The State of the Church
January 3rd, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
THE STATE OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-3-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The State of the Church. In January, when the new Congress convenes, the president of the United States by tradition delivers to both houses in joint session a State of the Union message. And this first Sunday of the new year is a like summation, A State of the Church. With this exception, we shall briefly, casually almost, speak of the past, and practically all of the word will concern the days that unfold in the future. As the passage that you read out of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, “Forgetting the things that are behind” [Philippians 3:13], we can’t live back there; the manna that fell yesterday does not suffice for the day or the morrow, it must come fresh from God’s bountiful hands [Exodus 16:15-21; Matthew 6:11]. So we’ll not live in the past, we shall lift up our eyes to the days that lie ahead. And the message mostly therefore will concern the future, our new year.
Just as a background, and not as a passage to be expounded—for the subject sermon today is just that, it is not an exposition of the Scripture, it’s a subject sermon—in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Lord said:
A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten talents, and said unto them, Occupy till I come . . ,.
And it came to pass, that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded those servants to be brought before him, to give an accounting of what they had done with the pounds the lord had placed in their hands, and then to assign them their tasks for the future.
And that’s what we are going to do today.
Now, for just a moment in the past: beginning the new year, I cleaned off my desk. And on one side of the desk there was a stack of things that I had placed there because of a special interest or meaning. As I went through that stack, clearing off my desk, I came across these two things. I had saved them not because of any preparation for this service or any other, but just out of something that had moved my own heart. The first one is a message delivered by Dr. W. R.—is that an “r”? it is—by Dr. W. R. Estep, Jr., professor of church history at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It is a message that he delivered entitled “Life with Martin” [SWBTS Chapel, 4/24/1970]. Martin is the name of his little boy who died when he was seven years old. And he goes through the things of the long illness of the little boy, and their praying, their searching the mind of God. Then he comes to the last page of the sermon and the last paragraph. And in this last page and last paragraph, he tells the story of about five months before the little boy slipped away. They were entertaining a missionary family in the home, and all the family was together. And the little boy stood up and made an announcement, “I am a Christian now.” Now his father had been away the following Sunday preaching, so he knew nothing of what had transpired, he says. Then he describes what happened. The little boy, seven years of age, was listening to a televised program of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And listening to that program, when I gave an appeal, that little boy accepted Christ as his Savior. And the father concludes his sermon describing how much that meant to him and to the family. A little bypath, a blessing I had no idea of; I just read it when somebody sent the sermon to me.
Then, in that stack was a page from a letter not mailed to me. The letter is not written to me at all; it is written to somebody else, and that somebody else took the page and mailed it to me. And here is the last page of the letter, “I meant to share with you an event directly related with the Encounter Crusade,” this is the crusade that I held in Chattanooga, Tennessee:
A couple was having marital problems and were planning to divorce. They finally separated and did so during the Encounter week. The man decided to attend the crusade. The Lord spoke to him that night and made a tremendous change in his life; the father returned to his home. And the mother, unaware that he had returned, heard a noise in the child’s bedroom. She looked in and there was the father, kneeling by the child’s bed in prayer. The family was reunited. It just shows that God never ceases to perform His marvelous acts of grace.
These are just some of the incountable, uncountable, immeasurable remembrances of God upon our church and its message in the year that has passed.
But we haven’t opportunity to dwell in those days; we must now look to the future and what God shall do in the new year. Looking at some of those things, first and nearest, at five o’clock this afternoon, in this sanctuary, we shall have a Lord’s service, service of praise and thanksgiving. We shall have a Lord’s Supper, the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. Whether God shall bless the service or not, whether the people will respond or not, I cannot know; I just know this: that for all the years that I have been a pastor, I have never been quiet in my heart about our Lord’s Supper service. As I read the Book and as I try to find the mind of the Spirit in writing these holy words, I do not swerve, I don’t pull away or depart from that conviction that the Lord’s Supper ought to be reverently magnified among our people. Out of all the things God said, He did not say, “Remember My words,” or, “Remember My miracles,” or, “Remember My great deeds”; but what He did say, was, “Remember, this is My body broken for you. This is My blood, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26]. And though the men that for the most part I will talk to about the service in our church, when I say, “It seems to me we just tack on the Lord’s Supper to the regular service,” they say, “Pastor, that’s just in your mind. It is not actually that way.” But it stays in my mind like that.
