The State of the Church
January 6th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
THE STATE OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 20: 28
1-06-74 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who listen on the radio to this first service of the new year with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The State of the Church. As you would know from the framing of the word, it is taken from the habit of the president of the United States to deliver to Congress, to the joint sessions of both houses, the Senate and the House of Representative, a message on the State of the Union; how we are faring, how we are doing, and our hopes for the morrow.
And unless there would be some exigency that would deviate us on the first Sunday of every new year, I deliver a message, an address, on the state of the church; something about us and our hopes, and visions, and prayers for the future. So this message is that annual sermon to us who belong and love and pray for this dear church.
In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, beginning at the seventeenth verse, Doctor Luke writes, "And from Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come, he said unto them" [Acts 20:17-18], then follows one of the most meaningful addresses in the Bible. Paul describes how he, in verse 19, "served the Lord with all humility of mind, and many tears… testifying both to the Jews and to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:19,21].
Then in verse 28, which would be our text, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, to all the church, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you episkopoi," translated in the Bible "bishops"; and here the word is actually translated "overseers, to feed, to pastor, to feed, to shepherd the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28]. Then coming to the thirty-first verse, "Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" [Acts 20:31]. Isn’t that unusual? Twice he mentions his tears. In verse 19, "Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears"; and then in verse 31, "Remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."
Now, The State of the Church. First, about my own pastoral ministry, because of the coming of Dr. Draper – – and he’ll be a doctor pretty soon, one of our colleges is going to present to him and confer upon him a doctor’s degree – – first about the coming of Brother Jimmy Draper. His coming here from so fine a church and so vigorous a program has precipitated much speculation, not only on the part of our own people but on the part of the whole Dallas and our Southern Baptist community.
They have printed articles and published newspaper releases about my work here in the church. I want to point out something in the Bible which is what we’re trying to do here in our congregation, which I think as I pray it through and as I study the Word of the Lord the best that I am capable of studying, I want to point out to you something in the Bible. Did you notice that in the passage that I read, "And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders," plural, "the elders of the church"; there are three words in the New Testament that refer to the office of the pastor?
One is the word "elder," presbuteros, translated, "elder." The other is the word episkopos, translated "bishop," actually it means "overseer" like presbuteros means "older one," presbuteros, an elder, "an older one"; episkopos, translated "bishop," actually meaning "overseer." And the other word is poimēn, "shepherd," translated usually "pastor." Now I want you to look carefully at the Word of the Lord. "And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the presbuteroi," plural, "the elders of the church" [Acts 20:17].
I’m going to turn now to the first chapter of Philippians and the first verse, "Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are in Philippi, with the episkopoi, the bishops," plural, "and the deacons" [Philippians 1:1]. plural, episkopoi, plural, the bishops, plural, and the deacons, also plural. More than one episkopos; episkopoi – bishops. Remember, episkopoi, presbuteroi, poimÃ©n, all refer to the same officer in the church, plural, bishops and deacons.
I turn again, to the first chapter of Titus – – now these are just a few of the things that I’ve picked out – – "For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders," plural, "presbuteroi in every city, as I had appointed thee" [Titus 1:5], plural, always plural. Now I’ve chosen one other out of a multitude of passages. In the fifth chapter of 1 Peter, Simon Peter writes, "The elders which are among you I exhort, who also am an elder" [1 Peter 5:1]. Now the Greek word is sumpresbuteros; "To the presbuteroi, elders of the church, I write, I who also am a sumpresbuteroi, a fellow elder"; even Simon Peter looked upon himself not as the elder, the pastor, the bishop, but he was a sumpresbuteroi. He was a fellow elder.
It has been in the genius of God, that plurality of eldership of bishops, of pastors, that made possible the ministry to the tremendous churches of the first Christian era. Look, it is easy to ascertain as you watch the church at Jerusalem through the first few chapters; it was soon that they had more than twenty-five thousand members in the church. B. H. Carroll says that as the days passed there were more than sixty-five thousand members in the church at Jerusalem.
And G. Campbell Morgan, whom I suppose in recent history is the greatest Bible teacher the world has ever known, G. Campbell Morgan says that as the days passed the church at Jerusalem had more than two hundred fifty thousand members. It is fantastic when you go back to those days and see the size of those churches.
I remember preaching at an evangelistic conference in which I was introduced as the pastor of a tremendous, unbelievable church. And at that time we had about twelve thousand members. So in a comment on it, after I stood up to speak, I said, "That seems large to us today, but actually it’s a small church compared to the churches of the first Christian centuries."
"For example," I said, "John Chrysostom, who was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Antioch, John Chrysostom had a church of over fifty thousand members." And after it was over, why, I was challenged concerning that. So I came back home and started digging in those books. And I found out that John Chrysostom said that there were more than one hundred thousand members in the church at Antioch.
