The State of the Church


The State of the Church

January 2nd, 1983 @ 8:15 AM

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philippians 3:12-14

1-2-83    8:15 a.m.



Now in the beautiful passage that you read this morning together, in Philippians 3:12-14, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect," that word has changed to us from what it meant when Paul wrote it.  Our word "perfect" connotates to us sinless perfection; it had no connotation at all in its original use. Telios means "full grown, completely grown."


I have attained that for which God intended:  but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended:  but this one thing I do, forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

[Philippians 3:12-14]


That word "apprehend," katalambanon; kata is a preposition used there as an intensive, and lambanon of course is the word "to take, to receive."  So, "Brethren, I count not myself to have seized it, to have laid hold upon it, to have grasped it, to have obtained it; I count not myself to have got a hold of that for which God got a hold of me, but this one thing I do: I press toward that mark."

This is the annual State of the Church message.  There are so many things I wish I could crowd into it.  I’m like that communist dictator who stands up and harangues his crowd for six solid hours and sometimes for more:  I wish I had six solid hours to speak of our church and its work.  I’d like to speak of our church schools, our First Baptist Academy.  They had an assembly in Embree Hall celebrating my birthday this last month of December.  And the assembly hall, Embree Hall, was crowded from the choir all around me, all through the altar, clear up to the highest aisle in the balcony; they could hardly squeeze themselves into it.  And it was a chapel service, it was a religious service, and it was a school.  It was just marvelous.  This last week, Charles Freed had a lunch for a wonderful deacon in our church and his wife, who had made provision to give $30,000 to our First Baptist Academy.  There have been more than one hundred families join our church because of our First Baptist Academy, and there is a prospect that we are going to build satellite schools all through the metroplex.  It is a wonderful thing, a glorious thing, our academy.  They sing praises to Jesus, they pray, they have revival meetings, they win those youngsters to the Lord, and every day of school, they’re teaching them the mind of God in Christ Jesus.  I wish I had time to speak of the academy, but I don’t.

I wish I had time to speak of our Center of Biblical Studies.  There are more than three hundred young preachers over there studying the gospel of Christ.  For example, two men that we’ve won to Jesus in our inner city mission – the converts are introduced at the 10:50 service – two of those men are over there in that preachers’ school studying to be proclaimers of the wonderful gospel of Christ.  It carries with it our KCBI radio; that’s one of the finest instruments to magnify the Lord that I know of.  I have a letter – when I was up there in Boston the last time, I met one of the most dedicated, gifted businessmen on the North American continent – I have a letter from him, saying, "We have lost New England to the Lord; we’ve lost New England.  Please," he said, "every graduate that you have in your Center of Biblical Studies, send them up here to New England to preach the gospel."  Lord, Lord, how I wish we had enough graduates not only to send them to New England, but to send them to the Pacific Northwest and throughout this whole America.  I wish I had time to speak of our Center of Biblical Studies.

I wish I had time to speak of our music program.  In 1 [Chronicles] chapters 15, 23, 25, and 2 [Chronicles] chapter 5, you’ll find described the glory of the temple service.  Five thousand Levites singing and hundreds and hundreds of instrumentalists playing:  think what that sounded like and how the Lord delighted in it.  I wish I had time to speak of our music program.  This year, beginning tomorrow and for a continuing six months, there’s going to be built into this church one of the largest organs in the world, one of the largest organs on the North American continent.  It’s going to be a lot larger than the organ in the Mormon Tabernacle.  There’ll be something like ten thousand pipes in this new organ going to be built here in this church.  Do you see those vents on either side?  See there’s one there, one there?  Do you see those vents on either side?  On either side of our proscenium here are organ chambers.  Well, we don’t have any organ to put in the chambers, so we plastered them over.  Now we’re going to un-plaster those things up there, and the pipes will be seen over there on that side, over there on that side, and some of them are going to be built here in front of that grill.  It’s going to be one of the most thrilling of all the things we’ve ever experienced in our worship of God.  I wish I had time to speak of that.  I don’t have time to mention that.

