Because We Believe, We Build
March 8th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
1 Corinthians 3:9-11
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 3:9-11
3-8-70 10:50 a.m.
Now this is possibly the most meaningful and significant of any of the services we will ever have in this church. And out of the twenty-five years, and a half a year beyond, that I have preached in this sacred pulpit, never have I prepared an address for our people that has in it more meaning, fraught with greater significance and pertinence, than the message today. On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor with a message entitled Because We Believe We Build.
In the third chapter of the first Corinthian letter:
For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every one take heed how he buildeth [thereupon].
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
[1 Corinthians 3:9-11]
As all of our own members are poignantly aware, we are facing the most stupendous building program that I know on the part of any church in modern history. And as we prepare for that appeal, I have felt that I sensed on the part of the congregation an earnest hope that the preacher tell us exactly how this thing is; brutally frank, just lay it before us, say it, describe it, just like it is. So the attempt to do that is made at this pivotal moment.
First of all, we are paying for the misjudgments of our leaders in this church in days passed. In the ministry that I have shared in this place—I’m not talking about the years of my predecessor, or the years of his predecessors—in my ministry, since I have been here in Dallas, the two lots on that corner there facing Ervay Street were sold for $18,000. The lot between that building and the corner building on St. Paul was offered to the leaders of our church for $3,500, and they turned it down. I had an option on that corner building for $65,500; and on bended knee pled with our men to buy it, and they refused it. And when I turn to the town side of our church, one of those lots that we paid $350,000 for, I saw sold for $16,000. We are paying many hundreds of thousands of dollars above a million dollars because of the misjudgments of the men who have led this church in these years passed; besides the loss of the use of those properties for a quarter of a century. Think of the people that we could have taught the Word of God in these properties.
Well, what do you do when you come to a situation like this? Are you filled with recrimination and castigation? Not at all, not at all. It’s like the death of my father: my father made serious financial misjudgments, and when he died, he left his debts. I paid the hospital bill, the medical bill, the doctor bill, and the funeral bill; but when we laid my father away, one of the best men God ever made, I felt no bitterness or no hatred. I paid the bills. And that is the same way with the First Baptist Church in Dallas: with no bitterness and no recrimination we are bowing our shoulders to the wheel, and we are paying these million and several hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there’s no other way; just get down to doing it, and we’re at it.
Now what kind of a building and what kind of a program are we proposing? Are we going to build a great and massive and impressive cathedral? No, we are not approaching any program like that. About a week ago, I was in Rome, and walking through the streets of that great city, I looked at those magnificent church buildings. There are more than eight hundred of them in the city of Rome alone; massive, towering basilicas, Gothics, tremendous. And as I went inside and looked, I could not help but admire the consecration and dedication of the nation and the city and the people who had erected those gigantic structures. But there is no semblance of anything like that that we are proposing for our people.
Well then what kind of a building program are we entering into? Could I illustrate it? Last Sunday morning at this hour, there came down that aisle a beautiful young mother. She had twin boys in the nursery. Her husband had been killed a few months before in an automobile accident and left her with those two little boys. When I presented her to the church, I had her go to the nursery and bring out those little boys. And as she stood there with one in one arm and the other in the other arm, I said to the church publicly what I had said to her privately, for she made the appeal to me with tears, that she was coming to this church that we might help her rear her boys. And I said to our people, as I would repeat it any day, any hour, at any convocation, that it is the purpose of this church, under God, to help her and to help parents like her to rear their children in the love and admonition of Christ Jesus [Ephesians 6:4]. And what we are proposing is nothing but the instruments and the facilities by which we guide the life and train the hearts of these families that God hath given us in this great church.
