THE STATE OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-2-83 10:30 a.m.
What a wonderful way to begin 1983, our new year, exalting our living Lord. And welcome, the great throngs of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and we read together our text for the morning, Philippians 3:12‑14: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect" – teleios. To us that means "sinless perfection." It had no connotation when Paul wrote this letter. Teleios means the "consummation" and the "completion" of a thing for which it was made. Like a man is a teleios of a boy. A great oak tree is a teleios of an acorn. "Not as though I had already arrived, or were teleios – that I have matured, that I have gained what God intended for me." Then he expatiates upon it:
But I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which – (God) – Christ apprehended me.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting the drag and the mistakes of the past, and reaching forth unto those things that are before me,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
"Brethren, I count not myself katalambanō": kata is there used as an intensive preposition; katalambanō is the word "to receive," to take. "Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold on," to have seized, "what God has seized me for." Or let me translate it in a way: "if that I may get hold of that for which Christ Jesus got hold of me; brethren, I count not myself to have got hold of it, but I am on the way," and then he has the imagery of a runner in an Olympic race.
Now, this Sunday I always deliver a message on The State of the Church. There are so many things I would like to crowd into it, like a communist dictator who will harangue his coerced audience for six hours or more. I would love to have six hours or more in which to place into this address all of the things that crowd into my soul as I look forward to 1983. I would like to speak of our school, our First Baptist Academy. On my birthday last month they had a chapel service, and they met at Embree Hall. Embree Hall will seat about seven hundred forty people. Those children were there; they filled the choir, they filled the pulpit, they filled the altar, they filled the hall clear up to the last row and aisle in the balcony, and it was a deeply moving religious hour. They sang the songs of Zion, they read the Scriptures, they testified, they witnessed; it blessed my soul. And in that academy – it is a school – in that academy they have revival meetings, they win boys and girls to Jesus. And every subject they teach, they teach in the mind of the Lord Jesus.
Last week, Charles Freet had a lunch for one of the deacons in our church and his sweet wife, and they have given to the academy thirty thousand dollars. Over one hundred families have joined our First Baptist Church in Dallas because of that academy, and in this coming day, we are preparing to build satellite schools all through the metroplex, leading up to the high school here in this wonderful school.
I wish I had time to speak of our Center of Biblical Studies. Two of the men that have been presented to you here are out of our inner city mission – won to Christ out of the gutter. They are now preachers attending our Center of Biblical Studies. Nor could I speak in keeping with the marvelous ministry of KCBI, the radio station of our Center for Biblical Studies. The last time I was in Boston, I met a brilliant and successful businessman. I received a letter from him recently, saying, "Send us, to New England, all of the graduates of that school. We have lost New England to Christ," he said, "How we desperately need the young men who are being graduated from your school." That same appeal comes from the Pacific Northwest and all through the continental United States. 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] chapter 13, and chapter , and chapter 25, and in 2 [Chronicles] chapter 5, there is depicted, there is described the glorious Levitical praise services of the temple – something like five thousand Levites singing; several hundred instrumentalists playing – think what that sounded like, praising God! And the Lord is good to us beyond any way I could describe it. Do you see that louver up there? Do you see that vent up there on that side? See it up there? Do you see it up here on this side? See one on each side? Well, there are organ chambers there; that is an organ chamber there, that is an organ chamber there, beside this tremendous organ chamber back of the grill work. Well, we do not have an organ to put up there, so they plastered it over. We do not have an organ up there, so they plastered it over. You know what we are going to do? We have been given one of the largest organs in the world; it has over ten thousand pipes. It is larger than the pipe organ in the Mormon Tabernacle! And beginning tomorrow and for the following six months, they are going to install that great organ here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. We are going to tear out that plaster there and we are going to put pipes there. We are going to tear out that plaster there; we are going to put pipes there. And we are going to put pipes some of them in front of the grill work here, and we are going to crack the plaster. And we are going to shake the foundation of this church house playing that big organ. Oh, it is going to be something beautiful and marvelous, and God did it for us! A man gave it to us.
I wish I had time to speak of our building program. I do not have time to speak of our building program. A great program awaits our church, not because we are going to take up a collection from our people to build it, but there are some who love our church, and they are giving us millions and millions of dollars into a great building program that will be started, I pray in 1983 – this year! The chairman of our deacons and our men are preparing now and studying now to get ready for that tremendous enlargement of the ministry of this great congregation. I wish I had time to speak of that.
