March 6th, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-6-77 7:30 p.m.
Once again, on a Sunday night, we welcome you who by the thousands and the thousands over a vast area of the Southwest are listening to this service on KRLD. And to other thousands who are listening to the stereo station of our Bible institute, KCBI. Now I asked tonight that our service might be given to me as soon as possible because of a presentation from the Word of God concerning Christian Communism.
There is an unusual passage and this will be our concluding message in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, in which chapter I have preached about ten sermons. This will be the concluding sermon, and it arises from an unusual thing that came to pass; the first development in that first mother church in Jerusalem.
In Acts 2:41, the text reads; the context: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." Then in verse 44 and 45, it avows: "And all that believed were together, and had all things in common" – each one sold his possessions – "all of the people sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need" [Acts 2:44- 45]. And that gave birth to the communist dictum "from every man as he is able, to every man as he has need." That same thing is avowed in chapter 4 of the Book of Acts, verse 32: ". . .neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common" [Acts 4:32].
Christian Communism. There are two kinds of communism: there is political communism, and there is religious communism. And in the development of communism in the story of modern life, they are altogether different. They move in different worlds. Political communism is coercive communism. It is communism by the gun and by the bayonet. You see it in the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and in the communist takeover of Mao Tze-tung in China. This is a communism where the army, in the hands of a tyrannical dictatorship, assumes all of the property; takes all of the wages of all of the people, takes the church houses and all that is done in the house of the Lord, takes all of the farms, takes the entire country, takes it away from the people, and assumes the ownership of it in the state. This is political communism, which today is Marxist and inevitably atheistic.
As Marx said, Karl Marx said, "Communism begins where atheism begins." Without atheism you would never have it, for its values are fundamentally and basically material and secular; it is a secular society that denies spiritual value and spiritual reality. Under political communism, you have the hand of the state reaching into every area of human life and possessing it. The lives of your children – their education, the assignment of their jobs, what they can do, where they can live, what traveling is permitted – the whole area of human life is encompassed in political communism. It is coercive and is a regime held in power by the hand of brute force.
Religious communism moves in a different realm. Religious communism is voluntary. Any group anywhere, meeting together, can say we shall share all things that we possess. And they live in a commune. They live a communal life – such as the Shakers of Pennsylvania and Kentucky. They lived upon vast beautiful farms, and they had everything in common – a communist society. Such as, and one time many years ago, I crossed the lake of Michigan into the state of Michigan to visit the House of David; that was a communal society. It was religious communism. Now, whether it is political or whether it is religious, in either case, and in both cases alike, it does not work. It inevitably fails.
Let us speak first of political communism. That is the red-handed brutal force that you see in Russia and in China. There is no communist nation that can feed itself. Were it not for the free Western world, they would starve to death. They dig by force labor out of their mines, gold and silver and platinum and other things such as they are able to produce. And they sell it to the free world in exchange for wheat and for corn and for bread. There is no communist society that can sustain itself. It cannot feed itself. It would starve to death.
In that communist world, you have ableness and fertility just as much as you have in the Western world. I have flown over the great Ukraine, for example, in Russia both ways: north and south, and east and west. It is beautiful rolling land such as you would see in Wisconsin and Iowa and Illinois. Why can’t they produce food for their hungry mouths? Because communism has built in it failure and scarce and need and poverty and want! In a political communist society, they do not lift up the people up and up and up to the level that some of them enjoy. But they pull everybody down to the lowest common denominator, and there they grovel in poverty and in need and in want all alike.
I was on a streetcar in Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia, seated next to a great big woman. And she began to extol to me the virtues of communism. And one of the things she said was, "There are no poor in a communist nation. There are no poor in Czechoslovakia. And there are no poor in Prague."
I said to her, "Do you know why?"
She said, "It is because of communism."
