Because We Believe, We Build
March 8th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
1 Corinthians 3:9-11
BECAUSE WE BELIEVE WE BUILD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 3:9-11
3-8-70 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message. And in twenty-five and a half years that I have preached here in this sacred place, there has been no message that is fraught with more meaning for us than the one that the pastor delivers today. It is entitled Because We Believe We Build. And the reading from the Scripture as a background is in the third chapter of the first Corinthian letter, verses 9 through 11:
For we are laborers together with God: we are God’s husbandry, we are God’s building.
According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a masterbuilder wise, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every one take heed how he buildeth thereon.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
[1 Corinthians 3:9-11]
I am sure that our church would like for the pastor to describe for us the whole situation that lies back and is present and is prospective concerning this gigantic, multi-million dollar building program into which we are asked to enter. “And pastor, we would like for you to be brutally frank. Let’s say this thing exactly how it is, that we may know of it, and what we are called upon to do, and why.” So let’s begin.
First of all, there are many hundreds of thousands of dollars beyond the million dollars that we are going to have to pay because of errors of judgment in days past. And this is an assignment that we have to accept. In my ministry, in the days when I have been pastor of the church, not in the days of my predecessor or his predecessor, but since I have been pastor of this church, those two large lots right there sold for $18,000, both of them. The lot between that building and this corner building here was offered to the leadership of our church for $3,500, and they turned it down. The building there on the corner, I had an option on it for $65,500; and the leadership of our church turned it down. On the other side, on the town side, one of those lots that we paid $350,000 was sold for $16,000. This is a misjudgment and a grievous error. But all of us are capable and are afflicted with those misjudgments. The military strategist, the politician, the doctor, the investment counselor, the denomination, the church, that is a human fallibility.
My father made some grievous financial misjudgments in his life. And when he died, I was left with the hospital bill, and the doctor bill, and the medicine bill, and the funeral bill. What remained for me to do, to hate my father or to berate his memory because he had made those financial misjudgments; nothing of the kind or of the sort entered my mind. What I did was, when we buried him away, I started paying those bills. And we shall do the same in this church. What we could have had and used for a quarter of a century, we shall now pay for, a million dollars and several hundred thousand dollars beyond it. We have no other choice. That is the situation. Let’s frankly admit it, and then let’s start paying, just as I did when we buried my father. No recrimination, no castigation, no finding fault; let’s just get at it.
Now, what kind of a building program are we asking our people to enter? Are we going to erect some kind of a tremendous cathedral, embellished, ornamented, effective, impressive? There will be nothing that approaches that kind of a building appeal, nothing. About a week ago, as you know, I was walking through the streets of Rome. Eight hundred churches in that city, and I’d walk in this one, and then that one, and the other. They are tremendous monuments, great towering basilicas and Gothics, eight hundred of them. And I have no inclination to quarrel or to berate those men and women who in the centuries past took the resources of a continent and built those gigantic monuments. But our program of construction and erection does not even approach anything like that. It is not our proposal even to replace this building here, though for several years now it is increasingly inadequate. We do not even propose, and I don’t think in those terms at all.
What kind of a building program are we entering then? May I illustrate it? Last Sunday morning there came down the aisle here at this church and to the front a young woman. I had visited with her before. She said, “I want to join this church. My husband was killed in an accident a few months ago, and I am left with twin boys, little boys. And I want you to help me rear my twin boys.” When she joined the church, I had her go back to the nursery and bring out those two little boys. She held one in one arm and one in the other arm—their father killed in an accident. And I said to that mother publicly, to you, as I promised her privately, “We shall be faithful to that trust. We shall help you rear those little boys.” And what the pastor said to that young mother, he says publicly to all of the fathers and mothers who have children in this city of Dallas: we shall help you rear those boys and girls in the love and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. And it is that kind of a program that we are increasingly building.