I wish I had time to speak of our staff; there is a new spirit of conquest and victory in our staff. We’ve added to our staff these new men: Tom Melzoni, and Bill Jackson, and David Humphrey, and David Roddy, who will be joining the church next Sunday, leader of our great ministry to singles. Besides, they are working with Charles Bristow and Orin Gentry and our educational directors and our ministries of outreach and leadership. Oh, what things await us for 1983! I do not have time to speak of those, but I choose one thing, just one.
In this hour and in the time allotted to me, I would like 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. I think of that little old lady who was in a touring group going through St. Paul’s Cathedral [London]. And as the guide was pointing out this famous painting, for example Holman Hunt’s, The Light of the World, is there in that cathedral – pointing out this painting, pointing out those beautiful stained-glass windows, and these gorgeous things, and all of the things that happened in that cathedral. As you know, that is where Prince Charles married Lady Diane. Well, as the touring group was going around and that guide was pointing out all those famous things, that little old lady broke into it and said, "Young man, hush that chatter and hush that clatter and tell us, has anybody been saved in this church lately? Well, his answer would be, "So far as records, in modern history there has not been anybody saved in that church lately or recently, no." There are not one and one half percent of the people in London that even go to church, much less anybody being saved in that cathedral. So we are going to address ourselves this morning in the state of the church message concerning the heavenly assignment; the divine commission that God has given to us as a church.
May I point out that human problems are solved if we can win people to Christ? All of them; our economic problems are spiritual problems. You do not have to worry about a man and his family if he is dedicated to God. You would not have any police, you would not have any courts, you would not have any jails, you would not have any penitentiaries. Our problems are spiritual, and if we can get men to God, we can solve all of the problems of this world, if we can win them to Christ.
This last month, I went to Loews Anatole Theater to a dinner there in the evening in honor of Chuck Colson, the Watergate criminal that was sentenced to the penitentiary because of his part in what Richard Nixon was involved in. So in the course of the evening, Chuck Colson read a letter that he had received from the warden of a state prison he had won to Christ. And the warden in that letter is describing one of the great sorrows of his home: his son had been in the penitentiary three times, three different times. And the warden in the letter is describing the conversion of his boy in the penitentiary, and in the letter is describing a conversation he overheard between his boy and his mother, this warden’s wife. And the mother was saying to her boy, "Son, you are going out into the world now, full of temptations, and I am afraid." And the boy replies to his mother, "Mother, you do not need to be afraid anymore; I have found the Lord, I am saved! Mother, I have given my heart to Christ." There are no problems, none that cannot be solved in Jesus our Lord.
This last week, coming out of my study over there in the chapel building, when I got down to the foyer, I saw a young man standing there with one of our outreach ministers, and I spoke to them. And the minister said to me, "I have just baptized this young fellow." He was saved. The young fellow said to me, "I was saved listening to you preach on cable." I have never seen a cable televised program; we do not have it in our part of town, and I do not suppose we will subscribe to it if it does come to our part of town. But whatever it is, he said, "I was listening to you preach on cable, and I was saved. I gave my heart to Jesus listening to you preach on cable television." That is one of the expanding ministries that lies ahead for us; young Bill Jackson is here to lead us in that media ministry, and the chairman of the committee is Dr. T. Bob Davis, and they are planning tremendous things for us in the church as we preach the gospel to the whole world. Well, the young fellow had just been baptized, and I congratulated him and told him how happy I was for him, and then that preacher said to me, "Pastor, not only this young man, but there was a young fellow who, because his wife had done him wrong" – and he explained to me the wrong – "he was plotting and preparing to murder his wife and then take his own life later." And he said, "Last Sunday – this last Sunday – not thinking, he turned on the television set, and it happened to be you. And as he listened, God convicted him in his heart, and he was saved, and he called over here to the church the following day," that would be last Monday, "Called over here to the church and wanted to see somebody, and they asked me to visit with him." He said, "Pastor, I have baptized the young man, and after the baptismal service," did you know we have baptismal services now every day in our church? "After I baptized the young man, we got down on our knees, and he prayed for his wife and for his family." And he said, "Pastor, at one thirty o’clock the next morning there was a heavy knock at the door, and the young man went to the door, and there stood his wife, asking to come back and to rebuild their home together." And he said, "Pastor, this coming Sunday – that would be today – I am baptizing her." There are no problems we do not solve in Christ if we can just bring to the heart, to the home, to the life, the love and grace of Christ our Lord.
