THE WELL-ORDERED CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-7-82 8:15 a.m.
God bless the great multitudes of you who are sharing with us this service in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled "the euschēmon Church," The Well-Ordered, beautifully-mannered Church. In our series delivered on Sunday morning on ecclesiology, the great doctrines of the Bible on the church, we read as a background text 1 Corinthians 14:40, 1 Corinthians chapter 14, verse 40, "Let all things be done decently and in order."
The word translated "decently," euschēmonōs, an adverb, "seemingly, becomingly, beautifully"; and "in order," kata taxin, kata, "according to," taxis, "arrangement, order." Those are far more meaningful as they pertain to our congregation than at first we might realize. That word euschēmonōs: eu is a Greek prefix, e-u, eu, meaning "well, pleasant, beautiful." I looked at an ordinary dictionary and counted thirty-eight English words built with that word eu. Like "eucharist," our Lord’s Supper: eu and charis, "grace," "eucharist," a beautiful thanksgiving to God, a eucharist. Eugenics: eu and genos, the race, the generation; eugenics, genetically improving the human family. Eulogy: eu plus logos; a beautiful word, eulogy. Euphonics: eu plus the word for sound, phonos; euphonic, beautifully sounding. Euphemism: eu plus phēme, "to speak"; euphemism, a beautifully sounding word. Euphoria: eu plus pherō, "to bear"; euphoria, a well feeling, beautiful feeling. Euthanasia: eu plus thanatos, "death"; a beautiful death.
So the word is used here: eu, "beautiful," plus schēma, the fashion, the appearance of a man. Schēma refers to what you see with the five senses when you meet a man: his bearing, his figure, his actions, his manner, everything about him.
Schēma refers to the impression that a man will make upon you when you see him. In Philippians 2:8, Paul uses that word to refer to the humiliation of Christ when "He humbled Himself, and was found in schēma, in fashion as a man"; as you met the Lord, all of the things about Him that your five senses would recognize.
Kata, "according to," taxin, according to order. "Let all things be done euschēmonōs, in a beautiful manner, and according to arrangement, to order." Josephus uses that word to refer to the Roman army camps: they were magnificently arranged. Josephus also uses that word to refer to the services of the Essenes, that sect that gave us the Dead Sea Scrolls. Their services were kata taxin, "according to order." And Paul uses the word to refer to the well-ordered church; a, euschēmonōs, a euschēmonōs church. A church as it meets the five senses of a visitor or of a man, as you look at it, it is beautifully ordered, seemly, becomingly, in all of its worship, in all of its organization, in all of its ministries, in all of its many parts. It is a euschēmonōs church.
There were no church houses, no church buildings when the New Testament was written. But when they did build churches, they reflected the euschēmonōs spirit. They were beautifully made, they were decorated, they were embellished; and a church that is not as pretty as people could make it, and as clean as they can keep it, and as well-ordered as the architect could conceive it is a church that does not reflect the spirit of the church on the inside, the well-ordered church, the beautifully mannered, becomingly, seemingly ordered congregation.
Now, where would you expect to find a church like that? The euschēmonōs church, the beautifully ordered church, where would you expect to find it? When I read the New Testament, I find that church in Rome. I find it in Corinth. I find it in Ephesus. I find it in Antioch. I find it in Thessalonica. I find it in the great cities of the Roman Empire. Wherever the great city was, in the heart of it you would find that euschēmonōs church. And isn’t that an astonishing thing to begin with? For example, Paul will write, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ . . . to the church of God which is in Corinth" [1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:1]. The church of God, the euschēmonōs church, the church of God which is in Corinth, could you imagine in one phrase two ideas brought together that are more antithetical than that? "The church of God in Corinth" [1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:1]. The church of God, under the government of God, reflecting the will and presence of God, worshiping together in the blessing of God, "the church of God in Corinth" [1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:1]. All of the Greek cities of the ancient world were profligate beyond anything the world has ever known, but especially was Corinth. There was a word, a "Corinthian," and in that ancient day the word "Corinthian" meant profligate, debauched. So vile and unspeakable was the moral life of the city of Corinth that it became proverbial through the empire, its lasciviousness and its wickedness and its iniquity. Yet Paul writes here in the same phrase, "The church of God which is in Corinth" [1 Corinthians 1:2, 2:1]. Never were such opposites brought together; they are antithetical. And they are at warfare; Jesus and Satan, the world and the vision of God.
Now why didn’t the Lord lead the apostles to gather their saints together and to bring them to some beautiful and separate isle where they could be apart from the world? There were hundreds of islands in the Greek archipelago – they’re over there now, they were there then – beautiful little islands. When Lord Byron from England went down to visit Greece, do you remember his famous exclamation? "The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece. Where burning Sappho loved and sung." It’s a beautiful world there. And they have beautiful islands there. Why didn’t the apostle gather God’s saints, the church of God, the euschēmonōs church, why didn’t he gather it and place it on some isle to live separate and apart? You will find no hint, you will find no suggestion of anything like that in the whole Bible, never. The church of God, this euschēmonōs church, is in the heart of the vilest city in the empire; and not only in that city, but in all of the other great cities of the Roman age. That’s where it ought to be, that’s where God called it to be, that’s where God intended it to be. And in His love and grace, that’s where it is in the city of Dallas: it’s in the heart of this city, where it belongs; the euschēmonōs church, the church of God in Dallas.