It was astonishing to me to learn how our Baptist work began in East Africa. We’ve been there just a little while. And yet the work is gloriously flourishing. This is the way it began: in Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean, the capital of the new emerging nation of Tanzania, a missionary from Dallas, a missionary walking down the streets of Dar es Salaam saw a group of boys playing soccer—what they call football—playing soccer with a homemade ball. He watched them. He went to the store and bought a new football, a soccer football. And he offered to referee, giving those boys the new ball. They were delighted to have the ball; they were delighted to have him. He refereed their games. Then getting acquainted with the lads, he visited in their homes. He rented an African house. He gathered the parents and those boys together. He got permission from the government—for the government owns all the land—to build a community center. And in Kenya and in Tanzania, it is very difficult to find any lot that the government will allow a church to be built on; but they welcome you if you’ll build a community center. So in Dar es Salaam, he built the community center. There they have a recreational program. There they have boys clubs and girls clubs. There they have adults in Bible teaching. And there the people are brought together for any religious purpose the government does not interdict that you would desire. And out of that came that church that meets in the community center, to which I preached in Dar es Salaam. And as I review that approach on the mission field, I have nothing but praise for it, because our missionaries, with a Bible in their hands, are offering to the people a full, rich, and marvelous program.
In a community center, there is a kindergarten, there is a place for babies, there is a place for teenagers. It is filled with intensest activity. I stayed on the mission ground there for half a day. I never saw it silent. It was ringing with the shouts and the cries of boys and girls, and men and women, coming and going. I like that! Any time a church is defined as being just a service shut up in four walls, behind stained-glass windows, and its congregation lives in an ivory tower, I say they have sort of lost the great commanding inclusiveness of the purpose of God in Christ Jesus, who came that we might live abundantly [John 10:10], which means righteously, which means gloriously, which means the whole circle and gamut of life. And it is that kind of a program into which our church for these years is increasingly living.
When I pass through the cities of America, I see these great buildings, high schools; these great buildings, junior highs; these great buildings, colleges; I look at these structures, they cost millions and millions of dollars. When I drive up and down the streets of the city of Dallas, I see those structures covering blocks. And out there on one of these boulevards, the public school system of Dallas is erecting an institution that costs millions of dollars; all dedicated to “the three Rs,” reading, writing, and arithmetic. But by law they are interdicted from teaching religion and the faith of Christ and the Word of God. Are we going, and is it our proposal to live in a culture, and in a civilization, and in a state, and in a city where we have great buildings for the teaching of the three Rs, but no effort, and no dedication, and no facilities for teaching the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus? I tell you the ultimate of such a course like that will be the moral and spiritual disintegration of this nation! There must be also with the teaching of history, and of mathematics, and of chemistry, and of science, there must be also the teaching of the moral stature and image into which God born us, made us, and created us [Genesis 1:27]. And one is as vital as the other. And I am very happy to assume as a church the responsibility for the moral, spiritual integrity of our young people, and ultimately of their families and homes, and ultimately of our people.
Any money that I am taxed to give to the public school system, I am happy to pay. But I am no less happy to take a part in the erection of these buildings for the teaching of the faith of God in the mind, and heart, and love of Christ Jesus.
Now, there is no interdiction to us in this program of teaching, not in America, and for the most part, not in the nations of the world. Communism has beclouded and darkened so much of humanity; but so much of it also still remains free. And we are free, we are free. The only limitation is that that we impose upon ourselves, that’s all.
When I was called to be the undershepherd of the First Baptist Church here in Dallas, J. Howard Williams was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. He grew up in Dallas, and he grew up in this First Baptist Church. And when I was called as pastor of the church, he had a conference with me because he loved you, he loved Dallas, and he loved the First Church. And he said to me, “I do not believe that there is any limit to the number of people that a church can teach the Word of God if they are willing to multiply their divisions and their departments and their classes.” I remembered that; and through the years and the years, we have followed that course of teaching, of visitation, of ministering. We have added and multiplied and divided the responsibility and involved our people.
For example, last Sunday there was a registered Sunday school attendance here, coming to listen to the Word of God, taught in these great, vast buildings, there was a registered attendance 6006. And that was done easily, without effort; it was just done. We went over there to the Cotton Exchange building in November and rented and refurbished a little area. It was made for 90 Median Adults, a new department. Last Sunday they had one 138 in attendance. And on an ordinary Sunday, they’ll have at least 115. Up here in this Truett Building last Sunday, a superintendent dug out what was in two storage closets, and in those two closets he launched two new Young Adult classes. There is no limit to it. The people are here. God has given us liberty and freedom. The only limitation is that that we assign ourselves.
