The State of the Church

The State of the Church

January 3rd, 1982 @ 10:50 AM

Acts 14:27

And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
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STATE OF THE CHURCH

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 14:27

1-3-82    10:50 a.m.

 

And welcome the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television.  At this time of the year, the pastor always delivers a State of the Church message.  And in answered prayer on our part and on the part of thousands of you, God has aboundingly, abundantly, overflowingly, increasingly remembered our dear First Baptist Church here in Dallas.

What I do is in keeping with the Holy Scriptures.  The fourteenth chapter of the Book of Acts closes: "When they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith to the people" [Acts 14:27].

I would like to speak of our continuing support for the work of the church.  The fact that we have just paid our debt does not mean that we don’t have to support the work to carry it forward.  We just don’t any longer have to take great amounts of our tithes and offerings and send them to the bank for interest.  Now, we can take our money and we can use it for the advancement of the kingdom of our Lord.  Oh, what a liberty it is to sit down in prayerful committees and to outline programs that will glorify the name of Christ and reach people and teach people the mind of the Lord!

I think of our schools.  I’m asked forever, "Why is it that you so emphasize our schools," the First Baptist Academy especially, and our Bible college?  I am asked by the staff.  It isn’t just the people in the congregation.  There are those here who work in the center of the church who ask me that.  Why do you do that?  The answer is a very plain and simple one.  Not only does music belong to God, the secular world takes it, and I don’t blame them.  But music belongs to God.  Education belongs to God, no less.

In these years and in these centuries past, all education was Christian.  It was in the church.  You can’t name an old university but that was founded by the church; the Sorbonne in Paris; Cambridge and Oxford in England; Harvard in Boston; Brown in Providence, Rhode Island; Yale in New Haven, Connecticut; Columbia in New York City.  All of them, there’s no exception to it – Princeton in New Jersey.  All of the great universities, old universities were founded by the church.  Before there was a Texas University, Baylor; before there was a state university in Georgia, Mercer; before there was a state university in South Carolina, Furman; education belonged to the church.

It was no less so with what we call the public school.  It was a church school.  It started out as a Sunday school.  It was called a Sunday school.  Finally, they divided it. On Sunday they decided just to teach the Bible, and then in the days of the week, reading, writing, and arithmetic.  But it was all in the church.  It was that way from the beginning.  It was the old rabbis who taught the ways of Moses.  And it was the elders and the scribes and the people who had their synagogue schools.  Education belongs to God.

Today, I can’t believe my eyes.  I can’t believe what I read in the daily newspapers.  The American Civil Liberties Union, and people like that, have gone to the courts and convinced them, along with certain atheists, that if you pray, if you read the Bible, if you name the name of Jesus – these things are outlawed by the Constitution.  They persuaded the courts that!  And the stupid courts from the Supreme Court on down to the lowest jurisdiction have followed that atheistic reasoning, saying that our founding fathers meant that religion was to be separated in the lives and government and economy of the people.  Our founding fathers never dreamed of anything like that.  The country was built upon the assumption that the religion of Christ was the basic fundamental commitment of the American people.

But we have a new day.  We have a new court ruling.  And they have added to it sociological aberrations that have astonished any true thinking man.  I don’t know the billions and billions of dollars of tax money we have already spent on taking a little child away from the home and the family and the neighborhood church, and busing the child across town to go to a strange, alien, different neighborhood.  All because some sociological aberrationists persuaded the Supreme Court that that was the way to integrate our people.  I can’t believe it.  It is an insult to intelligence, and even the sociologist who first strung the idea, and persuaded the Supreme Court to follow it, now repudiates it saying there’s no way that you can integrate people by busing little children across town.

One of the finest institutions in America used to be that neighborhood school.  There the family lives.  There the people live.  There the child goes to school.  And to take the child out to use it for some sociological, extraneous reason is unthinkable.  Yet that is modern America.  That’s what I read in the papers every day.