If you ever go to Istanbul, there you will see the Hagia Sophia, St. Sophia. The great building was begun by Constantine in about 325 AD. It was finally built by Emperor Justinian in about 550 AD. John Chrysostom preached in that glorious church. The dome is bigger than a baseball diamond. It’s the most stupendous, marvelous structure the genius of man has ever created. To my sorrow it is now a Muslim mosque. But as I stood there under that great towering dome, and the dome, and the dome, and finally the great dome, gives the impression of being outside, I thought of the man who stood there in that church. There were no seats in the ancient churches, the people stood, and they pressed close together. On any day, Chrysostom would preach to twenty-five or thirty thousand people, on any day. And having several services during the day, he would preach to maybe fifty or seventy-five or a hundred thousand members.
How come my speaking of it in the evangelistic conference, I was just pointing out to my brethren that our work is small, and it’s tiny, and it’s little, and for the most part, compared to them ineffectual, compared to the tremendous drive and power of those ancient churches. We have lost it. Why, if we had a church like this in some other city, people would look upon it as phenomenal. But compared to those ancient standards, it’s a small congregation.
Well, immediately, immediately one would ask, "How is it that a church could have fifty thousand, a hundred thousand, or two hundred fifty thousand members, as G. Campbell Morgan says the first church in Jerusalem had? How could a thing like that happen?" Well, that’s why I tell you as I read the Bible, as I study the Word of God, it is very apparent to me what happened.
Always there is a plurality of elders, never an exception. Always, always the elders, plural, the pastors, plural, the bishops, plural, always it is that kind of a ministry. Now if this church, having attained tremendous proportions, if this church continues in its outreach, there has to be by the side of your leading elder, your senior presbuteros, there has to be men of gifts, and of stature, and of ability to work by his side.
Now am I reluctant to do that? Am I reluctant to share the sweet office of pastor in this church? Am I? The answer is an unequivocal "No, I am not reluctant. I am happy to do it." I love these brethren who sit with me on the platform and who work with me in the church. I pray for them. And if I cannot demonstrate to you a spirit of humility and prayer in sharing, then I am not fit to be a follower of the lowly Lord Jesus.
If things must minister to me personally, and if I must find the chief seat always, and if I am to be looked upon with great and constant deference, and if I am filled with envy or jealousy, how could I say that I am also a servant of the blessed Jesus? We ought to demonstrate in our ministries that preferential loving, preferring, advancing these who are around us.
So in the coming of Brother Draper, he is a sumpresbuteros. He’s our fellow elder. I am very happy in our church – this is the only church I know of in the earth like it – I am very happy that our business administrator is an ordained minister of Christ. I love that. He’s a man called of God to give his life to the work of the Lord. That’s why he left his splendid position with the public school system of Dallas. That’s why Dr. Nolan Estes so reluctantly gave him up. He’s a gifted man. He’s a dedicated man, but he’d given his life to the work of the Lord. And though he had a far, finer position, more affluent, out there than we could ever offer him here, yet there was something on the inside of his soul. He’d given his heart to Jesus, and he wasn’t happy away from the work of Christ. So he came to be with us. He’s a fellow elder. And I love that.
"Now, pastor, what shall you do about your retirement? What shall you do about the days of your coming age?" Well, we shall just leave it to God. We shall let the Lord lead. When time comes for me to lay the burden down, to place the mantle on the shoulders of some younger man, you’ll know when that time comes. You’ll be the first to know, and you’ll sense that that’s what I ought to do. And we’ll just leave it to God. When shall I retire? Shall it be at the end of this year, when I am sixty-five years of age? Shall it be ten years from now, when I am seventy-five? Shall it be twenty years from now, when I’m eighty-five? What shall it be? We’ll just leave it to the blessed Lord. We’ll let God say.
But the big thing, the all important thing is in the meantime, in the meantime, as yokefellows, as sumpresbuteroi, we’ll be working together. I need Brother Draper. I need him desperately here in the ministry of our church. I need Brother Peacock, oh how much, how greatly. I need Brother Carter. All of these men who are here working by our sides, God bless them and give them wisdom and strength in the ministries before the Lord.
Now number two: on the state of the church, about the vision of the pastor, building a great center for people who’d like to retire and be close to the church. Between the time that we began working with that and this present moment, the cost of construction has arisen so astronomically that we cannot build that beautiful tall building close to the church. Did you know the cost of construction is so gone up, that when you get up high, way up there, and for us it’d have to be a building at least forty to sixty stories tall, when you get up high like that, it will cost you about sixty-dollars a square foot?