I said, "The reason there are no poor in a communist nation, Czechoslovakia and in Prague is because all of you are poor. You are all alike. You have the bare necessities of life. And were it not for the Western world, you would starve." It is a failure wherever you see it. And you say, "Why doesn’t the communist of Russia, and why do not the communist of China, change their system and in a free enterprise produce food?" And the answer is, it would be a denial of their Marxist ideology, and they dare not admit that their system is sterile and futile and failing. Wherever there is political communism in the world, it is a failure and will continue to be. There is no such thing as prosperity in a socialist country. They increasingly fall into debt and into despair.
Second: it no less fails religiously. There is no such thing as a successful religious communist enterprise. Not ultimately. Did you know that when the Pilgrims came to America they established a communist society? And in those years of their commune, of their having all things in common – from 1621 when they came until 1623 – during those two years of their communist experiment, they suffered hunger and nearly starved to death. The Pilgrims were deeply, deeply religious. But they were so hungry, that they stole food from their starving fellow workers, for, 1621 to 1623, they had a communist society in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Did you know that for about three hundred years there was lost to mankind the story of Plymouth Plantation that was written by the Governor William Bradford? And a few years ago – about, oh, I would say about ten years ago – a copy of that document, written by the governor of Plymouth Plantation, was found? And I read from it. William Bradford said – and we are reading from it in that communist enterprise of our Pilgrim Fathers. They wouldn’t work. They wouldn’t produce. And they were hungry and starving to death.
And then William Bradford says,
Some complained they were too weak to work. Young men complained because they had to work hard to feed other men and their wives and children. Women rebelled when ordered to cook for men not their husbands or when asked to wash their clothes. They said they were little better than slaves, and their husbands said they would not permit their womenfolk to do that kind of labor.
Now, in 1623, they turned away from that communist communal property and the common storehouse, and they gave each family a parcel of land for its own use. Then a miracle took place. Now, I am quoting again from William Bradford.
When they turned aside from that religious communism and they gave to each member of the Plymouth colony its own farm, its own plot of ground,
now, I quote from the governor,
women went into the fields willingly, taking their children along with them. All women, men, children planted as much corn as they felt they could possibly work. People who had formerly complained that they were too weak to dig or hoe, declaring it was tyranny to make them undertake such work, gladly began to plant and to cultivate for themselves. And when the harvest was brought in it was plentiful, and instead of famine there was an abundance beside, and they had a day of thanksgiving and praised God.
That’s where you Thanksgiving comes from. Religious communism does not work anymore than political communism, nor did it here in the Bible. It says on that first day that "they who believed had everything in common; they sold their possessions and goods, they parted to all as they had need" [Acts 2:44, 45]. And no one said "that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common" [Acts 4:32]. And let’s see what happened. I turn one page. I turn one page. Chapter 5 begins with trouble, trouble, trouble. It always comes. Communism breeds trouble – trouble. Chapter 5 begins; I turn one page from that verse in chapter 4, verse 32: "neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common" [Acts 4:32]. Now I turn the page, to chapter 5 – it may be in your Bible you don’t even turn a page – trouble: "But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, brought a certain part of it, laid it at the apostle’s feet" [Acts 5:1-2]. And said, "This is what we are doing in the communist enterprise. We are putting in it everything that we have."
Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and keep back part of the price. . . .
While it remained, was it not your own? – you could keep it – why have you done this lie unto God?
And Ananias . . . fell down dead.
Brother, am I glad I don’t belong to a church where all of the liars fall down dead. Ah, glad I wasn’t there.
"And the young men rose and carried him out" [Acts 5:6]. And in a little while his wife came in, Sapphira [Acts 5:7].
And Simon Peter looked at her and said, Tell me, did you sell your property for so much? And she said, Yes that’s right, just for that!
And Peter said to her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of God – to lie to the Lord? the feet that have buried your husband are at the door to carry thee out.
And she fell down and gave up the ghost. And the young men that carried out her husband, carried out her and buried her.
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble!