It was very interesting to me to learn how our Baptist work began in East Africa. We have not been there but a few years. And it began like this: from Dallas there was a missionary in Dar es Salaam, and walking down the streets of the capital city of Tanzania, he saw a group of boys playing football—we would call it soccer—kickball, and the ball they were using was homemade, one that they’d concocted themselves. The missionary went to the store and bought a leather soccer ball, came back to the playground, and offered it to the fellows, and offered to referee. He made friends of those boys, and through them he visited in their homes. He rented an African house. He gathered those families together. He preached the gospel to them. He made application to the Tanzanian government that owns all the land—it’s a socialist government—you could not get a permit to build a church—he gained a permit, as you can in Kenya, in Tanzania, in Zambia, in Uganda, anywhere to build a community center—he gained a permit in Dar es Salaam to build a community center. Go look at it. Out of the work of that community center is the church there to which I preached on a Lord’s Day about two Sundays ago. That community center is filled with teeming activity. There are boys’ clubs there and girls’ clubs there. I spent half a day there, and I never ceased rejoicing in the shout and the sound of boys and girls who were playing on the playgrounds. The adults are brought together for the teaching of the Word of God. By day and by night, seven days a week, it is a teeming activity for the Lord. It’s one of the finest witnesses for Christ that I know of in the earth. And as I looked at it, I had no sadness in my heart or regret in my spirit that the government was not overly happy about giving us a permit to build a church house; but I rejoiced in the building of that community center that brings together those children, and those families, and those fathers and mothers, teaching them the whole rich abundant life in Christ. And as I looked at it, I felt in my soul that that comes as near doing what I think God in Christ assigned us to do, as anything I know in the earth. To define the work of Christ as being a gathering of the people all dressed up, inside four walls, and behind stained- glass windows, and that’s it, to me is almost a travesty on the great purpose for which Christ came into this world [1 Timothy 1:15]. Our ministry is full and rich and multifaceted. It’s for babies, and it’s for children; it’s for teenagers and for young people; it’s for the Young Marrieds and the Adults; it’s for Sunday, but also on Saturday, and Friday, and Thursday, and Wednesday, and Tuesday, and Monday also. It’s the whole life.
Now, when I go through the cities, I see these great buildings that are dedicated to education. I walk through and I drive through the city streets of Dallas, and I see these great buildings, costing untold millions of dollars; this is a grammar school, and there is a junior high school, and yonder is a high school, and out yonder on a boulevard, they are building a multimillion dollar edifice for a technical school. And as I look at those buildings, I say in my heart, “This is a part of the vision of a great people.” And nobody regrets the money that is spent in the building of these great schools. They are dedicated to the “three Rs,” and by law they are interdicted from teaching religion and the faith of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, shall we leave our children, who are created in the image of God [Genesis 1:27], and who have a moral and spiritual likeness to the Almighty, therefore by law being interdicted, shall we teach our children that all there is to life is chemistry, and physics, and secular history, and economics, and arithmetic? O Lord, no, no! There is the most vital part of human personality, and that is the spirit, the soul, the moral likeness to Almighty God! And interdicted from teaching the faith in the school system, there must be a vision on the part of a great people to build and to teach the faith, the Lord, the Book, the Savior, the great spiritual realities that make us what we are when we are right, when we are godly.
Therefore, as I walk through the streets of a city and see these great buildings teaching reading and writing and arithmetic, I shall thank God for the vision of the people that built them. But at the same time, I shall feel in my soul that we have not done for our children and for our families what honors God until I also see on those city streets great buildings where the truth of the Lord, and where the Holy Bible, and where the faith in Christ Jesus is also taught. And this is the assignment we have accepted in this dear church. The buildings are the facilities by which we seek to reach for the Lord our boys and girls, our young people, our families. What tools are to the mason, and what arms are to the soldier, these facilities are to us.
In Zambia, in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, I preached at the Mateo Baptist Church. They have a marvelously gifted pastor named Lazarus Green. We had a revival meeting; many were saved. I went early to the service, and when I got to the church, I walked around it. On this side of it were Sunday school classes, out there in the yard. On this side of it were Sunday school classes out in the yard. On the back side of it were Sunday school classes out in the yard. I said to the pastor, “This is very unusual.”