Therefore, we shall try, we shall attempt a new departure. At five o’clock this afternoon, we’re going to have our Lord’s Supper. It will be a service just thanking Jesus for dying for us [1 Corinthians 15:3], for washing us clean and white in the blood of the cross [Revelation 1:5]. I’m going to wear a white suit, a spotless white suit. I’ve never had it on. I’m going to wear it for this service at five o’clock, indicative of those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:13-14]. We’re going to do several things to dramatize, like it says in the Book, “As oft as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do dramatize, you exhibit, you set forth the Lord’s death, achri hou elthe, till He come, till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26].
Now somebody said to me, “Pastor, there’ll be hardly anyone there because the Cowboy football game will be on television.” Well, I’ll be praying for the Cowboys too. I hope they win. Tell you that game on New Year’s Day plunged me into grief and despair. Ah! But God will give us a few, and we’ll just love Jesus all over again in that service at five o’clock this afternoon.
Now a word about our financial program. I have a great reluctance in seeking to discourage our people from designating. I have always felt that the right to designate was inherent in the bringing of our tithes and offerings to the church. If there is something you are especially interested in, something God has placed on your heart, it could be a missionary across the sea, it could be one of our chapels in West Dallas, it could be a work especially dear to your heart in the church, oh, there are so many, as our institutions like Dallas Baptist College, to have the privilege to designate through the church is inherently right, to me. And yet, if we do it too much, we finally grind the church itself to a halt. And that’s what is happening to us. We’ve never had the problem before, but we face it now in astronomical proportion. Whatever we do in this church, you can count on it, it will be as high as heaven and as big as the earth. We are now a half million dollars behind in our local church program because of our designations. We’re giving more than we ever have. Every year the church gives more and more. We’re now giving more than three million dollars a year to God’s work in the earth through this one church. But we are designating so much of it, until finally, if it were to continue, the church would cease to exist; you couldn’t pay your light bill, you couldn’t pay your janitor bill, you just couldn’t run the church. You can’t run a church indefinitely in a deficit. We’ve got to pay our bills, just to be honest before God and men. I don’t quite know what to do, and I don’t know where to turn. I ask God for wisdom to know what to do. But to begin with, we must do this, each one of us: we must designate less, and we must give to our church more undesignated in order that it might continue to grow and to bless the cause of our Lord in the earth.
Now I speak about our building program. For the years and the years, you see everything here just the same, there’s nothing new, there’s nothing added; and it looks as though we have done nothing at all. We so desperately need an expanded facility, and in some areas it is tragically needed. Yet we do nothing about it; there’s no building going on, there’s no brick being laid, there’s just everything just the same. Well, there are two things about it. One is, in these last little whiles where it seems that nothing has been happening, yet our church has bought more than three million dollars worth of properties right next to us. To an ordinary church, three million dollars would be, oh, an overwhelming sum. To us we have done it without hardly mentioning it. We’ve bought properties, over three million dollars worth. We bought the Harlan property between the Veal Parking building and the Federal Street. We have bought the Rader property between the Burk building and the Salvation Army, facing Ervay Street. We have bought what we have named the Spurgeon Harris building, on top of which is the IRS building, cater-cornered from our church door; the building right there covers half a block. It’s an enormous piece of property. We have bought the Riley building, which is the corner building at St. Paul and San Jacinto here. And then beyond, down there by the old Mayfair Hotel, we have bought the Cummings property, the old Kansas City Life building. Over three million dollars we have purchased in the last little while. So though it doesn’t appear, yet there has been intensive programming and purchasing on the part of our church.
