The State of the Church
January 3rd, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
THE STATE OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-3-82 8:15 a.m.
And God bless all of you who are sharing this glorious hour with us on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the first Sunday of the new year, the greatest year we shall ever know, and this is the pastor bringing the annual message, The State of the Church message.
As a precedent, the closing verses of the fourteenth chapter of Acts: "When they had gathered the church together, Paul and Barnabas, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the people, unto the Gentiles" [Acts 14:27]. Several years ago, at this first Sunday in January, I delivered at that time a state of the church message and suggested for us a five-year achievement program. And in that five-year achievement program, I had nine things that I brought before the church with the prayerful persuasion that God would help us to do them. And those nine goals set before the church several years ago were these: one, to build a Christian Education building; the second, to build a parking building; the third, to be debt free, all of it paid for; the fourth, to give at the rate of $6,000,000 a year; five, to baptize 1,100 people a year; six, to have 2,000 enrolled in our music program; seven, to have 750 enrolled in our First Baptist Academy; eight, to have a viable Bible school with a library commensurate with its needs to be accredited, to have a radio station, and to have 300 enrolled; and last, the ninth one, to have an average attendance in Sunday school of 8,300. Eight of those goals we have achieved: we have arrived at their consummation. We not only have a Christian Education Building, but Mary Crowley made it possible for us in her gracious generosity to have another building, the Mary C. Building. We have our adequate parking: the Veal Building was already built at that time, holding about 250 cars; we secured the Spurgeon Harris Building that holds about 600 cars; and we built the Ross Avenue building which holds 1,100 cars. We are debt free; we have paid our obligations at the bank. As you have seen and shared in, a miraculous intervention from heaven, something that God helped us to do; He answered the prayers of Bill Grubbs’ 22,000 fellow church members. We are giving at the rate, not as I proposed then of something like $6,000,000 a year, counting all of the support of our church to all of our work, we are giving now at the rate of more than $10,000,000 a year, most of it for the church, but some of it for our academy and some of it for our Bible school. We are giving at the rate of more than $10,000,000 a year. Last year we baptized 1,087; we almost have our 1,100 a year. We have 2,000 enrolled in our music ministry. We have more than 750 enrolled in our First Baptist Academy. We have been blessed of God beyond any way to describe it in our Bible school. Our library now has more than 80,000 volumes; it is an accredited institution. We have our radio station, KCBI, and we have about 300 enrolled in our Bible school.
We have failed in one thing: out of the nine we have failed in one. We have failed in our achievement of our Sunday school. We were looking forward to 8,000 average attendance in Sunday school; we have failed in that goal.
Some of this we are infinitely thankful for. We are grateful that our people are mission-minded, outreach-minded, visitation-minded, invitation-minded, soul-winning-minded, baptism-minded. I pray that our coming years will but affirm the achievement that we made last year, only more so. It’s a tremendous thing for a church to baptize over a thousand souls a year, but we can do it, we have done it; and with gratitude to God we look forward to a continuing achievement in winning people to the Lord. With gratitude beyond any way to express it do we offer to the Lord the sacrifice of thanksgiving for our freedom from debt. I feel like a man literally resurrected from among the dead. I feel like an eagle who has been trapped, and now the trap has been sprung and the eagle soars to the skies. I feel like a man liberated from prison, from behind iron bars and stone walls. It is now just the limit of our faith and our vision what we do for God in this coming year. And I praise God for all of those other achievements, that the Lord has crowned and blessed our efforts. But there is much to do, and in these moments, may I speak of those things that remain?
It has been an indescribable disappointment to me that our Sunday school has staggered and somewhat stagnated. That means our visitation program has deteriorated. It means our outreach is not what it could have been. It means that we’re not teaching the Word of God as we ought to be teaching it to the thousands that come to our city of Dallas. We need a renewed commitment to our Sunday school. I need to do it. It needs to begin in the pastor. We need to place a priority in that tremendous teaching, soul-winning visitation ministry of our church. We need a viable visitation program. We need a continuing training in all of the areas of our church life, where people can know how to visit, how to win to Christ, how to teach the Word of God. There ought to be a renewed dedication to the building of our Sunday school. And I am praying that beginning this first Sunday in the new year, and liberated from the awesome drag of our indebtedness, that our people will rise, will shine, will glow and go and grow.