“Yes,” he said, “we have no place. We have no building and we have no money.” Well, I said, “How do you fare teaching the classes out here in the yard?” Well, he said, “In the rainy season”—and in the rainy season it’ll rain for months at a time—he said, “In the rainy season it is very hard.” Then he said, “In the dry season, when the wind and the dirt and the dust blows, it is very hard. And underneath this hot, tropical, African sun, it is very hard.”
I do not say that the building is all important to the teaching of the Word of God. The most fundamental, foundational, important part of that ministry is the heart to do it. But I do say that we can do better with a facility than we can without it. And I’d like to help Lazarus Green build some kind of a place for that Sunday school. Maybe we can, but I didn’t mean to speak of that. I’m just illustrating the fact that the great, great drive and fundamental, of course, is the heart to do it; whether in a tobacco warehouse, or whether under the shade of a tree, or whether on a street curb, that’s first and primary. But I am saying at the same time that it is more effectively done if you have a facility to work with. Again, what the trowel is to the mason, or what the arms are to the soldier, these facilities are to us in reaching our people.
As you know, when I came to be pastor of the church from Oklahoma, Dr. J. Howard Williams was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. He grew up in Dallas; he grew up in this church. And he loves this city; he loved this city and this church. When I was called, he had a conference with me, and he said something that has stayed in my mind and will forever. He said, “There is no limit to the number of people that a church can reach for God if they are willing to multiply departments and classes.” I have found that to be true, as we have sought to implement the program in this quarter of a century. There is no limit to the people we can reach. We limit ourselves; God doesn’t do it.
Last Sunday, without particular effort, there were 6006 registered in Bible teaching in this church. Where does that come from? Like this: last November one of our Median Adult departments went over to the Cotton Exchange building, rented an area, embellished it, provided it for 90 people. Last Sunday, that Median Adult department had 138 over there, and almost any ordinary Sunday will have about 115 to 120. Last Sunday one of our departments in the Young Adult division in this educational building here cleaned out two storage closets and organized two Young Adult classes in those two storage closets. And they’re looking forward to expansion and to a better place and to the enlistment of more Young Marrieds in the Word of God. That’s the way to do it. And there’s no limit to the number of people that we can reach, except as we limit ourselves.
Why, when you face a program like that, you say, “Dear Lord, as great as the need is in this epochal hour, God help us, the Lord work with us. We’re standing up, we’re looking up, our hands are reaching up, we believe God is looking down and is working with us in the most tremendous ministry of teaching in the earth.”
Now, how shall we do it? The answer is very plain and very simple. Look around you: you do not see a throng, a multiplicity of rich, rich, rich people in this church. Your neighbor, those back of you and in front of you and on either side of you, those neighbors who are sitting by you, they’re just folks. Some of them are typists and clerks and stenographers; some of them are merchandisers, some of them are in a bank and in the insurance; some of them are professional men, doctors and lawyers; just folks. Take a cross section of the city of Dallas, and you’ll have a cross section of the First Baptist Church. Then where are those stupendous sums coming from for the building of these facilities? Bless God, they come from the multiplicity of the response from our people, thousands of us, thousands of us—not two or three, or half a dozen, but thousands of us—our utmost for the Lord. “What I can do, I’m more than willing to do; glad to do,” and that heart, that feeling, that spiritual dedication when God adds us up, it’s an overwhelming total. That’s where it comes from. We’re all together in it. We’re praying together. We’re striving together. We’re trying together. We are working together, serving together. We are together in this thing, and that’s what does it!
Last Friday and Saturday, I shared in the Median Adult retreat. I was overwhelmed by the interest and the commitment of those men and women to the teaching, the expansion, the program of winning and enlistment in this great outreach, all together. At the early service, at 8:15, when I got through one of those men came forward who was out there at the retreat, and said, “Pastor, I just want to kneel here and rededicate all that I am and have to the Lord God.” He said, “I had in my mind a certain sum to give.” He said, “I’ve already doubled it in my mind and heart.” It’s that kind of a spirit everywhere. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one heart, with one accord in one place” [Acts 2:1]. And that’s what does it.