Now I turn one more page, just one more page – trouble, trouble. Chapter 6 begins with the same kind of a thing – trouble. "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied," in that communist commune, "there arose a murmuring" – a fault-finding, a griping, a bitterness. And the King James Version translates it "Grecians" – Hellenists; that is, Greek-speaking Jews – "Hellenists against the Hebrews" – that is Aramaic-speaking Jews; the Jews in the land – "because their widows were neglected in the daily ministrations" [Acts 6:1]. Those Hellenistic Jews, those Greek-speaking Jews, said when it comes to parceling out the common storehouse, they don’t treat our widows right. They show favoritism to these Aramaic-Palestinian widows. And there was trouble and trouble and trouble. It doesn’t work. It never has. It never will. And thereafter, you will never hear it mentioned again. It was never tried again. It was never established again. You will never find a vestigial reference of it in the Bible any more. It failed then. It fails forever.
Now that leads us to a real problem in the house of the Lord. How does the church sustain itself? If that doesn’t work – and it doesn’t work; never has worked; never will work; Christian communism is like political communism, it doesn’t work – if that doesn’t work, then how is the church to sustain itself? The Lord has given to us a vast assignment; the evangelization of the whole world [Matthew 28:19-20]. Then how could the Lord mandate to us such a tremendous work and then give us no guidelines to sustain it, and how to do it? Would the Lord do that? It would be unthinkable, unimaginable, and God knew it. So the Lord God provided a way for us that we might sustain the work of the church and that we might underwrite and undergird its prosperity and its great fulfillment of the commission.
When we look through the Bible and that is what we are going to do now. I am going to speak from the Scriptures first, and from experience second. How God mandated to us, outlined for us, how we are to sustain the work of the Lord. In the Bible, there are great fundamental, foundational principles that we learn from the Holy Scriptures for living, for working, for being, for building, for ministering, for preaching, for evangelizing, for all of the many things God hath laid upon our people to do. In that Bible are great fundamental foundational principles by which our lives as a Christian people, as a Christian community, ought to be guided. Let me so show you what I am talking about.
There is not a syllable in the Bible against slavery – not a word. [The] only thing the Bible says is, "Slaves, be obedient to your master" [Ephesians 6:5]. There is no word in the Bible against slavery, but the great Christian principles of the Bible destroyed the institution of slavery forever. How? By teaching the brotherhood of the saints. Paul says, writing to Philemon, "I send Onesimus" his runaway slave, "I send him back to you . . . no longer a slave, but a brother beloved. . . . Receive him as such" [Philemon 12-17]. And that spirit of brotherhood destroyed the institution of slavery.
Look again, crucifixion: under the Romans, crucifixion was a universal institution. It was the commonest sight in the Roman Empire to go down a highway and see those crosses with those felons dying, suffering, agonizing thereon. Is there anything in the Bible against the institution of that execution? No. But it was destroyed by the spirit of kindness and sympathy, such as Ephesians 4:32: "be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you." And the spirit of kindness and sympathy destroyed that awesome figure of execution.
Take again the problem of drinking: drinking, which is the curse of modern society. Why am I not at liberty to drink? Paul said in the last verse of the eighth chapter of the first Corinthians letter: "if eating meat offends" – destroys, hurts – "my brother, I will eat no meat as long as the world standeth" [1 Corinthians 8:13] – talking about meat offered to idols. If a man sees me drink liquor and I may be the instrument of his destruction; for one out of nine social drinkers become problem drinkers; and about six out of them become confirmed alcoholics. When I, by my example in social drinking, cause a young man to destroy his life, I will not drink as long as the world shall stand. Never. That is the Christian principle. That is what God teaches us out of His Holy Book. Now, these same great principles come into the use and into the enjoyment and the blessing of the sustaining of the work of the Lord. There is no such thing as that all of our people should sell all that they have and come down here and live in a commune, out of a common storehouse, in a religious communism; it is not blessed of God – never has been.
Then how shall we sustain this work of the Lord? We do it by seeing the great principle in the Word of God. And you find it in the sixteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, in the second verse. This is the great Christian principle of sustaining the work of the church. "Upon the first day of the week" – that’s Sunday – "let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no ding-dongs for money when I come" [1 Corinthians 16:2]. That’s a Criswellian translation, but that’s a good one. Upon the first day of the week, let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no pressures for collections when I come, when I stand up to preach.