And I remember when we started building here, we would figure on fifteen and sixteen dollars a square foot – when we built the chapel building across the street. Oh, the costs have mounted astronomically! We even had the land, the lot here, big lot, two big lots on which to build the structure. But it can’t be realized now, it is too expensive. You’re talking about something toward thirty million dollars, and the price of it would just be out of the reach of most of our people. So what we shall do is we shall go out further somewhere, and I pray just as close as we could. We’ll go out somewhere and build our retirement center there. We’re working on it now, praying about it, asking God’s wisdom in it. And in God’s time it will come.
All right, third: about the tremendous financial obligation of the church. We have a great burden here and one that I constantly sense. And every time we have a deacon’s meeting we look at it and review it. The reason for the tremendous financial burden that we have in our church is not because we are lavish or extravagant in spending money on our work. But the reason is we have so much to do in building capital outlays and paying interest. For example, these are things that you know; there’s a lot right there, right there, directly in front of that door, across San Jacinto Street. The church refused to buy that lot for $3,500. That lot right there. It was offered the church and the church was pressed to buy it for $3,500, right there. We bought it, but we had to pay about $330,000. Now you multiply that all around this church, and we have had to spend vast sums of money in order to buy the properties by which we are trying to build the ministries of this great church.
Now let’s take the latest one that is coming up. As you know, the block right across our church from San Jacinto, we own about half of that block already. The other half came up for sale, and we have contracted to buy it. When we contracted to buy the rest of the block, it was tied to a prime rate. The bank said, "We’ll lend you the entire money for it, and we’ll just charge you the prime rate. That is the rate given to our best customers."
Well, all of you who are knowledgeable know that the prime rate has gone up, and up, and up, and up, and it is now something like ten percent. So when we pay $1,700,000 for the rest of that block, that means we have an interest payment, an interest payment alone on that piece of property of $170,000 a year, just interest on that one loan, beside all the other properties that we have bought and we owe for.
"Well, pastor, why would you want to buy the property?" Just walk around and look and see. You’ll not have the opportunity to buy that property except maybe now. If we don’t secure it now, somebody will come along and build a fifty story building on it. You’d never get it, never in the earth.
"Why would you want it, pastor?" All right, this is why. I am increasingly convinced and have been for the years of my ministry – – and when you look at a thing for forty-five years and at the end of forty-five years you’re more convinced of its truth than you were at the beginning – – there must be something about it that impresses the heart of the pastor. All right, this is the truth. I don’t think the church of the future will survive unless it is able to minister to the whole family, all of them!
And I’m getting more and more to believe as I met on the mission field, I don’t think we’re going ultimately to survive unless we’re able to build a Christian community in a pagan and a secular society. My referring to the mission field, I was thinking, typically, of a Muslim country; and the missionary said, "There is no opportunity to win these people to Christ unless they are brought together where they can support each other and encourage each other; because one by one, they die out there in the Muslim world."
Our country is getting more and more secular. I went to a meeting yesterday morning at nine o’clock at the Royal Coach Inn with a group of Christian leaders in the nation. Brother Draper and I were there talking with them. And I am surprised and overwhelmed by a fact just like this: that there are institutions where a Christian can hardly get a PH.D. degree because the professors are so given to atheism and secularism that they frown on a student who is a believer and will block their securing a doctor’s degree and entering the teaching profession.
This is in America. I’m not talking about Moscow or Peking. So the church, I think the church of the future that is to survive has to minister to the whole life of its people! The babies, the children, the teenagers, the young people, the young marrieds, the whole life; and our church under the persuasion of your pastor has moved in that direction.
We have a wonderful recreational division. We have a magnificent music division. We have a glorious mission division, with our seven chapels. And God has blessed that concept. And then finally, the Lord worked with us, and we began reaching out into the teaching ministries of the day week. Oh, you don’t know what that means to me! We have reached out in two ways; one, our First Baptist Church School, and second, our Bible Institute.
Yesterday morning as I listened to those men, all of them live in the educational academic world, yesterday morning as I listened to them, they said, "Down in Houston we had a convocation of high school students, and we mentioned the name Jesus. And we were accosted after it was over and said, ‘The Civil Liberties Union’" – – did you ever hear of the Civil Liberties Union in America? – – "’The Civil Liberties Union will shut down this school if you mention the name of Jesus in a convocation.’"
So I inquired about it, and I found out that by law the same thing obtains in Dallas, in the public school system in Dallas. You can’t name the name of Jesus in a public convocation of the school, by law! I didn’t know that. There are things that are happening in America that overwhelm my soul!
We could never compete with the public school system, nor would we be of a humor to try. We cannot. But this is what we can do. There are some of us who would love to give our children a Christian education, we’d love to, and we have built here an opportunity for those children. Now I’d love to make the First Baptist Church School unique, unique. I’d love to make it a Christian religious school and advertise it as such. I would want us, if we can, to teach Greek and Hebrew in that school and those children read the Word of God in the original language.