I love to think of its being here. I had a man, he has an office in one of those tall, tall buildings downtown; I ran into him on the street of the city, and he stopped me and spoke to me. And he said to me, "Every day up there in that office of mine, high up in one of those towers," he said, "Every day I look out my office window, and I see children playing on the playground of your First Baptist Church in Dallas." And he said, "As I look out that office window in the heart of this great city," he says to me, "that is the most amazing thing I know of in the city of Dallas, to see those children, children playing downtown in these, in the midst of these tall office buildings." And he says, "I just want you to know it does my heart good just to see it, just to see it." To have the euschēmonōs church, the church of God representing and reflecting the Spirit of our great Lord, to have it in the heart of the great city praises His name.
I couldn’t think of New York City without Saint Patrick’s, there in the heart of Manhattan. I couldn’t think of London without Saint Paul’s in the heart of the great publishing district of London, blocking Fleet Street. I couldn’t think of Paris without Notre Dame. And I couldn’t think of Dallas without this euschēmonōs church, the church of God in Dallas, with its spire pointing up to heaven, with its children playing on the playground, and with the people gathering for the glory and worship of His name; the euschēmonōs church.
I notice in that beautiful, well-ordered church the spirit of the people that are inside of it, that compose it, and their attitudes toward each other. For example, the apostle Paul, in a pastoral epistle, in chapter 5 of 1 Timothy will write, "Your older men, entreat as fathers; and younger men as brothers; and older women as mothers; and younger women as sisters" [1 Timothy 5:1-2]. Isn’t that a beautiful representation of the heart and life of the euschēmonōs church? Older men as fathers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, and younger men as brothers; and do you notice the next word that he says, the next verse: "And honor widows that are widows indeed" [1 Timothy 5:3]. Then he follows through a long discussion there about how to treat the needy [1 Timothy 5:4-16]. That’s the church, filled with the moving, loving, compassionate Spirit of the Lord. That’s the euschēmonōs church, the beautiful church, the well-ordered church.
I could not help but think through when I was in India. I went down to the burning ghats along that branch of the Ganges River that flows through Calcutta. They burn their dead; and I watched them several hours as they brought their dead and burned them there, and whatever was left they threw into the river. There are the largest turtles I’ve ever seen in the world in that river, waiting for the remains of the dead, the parts that didn’t burn. And as I watched that, standing there looking at the whole scene, I remembered how it was in the days of William Carey. When William Carey, our great Baptist missionary, went to India, to that very place as a missionary, they burned the widow. If her husband died before she did, when they burned his body, they burned her body alive. We don’t realize what the euschēmonōs church has done for the world. They burned the widow. And even when I was in India it was the universal fashion that when a widow was left behind, she had to dress in a certain way, and she could never smile.
Think of the church and how different! For trouble and for death to come into a Hindu home meant terror, sheer unadulterated horror; but in the euschēmonōs church, loving each other, helping each other, praying for each other, encouraging each other. And in sickness, or in sorrow, or in death, we’d be the first ones there to help; a beautiful church. Great God in heaven, what it has done for the world!
Now may I pursue it further? Anyone who comes into the Christian faith soon learns that it has many implications, far more than you’d ever realize. There are interactions between ourselves, between us and the city, between us and the nation, the state, and the world, and in our own families. We come into the Christian faith one at a time. As we’re born into the world, we are reborn into the kingdom of our Savior [John 3:3]. And we’re baptized one at a time by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:13], into the euschēmonōs church. But when we are in the church, and become a part of the body of Christ, ah, in how many ways and in how many areas do we find interaction. For example, in the Bible, the first great epistle of Paul in the New Testament is the Book of Romans, the letter of Paul to the church at Rome; and it is a tremendous doctrinal treatise. But the second letter is called 1 Corinthians; it is the letter of Paul to this church at Corinth [1 Corinthians 1:1-2], and it is just one confronting problem after another. The first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians concerns the divisions in the church [1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21]. Then it concerns incest in the church [1 Corinthians 5:1-13]. Then it concerns litigation in the church, going to court [1 Corinthians 6:1-8]. Then it concerns food offered to idols [1 Corinthians 8:1-10:33]. Then it concerns problems in marriage [1 Corinthians 7:1-40]. Then it concerns abuses in worship [1 Corinthians 14:26-40]. Then it discusses how to dress before the Lord and the angels in the church [1 Corinthians 11:1-16]. Then it will discuss the ordinances [1 Corinthians 11:17-34]. Then it will speak of the collection, and the giving to the saints [1 Corinthians 16:1-9].