The way to integrate people is to have them love each other and to respect each other.  And you’ll never do it any other way, any other way.  I sit down with brethren of every kind and class and color under the sun in Christ.  And I can tell you truly, I don’t feel any difference, none at all because we are one in the Lord.  That’s the way to make people one.

So, we have one freedom in America that thus far has not been taken away from us.  There is one.  You couldn’t have a Christian school in Russia.  You couldn’t have a Christian school in any totalitarian or communist country.  But in America, we can have a Christian school.  You come to our Christian school.  You’ll see black children in it.  That’s great.  You’ll see brown children in it.  That’s great.  You’ll see some red American Indian children in it.  That’s great.  You’ll see Anglo children in it.  That’s great.  You will see Chinese children in it.  That’s great.  You will see some Japanese and Koreans in it.  That’s great.  But what pulls them together here is one thing: the mind and the worship of the Lord Jesus.

I tried to describe to you how I felt when on my birthday this last month they had all of our First Baptist Academy assembled in Embree Chapel.  It is a large chapel for a chapel.  It can seat over seven hundred fifty.  And those youngsters and faculty so filled it that the children had to sit on the floor.  And they were standing all around the walls.  And I sat there in that service.  It was a service.  They read the Scriptures, God’s Holy Word.  They sang the songs of Zion.  They prayed in the name of the Lord Jesus.  They honored Christ, our Savior.  And as I looked at it, I thought, this is the hope of America.

The secularist and the humanist and the materialist have stolen our children away.  This, please God, is one effort to bring them back to the great purpose for which God created them – to glorify Him, to name His name, to love the Lord.  And as you know, I have been given two and half million dollars for the expansion of that First Baptist Academy.  And I pray as the days come and go there will be others who will do a likewise marvelous thing in building that glorious school.

And I haven’t time to speak of our Bible college.  It’s just wonderful what I see.  Not everybody wants to go to a Bible college.  And I don’t blame them.  There are just some of us that would like to go to a Bible college.  And for them, this is an open door.  And its ministries already reach out to the ends of the earth, as young men and women train in just the Bible, work for God in fields white unto the harvest.

Then I pray that our continuing support of the church will make possible a new creation down here.  Because of our indebtedness, we have let our properties disintegrate.  They’ve become dirty and shabby and in ill repair.  Oh, I believe that God’s house ought to look like God’s house!  It ought to be clean.  It ought to look fine.  And it ought to be repaired.  It ought to look like somebody loves it and cares for it.  Our elevators ought to work.  You don’t get stuck right in the middle of one on the way up.  Everything here at the church, after these years of hardship – everything needs to be brought up.  It needs to be polished and shined and painted and repaired and maintained and worked on.  And in the goodness of God, we’re going to be able to do that in the years that lie ahead.  So many things could I mention.

This morning on our platform, Charles McLaughlin, who heads a great mission section of our Baptist Convention, Charles McLaughlin read the Scriptures.  This morning, Dr. Alton Reed, who was the executive director of the Annuity Board for so many years, read the Scriptures.  I said to Charles McLaughlin, "Charles, when you go around over the state" – and he does every day – "and you meet with our Baptist people, aren’t you proud to be a member of the First Baptist Church and to remind the churches of the dedicated giving of our wonderful church to the mission outreach of Christ to the world?"  He said, "Pastor, I never fail to mention it.  It is a glory what our church is seeking to do – a paragon, a model, an example to encourage God’s people everywhere to support the work."

I look closely at our people for the years and the years.  To my hurt some of our leading people have left the church.  Why?  Because it costs.  And they don’t want to give.  And they don’t want to respond.  Some of them will go to a little place, meet in a house maybe, because it doesn’t cost anything.  I will say to them: but your children.  Look at your children.  "It doesn’t matter about my children.  It doesn’t cost anything."  If I lived a thousand lifetimes, I could never enter into that.