A second thing: we need to continue with increasing love and devotion our support of the work in our tithes and in our offerings. The fact that we’re out of debt does not mean that we have anything to do anything with; it is just that instead of taking our tithes and offerings and sending them to the bank, we now have opportunity to take the gifts we dedicate to God and to use them for the advancement of His glory and His kingdom. There are so many things in our dear church that remain to be done. Here is one: because of the drag and the handicap and the obstacle, the discouragement of that tremendous debt, $10,400,000, because of the draining white of that debt, we let our properties go down. Some of these buildings that we have look as though they had not been repaired or maintained in a generation. I’m not proud of that. When I come to God’s house, I love to think, "This is worthy of our Lord; He would be glad to say, ‘This is My house.’" It is no happiness to me to come and see our facilities dirty, our restrooms and our hallways unkempt, and the whole complex gradually falling into disrepair. Heretofore we’ve not had the money to maintain our properties. They were looking ragged and wretched and unkempt. Now in our support we can make them beautiful, make them attractive, make them worthy of our Lord. We can now seek to solve the elevator proposition and discouragement that we have in our church. It’s not conducive to a fine spirit to come to the church and the elevators don’t work or they get stuck. We can make it possible for our people to go up to their places of teaching and training and learning with assurance that everything is as finely tuned and honed as it is possible for mechanics to make them.
We have a great support in our church for the missionary program of the whole world. Charles McLaughlin, who read our Scripture, led us in the reading of the Holy Word a moment ago; he’s largely responsible for the Cooperative Program of our Texas Baptist Convention. And I said to him in our prayer meeting before we came into the sanctuary, I said, "Charles, I know you’re proud to be a member of the First Baptist Church in Dallas." And he said, "Pastor, you don’t know the half of it. I go everywhere, all over this state among all of our Baptist people, and I tell them what our church is doing." I’m proud of it too. And it is in our support, our continuing support, that we shall be able to support the great missionary enterprises of the world.
Our schools need our continuing prayerful remembrance and financial strength. You know, it’s a strange thing what is happening to America. When I read the papers, I cannot believe my eyes. First of all, education, for centuries and from the beginning, was in the church, it was in the house of God; it was the old rabbi, centuries ago, that taught the people. He was called a scribe; he was sometimes referred to as an elder. Education was in the hands of the people of God. For centuries and centuries education belonged to the house of God. There is no great old university but that was founded by the church, all of them. The Sarbonne in Paris, Cambridge in Cambridge, Oxford in Oxford, Harvard in Boston, Yale in New Haven, Columbia in New York, Brown in Providence, Baylor in Texas, Mercer in Georgia, all of them were founded by the church, all of them. What became the public school system was in the church. They just decided to divide it: that on the Lord’s Day they would teach the Bible, and in the days of the week they would teach the subjects that pertain to secular life, but all of it was in the church. Today when I look at the paper, I cannot believe what the American Civil Liberties Union is doing to our children; I can’t believe it. They have mistakenly convinced the courts that the founding fathers meant to disassociate religion from the political and economic and governmental life of the people. Our founding fathers never dreamed of such a thing! The nation was built upon the persuasion that its great dedication to God and Jesus our Lord was a forever commitment.
Another thing: I can’t believe that the courts are using sociological aberrations – men who have since denied the thing will work – I can’t believe that the courts are using sociological ideas in order to further what they want in desegregated societies through our children. The neighborhood school has been a gift from heaven ever since we’ve had schools. The child goes here, close by his father and his mother and his home and his family; and it is an unthinkable aberration to take a little child from this part of the city and bus it to another strange part of the city just in order to achieve somebody’s sociological aberrations. I don’t understand it. Anyway, there is one thing that is left to us in America: can’t do it in a totalitarian nation, couldn’t think about doing it in a communist nation, but thus far we have the freedom to do it in America, and that is we have a choice in the education of our children. If we so desire, we can send our child to a Christian school. And I’ll not take the time to describe how I feel when I am seated in the pulpit in an Embree Hall, in our Embree chapel, and it is so full of boys and girls that they have to sit on the floor and stand all the way around the wall. And I watch them as they read the Scriptures, and as they testify to the grace of our Lord, and as they sing the songs of Zion. It is a holiness, it is an uplift, it is a promise, it is like glory, it’s like God moving in our midst. And those children are so beautifully behaved and so courteous and so worshipful in all of their spirit. And in the days of the week, they’re taught the Bible, and they are taught to pray, and they’re taught the faith; and all of history, and all of science, and all of the books of learning are interpreted in the mind of God in Christ Jesus. It is a wonderful thing, and I praise the Lord for it. And as some of you know, I’ve been given two and one-half million dollars to help us in our First Baptist Academy; and this year will see us begin to use that gift and others like it to make our school one of the finest Christian institutions of learning for our children in this whole earth. God is with us. His Spirit is upon us; victory in a thousand areas lies ahead in His mighty power.
I watch people through the years; I’ve watched some of the leaders of our church through the years, and, you know, as I have watched them closely, I have discovered in some of them a thing that breaks my heart. Some of them leave the church because it costs. Theological professors have left the church because of our emphasis upon tithing, upon giving. Deacons have left the church because it costs. I talked to one of them, a little thing in a house and it doesn’t cost him anything, and I say, "But your children."