I wish I had time to speak of our building program.  This year almost certainly we’re going into a gigantic building program.  Not because we’re going to take up a collection from our people; it is because there are some who belong to our church who love our church supremely, and they are providing millions of dollars for us in a great building outreach.  The chairmen of our deacons and our men are getting ready to make those announcements, and I pray they will find consummation soon.  But I don’t have time to speak of our building program.

I wish I had time to speak of our staff.  There’s a new spirit in our staff, there’s a new outreach and conquest.  We have a group of men who have been added to our staff:  Tom Melzoni and David Humphrey and David Roddy, who will be joining the church next Sunday, who will be our minister to singles, beside Charles Bristow and Orin Gentry and our educational directors and our ministers of outreach.  It’s a glorious feeling and spirit; you just – just lifts you up when you meet with our staff.  Don’t have time to speak about them.

But I have time to speak of one thing this hour; there is one thing above all others, as we begin our new year that is laid upon my heart.  I’m going to speak of fulfilling our heavenly assignment of being true to our divine calling of bringing our city to Jesus, of winning the lost to Christ.  Do you remember that famous story of that little old lady who belonged to a tourist group, and she was going through the tremendous St. Paul’s Cathedral in London?  And the tour guide was saying all of this about that cathedral, and all this about the church, and all this about all the rest of it, and finally that little old lady broke in and said, "Young man, cut out all that clatter and chatter, and tell me, has anyone been converted, been saved in this church recently?"  Well, the answer would be no:  there’s not one and one half percent of the people in London who go to church, much less anybody being converted.

Human problems are solved if we are able to get our people to the Lord.  This last month, I went to a dinner for Chuck Colson, that Watergate prisoner who under President Nixon was convicted, and while he was in prison he was wonderfully saved.  Well, at this dinner here in Lowe’s Anatole Hotel, Chuck Colson in his address read a letter from a warden of a state prison that he had won to the Lord.  And in that letter, the warden was explaining and describing the sorrow that he and his wife had sustained in these years past because of their wayward son, that that wayward boy had been convicted and sent to the penitentiary three times; three different times he’d been in the penitentiary.  And the warden said this last time while he was in the penitentiary he had been won to Jesus; the boy had been introduced to our wonderful Lord.  And he said, as he writes to Chuck Colson in the letter, he says that the other day he overheard a conversation between his wife, the mother of the boy, and that wayward boy.  And the mother was saying to the boy, "I am so afraid.  You’re out of the penitentiary now for the third time, and you’re out here in the world, and it’s full of temptation; and I’m afraid."  And the boy put his arm around his mother and said, "Mother, you don’t need to be afraid anymore.  I have found the Lord.  I’m a Christian.  I’ve been saved."  How many times in how many endless instances can we solve human problems?  I think all of them, if we could get people to Jesus.

This last week I was walking down the steps from my study here at the church, and when I came into the hall of that chapel building, there was a young fellow standing there with one of our outreach ministers, a chapel minister.  And I stopped and shook hands with the preacher who belongs to our staff, and [with] the young man.  He’d just been baptized, just baptized.  He’d been won to the Lord, and he’d just been baptized.  So he said to me, "I found the Lord listening to you on cable television."  I’ve never seen cable television; it doesn’t come to our part of the city, and I don’t know whether we’d have it if it did.  But anyway, he said, "I have been saved, and I was saved listening to you preach on cable television."  And he said, "I came down here to the church, and I told them that I had found the Lord.  And this chapel pastor baptized me, and I’ve just been baptized."  Apparently we’re going into a tremendous multiplication of that kind of a ministry in cable television and other areas like that.  We’ve got young Bill Jackson here as our director of media, and we have Dr. T. Bob David as the chairman of the committee guiding it, and apparently they’re going greatly to expand the outreach of our church through public media. 

Well, anyway, while I was standing there talking to the young fellow and the minister, why, he said, "Pastor, let me tell you something else that has happened this week." 

He said, "There was a young fellow, who with his wife had fallen into tragic difficulty and problems; and she had gone off.  And the young fellow was going to murder his wife because of the terrible things she had done.  He was going to murder his wife, and he was going to take his own life.  And last Sunday – this is the last Sunday – this last Sunday, he listened to you preach on television.  And sitting there before his television – and he just happened to turn it on, he didn’t turn it on to hear you or any other sermon – when he turned on the television set, you were preaching, and he, somehow it caught his interest, and he just stayed listening to it.  And he was saved; he gave his heart to the Lord.  And he called the church and wanted to see somebody, talk to them about how he’d found the Lord."