In Pennsylvania, I went to a little Quaker church, started promptly at eleven, sat there in silence.  Promptly at twelve, somebody stood up and said: Amen.  And that was it.  Sat there for an hour in silence; maybe one or two in the solid hour would stand up and speak some insipid word about nothing.  And that was all.  So I went home to be the guest of a rich Pennsylvania farmer who belonged to the church.  And I commented that I had never been in a service like that.  He said, "Well," he says, "it doesn’t cost us anything.  And I like it."  Great God in heaven!  With the whole world dying and America needing to be won to God, won to Christ, he’s very happy to have a church that has no pastor, has no program, has no anything except to start at eleven and quit at twelve.  If anybody wanted to say anything, he’s free to speak.  A dying church and a dying denomination and a dying witness, and he says to me, "I like it.  It doesn’t cost me anything."

O Lord, when the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus and said: "Grant that we may sit on Thy right hand or on Thy left," the Lord looked at those two boys, those two young men, James and John.  And looking into their souls, the Lord said: "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?"  And the young men said, "We can.  We are able.  We are willing."  And the Lord looked again in their souls and He said to them: "You shall indeed drink of, the cup I drink of and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with" [Matthew 20:22, 23]. 

And when I turn to the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, and the first verse: Herod Agrippa I beheaded James, that James, the son of Zebedee [Acts 12:1-2].  And when I turn to the Revelation, out of which we read God’s Word today, John, his brother, the old sainted pastor of the church at Ephesus, is exiled to Patmos to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9].  It costs.  The Lord never said it wouldn’t cost.  He said: "Take up your cross, and follow Me" [Matthew 16:24].  He said, we are to deny ourselves, and follow Him [Mark 8:34].  It is a costly commitment and a costly devotion.

But when I look at our little babies brought here to the church, and I look at our children taught in the way of the Lord, and I look at our teenagers and young people, and I look at the ministries to our adults, as I just walk around looking at it, I say: "Thank God I have a part in it."  Besides, when I stand at the great judgment day of Almighty God and He asks me what did I do with the strength that He gave me and the possessions that are in my hands, I want to say, "Lord, to the utmost of my strength did I magnify Thee and to the limit of my ability have I glorified Thee."

 

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 in 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 from God alone.

 

The humblest spire in mortal ken

Where God abides was built by 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]

 

And Lord God, to have a worthy assignment in it and a sacrificial part in it is no burden to me.  I just thank Thee, Lord, that You have given me strength, and health, and length of days, and prosperity that I might devote it all to Thee.  Now may we stand together?

Our wonderful, wonderful Lord, how easy would it have been for God to say, "We have a great work to do.  Let’s assign it to the angels.  We have a vast, vast work to do.  Let’s let the seraphim and the cherubim do it."  What a compliment, Lord, that You gave the work for us to do.  And when life’s brief small day is done, may we hear our Lord say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" [Matthew 25:21, 23].  O Master, to our dying day and with the last and utmost strength of our lives, may we honor and glorify Thee.  And in it bless our hearts, bless our hands, bless our work, bless our homes, bless our houses, bless our children, bless our families; and do it all, Lord, as we magnify Thy name in prayer, in convocation, in worship, in teaching, in outreach, in all the things that Jesus, loving us, has given us to do.

Stay just for this moment.  I will let you go in just a moment but stay for this moment and pray.  Pray for that family that ought to come today, for that couple, for that one somebody.  And if that family or couple or one is you, make the decision now in your heart.  "I have decided for God and here I stand."  In the balcony, down a stairway; in the press on this lower floor into one of those aisles, come.  "Today, we want to put our lives in this dear church."  Or, "Today, we are taking Jesus as Savior."  Or, "Today, I want to follow the Lord in baptism."  Answer with your life.  Do it now.  And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us, in Thy saving name, amen.  Come and welcome, while we wait and while we sing.