I cannot give largely as though I were a multimillionaire; but what I can give, I am preparing to give. And I do it gladly. Thank the Lord that He matched my soul against such a day as this. And we’ll all feel that way. What we can, we shall do, with God’s help.
Now there must be in us a wondrous spirit of sensitivity to the needs of all of the groups here in the church. It is very easy, for example, for a man who goes to a lovely room and he has spaciousness around him, such as the men who would meet in Embree Hall, it is very easy for men who are adults and go to these classes that are so beautifully housed, it’s easy for them to forget the needs of those who struggle in cramped quarters in that teenage section, or who are struggling, trying to do a work against odds in a crowded Median Adult or Young Adult section. It’s easy for us to forget who are older, children grown, can hardly remember when we had babies, it’s easy for us to forget those little fellows that are back here in the nursery and in those toddler groups. But what makes a church great is remembering every part of its family. They’re all precious. And when we do this work, with God’s help and in His wisdom, we’re going to try to include everybody in the program, in the planning, in the building. We’re not going to leave anybody out; we want them all. All of them are dear and precious to us.
I think of that poor, poor family, with a large group of children in the home, and no bread to feed them. And out of the urgency and necessity and exigency of starvation itself, they decided to give one of their children away; that would be one less mouth to feed. So the father and mother sat down to decide which child they would give away. So he said, “Let’s give away our oldest boy.”
And the mother said, “Oh no, not him! We couldn’t give him away. Why, he looks exactly like his father. He’s the very image of his father.” So [she] said, “Well, let’s give away our oldest girl, our oldest girl.” She said, “Let’s give away then our oldest girl.”
And he replied, “Oh no, we couldn’t give her away! Why, she looks exactly like her mother, the very image of her mother.” They went on down and came to the twins. “Well let’s give one of the twins away!”
“No,” they said, “we couldn’t give one of the twins away, why, the one that remained would grieve himself to death!” They came on down to little Jimmy, “We’ll give little Jimmy away.”
“Oh, no!” they said, “He’s crippled. He’s crippled, we couldn’t give him away!” They came on down to the baby, “We’ll give the baby away.”
“Oh, no!” they said, “We couldn’t give the baby away, why, he’s just a baby!” So they decided they’d all live or they’d all starve together.
And I feel that way about this church. The whole gamut of it, the whole family of it, the whole sum of it, the whole everybody of it, we won’t forget any of them. We will help them all. We’ll encourage those who work in the nursery. And we’ll encourage those who work with our children. And we’ll sacrifice for those who work with our teenagers. We’ll make it possible for our College and Career, and our Business and Professional to do good. And we’ll make facilities for the Young Adults, and Median Adults, and the Senior Adults to do great for God. Everybody will be remembered.
Then, of course, on our part it means a pulling of ourselves out of the world, and a complete commitment and dedication of everything we have and everything we are to the Lord God. And without that sublime spiritual dedication, the program is impossible. Oh, I’d like to plead with our people to go all out for God, come out of the world and give yourself to the Lord.
In Malawi, in the future capital city of Lilongwe, I held a revival meeting for four days. They brought together all the pastors of the nation, a hundred twenty-five of them; and in the morning they taught them how to preach and how to win people. In the afternoon, they went out to do it. And that night I would preach. Oh, the Lord blessed—sometimes we’d have two hundred people saved. It was a glorious thing. But did you know, in the hotel at Lilongwe where I stayed, every time I’d go to the revival services, there was a little handful of white people sitting there in the lobby of the hotel, around a very, very large coffee table, and little bowls of peanuts on the table; and there they were drinking. And when I’d go to the services, and God would bless and we’d have a revival, an outpouring of the Spirit, and I’d come back to the hotel, and there they were around those little bowls of peanuts, drinking. And it may be spiritual pride, but every time I walked out of the hotel, and every time I came back in, I just thanked the Lord that I had felt in my soul a calling to a greater purpose and a higher assignment than to sit down around a little bowl of peanuts and drink and drink and drink. With one of the emerging nations of the Dark Continent coming to birth, and their minds so darkened and their souls so lost, there they sit and drink and eat peanuts.