"Well, pastor, you mean these children, they’re reading the Bible in Greek and in Hebrew? Why, pastor, you slaved over that for years, and that’s difficult." It is for me because I was doing it when I was older, but if I had been taught that when I was a youngster, I’d be flipping through it just like that.
Why, I was down there in Caracas, Venezuela. This is one of the funniest things that I ever looked at in my life. I was down there in Caracas, Venezuela, and the missionary was up there preaching in Spanish, and his little boy – – I mean he’s a little kid, he’s a little bitty thing – – he spoke up and said, "Daddy, that’s not the way to say it. This is the way to say it," and the little old boy just blurted it out.
Well, I went home with the missionary to dinner, and the missionary called that little old tot by his side, and he said, "Now, son, you must not correct your daddy publicly. Now you tell your daddy when he comes home, privately, you tell him how to say that. But don’t do it publicly, it embarrasses your daddy."
Well, I couldn’t help but sit there and listen to that, and I thought, "Now isn’t that something?" That grown missionary, he’s slaving over all that speaking, he’s just working at it. He’s learning those paradigms and those roots and all. But that little old boy, he’s out there playing, and he learned the language over night and just say it just like that.
I think the same thing about learning the Scriptures in the Hebrew and in the Greek. I think we can teach the Word of God to them as children, and they pick it up just like that. Why, to my own embarrassment in Athens, walking around, even the babies over there speak Greek. It’s amazing, it’s amazing!
I think we can have a unique school, a religious school. Do you ever think about these Jewish people, scattered, the diaspora, throughout the nations of the earth? But they still, they still are Jewish people. Why? Those little old kids are taught the Hebrew Word of God. It’s just unbelievable! Oh, I want us to build a wonderful Christian school for anyone who’d like to send a boy or a girl to that kind of a school!
I must close. Last: out of a multitude of things I’d like to say about the state of the church, Brother Jimmy Draper, our sumpresbuteroi , our fellow elder, our fellow pastor, with all the rest of our staff, is going to lead us, and already praying through for wisdom in it, is going to lead us into a great evangelistic outreach. Oh, that blesses my soul!
One of the most dramatic feelings I ever had in my life was at a Southern Baptist Convention when a little group of ministers, there were about thirty of us, were invited to eat lunch with Dr. Truett. I never knew him personally. The closest I ever got to him would be something on an occasion like that.
Well, Dr. Truett, speaking to about thirty of us at that luncheon, Dr. Truett described the death of a great Baptist pastor in Great Britain. And as the man of God lay dying, a fellow pastor said to him, "Do you have one last word for the preachers of the world?" And the dying divine replied, "I do. It is this. O preacher make it plain, make it plain how man can be saved!" Ooh, I remember that. "Make it plain how a man can be saved." There is such a wide open door for any church that would give itself to that kind of an appeal.
I got in a taxi in a southern city, and as I rode along with the man, I said, "Mr. taxi driver, do you go to church?" And here was his reply, he said, "Sir, no." He said, "I’m like a lost sheep. I don’t know where to go. And if I go I don’t know what to do. And I don’t have anybody to show me, and I don’t have anybody to help me."
So I talked to him, and he said, "I grew up in a little country church. And in that country church I knew what to do, and I knew what to say. But I have come to the big city, and I don’t know where to go, and I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know what to say, and I don’t have anybody to show me."
You know, having grown up in a little tiny church and remembering those days, I could understand that man. In the big city and in the big city church, you take a child here, and then a teenager there, and then mother here. I can just imagine in a big church he’d be overwhelmed, just lost. And that’s what he said, "I’m like a lost sheep, I don’t know what to say, or where to go."
That’s where I come in. Here my brother, this is the way to go, and we’ll teach you how to be and what to say. We’re all lost sheep together. It isn’t just you. We’re all lost together. And we all have found grace in the sight of God.
Come, we’ll love the Lord side by side, and we’ll learn the language of Zion together. We’ll learn how to speak and how to do in the love and mercy of Jesus. And that man would respond. Practically all of them will. It isn’t because they’re hard. It’s because for the most part, we don’t care. We’re indifferent.
I’m looking forward to this year. This is going to be the greatest year of soulwinning we’ve ever known. God is with us. We love and praise His precious name.
Now, we must not delay. Our time is far spent. On the first note of the first stanza of this hymn, to give your heart to Jesus or to put your life in the fellowship of the church, while we sing this song, while we press the appeal, if the Lord speaks, answer with your life. "Today, I give my heart to Jesus, and I’m coming." "Today, we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of the church. I’m coming." As God shall speak the word, answer. Come now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.