Now another thing, we have come after long discussion and probing, we have come to the definite and final conclusion that we cannot buy any building close to us and remodel it for our own felicitous use. We cannot do it. So that is settled. Yet for years we have sought to find an outlet for the expansion of our teaching ministries in buying one of these buildings right next to us that’s already erected. I give you just one instance of the problems you face when you seek to do that. The city code is read to us, and they make you put stairwells in a building according to the density of the people that are engaged in it. And of course, when we have Sunday school, why, the people are just jammed on every floor and in every room. It’s not like an office building. So, the city comes and says, “Now according to the density of its use you have to have so many stairways, and they must be so many feet wide.” Well, we found out in one of these buildings that we wanted to acquire, that by the time we got to the top, according to the city code, the entire top would be used for nothing but stairways. You just shake your head, you’re just dumbfounded by problems you face.
So in these years past, when we have struggled with the possibility of using a building already erected, it is a definite and final and concluding word, we cannot do it. Therefore we are going into a building program of our own. We’re going to erect our building according to our use. Now, I want to say what I want us to do. One: I want us to go to the lot between the Veal parking building and Federal Street, and I want us to build there another parking building. The reason I want us to do that is, I want to get away from the commercial leasing of that Veal building. I want us to use the facilities for ourselves. It is our parking building, and we use it alone. And I want to build the other building on the other side, where we go up, we drive up, we don’t have attendants, it’s self parking, we drive up in the Veal parking building that is now there, and we drive down in the new building to be erected.
Now the men say to me, “But pastor, we have studied this meticulously, and it is not economically profitable.” Well, I don’t doubt the economics of the men who study it. It is not merchandising economically profitable to do it. But we’re not doing it to make money. We are not doing it because of economic feasibility. What we’re doing is, we’re providing something for God, for our church. You could say the same thing about our kitchen. Our kitchen is subsidized. It is not economically feasible—we don’t expect it to be. We use the kitchen for the glory of the Lord!
To show you how, oh, when it’s taken away, I, on the first Thursday of each month I have started a Christian businessmen’s fellowship. Well, we had a fire in the kitchen, so I can’t have my Christian businessmen’s luncheon this coming Thursday. To cater it would cost I don’t know how much. But we use our kitchen and let the men come for a dollar and eat all that they can hold. We do that for the Lord! We do it for the church. We do it for God.
Same way about our library: our library is not economically feasible. Same way about our recreational program: our recreational program is not economically feasible. But we do that for God! Now I feel the same way about that parking building. Let us forget its economics. Let us forget whether it is financially profitable or not. Let’s build that building and then keep it for ourselves. Then any time you want a meeting down here at the church, the “Live Long and Like It” club, our young people, you, the WMU, Woman’s Missionary Union, anything, anytime, there’ll be ample room down here no matter how crowded the downtown is. You can drive into that building, park your car, drive it out. That’s the first thing I want us to do.
Second thing I want us to do: I want us to go over here to this lot facing Ervay Street, between the Burt Building and the Salvation Army, and I want us to build an educational building there. I want it to be two high. I’d like for us to build a building where you walk in on the middle floor, on the ground floor, the street level; you walk in, and then you walk up two, and then you walk down two; two down, two above, and that one in the center. And the reason that I want us to do that is because these elevators are impossible situations for us. All of our people, thousands of us in one of these buildings, all of our people want to go up at the same time, and they all want to go down at the same time. It’s not like a commercial building. And we jam those elevators. Another thing, they’re expensive. Each elevator will cost you a hundred twenty-five thousand dollars. Well, that means four elevators, half a million dollars! Let’s go buy us another lot; let’s keep our buildings low where the people can walk up and walk down. Then we’ll have an elevator or two in there for some of us who are getting decrepit and can’t climb a stairway; but the rest of us walk. It keeps your girlish figure girly, and keeps your masculinity strong and fine. Let’s walk! Let’s jog up and down.
Now, about this building program, I’d like for us to do what we do in units of five years. I’d like for us to take it five years at a time. And the reason for that is on account of the age of the pastor. I don’t try to kid myself or anyone else—I was thirty-four years old when I came here to be pastor of the church. I am now in my sixty-second year. We ought not to plunge this church into a gigantic, astronomical debt. But what we do ought to be done in the circumference of what we believe we can do in the ministry of the pastor. So five years would take us through my sixty-five years. Then at the end of my sixty-five years, my, that’ll be my thirty-first, I shall have completed thirty-one years as pastor of the church then.