And that leads me to speak of the one dedication to which I pray we shall give the energies of our lives and the abilities and endowments of our church in this coming year of 1983, that it might be a year of soulwinning and outreach. As I think through that, Lord, Lord, there are thousands of us. How is it that we can share in that ministry? The pastor cannot do our Bible reading for us. I must read the Bible for myself. The pastor cannot do our praying for us. Each one of us must do his/her praying for himself or herself. Nor can the pastor do all the witnessing for us; each one of us knows people, contacts people the pastor does not even know and shall never see. How is it that we can so organize ourselves where we can get a handle on how to win people to the Lord, how to witness for Christ? Now the answer – as I think it through and pray through this message – in my humble persuasion, I think God gave us the Sunday school as the organized instrument in which all of us can share in winning people to the Lord. It is a statistically proven fact that one out of every three that are enrolled in Sunday school will be saved and will be baptized. But outside of the Sunday school, not one in five hundred will ever be won or ever be baptized. Our great instrument for winning the lost to Christ is in our Sunday school. And in that, all of us can have a worthy part. People who are lost, for the most part, are not coming to church. However gloriously this orchestra plays, and however marvelously this choir sings, and however the pastor might fervently put his soul into the message he is delivering, there are very few people who will come to church who are not already won to the Lord. That is why in my Bible I have a motto. Any time a Bible is given to me, I write in it these words:
They will not seek;
They must be sought.
They will not come;
They must be brought.
They will not study;
They must be taught.
This is the great assignment of our Sunday school, and in it all of us can have a worthy part. It is the only organization we have in the church to which lost people can belong. They cannot belong to church; they are not saved, they are not baptized. Our Training Union is a training ministry for people who have found the Lord. Our great missionary organizations are made up of these who have found Christ. The Sunday school is the one organization in the church to which anybody, everybody can belong. And that is its purpose: to reach people, to bring them in, to pray for them, to go visit with them, to knock at the door. And that wide open opportunity is given to us world without end. Our simple testimony of love and interest in people does it. God sees to it that it works.
I was in a great city on the Eastern seaboard and in a taxi. And I began to talk to the taxi driver, talking to him about the Lord, and he said to me, he said, "Fellow, I am like a lost sheep. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what to do. And when I get there, I don’t know what to say. There is nobody that speaks to me. And there is nobody that tells me what to do." Then he repeated it: "I am just like a lost sheep, fellow. When I was a little boy," he said, "I went to Sunday school in a country church, but in this big city, I don’t know where to go, don’t know what to do, and there is nobody to help me."
One of the biggest lies of all of the centuries is this – that men don’t want God. That is a pervading, pervasive, enduring lie! The deepest hunger that men have in their souls is for God. Are there enduring values? Is there meaning and purpose in life? Is there a foundation upon which I can build my house and my home? Are there spiritual absolutes in rearing children; some things that are wrong and forever wrong, right and forever right? And what shall I do in the hour of my death? Down deep in the human heart is always a thirst and a hunger for God. Somebody said to me about a certain man, "He is an infidel and he hates preachers, and if you go to see him, he will throw you out of his office." First of all, may I make the observation? I have been a pastor over fifty-four years, and not in over fifty-four years have I ever been rebuffed talking to a man or a family about God – never, never. I have yet to have that experience; any time, anywhere I have ever approached a man or a family about Christ, I have always had a beautiful and a hungry listening reception. Well, anyway, "Don’t you go see him. He is an infidel, and he will throw you out of his office. He hates preachers." So, I went to his office. He was seated at his desk crying his heart out, weeping. He had just that moment, he had just that moment received a message over his telephone, an unspeakable sorrow and tragedy in his family, and he was seated there weeping his heart out at his desk. I introduced myself, "I am a preacher. I am pastor of the First Baptist Church, and just out of the love of my heart and out of the deep interest for you, I have just come to see you. My brother, I led him to Christ there at his desk, and I baptized him and his whole family. Deep down in the human heart feelings lie buried that grace can restore. There is a hunger for Christ in every man’s heart, and the Holy Spirit will open the door for us if we are willing to make that approach, just loving them, just interested in them; "interested in your family, interested in you, interested in your children, interested in your home." Just interested, and God does the rest.
Now, I do not know how he has in his head to implement it, but Dr. Tom Melzoni says, "What I would like to see our church do is, when we have our tremendous stewardship appeal, I would like to see us have a goal of reaching people and not money." Well, I have turned that over in my mind forty dozen times since he made the suggestion. Instead of that tremendous appeal every fall that we make to oversubscribe our budget – and we have oversubscribed that budget thirty-nine times for thirty-nine years; we have never failed in it – I have just turned over in my mind how would that be if, instead of having a goal for money, we had a goal for people. This is the goal of our Sunday school, and this is the goal of our church: we are going to reach these people for Christ. Lord, Lord, I don’t know how he intends to do it, but I would like to try it, whatever it is that he suggests. Oh, how I would love to see us emphasize, magnify winning people to Christ. I would love that.