So he said, "They got in touch with me, and the young fellow came down here to the church, and he publicly made his confession of faith, and I baptized him this last week." 

And then he said, "We got down on our knees, and he prayed for his wife – that he was going to murder – prayed for his wife, prayed for his family."  And he said, "At one-thirty o’clock in the morning there was a knock at the door, and it was his wife.  She said, ‘I want to come back home.  I want to rebuild our family.’" 

So the pastor said to me, "This coming Sunday, that’s the day I’m baptizing her.  And they’re putting their home together."

That’s the way to solve problems; and you’re not going to solve them any other way.  There are no economic problems that you can’t solve in Christ.  Somehow when a man gets right with God and a family gets right with God, everything in the family gets right.  It just fits.  God made it that way.  And that’s our dedication for the new year.

Now our church in its soul-winning outreach needs to have an instrument through which all of us can share and in which all of us can work.  Our pastor cannot do all of our Bible reading for us; I have to do it for myself.  The pastor cannot do our praying for us; we have to pray also for ourselves.  Neither can our pastor do all the witnessing for us; we have to witness ourselves.  But we need a handle; we need a way to do it. 

Now I think that the Sunday school is God-given to us in order that we might all share in that saving ministry.  One out of every three brought to Sunday school will be baptized; not one out of five hundred will be baptized who are not in Sunday school.  There are very, very few that are going to be reached who are not in Sunday school.  I have a motto that I always write in my Bible – I’ve done this for years – and when I’m given a new Bible to preach out of, first thing I do, I’ll write this motto in it.  Now this is it:  "They will not seek, they must be sought.  They will not come, they must be brought.  They will not study, they must be taught."  It’s an outreach ministry; and the only way to reach people is to go where they are.  Very few of them of themselves will come here, and the simplicity of our testimony is always what God blesses.  Not these involved, erudite, theological arguments; they don’t get anybody anywhere, including those who are engaging in them.  But the loving, kind, inviting interest of people in somebody else is what God blesses.

I was in a big city in the East, and in a taxi, I began talking to the taxi driver.  Now you listen to him as he says, as he replies to me as I ask him about the Lord and I ask him about his relationship with Christ.   Why, this is what he says, he says to me, he says, "Fellow, I’m like a poor, lost sheep:  I don’t know where to go, and I don’t know what to do.  And when I get there, I don’t know what to say." 

He said to me, "If I go to church, nobody says anything to me, nobody speaks to me, and I don’t know where to turn or what to do."  He said to me, "When I was a boy I was in a little Sunday school class in a country church, but here in the big city I am like a lost sheep; I don’t know where to go, I don’t know what to do."

 Well, I would think there are ten thousand, thousand, thousand people in the big cities that are just like that: "Don’t know what to do, don’t know where to turn, don’t know what to say when I get there, and there’s nobody to speak to me, there’s nobody to tell me what to do."

Now I want to remind you of a lie of the centuries and of the centuries and of the centuries, namely that people don’t want God.  That’s a lie.  That’s a lie.  It’s a repeated lie.  Way down deep in the human heart of everybody there is a longing and a hunger for God.  The basic values of life, where are they?  Does life have any meaning or any purpose?  Is there a foundation upon which to build my house and my home?  Are there absolutes in rearing children?  Are there some things that under God are right and some things under God that are wrong?  And what shall I do in the hour of my death?  Way down in the human heart there is a hunger for God, universally.

I have been a pastor now over fifty-four years; and in fifty-four years, I have never one time been rebuffed in talking to a man or a family about God, not one time in my life, not once.  If I had a thousand lives – I wish I had them – I’d love to talk to people about Christ; I’d love to do it.  I say, I’ve never been rebuffed.  One time I went to a man that they said, "He’ll throw you out of his office.  He’s tough, he’s rough, and he hates preachers.  He’ll throw you out of his office."  I went to his office, and when I went into the office, he was seated at his desk, crying, crying; had his head bowed, just weeping his heart out.  I introduced myself, "I’m the pastor, I’m the preacher."  There had just come to him word, just then, at that moment, an unspeakable, sorrowful tragedy in his family; and he was bowed over there, bowed at his desk, crying, weeping.  In no time at all I had won him to the Lord; and I baptized him and his whole family.  All we need to do is to make an approach in the name of our Lord:  the Holy Spirit does the work.