In one of the churches in Zambia, in their capital city of Lusaka, Lazarus Green is pastor. We had a marvelous revival service in that church, the Mateo Baptist Church in Lusaka. I went early to the service, and on this side of the house, outside there were Sunday school classes. And on the other side there were Sunday school classes, and in the back there were Sunday school classes, all of them meeting outside. And I said to the pastor, “How do you fare?”
“Oh,” he said, “it is difficult. It is hard. When the rain pours down for months in the rainy season, it is difficult. And when the wind blows the dust and the dirt in the dry season, it is difficult. And when the sun beats hard on our heads, it is difficult. How greatly we need a building.” Don’t you wish you could help him build it? Maybe we can. Maybe we can. But the thing that came to my heart was this as I looked at that: he’s doing a great work out there under the sun, out there under the rain, and out there in the wind; but he could do a better work if he had a facility to use, a house in which to gather those children and those young people and those adults and teach them the Word of God.
The great fundamental of course is not the brick, the mortar. The great foundational fundamental is that it’s in our hearts to do it, that we believe in God, and in this Book, and in Christ, and in the blessings that come to a home and a family when we teach the Word. That’s the great fundamental; but the other is an adjunct, a corollary, an addendum that helps mightily, like the trowel in the hand of a mason, or like the arms used by the soldier, or like the instruments of business and industry in these great far-flung industrial complexes. What we’re proposing to do is to build for the teaching of the Word of God and for the direction of the entire life of our families.
Now last, how shall we do that? And the answer is very simple. There is not a congregation, a multiplicity of rich, rich, rich, affluent people to do this for us. Just look around you, just look around you, look around you at any convocation of our people. Look around you at any service, you will find just thousands of us, plain, ordinary folks. Some of us clerks, some of us stenographers, some of us typists, some of us professional men, doctors and lawyers, some of us businessmen, just people. The First Baptist Church in Dallas is a cross section of people, up and down, as broad as this city is broad, as wide as this city is wide; that’s what you’ll find in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And that means our hope for the success of this program lies in the response of the thousands and thousands and thousands of us.
We must be together in this. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” [Acts 2:1], all of us must respond, all of us. There is no other way. And whoever we are, and in whatever group we share, and whatever class we attend, there must be in us a deep sensitivity to the needs of the other areas in the church. If you are an adult and your class meets in a beautiful and spacious room such as Embree Hall, you cannot forget that there are teenagers who desperately need a place. There are young adults who desperately need a place. There are children who desperately need a place. And when that place is provided, there will be other young adults, and other children, and other teenagers that will be gathered together on these Lord’s Days, and in a thousand other activities, learning the mind of God in Jesus. Let’s remember all of them; everybody is to have a part. There is something for everybody, and we love them every one. If there are babies, we have a place for the babies; children, for children; teenagers, for teenagers; Young Marrieds, Adults, all, they all are ours, they all belong to us, they all are vitally important.
I feel about it exactly as I read when a poor, poor family couldn’t feed the children, and it was decided that one of them would be given away. So the father and mother met together to decide which child they’d give away. So the father said, “The eldest son, we’ll give him away.”
And the mother replied, “Oh no, not him! He’s the image of his father. Not him, we couldn’t give him away.” Then she said, “We will give away our eldest daughter.”
“Oh no,” said the father, “we couldn’t give her away! She is the very image of her mother. We couldn’t give her away.” Then it was thought, “We’ll give one of the twins away.” And they said, “We couldn’t separate the twins; the other would grieve to death!” Then they said, “We’ll give little Jimmy away…oh no, we couldn’t give little Jimmy away, he’s crippled! We couldn’t give him away.”
Finally they came down to the baby, “We’ll give the baby away…oh no,” said the father and mother, “he’s just a baby! We couldn’t give the baby away!” They finally decided that they would all live or they would all starve together!
I feel the same way about this church. There’s no part of it we’re willing to give up. There is no section of it we are going to deny or forget. We are all going to be in it together. There’ll be a place provided adequate for the baby, for the child, for the teenager, for the Young Marrieds, for all of our Adults, for all of our work.
Now, how are you going to do that? To provide such a facility as we’re thinking of, reaching out for these people, multiplying these departments and classes, teaching them the Word of God, oh, what a vast outlay! It cannot be done except this: there must be a humor, a decision, a willingness, a yieldedness, a surrenderedness on the part of our people that this we’re going to do for God, my life, and all that is in the circle and circumference of me and what I do, and I and what I have, it’s for God, all of it. We’re going to pull ourselves out of the world and out of a thousand things that entice us in it, and we’re going to give ourselves completely and fully to the life of God; and there’s no other way. But I like that God-way, that Christ-way, that God’s life, and that Christian life.