What is the great principle for the sustaining of the work of God found in that holy and inspired Scripture? It is as plain, "as God hath prospered you"; proportionate giving, a certain proportion always dedicated to the work of the Lord. What proportion? What proportion? A proportion of everything God gives to me, I am to dedicate to the Lord. What proportion? "Ah, preacher, we know what you are going to do. You are going to yoke us with the bondage of the law. We know what you are just about to do."
Ha! I think of that convention that the animals had on one side of the mountain. And as the animals were in their convention, the skunk came in. And when he did, Chairman Possum, banging his gavel down on the podium, and said, "We are all dismissed." And all of the animals went on the other side of the mountain and continued their convocation. And while they were there, in walked the skunk! And when he did, Mr. Possum, the chairman, banged down on the podium and said, "We are dismissed." The skunk came up to Chairman Possum and said, "What have I done?" And Mr. Possum said, "It’s not what you have done, it’s what we are afraid you are going to do."
I can imagine exactly. "Uh-oh, we know what you are about to do. When you say we are to sustain the church by proportionate giving, we know what you are going to do. You are going to yoke us with the bondage of the law. You are going to say we are to begin with a tenth."
Now, let’s look at that honestly. I do not deny that tithing a tenth is in the law. Leviticus 27:32 says that "the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord." Malachi 3:10 says. "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse . . . prove Me herewith, saith the Lord, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." And the Lord said to the scribes and the Pharisees who were hypocrites, "Ye pay tithes of mint and anise and cummin, but you have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you have done – you ought to have tithed – but you ought not to have left the other undone" [Matthew 23:23].
I admit that tithing was incorporated into the law, but may I point out something to you? That is, if you will listen to the Word of God. Long before there was any Moses, long before there was any law, long before there was any Mosaic legislation; in the day of grace, God’s saints set aside one-tenth as sacred for Him. Abraham: was Abraham under the law? Abraham lived four hundred years before the law. For a man to put Abraham under the law is the same thing as for historians to say, "You know, upon a day Julius Caesar and George Washington were having a conference in the White House in Washington." If you read that in an historical book, you would say this author is insane; Julius Caesar lived hundreds of years before George Washington. It is the same thing as to put Abraham under the law. The Bible expressly says in Romans 4:
What shall we say about Abraham our father?
If Abraham were justified by the law – by the works he did – he has whereof to glory; but not before God.
For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth [the ungodly], his faith is counted for righteousness.
Abraham was under grace. Abraham was saved by faith [Genesis 15:6], just as we are, and we are the spiritual children of Abraham by faith. Now let us read in the life of Abraham:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine. He was a priest of El Elyon, the Most High God.
And Melchizedek blessed [Abram], and said, Blessed be [Abram] of the Most High God. . . .
And blessed be the Most High God, who hath delivered thine enemies into thine hands. And [Abram] gave him tithes of all.
Everything that Abraham possessed, he gave one-tenth to Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God [Genesis 14:20].
I turn the pages of the Book of Genesis, and I come to Genesis 28. And here I read of the marvelous experience of Jacob at Bethel when he saw the ladder reaching up to heaven [Genesis 28:12]. And Jacob said, "This is an awesome place; God is here, and I did not realize it" [Genesis 28:16]. And then he said, "If God will be with me . . . so that I come back in peace to my father’s house; the Lord Jehovah will be my God. . . and of all that God shall give me, I will surely give a tenth unto Thee. Of everything God shall give me I shall dedicate the tenth unto Thee" [Genesis 28:20-22]. Jacob lived over three hundred years before the law. For us to put Jacob under the law would be as though an historian would say, "You know, upon a day Napoleon Bonaparte and Gerry Ford were playing golf together on a green in Pebble Beach, California." If you were to read that, you would say this author is insane! So it is in the Word of God. To put these men who were under grace, who were saved by faith, to put them under the law, is of all things monstrous.
