Church of the Savior
May 3rd, 1978
CHURCH OF THE SAVIOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 1:21
5-3-78 Fund Raising Dinner
Sweet pastor, and all of the brothers and sisters in Jesus, I have never been more encouraged in my own soul in all of my life than I have been here tonight, with members of the church, like Art DeMoss and Nancy his wife, and illustrious attendants like Palmer Muntz, and all of the major-domos and high factotums that belong to the congregation. You still have a financial problem: you’ve got to have a meeting to get money to do what God puts on your heart to do. And that is the assignment that I labor under by day and night. Oh dear! To pay for what ought to be done, that needs to be done, is an everlasting mandate from heaven. And young pastor, if you do good, and you certainly are starting out to do good, you will be at this kind of an assignment when you have been pastor of the church fifty years. You will.
The other thing that encourages me is he came to the motel and put me in his car with his sweet and pretty wife, and said, “We want to show you what we are up to.” So we drove down the road, and there is this beautiful church house taking shape and realization. And then he makes the announcement to me that before you get into it, you can’t squeeze all the folks into any one service, so the first day that you have your announcement that it is open and we’re coming to worship God in that beautiful sanctuary, you’re going to have to have two services. And then there is no space for all of the Sunday school, even as it is now. Well that is what I work with. I have been preaching two services there in our church for twenty-six years. And about a Sunday ago, we had four services in the church. And my young friend, I can tell you this: you would sure better start a building program, and make it big. You had better do it.
Now for a few moments, I have been a pastor for fifty years. This is my fifty years now. And there are some things that I have learned about building a church that you already know, but just to review them, to emphasize them, and to give ourselves to them, first: to build a church you have to have a wonderful preacher and a godly undershepherd. It’s still written in the Book: “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them who believe” [1 Corinthians 1:21]. There never has been a wonderful church, ever, without a wonderful pastor. The first thing God seems to require for His heavenly blessing upon a congregation is a godly and dedicated preacher of the gospel, a man who believes in the Word, infallible and inerrant, and a man who believes in winning people to Christ. And how fortunate you are to have such a man in William Ben Hogan! God love him.
He was in a situation, having the care of souls, and one of the mothers in the home became ill. And they didn’t send for him, they sent for the Methodist preacher. And he came and knocked at the door, and a little girl came to the door. And the Methodist preacher said, “I suppose that Brother Hogan is out of town, because I hear your mother is ill, and you’ve asked me to come to see her.” And the little girl innocently replied, “Oh no, Brother Hogan is here in town, but we think mother has a contagious disease, and we didn’t want to expose our pastor.” And to love your pastor and honor him as you do here is a benediction just to sense it and to see it.
Second: to build a wonderful church you must have people. You can’t build a great church in a desert: you have to have your church where people are. As I flew in an airplane into the airport at Philadelphia this afternoon, I could hardly believe the vast, vast population of this area around Philadelphia. It is for miles and miles and miles. I grew up in far northwest Texas, where the people were very few, where the land is sparsely settled. And when I see a vast populated area like this up and down that Delaware River, and in all of this area, I am overwhelmed by it. And that’s the place to build a great church.
There’s no limit to the influence of this congregation. If you do well, there will be thousands and thousands of people who will hear about you. There will be literally thousands of pastors who will look at you and be encouraged by your pristine example. I love being pastor where there are thousands of people around me.
Let me have my church by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by—
The men who are good, the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban—
Let me have my church by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
[adapted from “A House by the Side of the Road,” Sam Walter Ross]
And you’re doing that in a beautiful place, surrounded by beautiful homes, where there are uncounted thousands of people; there are you building this sanctuary for the Lord.
Number three: to have a wonderful church you must have a great program. Methods change, principles don’t; but the method by which we mediate the truth of God changes with every changing generation. The Scriptures do not change; God does not change; the way men are lost in their lives doesn’t change. We’re no more saved now in the advancement of our culture and scientific civilization than they were who lived in the days of Abraham. The great need of the gospel and the message of God Himself doesn’t change. But how we mediate that message changes as every generation comes before us. And I must somehow learn how to mediate that message to reach the people of my day and my lifetime.