And when you look at all of Paul’s epistles, they are divided like that, every one of them. First there will be a wonderful discussion of the doctrinal truth of God; and then every one of those epistles will close, the last part of it will close with a practical application of those great doctrinal principles; such as the Book of Ephesians. The first four chapters of the Book of Ephesians concern the theme, the high theme of the heavenlies; then immediately after he speaks of those glorious things pertaining to our sitting in heavenly places with Christ, then the epistle will begin discussing our obligation to parents, and the children’s obligations to the home, and how servants are to work, and how masters are to treat them, and all the things pertaining to our daily lives. Now that is the life of the Christian in the euschēmonōs church. We are immediately confronted with a plethora of problems when we give our hearts to Christ, when we join the church, and when we live in a teeming city.
But there is a marvelous word, a wonderful word that Paul writes in this same letter to the church at Ephesus concerning the beauty and the order of that euschēmonōs church: "To keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" [Ephesians 4:3-6]. Because we are in the church doesn’t mean we don’t face all kinds of confronting problems in our own lives, in the city in which we live, in the world and age in which our time is cast. But in that euschēmonōs church there is a marvelous strength that God gives us here in our congregation, and as we walk before the Lord in every differing place to which we give our daily lives. There is one uniting Spirit: He animates us, He lives in us [1 Corinthians 6:19], He moves in our congregation, and He guides us in our daily walk, the Spirit of God is ever with us. We can grieve Him [Ephesians 4:30], and hurt Him; but He never leaves us. He is with us forever. And it is in His blessing, and in His presence that we work and live all the days of our lives.
One uniting Spirit, and one faith [Ephesians 4:4-5]; one great body of truth to which we adhere and to which we give our lives: I hold it here in my hand. It may be a strange thing for some ears to hear, but it is God’s truth. As there is an objective body of truth in physics or in chemistry, you can read it, you can hold it in your hand, these are the great laws of physics, or these are the great discoveries in chemistry, and you can read them; just so there is an objective body of truth for the euschēmonōs church, and I can hold it in my hand. Our church and our faith and our religion is not one of speculation or dubious metaphysics. A man cannot say in honesty and in truth, "One man’s explanation of the truth and revelation of God is as true as another man’s explanation." That’s folly wide the mark. Same thing as if we were to say, "One man’s explanation of the cause and cure of smallpox is as good as another man’s."
In going through the central part, the upward part of Nigeria, West Africa, I passed by a house, and it had an old broom in the yard, and it had an old broom on the roof, on the thatched roof. And the missionary with whom I was traveling said, "There’s smallpox in that house. And that’s the way they believe they can cure smallpox: they throw an old broom in the yard, and an old broom on the roof." And the tribe had nearly been wiped out in those previous years by ravaging smallpox. That idea of the cause and cure of smallpox is not as good as the idea of Pasteur, who says the disease is caused by germs, and we can inoculate and vaccinate against it. Truth is not speculative, it is not metaphysical, it is not dubious; the great faith of our Lord is plain, and written out, and I can hold it in my hand, and I can read it in understandable language. And you, you’re able to be here tonight, and listen to the sermon, How Can I Know the Will of God? There is a beautiful and certain way that one holding that blessed Word in his hand can order his life in a euschēmonōs way. That’s the Lord; "And there is one God and Father of all, and one Lord" [Ephesians 4:5-6], one great omnipotent heavenly Father whose heart is moved with compassion toward us, who revealed Himself, became incarnate in Jesus our Savior [Matthew 1:23].
And when I love Jesus, I love God. When I come to Jesus, I come to God. When I follow the Lord Jesus, I follow God. And our hearts are bound together by golden chains that reach upward from earth to heaven, and are held in His nail-pierced, gracious, saving hands. Nor can they ever be severed by whatever man could ever do; we are in the love and mercy of Jesus our Lord forever, bound to Him. We here in earth, He there in heaven, and we can never be severed or separated [John 10:27-30].
I don’t think there’s a more triumphant assuring word to be found in the Bible than those two verses that close the marvelous eighth chapter of the Book of Romans: "For I am persuaded," Paul said, "I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" [Romans 8:38-39]. What a wonderful thing to gather in His name, to be forever with Him, whether there or whether here, and to love one another in the faith; the beautiful, seemly, becoming, euschēmonōs church.
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, what a priceless thing God did for us when His Spirit moved us and called us, and what a precious thing when Jesus saved us. And Lord, thank Thee for those dear people to whom God joined my life in the faith and in the Lord. And thank Thee for this wonderful and precious congregation placed in the heart of this teeming city to shine for Thee. Lord, bless the fellowship, the koinonia, in our love for each other and for Thee, may God sanctify our commitment. May we grow in grace in Thy knowledge. And may we ever love and care for each other.
And in this moment that we stand, a family you, a couple you, or one somebody you, giving your heart to Jesus and to us, would you make it this morning? Would you decide now in your heart, and when we make appeal in song, in invitation, if you’re in the balcony, down that stairway; in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, we have decided for God, and here we come." May angels attend you in the way as you answer with your life, and welcome. And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us. In Thy precious name, Amen. As we sing, make that first step; be the finest step you ever made in your life. "Dear pastor, we’re coming this morning," while we sing our hymn, welcome.