Tom Melzoni made a suggestion that I’ve turned over in my mind forty dozen times since, but I don’t know how to do it.  Maybe he’ll come up with how to implement it.  He made the suggestion, "Instead of having a goal of money in our great stewardship appeal, why not have a goal of people?"  Winning people, we’re going to have a goal to reach souls!  Then he says, "If we have the people, the money will take care of itself."  I don’t know how we could implement that, but it surely appealed to me.  Let’s have a goal of reaching people, not money, and just see what God does.

Now, in the moment or two that remains to me – you know, when I preach, it just seems to me I get good and started, and time is gone?  It just is the craziest kind of experience that I know of – I want to speak lastly of our God-appointed mission field, our God-assigned mission field.  In Acts 1:8, our Lord said, "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth."  But He said first Jerusalem.  This is our Jerusalem.  Our Jerusalem is our city of Dallas.  Our mission field, first, is here.

Mary Crowley is deeply interested in a ministry to people who are outside of the Lord.  And here is a letter written to her, and she gave it to me.  Listen to it:  after he speaks of this program of reaching people, then he writes in the last paragraph:


In particular, Yim Wan was left for dead in Cambodia in 1975, when he was run through with a bayonet.  He lived and survived in the jungle on roots and berries for six months, coming near starvation.  Finally, he escaped to Thailand where he first heard the gospel.  We met him last December, these last few weeks, in Dallas, where he could barely speak English.  Since that time, he not only has believed on Christ, but he witnesses to others and teaches his wife and children about Jesus.


Thank you for your part in this work.  My wife and I have a taste of the mission field, though it is only one mile from our home.  We have a taste of the mission field, though it is less than one mile from our home.


Dear people, every time I come to town and every time I come to church, I drive through a colony of Cambodians.  We did this morning.  And beside the Cambodians out there in East Dallas where I live, beside the Cambodians, there are Thais, Thailand people; there are East Asians, Indonesians; there are Indians, American Indians; there are something like two hundred thousand lost people right there.  And I drive through every time I come to,I drive through that teeming thousands and thousands in East Dallas.  And I have, when I look at these Cambodians there, the actual group that I drive through when I come to church, I see in the summertime their children playing on the sidewalks and in the yards of the apartments there.  And when I look at those Cambodians, I think that now, if you were refugees in Thailand, we’d send a missionary to you.  We’d pray for you, we’d take up an offering for you.  But you see, since you’re in Dallas, you’re not in our prayers, you’re not in our offerings, and you’re not in our care; because you’re here in Dallas.  You need to be over there in Asia for us to pray for you.

Lord, Lord!  Great God, what’s the matter with me?  And what’s the matter with our church?  And what’s the matter with our faith and our religion?

Now we’re going to philosophize about that a minute.  When the witness died in India,when the witness died in England, it died in India.  William Carey was the great English missionary and the father of the modern missionary movement.  And he went to India, as you know, and began the modern missionary movement.  But in England, the witness died, evangelism died; and when it dies at home, it’ll die on the foreign field.  When I was in India, I met with the British missionaries who were closing down the mission stations founded by William Carey himself.  I was with the missionaries who were doing it.  I stood, for example, with Alfred Haiderali, who directed that section of India under the English Foreign Mission Enterprise – I stood with him in front of the church, the Baptist church in Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, down the Yamuna River from New Delhi.  And we stood there in front of the Baptist church in Agra, and I read the dedication – the stone is in the pediment up there, where the gable of the roof comes to the front – and it says it was dedicated to the Lord in 1845.  Our Baptist missionaries went to that part of the world to win them to Jesus in 1812, and in 1845 they built that Baptist church house.  And Alfred Haiderali, that district director, had been sent to Agra to close down the church!  Close it up!  And Haiderali said to me, as I stood there and looked at that, he said, "When I came here to close the church, my heart wept and cried and was broken within me, and I couldn’t do it."  So he said, "I just began to pastor the church.  And beside my duties as the missionary to this district of India, I also am pastor of the church."  I am telling you God’s truth when I say that if we fail in our mission here, you’re going to fail in it there.  The light that shines the brightest afar shines the brightest at home.  And if we lost our evangelistic passion and our evangelistic zeal here in Dallas, you’re going to lose it around the world.  There’s no such thing as keeping it there and losing it here.