The way they did it in the years gone by will not succeed today. It just doesn’t. When I grew up as a little boy, it was an epoch, it was an event, when the revival meeting was announced. Everybody attended, even the infidel in the town. He lived right back of our house. You could hear him beat his cow all over the little community, when he milked her in the morning. Even the infidel came to church, sat on the second row down there, and made fun of the preacher. It was a tremendous thing, just by announcement. Did you know, we have not had a revival meeting in our church in years, a protracted series of meetings? I cannot get our people to come. They will not attend. What a different generation my life and lot are cast in, compared even to the day when I was a boy growing up. The fast, furious pace of this generation is a wonder to behold! Just to seize their attention even beyond seizing their souls is almost a superhuman assignment. I struggle before it. How do we get hold of these people? And how do we reach them? God help me!
So, every avenue of approach—Art DeMoss has been encouraging me in one that I had not thought for, but one that we are beginning to implement; having these people who could care less about a church, never been inside of a church some of them, or, having been in some liturgical congregation, have never known what it is to experience regeneration. He was telling me of the success of God in their gathering families together in a home, and there witnessing to them concerning what God has done for them. That’s what we need in the church: not one that lives in a dead and decadent past, but a congregation that is vibrant and alive and sensitive to the challenge of the day in which we live.
Let me show you that. My predecessor, Pastor Hogan named a moment ago, George W. Truett, pastor of the church for forty-seven years, by far the greatest preacher that our Southern Baptist people have ever produced, a princely, glorious man of God, he went to see the people in a buggy, in a horse and buggy. I presume one with a fringe on top. And when the horse and buggy went out, he never learned to drive a car, never. And he was never inside an airplane, never. And the way he conducted the church was exactly as the church was conducted in the 1890s. Consequently, for the last eighteen years of his ministry, the church graph is like that. For eighteen consecutive years, down and down and down and down, until the day of his death.
Well, that is by no means a criticism of that great and godly man. But it does point out that even a tremendous man can fall into tremendous weaknesses, and that’s one. Because a thing was done in a certain way in the years gone by does not mean that it is sacrosanct and has to be continued in the years that lie ahead. Things change, and how to reach people for God changes with every changing generation. And that’s why the pastor mentioned that in our church there are a thousand things going on day and night. There is never a day but that there are from one thousand to two thousand people down there at that church. Every day, seven days a week, from one thousand to two thousand people are there at that church, doing something, about everything you can imagine. They came to me the other day and said, “I’ve got drug pushers down there in all those places.” I don’t know what all is going on down there; but there’s a lot of people going on. It gives me a chance at them.
I remember when I announced to the people I was going to get on an airplane. They gathered round me, and said, “Oh, pastor, not you! You? You’re going to get on an airplane? Oh, pastor! You’ll fall out of the sky, and we’ll pick you up with a blotter. You’ll be a cinder. Oh no, not you, pastor! You’re not going to ride in an airplane?”
“Yes sir,” I said, “I’m going to ride an airplane. I live in this day and in this airplane age, and I’m going to ride an airplane.” And I went out to Love Field, and I bought me a ticket. I was like that big Texan who laid down a five hundred dollar bill on the counter and said, “Son, give me a ticket.” And the clerk said, “Where to?” And the big Texan boomed, “Anywhere, son, I got business all over.” That’s just the way I was. I went out there, and I bought a ticket. And I got in that thing. And they wound it up, as they did in those days, and it took off into the wild blue yonder, and scared the living daylights out of me! I looked across the aisle, and there was a fellow reading a newspaper. I wanted to yank it out of his hand, and say, “Man, put that down and start praying! Don’t you know we’re up here in the air?” I tell you truly, when I got enough nerve to look out the window, I looked slap dab smackadoodle right into the middle of a cemetery, right down there below me. And it seemed to me that every one of those tombstones was waving to me up there in the air. I was like that fellow who took his first airplane ride, and he said, “You know, I did pretty good until a buzzard flew alongside, looked in the window at me, and winked at me.” But I rode that thing, and I’ve been riding it ever since.
And wherever I can find some idea, some approach how to reach people for God; I’m all ears and all listening. This is a new day and a different one in which we live, and how to reach these people for God, the Lord give us His benedictory wisdom from heaven.