And most of Dallas is like that. Go to the country club on any day, you’ll find the women there by the thousands playing bridge. Go to the bars on any day or any evening, there you’ll find the men on a high stool, drinking. I don’t see it. I don’t understand it. I can’t get it in my mind. With so much to do, with the very world on fire, with our young people facing temptations, and trials, and problems, and drugs, and a thousand other things, there we are eating peanuts around a coffee table and drinking ourselves to death. Come out, stand up! I guess the infidel feels quiet in his soul to drink or to play bridge. I guess he has no repercussion in his heart as he throws and spins and gives his life for nothing, for a bowl of peanuts and for a glass of beer.
But I want you to know, when I walked out that hotel to the revival, and looked into the faces of those Malawians, and saw them come to the Lord, and heard them sing the praises of Jesus, I couldn’t help but come back saying, “This is the real life. I have found it!” If there is inspiration, and encouragement, and gratitude, and the fullness of life and living, I have found it!
And I invite you to do the same. Come out of the world [2 Corinthians 6:17], and come out all of those things that waste our time and our money and our talents. Come out and give yourself wholly, fully, completely to the work of the Lord. There are families to reach. There are children to teach. There are teenagers to be plucked out of the burning. There are young adults to be guided in the building of their homes and families. There are adults to be encouraged in the faith and the work of the Lord. Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Stand up. Look up! Ask God to bless you. Let’s do it.
I have to close. For miles and miles and thousands of miles, way up there above forty thousand feet we flew over the entire length of the Egyptian and Sudanese, the Nubian Desert. As far as to the left you could see, and as far as to the right you could see, nothing but a blistering, burning sand. And through the midst of it, a green, green ribbon—the great and mighty Nile pushing itself four thousand miles, the longest river in the world, pushing itself through that burning sand. And throughout the length of it, wherever it goes in a blistering, burning, scorching world, there is life, emerald vegetation, foliation, bread, a life-giving stream. And as I watched it, looked at it, I thought, “That is the ministry of our dear church in Dallas: a river of life. On either side the tree of life, the water of life, the bread of life, the life-giving stream in a dry, and burned, and scorched, and barren, and sterile, and thirsty land.”
O God, thank Thee forever for the church. And thank Thee forever for the people of the Lord. And thank Thee, Master, that I can have some small part in it. To join hands with you in prayer, in dedication, in giving, in achievement is the sweetest, finest, dearest thing that God ever did for me or ever could. This is our building. This is our program. And this is what we are proposing to do for God and His kingdom in the earth.
Get ready. Get ready. And when the time comes, stand up, “Here I am, Lord. Got two hands, they’re Yours. Standing on two feet, they’re Yours. I’ve got a heart, it’s Yours. I’ve got a mind, it’s Yours. I have a little something, it’s Yours, Lord.” And when God sums us up and the total is made, it may surprise us, the heavenly, incomparably celestial and precious blessing that God has in store for this mighty church. We’re doing good, and the earth knows it. We’ve just begun to shine for Jesus.
Our time is passed, and we must sing our hymn of appeal. While we sing it, a family you, to give your life and heart and home to the Lord, come. A couple you, a one somebody you, while we sing the hymn, while we make the appeal, down one of these stairwells if you’re in the balcony, into the aisle on this lower floor and here to the front, “Making it today, preacher. Pastor, I’ve decided, and here I am.” As the Holy Spirit shall lay the appeal upon your soul, answer with your life. Come now. On the first note of the first syllable, come now. And may the angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.