“Well, then let’s thump him, let’s gouge him, let’s look at him, and if we think our pastor is good for five more years, why, then we’ll get us another five year program and pray the Lord to see him through. Then at the end of the second five years, why, let’s thump him again, and if we think he’s fit and sound for five more, well, then let’s go five more years with him.” But I still believe very much that we ought not to go into debt beyond what the pastor can encompass, can put his arms around. So let’s take it five years at a time; let’s take it piece at a time. Now, if I were thirty-four years of age, the church could go into kind of a debt, and we’d look forward to another thirty years in which to pay it. But we ought not to do it now. Let’s take it five years at a time and see what God does. I think the Lord would bless wisdom.
Now I want to speak to you about our teaching program. As you know, by law we cannot teach the Bible and religion in the public school system; and I’m glad for that interdiction—I would not want an infidel teaching our children religion, nor would I want these extreme cultists teaching our children the Word of the Lord. I just wouldn’t want it. I’m very happy for the legal interdiction of religion in the public school system. But at the same time I’m also cognizant, sensitive, and aware that that means we must accept the responsibility of teaching the Word of God. If they are not to be taught in the public school system, then we ought to teach it. And that’s God’s assignment for us. We ought to accept it as from the Lord.
Now I have two words about that teaching. One, it ought to be done excellently, splendidly, effectively. No child ought to be sent to the public schools, and he’s taught by magnificent teachers, trained and gifted, he is taught reading, writing, and arithmetic; then he goes to church and he’s taught the truth of the eternal and saving God, and it is done sloppily and slovenly and sorry. It ought to be done marvelously and excellently, and we ought to try to meet any high pedagogical standard in any teaching situation in the city to which a child might ever be introduced. Now that’s one of the reasons why the establishing of our Bible Institute in the church. Tuesday night of next week—not this coming Tuesday, but Tuesday night of next week—the twelfth day of January, at—my, 7, 6:30—at 6:30 in the evening, at 6:30 in the evening, January twelfth, we will open our Bible Institute. And to show you God’s favor upon it, I can point out to you an institute that after the years and the years and the years, they have about a hundred fifty students—we are beginning ours with more than two hundred students. Oh, it’s a magnificent thing! And we’ll have the finest professors in the land; men who are learned in their separate fields. And we’re going to ask our people to enroll, to be taught the wonders of the Word of God; our leaders, our teachers, our superintendents, all of our people who will respond. And then if God will bless us—and He is—if God will bless us, we are encouraging pastors and other superintendents and teachers to come and to sit at the feet of these godly professors. We want to do it excellently!
All right, second: we want to do it faithfully, faithfully as unto the Lord. Now, rather than expound on that for an hour, may I illustrate it? In our young people’s quarterly, there is a pipsqueak somewhere, a knot on a log, a wart on a dill pickle, and he’s educated beyond his intellectual capacities. So he takes his pen in hand, and he writes. He says, “Now it says here in the Bible that the trumpets shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible [1 Corinthians 15:52]. Now,” he said, “that is apocalyptic hyperbole. That’s just Oriental expression. It is prophetic exaggeration.” He says, “There’ll be no trumpet sounding.” Now, when I pick up my Bible and read, what I read in my Bible, Paul says, “This is by the revelation of the Lord” [Galatians 1:12]. Then I turn the page and Paul will say, “This is by the word of the Lord” [1 Corinthians 11:23]. Paul says God said to him, “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible” [1 Corinthians 15:52]. Now what I want to know is, when did the pipsqueak get another revelation from God saying, “I’ve changed all that. That’s the way it was when I spoke to Paul, but today I’m speaking to you a new message: it’s not that way at all, that’s just apocalyptic imagery. There’ll be no trumpet to sound, and that’s not so.” The trouble with those people is, they take it on that page, then they deny what’s said on the next page, and then they deny what’s said on the next page, and pretty soon they’ve denied the whole message. That’s what I mean when I say we are faithful in our teaching. We shall open the Book, and we shall teach exactly what God has said and what God has revealed.