We are their children by faith. We are the spiritual children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And these great patriarchs – hundreds of years before there was such of a thing as the law, dedicated a tithe to the Most High God. And the law was but to teach us how far we fall short: "the law was our paidagogos to lead us to Jesus" [Galatians 3:24]. And the great principle of the New Testament is found in Hebrews 7:8, describing Abraham as he gave a tithe to Melchizedek, the author says, "Here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them of whom it is witnessed that he liveth" [Hebrews 7:8]. That is, Jesus, our Lord, "is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" [Hebrews 7:17]. And the Aaronic priesthood is a dying priesthood receiving tithes. But there Melchizedek, the type of our Lord, received tithes of whom it is witnessed that he lives, that he lives – that he lives forever. This is the great Christian commitment.
Now, my experience; and to my sorrow my time is just about gone. Would you be quiet for just a moment? And let me speak out of my experience in this sustaining the work of the church. In my first church out of the seminary, and I admit this was a day of the Depression. In my first church out of the seminary, I was pastor in a county seat town with a church of two thousand members. No matter how I tried or how I prayed or how taught or how I did, I could never get that church to give more than two hundred fifty dollars a Sunday to the work of the Lord – two hundred fifty dollars a Sunday; a church of two thousand members. Two thousand members, a dollar a Sunday would have been two thousand dollars. One dollar a Sunday would have been – with two thousand members, one dollar a Sunday would have been two thousand dollars. Fifty cents a Sunday would be five hundred dollars. One dollar would be two thousand. Fifty cents would be one thousand. Twenty-five cents would be five hundred dollars. And twelve and half cents would be two hundred and fifty dollars. Got it. Got it.
I could never get that church to give more than two hundred fifty dollars a Sunday, which was little more than a dime apiece – a dime apiece on a Sunday. And I tried and I tried, and I found great opposition. And it was led by a deacon who was the dean of the college, and the son of a minister. And he pulverized me with an illustration. When I sought to lead the people to dedicate a tenth of what God gave them to the Lord, they brought a little more than a dime a Sunday. When I sought to lead them, he pulverized me with an illustration. In the church, there was a man who had been very prosperous and a faithful tither. And the man lost his business. He went bankrupt, and he went down and down and down until almost literally he was a denizen of the gutter. And the dean pulverized me with that illustration. "You say tithing is blessed of God; that it is ordered of the Lord? Look at him. Look at him." And I looked, and bowed my head in shame. I did not know what to say. For God said, "I will bless you" [Malachi 3:10]. And he was most unblessed.
You know, if I could just learn it, you need not worry. God keeps watch over His own. It is His world. On a Sunday, down the aisle came that man, that man that the deacon had been pointing to for the years, and pulverized me by the illustration. That man came down the aisle on a Sunday morning. The most broken up man that you could imagine – weep, wail, fell upon my shoulders, crying his heart out, and made a confession to me. And I said, "Would you stand before this congregation and make that confession?"
He said, "I need to. I ought to you. I will."
I had the people seated and that man stood before the church and this is what he said, "You know me. I have lived here all of my life. And you know the business I was in and how God blessed me in it. And in those days I faithfully dedicated one-tenth of all God gave to me to the work of the Lord." Then he said, "I decided it was too much to give to God. These are hard times, and I decided it was too much to give to God. So," he said, "I began to keep back part of what belonged to the Lord." And he said, "My business began to stagger. And my business began to fail. And I fell into bankruptcy, and I fell into despair and down into the gutter."
He said to the church, "I this day come back to the Lord. I confess to Him all of the wrong of my life. And I stand here today to make a new covenant with God, that of all He shall give me, I will return the tenth unto Him." God did that. God did that. It was one of the most gripping moments I ever lived through. God did that.