May I show you? In the Lilongwe, in Malawi—which is such a backward nation, so poor, so illiterate—we stayed in Lilongwe, the future capital of Malawi, for four days. And I held a revival meeting in the city in a community auditorium. They had brought the preachers of the nation there, about a hundred twenty-five of them. And in the morning they taught them how to be pastor of a church and how to preach the Word of God. And in the afternoon they went out and did what they were taught, witnessing and visiting. And then at night we came together, and I conducted the services. Sometimes I’d see two hundred saved. Well anyway, every night of that revival meeting there was a group of white men and women who would go down there to the lobby of the hotel. And around a coffee table on which were little bowls of peanuts, when I’d leave they were drinking. And when the services were over and I’d come back, there they were, drinking. Then I thought, “This is a picture of the white man.” He’s there for what he can get out of those black people and their country, exploitation, and money. And he cares nothing about their souls, or their hearts, or their homes, or their families, or their children. And you’ll find most of the people in Dallas like that: the women in country clubs playing bridge and the men in bars drinking. It may be egotistical, sophisticated, spiritual pride, but when I walked out of the hotel with this Bible in my hand, I thanked God that I had come to Malawi with a message and a ministry to elevate those people, to save their souls, and to remake their lives. And when I came back in after the services and saw them there still drinking and eating peanuts, I thanked God again for the service of the night and for the souls that we had reached for Jesus.
In that same hotel, just outside my window, every night there was a group, there was a little court there with an umbrella on it in the daytime, and a place to sit and to talk and to drink. And every night outside my window till way late, there was a group of American young people, and they belonged to a certain adjunct of the government, and they’re over there in Malawi. And every night they’d sit around and talk, and I couldn’t but listen to them. And I never heard such drivel in my life, such drivel in my life! There they are representing the American government, doing things I’m sure that are good; they’re do-gooders! But after they have done what they do, the hearts of the people are empty, their souls are lost, and their lives are unblessed. For however you may elevate people financially or materially or secularly, when they’re lost in their hearts, and when they’re lost before God, you have not blessed them, you have just elevated them into another stratum of sin and materialism and worldliness.
I think God’s people ought to come out of the world [2 Corinthians 6:17]. And I think our lives ought to be given to Jesus. And the strength and energy of everything we have ought to be dedicated to the Lord; my mind, and my hand, and my heart, and my life, and not a dime of it for the world, not a moment of it in compromise—all of it for God. And there’s no other program that will make possible what we are attempting to do in this church except that sublime commitment on the part of our people.
I must close. Forty thousand feet up in the air, throughout the length of Egypt and the Sudan, those blistering, barren, sterile deserts for miles and miles and miles on either side; and that green, green ribbon of the Nile passing its way through that barren desert for four thousand miles, and as I sat there and watched it, and watched it, and followed it, I couldn’t help but think, “This is the stream of life, and this is the greenery, the foliation, the emerald, the tree of life, and this is the ministry of our dear church in a weary and a wasteful land, in a desert and a sterile sand.” This church and its gospel message is like the river that brings life, salvation, hope, blessings to the people.
O Lord, when time comes and we’re asked to respond, as God shall witness, “Here’s my name, here’s my address, here’s my telephone number, here’s my soul, my life, my dedication, put it down. Number me with the redeemed of the Lord. Count on me for what I am able to do; the stewardship of mind, heart, and hand that God has committed to me.” And my fellow Christians, my brothers and sisters in Jesus, when you do that, as bright as shines the light of this glorious church to the ends of the earth, we have seen nothing compared to the iridescent beauty and glory of those rays that shall burn more brilliantly, shine more furiously for Jesus. Our best days for God are these that immediately lie ahead. Come, come, come.
Now we’re going to sing our hymn. Because [of] the lateness of the moment, come on the first stanza. “I’ve decided for God, and here I am.” “This is my family; we’re all coming.” A couple you, a one somebody you, “I’ve got it in my heart, preacher, God’s called me, and I’m coming.” As the Spirit of Jesus shall lead in the way, shall open the door, make it now. In a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming down this aisle or down one of these stairways. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.