Let me tell you, upon a day, a young woman who had married a young doctor in our church, she came to me. And she said, “Would you like to go with me to a foot-washing service?” I said, “Dear child, I’d be very happy to go with you to a foot-washing service, but I don’t have time to go back to the mountains of Eastern Tennessee and Kentucky to look at a foot-washing service.” She said, “Oh, I’m not talking about going back to the hill country of Tennessee or the mountains of Kentucky. I’m talking about right here in Dallas.” I said, “Do you mean to tell me that there’s an old fashioned, Hardshell, foot-washing church in Dallas?” She said, “Yes. I grew up in it.” Well, I said, “What time do you go?”
“Two o’clock Sunday afternoon.” Well, I said, “You and the doctor come by and pick me up, and I’ll go with you.” Well, you wouldn’t believe it, but right in the heart of Dallas there is a little, tiny, Hardshell, Primitive, foot-washing Baptist church; right in the middle of the town, been there forever. So, I’m not saying anything now about washing feet, I pray you believe in it, I hope you do; I just may not believe that it is a church ordinance—well anyway, after the foot-washing was over, why, the preacher got up, and he said, “Brothers and sisters, I’ve been paying all of the bills for this church for thirty-three years.” He had been pastor of the church thirty-three years; and for thirty-three years he had paid all of the bills of the church himself. He paid the light bill, the janitor bill, the maintenance bill; he paid all the bills himself. I was so amazed, I asked about that. They don’t believe in paying the preacher; they believe in the preacher paying them. That’s smart if you can get by with it, I tell you.
So, he said, “My brethren, I thought maybe you would like to help me. So I’m going to ask some of the men to come up here and take their hats and pass it through the congregation, and I want each one of you to put in a dime; just a dime, nobody more than a dime, just a dime, just ten cents.” So the brethren came. He prayed. Then they passed the hat through the congregation. Well, I was seated on the back row with that doctor and his wife, and I reached in my pocket and I pulled out a dime and held it in my hand. And waiting for that hat to come back to me, I got to looking at that dime and that preacher up there; got to looking at the dime and the preacher. I never said he was a ten-cent preacher; he did. He said, “Only ten cents.” Nor did I say he had a ten-cent gospel; he did. “Ten cents.” I never said he had a ten-cent church; he did. I never said he had a ten-cent program; he did. He said, “Ten cents.” And when the hat passed by, I dropped in ten cents.
Now lad, you already know this, because I can see what you’re doing now, but just to encourage you, I want to tell you how to do that thing with a church. When you have your board, what do you call your board? We call them “deacons,” elders. Now they’re businessmen, is that right? All right. When you have your board meeting, or your fellowship of elders, or whatever it is, and you stand up there and you say to them, “My brethren, I’m doing a great work for Jesus. I’ve got to have $10.50 here, and I’ve got to have $108.95 there, and I’ve got to have $86.00 yonder,” when the meeting is over and those men go out, two by two, three by three, they’ll be talking about you—as they always do—and here’s what they’ll be saying: they’ll say to one another, “You know that preacher of ours, he’s got money on the brain. That’s all that he talks about. It’s $10.00 here, and it’s a $108.00 there, and it’s $96.00 yonder. That’s all he thinks about is money.”
Now let me tell you young fellow what you do. When you stand in front of that board of elders, you look them right square in the eye and you say, “My brethren, we’re doing a great work for Jesus. I’ve got to have $500,000 there. And I’ve got to have a $1,200,000 yonder, and I’ve got to have $6,000,000 over there!” Man alive, when they come to, after they have fainted, when they come to, they’ll be going out two by two, three by three, as they always do talking about you, only this time this is what they’ll say: “Did you hear that? Did you hear that? Did you ever hear anything like that? Man, what a preacher we have! What a leader! What visions! What dreams! Did you ever hear anything like that?” And every one of them will rise to respond.
Truly, I never saw a man, I don’t care what a low-down critter he might be, I never saw a man in my life who was challenged by a flea hunt. I never did. Somehow the way God put a man together, just the way he’s constructed and structured, somehow any kind of a man likes to be associated with and identified with a great program! And when the preacher leads him into it, he responds with all the energy and genius and ableness of his life. That’s a man. And when you get him consecrated to God, there’s hardly any limit to what he’ll do for Jesus.