For example again, if I could expatiate a moment longer, the Book says up there in heaven the streets are paved with gold, and it says, and you enter heaven through gates of solid pearl [Revelation 21:21]. And it says and the foundations are precious stones [Revelation 21:19-20]. Well, the superior comes along and he says, “Why, there’s no gold on the streets, and there’s no pearly gates, and there are no foundations of jewels.” You see, I cannot say that’s not right. See, I haven’t been there. But what I do say is this: that God said the streets are gold and the gates are pearl [Revelation 21:21], and the foundations are of jasper and precious stones [Revelation 21:19-20]. And what I think is that the man of God who preaches and teaches ought to say it like God says it, unless he has another revelation. When God says it’s gold, then I say it’s gold. And when God says it’s pearl, I say it’s pearl. When the Lord says it’s jasper and precious stones, I say it’s jasper and precious stones, faithfully teaching the Word of God.
I’d love for the people to be able to say, “You send that child down to the First Baptist Church, and you can be assured of this one thing: he will be taught faithfully and excellently the Word of God.” I don’t think we have any other business; that’s it.
Now last, I’d like to say a word about the purpose that lies back of our teaching, and our singing, and our ministry, and our preaching, and our visiting. In it ought always to be a seeking note: we’re reaching for people, trying to get people to the Lord, firebrands plucked out of the burning, getting them into the kingdom, seeking souls, saving the lost. Back of everything we do, everything, is that ultimate and final purpose: a seeking, a searching, an inviting, an appealing, a pulling.
The Lord said we are to make disciples; that is first. Then we are to baptize them; that is second. Then we are to teach them the things He has given us to keep; that is third [Matthew 28:18-20]. But first is that seeking, that matheteusō, that discipling, that winning to Christ [Matthew 28:19]. And in everything there ought to be that feeling of appeal. The praying, the expounding the Word, the teaching, there ought to be that feeling of seeking and inviting [Jeremiah 29:12-13]. Not that I could put my hands on it, or hold it; it’s just something you feel. It’s on the inside of your heart. When you come in you sense it, you feel it. You can’t touch it, you can’t see it, but you feel the pull of it.
Like that blind boy flying a kite: and a man seeing the boy blind flying a kite, said, “Why son, you can’t even see it up there in the sky. How do you even know it’s there?” And the little blind boy replied, “I can feel it by the pull on the string.” That’s the way we ought to be in the services and work of the church: there ought to be a pull in it, there ought to be a seeking in it, an invitation in it.
I had a conversation with a member about his church here in Dallas. They don’t give an appeal; they don’t give an invitation. And I was talking to him about it. I said, “To me that is the same thing, it is the same thing as an insurance man, and he talks to a prospect about his insurance policy, but he never asks him to sign on the dotted line.” I said, “To me it’s the same thing as a legislator in a congress, he’s up there pleading for a law, pleading for a new arrangement, welfare, or otherwise for the people, but he never brings it to a vote. It’s the same thing to me,” I said, “as a lawyer before a jury, but he never pleads for a verdict.” It’s the same thing to me in the house of the Lord: when we teach, and when we sing, and when we pray, and when we preach, and when we visit, it ought to be with an invitation: “We have found the Lord. God is gracious and good. Come, come, come.”
And the Book closes like that: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. Come, come, come. “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters . . . without money and without price” [Isaiah 55:1]. Come, come, come. That ought to be the pulling note in everything that we do; seeking, you.
Now we’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you giving your heart to the Lord, putting your life in the fellowship of the church, “I want to be baptized, pastor.” “We’re going to put our letters here in the church.” “We’re coming on rededication of life. This is my wife and these are our children; the whole family of us, we’re all coming.”
Down one of these stairways if you’re in the balcony round, into the aisle on the lower floor, on the first note of that first stanza, stand up coming. Make the decision now, and God speed you in the way, the angels attend you, while we stand and while you come.