Now, may I speak of our God-appointed, God-assigned mission field? In Acts 1:8, our Lord said, "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." He started with Jerusalem: "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem." Our Jerusalem is our Dallas; this is God’s first assignment for us. Mary Crowley, as you know, gives her fortune to so many wonderful, wonderful institutions and ministries, one of which, of course, is our dear church. Our building here is named for her – Mary C. One of the things she supports is the Step Program, which reaches people, ghetto people, downtrodden people, lost people for Christ. And she gave me this letter that one of the men had written to her. Now, I am going to read the last paragraph talking about Yim On, in particular:
Yim On 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 in December 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 God –
Then the last sentence –
Thank you for your part in this work. My wife and I have a taste of the mission field, though it is less than one mile from our home.
"We have been introduced to the mission field, though it is less than one mile from our home." Dear people, did you know every day of my life I drive through a colony of Cambodians coming down here to this church? I drove through it this morning. I will drive through it when I go back to the parsonage this afternoon. Not only those Cambodians, but in East Dallas where I live, there are thousands of American Indians. There are Thais, there are Indonesians, there are Filipinos, there are Chinese, there are Japanese; there are scores of thousands and thousands where I live alone, besides all over this vast metroplex. And when I drive through that colony of Cambodians, and in the summertime see their children out on the street and out there in the front yard using it for a playground, and I see those men and women coming back and forth, you know what I think? If you were in Thailand, you Cambodians, you refugees, if you were in Thailand, we would send a missionary to you, and we would pray for you, and we would take up an offering for you.
But, you see, you are not in Thailand. You are at my front door in Dallas, so I don’t pray, and I don’t support, and I don’t send anybody, and I don’t go myself. What do you think of that? What do you think of a church like that? What do you think of a preacher like that? What do you think of your pastor like that? What do you think? What do you think God thinks of a congregation of people like that? As long as you are eight thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean, we send a missionary to you, and we pray for you; but when you come here to my front door, I don’t even speak to you. I don’t even know your name.
May I philosophize about that for a moment? And listen to me; the father of modern missions was William Carey, and he went to India in 1792. And all up and down the Ganges River, he built missions, and at Serampore, built his college. When I was at India, the Baptists of India, the English Baptists of India were closing down the mission stations founded by William Carey – closing them down. They had lost their witness back home! Not two percent in England go to church – not one and one half percent in London. They lost their witness, their evangelistic outreach in England, and having lost it in England, they lost it around the world. You don’t keep it abroad when you lose it at home. I remember standing with Alfred Haiderali, the Indian Baptist leader who headed that district of India. I was standing by his side in Agra. That is where the Taj Mahal is built; the most beautiful building in the world without exception. I was standing with Haiderali, looking at the Baptist church in Agra. They had come there, the English Baptists missionaries, in 1812. And we looked at that church house, and under the pediment was the cornerstone. We put it down here. They put it up there in the pediment between the gable and the roof. They put it up there, and it said on it, "Agra Baptist Church, 1845" – 1845! And Haiderali had been sent to Agra to close down that church, lock it up, close it down.
And Haiderali said to me as we stood there and looked at that cornerstone up there in the pediment with the 1845 date, he said, "When I came to Agra to close down the mission and to lock up the church," he said, "my heart would not let me. My heart just broke." So, he said, "I added to my duties as the missionary directing all the work in this district – I added to it to be pastor of that church, this Baptist church here in Agra." My sweet friends, we are going to lose our witness across the sea if we don’t keep our witness here at home.
Now, here’s another thing I cannot understand about us: there are more than three hundred preachers right there, right cater-cornered from the front door of our church. Right there – right cater-cornered across Ervay Street – there are more than three hundred young preachers; they have to make a living while they go to school. So, I run into those fellows everywhere; I found one of them who is a janitor in another place, and I said, "Well, you just come here and be a janitor at our church." And he and his sweet wife are here so faithfully. They are janitors; some of them are dishwashers, some of them are ditch diggers. They do all kinds of things in order to support themselves, and in many instances, having families, to support their families by working at menial tasks. Now, what I cannot understand is this: with all of the vast areas in our church, in our city, that are lost – these Cambodians, these Indonesians, these Filipinos, these Japanese and Chinese, these American Indians, these Spaniards, these thousands and thousands and thousands in the metroplex – isn’t it strange that the boy who is called of God to be a preacher, he is out there digging ditches, washing dishes or doing janitorial service, when if somebody supported him while he’s studying these books, learning Hebrew and Greek, he could also be taught how to win people to Jesus and put in his heart that spirit of evangelism going from door to door and house to house?