Now let me close. You not only need a wonderful preacher, you not only ought to have your church where people go by, and you not only need a great program, but you also need a passion and a place to express it.
It’s like this. One day, preaching there in the service, I have two pulpits, I have a tall one, that is one somewhat raised on which is the pulpit desk and I preach the sermon there. Then I have a lower pulpit, and I go down there to exhort people to come to Jesus, standing on that lower pulpit. Well, this day, among those who came forward was a girl; she looked like a child to me, but she was, say, seventeen, sixteen years of age: gave me her hand, told me she was taking the Lord Jesus as her Savior, she wanted to be baptized and be a member of the church. So she sat down there on the front row. As I pressed the appeal and the choir sang the invitation, she began to cry, and then to sob. I turned to the minister of music, and I said, “You continue the invitation while I sit down by the side of that girl.” I sat down by her side, and I said, “Girl, what you crying for? What you crying for?” She took the membership card, which was about that size, she took the membership card and turned it toward me, and said, “Do you see my name?” I said, “Yes.”
“Do you see that ‘Mrs.’ in front of my name?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “I am no ‘Mrs.’ I have never been married. I write ‘Mrs.’ in front of my name on account of my little baby boy who is in the nursery.” She said, “When my little boy was born, I thought I would love to raise him in this wonderful church. So I’ve been bringing him down here in the nursery, and I’ve been listening to you preach. And this morning, as you gave the invitation, my heart was strangely moved. And I felt I wanted to be a Christian, and I wanted to be a member of this church, and I wanted to be baptized. So I came forward and told you that. But,” she said, “seated here I began to think about me”—and now may I parenthesize—you wouldn’t believe it, that is, that stuff as I was, I wasn’t introduced to it, but most prostitutes and harlots are young people. That amazes me. It’s like most crime is done by young people. Well, somehow that I was never introduced to, she was in that world of prostitution; and somehow became pregnant, and so had this child that she brought to the nursery.
Seated there, she said, “I have been thinking about me. And if you knew who I was, and if you knew my life, you would not want the likes of me in this great church. And I have made a mistake. I should not have come.” I said, “Girl, is that why you’re crying?” She said, “Yes. I don’t belong down here. I shouldn’t be here, and I’ve made a mistake. The likes of me ought not to be in this church.”
There’s not a one of you who has experienced the saving goodness and grace of God but would have loved to have been in my place at that moment, seated by that girl, telling her what Jesus has done for me. I may not have fallen into that sin, but I’ve fallen to other sins. There’s no one of us but that knows what it is to see Satan exploit the weaknesses in our lives, “We all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]; and to point that sweet child to Jesus:
Even the dying thief
Rejoiced to see,
The fountain in His day;
And there may I,
Though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
[“There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” William Cowper]
Well anyway, if you would stand with me at the top of the staircase that leads up to the building that houses our children, on the Patterson Street side of our church, Sunday after Sunday you could see a young woman coming up that staircase, leading a beautiful little boy by the hand, still writes “Mrs.” in front of her name. And as I look at it, and watch it, nobody knows but I, I said, “You keep on writing ‘Mrs.’ in front of your name, and just tell God about it. He knows all about us anyway. “And being tried in all points as we are, He is a sympathetic and understanding High Priest” [Hebrews 4:15]. And that’s why He came into the world.
So Sunday by Sunday, I see her come up that staircase with that little boy, leading him by the hand. And as I do so, I thank God all over again for Jesus, and for the grace that reaches down to us. And I thank God for the church. And I thank God for the educational facilities in which that little boy is growing up.
And my brethren, I have given everything I have to that church. My wife and I have willed everything we have to that church. And Sunday by Sunday we give everything that we can to that church. And we don’t do it grudgingly or of necessity. I’d rather have a part in it than to be a part of anything else this side of heaven. And the investment we make in it, when I see families put together in the love of Christ, and children brought up in the love and nurture of the Lord, I say it’s the greatest commitment of my heart and what we possess in all of this world. And it’ll be that way with you as you see the church take form and shape, as the mediation of the love and grace of God is brought to the pastor and the elders and the teachers, and as families are drawn together, and their children loving Jesus. It is the sweetest assignment that God could give us. Didn’t do it, didn’t assign it to angels: He gave it to us [Romans 10:14; Ephesians 4:15].