Now what I can’t understand about us is this:  we have three hundred preachers right there; I mean, it’s in thirty feet of our front door.  We have three hundred preachers there, and all three hundred of them would love to think that they had an assignment, a soul-winning assignment, along with their studies.  We read in these books, and we’re studying Greek and Hebrew, but also we’re out here winning people to Jesus.  Now what happens to us is this:  the young preacher over there, most of them have families, they’ve got to work, they have to work, they have to support the wife, they have to support the children, or they have to support themselves, so they get jobs all over Dallas; some of them digging ditches, some of them janitors in houses, some of them plumbing, some of them doing a thousand other things.  But God’s called them to preach.  What I can’t understand about us is this:  why don’t we take those preachers and take the whole city of Dallas, and with them and with us, let’s win this town to Jesus?  Why don’t we do that?  Why don’t we do that?  Why don’t we send one of them out there to the Cambodians, and why don’t we send others to all the rest of these who are here in our city?  God brought them here to our very door.  Isn’t that a sentence? "We’ve had a taste of the foreign mission field, though it is less than one mile from our home."

I’d love to see a new day in our church.  I’d love to see it.  Pastor, we’re really going at this thing.  Here’s money to help a boy who has to work as a dishwasher, but God’s called him to preach; let’s send him out here.  Let’s put him in a place, let him win people to Jesus.

I have to close.  Sweet people, there’s not anything in this earth as dear as seeing these people won to the Lord.  One of our missions, for example, had a banquet down here at the church for the mission children; poor waifs, just the hall full of them.  So they had a whole lot of gifts there for them that they got from somewhere – I don’t know – and they had the names of the children.  So I was seated there in a whole bunch of those sardines, and they were wiggling and carrying on, oh just having the time of their lives.  It was the only Christmas they were going to have.  So, this little fellow seated by me turned to the little fellow over there and said, "Randy, hold up your hand!  Hold up your hand!  Hold up your hand, Randy, they called your name!  Hold up your hand!  Hold up your hand, Randy, they called your name!"  So little Randy held up his hand, and they brought him his Christmas gift.  Then the little fellow turned to me and said, "Reckon they’ll call my name?  Suppose they’ll call my name?"  I said to him, "Son, if they don’t, I’ll call your name myself!"

Reckon they’ll call my name?  Reckon God will do it in heaven?  Reckon He will call my name?  Will He call my name?  They are somebody; everybody is somebody, somebody God made, somebody for whom Christ died.  Will they call my name?  O Lord, yes, we’re going to call it.  John, Jim, Mary, Sarah, Martha, we going to call your name.  We interested in you.  We love you.  Oh, I’d love to think we had a new day in our church, a new spirit in our church:  we’re going to win people to God, we’re going to win them to Jesus, we’re going to introduce them to the Lord, we’re going to solve the problems of human life in Christ.  To that end we solemnly dedicate our souls, our lives, our sacred honor, and our fortune; going to give it all to Jesus this year.  We’re going to behold the hand of the Lord outstretched in saving grace, and the arm of the Lord bared in wonderful saving power.  Lord, grant it this new year, 1983.

Well, I’ve gone fifteen minutes beyond what I said I was going to do this morning.  One of my new year’s resolutions was I was going to quit at nine o’clock so we’d have time to make an appeal.

Right now where you are, make the decision for Christ in your heart, just right now.  Then, in this minute when we stand and sing our appeal, down that aisle, or down that stairway in the balcony: "Pastor, we’ve decided for God today, and here we are.  The whole family of us, we’re all coming."  Or just you; do it.  This is the first Sunday of a new year; let’s begin it with God.  May angels attend you in the way as you come.  Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.  "This is God’s day and God’s time for me, and I’m coming."