I don’t know a church that allows the boy to wash dishes, called of God to preach when the field cries for somebody to witness about our Lord. I don’t understand that. And I believe that, having mentioned it, the reason our church lets it exist is because we just never have thought it through. It has not occurred to us, these great areas around us that need Christ and these young men who have given their lives to be preachers; Lord, Lord! Maybe You called me to hold up their hands while they minister the word of salvation to these, and at the same time, while they get their degree studying God’s Holy Word. In any event, I am hereby and herewith asking our church to turn around and, instead of looking inward and at us, look outward on this great, vast, lost city, and taking our people, organizing us in Sunday school classes and taking those young ministers there [to] try to reach these people for the Lord. And I want to tell you truly, experientially, there is not anything that we ever do in our lives, not anything that has the fullness of reward and compensation as sharing in that kind of a work.
One of these mission chapels – we have eighteen of them, God’s really using us – one of these mission chapels had a dinner down here in December; here at the church, and they brought these mission kids. And it is small enough to be intimate, and they know the children and the families, so they had a present for each child. And I was seated there at a table with that bunch of youngsters; boys and girls. And the minister up there, one of our outreach ministers was calling the names of the children: "We have a present for this child," and then call his name, and then pick up another present, "Present for this child," and call her name. So they called the name of Randy; seated right there, a little guy named Randy. And the little boy next to me punched him and said, "Randy, Randy! Hold up your hand, Randy! Hold up your hand, Randy! They have called your name! Listen, Randy, they called your name, hold up your hand! Hold up your hand." So, little Randy held up his hand and they gave him a present. Then in a moment or two, the little fellow turned to me and he said, "Do you suppose they will call my name? Reckon they will call my name?" I looked down at him, and I said, "Son, if they don’t, I will go up there and call your name myself. Yes. We are going to call your name." Reckon in heaven they will call the name of that child, and that family, and that home, and those people? Reckon God will do it up there in heaven? He will if I do it down here in earth, and one of my assignments and one of my callings is to name that name. They are not just flotsam and jetsam as I call them; they are not just ghetto people, they are not just drifters, they are not just nothing – they are somebodies Jesus died for, and they are somebodies that God created; they are people, and God laid them here at our door.
O Lord, I believe that in this year of 1983 we are going to have a renaissance, a regeneration. We are going to experience a new dedication, a new commitment, and it is going to be our joy to see the favor and the blessing of God upon the work of our hands. We baptized over a thousand people this last year. We are going to baptize over two thousand this year. And if God continues to bless, we will baptize three thousand the next year; it is in us. I feel the moving of the Spirit in my soul! I think God is going to do it through us.
And I am like Billy Graham; somebody was congratulating Billy Graham on the marvelous ministry he had in his crusades, and he is always sweet and humble. Billy Graham said,"Sir, I am just glad I was around when God chose to do it." I feel that way about our church. I am just glad I am around when God chooses to do it. O Lord, it is going to be like heaven, walking in and out before this great people and seeing thousands, literally thousands being won to Christ through our loving testimonies and through our dedicated interests. Thank You, Lord, for letting me have a part and thank You, Lord, for letting me look upon a congregation so given to the invitation to Christ. Now may we stand together?
My precious Lord, it’s just like heaven when the Holy Spirit comes down and when He moves in our souls, when we see people whose hearts vibrate in response to the message of Christ. Our Lord, in the many, many faceted ministries of this great church, may every one be dedicated to reaching the people. Here is my hand of love, these are my words of endearing interest, and this is my invitation to know the Lord who means so much to me. O Savior, Savior! Give us that kind of a church, that kind of a year, and that kind of a response.
And starting right now, a family you, "Pastor, God has spoken to us and we’re coming." Down one of those stairways if you are in the balcony, there is time and to spare, gather your family and come. A couple you, or just one somebody you: "Pastor, we’ve decided, and we’re on the way," "I’m giving my heart to Christ, and I’m coming. I want to accept Him as my Savior," or "I want to be baptized as God has commanded in His Word" [Matthew 28:19-20], or "I want to put my life in this dear church." Make the decision now in your heart, and when we sing this hymn of appeal, that first step will be the most meaningful you have ever made in your life: "Pastor, I’m on the way; here I come, and here I stand."
And thank You, Lord. Bless Your name for the sweet harvest You give us this holy hour through Christ, our hope, our Savior, amen. Welcome, while we sing. Welcome.