"No matter, not interested in my own children. It doesn’t cost me anything to go to this little place here."
And never in the earth shall I forget going to a little tiny Quaker church in Pennsylvania. Met at eleven o’clock, sat there until 12:00, right on the dot at 12:00. Somebody stood up and said, "Amen." If anyone was moved to say anything in the hour from 11:00 to 12:00, why, he was afraid to say it as the Spirit moved him; and that was all. I ate dinner with a rich Pennsylvania farmer, and I told him that it was an unusual service to me to go to the church, sit there from 11:00 to 12:00 right on the dot, and that was all. Anybody wanted to say anything, they had the freedom to say it, and that was all. I said, "That’s an unusual thing." And that rich Pennsylvania farmer said to me, "It doesn’t cost us anything, and I like it. It doesn’t cost us anything, and I like it." I don’t understand that, and I don’t see that; to belong to a dying church and a dying congregation and a dying denomination, and the whole world lost, and to say, "It doesn’t cost me anything, I like it." I think of the Lord Jesus, and James and John the sons of Zebedee, who came to the Lord and said, "In Your kingdom, could one of us sit on Your right hand and the other on Your left hand?" and the Lord replied, as He looked deep into the heart and into the face of those two sons of Zebedee, those brothers, He said, "Can you drink the cup that I drink of? And can you be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized?" And the two young men replied, "We can. We can." And the Lord in prophecy replied, "You shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of, and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with" [Mark 10:35-39]. And when the Lord said that, then I remember James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa II, in the first verse of the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 12:1-2]. And I remember that his brother John in his old age is pastor of the church at Ephesus; was exiled to Patmos to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9]. Whoever said that it was easy? Whoever said it was for nothing? Whoever said it did not cost? Whoever said there was no sacrifice in it, and no blood in it, and no commitment in it? The Lord said, "Take up your cross, deny yourself, and come, follow Me; and ye shall have treasures in heaven" [Mark 8:34]. And we commit ourselves to that task gladly, prayerfully, joyfully. It is no onerous assignment for me that I am asked to support God’s work in the earth. I am happy to do it. And when I look at our babies, and our children, and our teenagers, and our people, and what God’s grace means to them, it is a gladness unspeakable for me to say, "And in it all, I have a part." This is God’s assignment to us. Didn’t give it to the angels, didn’t give it to the seraphim or the cherubim, didn’t even assign it to the archangels, but He complimented us: He gave it into our dedicated hands.
God builds no churches. By His plan
That labor has been left to man.
No spires miraculously arise.
No little mission from the skies
Falls on bleak and barren place
To be a source of strength and grace.
The humblest church demands its price
In human toil and sacrifice.
Men call the church the house of God
Toward which the toil-stained pilgrims trod
In search of strength and rest and hope
As blindly through life’s mist they grope.
And there God dwells, but it is man
Who builds that house and draws the plan,
Pays for mortar and the stone
That none need seek God alone.
The humblest spire in mortal ken
Where God abides was built my men.
And if the church is still to grow,
Is still the light of hope to throw
Across the valley of despair,
Men still must build God’s house of prayer.
God sends no churches from the skies –
Out of our hearts they must arise.
["God Builds No Churches," Edgar A. Guest]
God’s been good to us; He has liberated us, we are free now to serve Him better, more fully and deeply and prayerfully, more zealously and sacrificially. And in a wondrous and beautiful and glorious way, may He bless His work, under His hands and ours, as we walk together into this new year.
Now may we stand together?
Lord of the old year and Lord of the new year, Lord of the centuries past, Lord of the ages to come, God of earth and heaven, our blessed, precious Savior, what a wonderful thing You have done for us when You saved us. What a glorious thing You did for us when Your Spirit invited us to this dear church. What a miraculous thing God did for us when He liberated us from the debt and the burden that dragged us down. And now, what an incomparable, glorious thing is it that we can soar and rise to the very skies in God’s loving grace and tender remembrance. And our Lord, may every service be a triumphant service, and every day a victory day in our lives and in the life of our wonderful church.
While our people remain in prayer, standing in the presence of God, a family you to put your life with us in this wonderful church, a couple you to come with your heart and life devoted to Jesus and to us, or just one somebody you answering the call of God, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we sing our song of appeal, if you’re in the balcony, down that stairway; in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles; come and stand by us. "Pastor, today we’re answering God’s call." "I want to take Jesus as my Savior," or "I want to be baptized," or "I want to belong to this wonderful church." Make the decision now, and in the moment when we pray and sing, into that aisle or down that stairway, come; and welcome.
And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us. In Thy precious name, amen. While we sing, welcome.