Just once again, my experience: when I was a youth in the seminary – I was invited to be with a team. That just thrilled me beyond what I could say. Austin Crouch, Dr. Austin Crouch was at that time executive secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention. And he chose about three or four distinguished leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention to go with him and in separate communities in Kentucky to hold tithing stewardship revivals, convocations. And Dr. Austin Crouch chose me. I was a humble pastor of a village church in Warren County, Kentucky. He chose me to be with him and those other denominational leaders on that team.
We went to a place that I have no idea where, it was the farthest out that you could imagine. I have no idea. It was a wilderness in a mountain section of Kentucky. And in a country church there, he had this day of convocation, stewardship and tithing. And at the eleven o’clock hour, Austin Crouch delivered a wonderful message, a God-blessed message. And when he sat down, oh, I thought, this is just glorious what Dr. Crouch had done; presenting stewardship and tithing.
And the minute the great, gifted executive secretary sat down, that moment a big gargantuan mountain preacher stood up right in front of me. He was seated right there and stood up the minute Austin Crouch sat down. I knew the attitude of those mountain preachers toward the "tithee"; toward the tithe. And when that great big man stood up, I cringed in my heart. There he stood in a blue serge suit that he had worn for a generation. It was so shiny, I could see my face in the seat of his pants. Stood up there, addressed Dr. Crouch, and began to speak.
Now, I would give anything if I could imitate the voice and the vocabulary of that mountain preacher. I cannot do it. They are children of the soil. They are children of the field. They are children of the forest. They are children of the mountains. And they have their own vocabulary and their own way of speaking. I cannot imitate it.
But here’s what he said. Addressing Dr. Crouch that big mountain man said, "For years I preached against tithing." Then he said, "Plowing out in the field one day, I began to think. I have been preaching these years about something I have never tried. Why don’t I try it and see what happens?" So he said, "I tried it." And then in his mountain way, he described how after a year of tithing, of setting aside a tenth for the Lord, he described how God blessed his fields, and blessed his flocks, and blessed his herds, and blessed his home, and blessed his family.
Then he said, "I went to a neighbor, and I said to him what God has done for me." And he persuaded his neighbor to try it for a year. And then he went through that again, and God blessed his fields, and his crops, and his herds, and his family, and his home. Then he said, "I came before the church, and I told my church what God had done for me, and what God had done for my neighbor. And I asked my church if, as a church as a congregation, they would try it for a year." And he said, "The grace of God gave me a response from the hearts of my people, and after the year." Then he described in his mountain way how God had blessed the herds, and the flocks, and the fields, and the families, and the homes of his people, and sat down.
By the time that big mountain man had told of his experience with the Lord, I was seated there back of him weeping tears of rejoicing and praise and gladness. That’s God! That’s the Lord, and that is God in your life, and in your work, and in the fruit of your hands. He remembers to bless us when we trust Him for the remembrance. Thank you for listening, and God bless us with open hearts to the truth of His Word.
Now we are going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just somebody you, to give yourself to Jesus, to come into the fellowship of the church, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up walking down that stairway, coming down that aisle. "I am on the way, preacher. Here I am. God has spoken to my heart and here I am." Do it now. Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
From this the Communist dictum: "From each as he is able, to each as he has need."
1. Two kinds of Communism
2. But in neither case will it work
(1) Political, atheistic – of the Marxist type
(2) Religious – William. Bradford, "Plymouth Plantation"
2. But the church needs some way to support its work.
We shall speak I out of the Scripture
II out of experience
Out of them, the foundatinoal principles for living
(1) Slavery. No interdiction. Great principle of brotherhood destroyed it – Philemon 15
(2) Crucifixion. Lk. 4:32 Principle of kindness destroyed it
(3) Drinking Principle of example prohibits it 1 Cor. 8:12, 13 If hurt by my example
(4) Supporting the work of the Lord 1 Cor 16:2 The great principle, proportionate
But tithing from the beginning
(1) Abraham under grace
We the children of Abraham by faith, by grace; 400 years before the law
(2) Jacob (Israel); 300 + years before the law
(3) The great N.T. principle
(1) Dean Taylor
(2) Austin Crouch and the big mountain preacher
Austin Crouch and the big mountain preacher