so I will not belabor that point.
Second, we are accepting this assignment from God, not only because by law we cannot teach religious faith in the public school system, it must be taught here in the church. Second, we accept that assignment from God because of what is happening in America. Wednesday night of last week, the fifteenth day of October—fifteenth day of October, Moratorium Day—I sat at the house, at the parsonage, and watched television. It was a re-presentation of what had happened across America that day. And as I listened to the slogans and the speeches, and as I watched the loosing of those white doves, and as I looked at the demonstrators, there was a strange familiarity in my heart as I looked at it. I had the sense that I had heard those speeches before. I had seen those slogans before. I had watched those symbols before and the loosening of those doves before. And as I looked at it, a strange, inescapable fear and foreboding entered my soul. For I had heard those speeches, and I had seen those symbols; and I had watched those demonstrations; and I had seen those doves in Russia, in Czechoslovakia, and in East Germany—those identical words, those identical slogans, those identical symbols, and those identical demonstrations; but I was looking upon them in America, in my language, in my country!
When I go to the Baptist World Alliance and listen to the Baptists speak from Russia that is what they speak; for no Baptist is allowed to leave Russia whom the government cannot trust and who does not speak the government political line, communist line. How wonderful their speeches and their symbols and their doves! Walk through a great beautiful park such as you would find in Kiev, and there will be a statuary group—dark marble, a family, and in the heart of it, in the center of it, a white, white, white, pure white marble dove. How wonderful! “Peace; peace, peace loving peoples,” the communist line; but at the same time they are speaking those speeches and saying those words and using those symbols, at that same time the armies of the Red nations are bathing themselves in the blood of Korea; or bathing themselves in the blood of the Vietnamese; or ravaging and raping Czechoslovakia and East Germany. It is a language of deception! And there are millions in America who are duped and who are destroying the will of our nation to exist and to live.
So the premier of North Vietnam who has butchered literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of his own people and is seeking to destroy South Vietnam, and where our boys right now are laying down their lives; so when the fifteenth day of October comes, the premier of the North Vietnamese writes, “Dear American friends, our heroic comrades in arms.” It’s an insult! It is a traitorous thing addressed to the American people. The premier, the communist premier of North Vietnam, “Dear American friends, our heroic comrades in arms,” with our own men bathing the soil of Vietnam in their own blood:
May your fall offensive succeed splendidly. It is our firm belief that we together, we the peace-loving peoples of the Vietnamese and the progressive people of America against United States aggression will be completely successful.
[Pham Van Dong; Radio Hanoi, Oct 15, 1969]
And our men over there in Paris at the peace conference now, at the peace table now, trying to negotiate some kind of a cessation to these hostilities with those bloody murderers who don’t care if they destroy the population of the earth providing the few that remain would be bloody communists, while they are trying to negotiate that peace, these in America demonstrate; “our heroic comrades in arms.”
An American Seabee in Vietnam summed up the descent most eloquently, and he was quoted as saying, “I think these people in America are going to be extremely sorry later on if there ever comes a time when there’s a battle on American soil and their children have to fight it on their own home grounds.” Somewhere, sometime, there has to be a line drawn that the communist aggressor can go so far and no further. Where are you going to draw that line? Are you going to draw it in Thailand and South Vietnam, or are you going to pull back and draw it at the Philippines, or are you going to pull back and draw it at Hawaii, or are you going to pull back and draw it at the western coast of California, or are you going to pull back and draw it at the western line of Texas, or are you going to pull still further back and draw it at the Mississippi River? Where are you going to stand? Somewhere, sometime America has to stand! And we are losing our will to resist.
These judgments of God inevitably fall. You can’t read the history of the ancient nations and say they fell, and then these reasons are patent and lucid why they fell. “But it does not apply to America”; yes it does; the Lord God Himself in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew said, “For wherever the carcass is, there will the vultures be gathered together” [Matthew 24:28]. Wherever there is this decay and disintegration, there the vultures of judgment fall.
In the second chapter of the Book of 2 Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “Because they rejected the truth, God sent them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” [2 Thessalonians 2:10-11]. And you would think he was talking about our people today: when we reject God, and when we reject the Bible, and when we reject the Lord, and when we reject the truth, God sends a delusion, that the people believe a lie. And nothing awaits but the judgment of Almighty God. The psalmist cried, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” [Psalm 11:3] This is the most critical hour in American history; not the Revolutionary War, had we won it or lost it, finally Britain would have given us our independence; not the Civil War, God Himself would have taken away and was taking away the institution of slavery; but the most critical hour this nation has ever faced is the generation in which we live for we are witnessing, we are witnessing the dissolving, the dissolution of all of those principles that come out of the blessed mind of God and out of His Holy Book. The old time morality, the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], this is passé; and the old time doctrines of freedom and work and liberty, these things are to be cast overboard as medieval superstition, this theological baggage; and they are seeking to remold us and to remake us into an amorphous society that has no morality, that gives itself to drunkenness and drugs, to debauchery and lack of personal responsibility, that is filthy and dirty; their language is unspeakable and unacceptable, and their lives are promiscuous like alley cats. This is the kind of society they’re seeking to mold us into in the television programs, in the picture shows, in the magazine articles, and in the whole fabric of American society.
And they demonstrate for it on campus, and they demonstrate for it at our political conventions, and they seek to baptize the whole American life in that permissive, situational, ethical attitude that leaves God out, and leaves Jesus out, and leaves nothing left but the existentialistic despair, ah! that life has no purpose, and life has no meaning. And there’s not any God, and there’s not any Christ, and there’s no truth; and we just give ourselves, in the passage that we read, “to eat, to drink, to be merry” [Luke 12:19], to live like animals.
Why, my friends, my brothers, if America becomes like that, anybody can sweep us away, destroy us, come into our country, infiltrate us, leave us in shreds. That’s why we need to preach and to teach the Word and the will of God; you cannot stand without the Lord. If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. When we stand for the truth and when we stand for God, the Lord battles; the very stars in their courses work for and in behalf of the people who love and honor God [Judges 5:20]. We must close.
In a moment we’ll stand to sing our song, and while we sing our song, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give your heart to the blessed Jesus, to come into the fellowship of the church, make the decision now. “Pastor, I believe in God, I do. I believe in that Book, I do. When I look in my own soul, I need God, I do. Life has no purpose, no meaning without Him, and I am coming, and here I stand.” In the balcony round, at the front, at the back, and on either side you’ll find a stairway and time and to spare; on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. This is my day and my time and my hour; and I am matching it with my decision in my life, and here I come.”
On the first note of that first stanza, step out into the aisle and down here to the front, God will attend you if you will. Angels will open the door for you. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
SHEPHERDING THE CHURCH OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Poem, “O Maker of the Mighty Deep”
B. Admonition of Paul to pastors of the church at Ephesus(Acts 20:28)
1. Imagery of the shepherd and the sheepII. Our great program for the coming year
A. Foundational stewardship commitment – $2,300,000.00
B. Building program
1. Give all that we can
2. You buy first mortgage notes
C. Choir mission tour
1. Commitment cards to send a teenagerIII. Our call and commitment(1 Corinthians 9:16)
A. Teaching religious faith prohibited by law in schools
1. Must be taught here in the church
1. Moratorium Day demonstrations
2. Communist language of deception
3. Where do we draw the line of resistance?
4. Judgments of God inevitably fall (Matthew 24:28, 2 Thessalonians 2:11, Psalm 11:3)IV. God will not fail us or forget to reward us
A. In heaven (Matthew 6:20, Proverbs 19:17)
B. In earth