We Begin Our Fortieth Year

We Begin Our Fortieth Year

October 2nd, 1983 @ 10:50 AM

Philippians 3:12-14

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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TODAY WE BEGIN OUR FORTIETH YEAR

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philippians 3:12-14

10-2-83    10:50 a.m.

 

It is a joy to welcome the thousands and the thousands who share this hour with us on radio and on television, and to my great surprise, on cable in places and on stations and at hours that I know nothing about.  I run into people all the time who tell me that they heard a message delivered by this pastor upon a cable, and I am so surprised.  All over America here and yonder and still over there the message is presented.  And for that, I am grateful if it honors the Lord and calls all of us to a renewed dedication to Him, or to a commitment of our life in faith and trust to our wonderful Savior.

The published title of the message is Today We Begin Our Fortieth Year.  A more accurate description delineation of the message would be “The Advantages and the Disadvantages of a Long Pastorate.”  As a background text, in the Book of Philippians chapter 3, verses 12 to 14, Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, in Philippians 3:12-14:

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfected: but I follow after, if that I may get hold of that for which also Christ got hold of me.

Brethren, I count not myself to have attained it: 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.

[Philippians 3:12-14]

The advantages and the disadvantages of a long pastorate; and as I think of the years, in some areas of the message it refers not only to the fortieth year that we are sharing together here, but also to the fifty and four years that I have been a pastor.

First: the disadvantages of a long pastorate.  One of the sorrows of a long pastorate is to see the people whom you have come to know and to love dissolve before your very eyes.  The seven members of the pulpit committee that called me to this place have been dead for many, many years.  Even Ralph Baker, who represented the young people, who himself was so young, for whom Ralph Baker Hall is named, even Ralph has been dead many years.  All of the deacons who served under Dr. Truett, and who were here when I came to be undershepherd of his congregation, all of those deacons have been gone many, many years.  And the congregation, the household of faith, to which Dr. Truett preached for forty and seven years, all of that congregation is gone, except a very few surviving members.  One of the sadnesses of a long, long pastorate is to see the dissolution of the congregation before your eyes; years and years take them away.

What are the disadvantages of a long pastorate?  You come to see the outworking of your mistakes.  For example, structurally, when we built the Veal Parking Building here, it was done in a day when an attendant could be counted on and the salary paid was commensurate with what we were well able to afford.  But all that has changed in these years and years.  The building was constructed for attendant parking: you drove your car into the building and an attendant took it to its parking place and returned it to you.  All of that is passed now, and we have been forced to make it a self-parking building.  And that is very, very inconvenient.  It is structurally now a great mistake.  But you don’t see that until the passing of the years.

Take again, looking at the mistakes of a long ministry, long time ago the Salvation Army offered us their building and the lot for $150,000.  I greatly coveted it because we were building our Good Shepherd ministry downtown, and I wanted the property for our Good Shepherd chapel.  So we appointed a committee to study the buying of the property.  The committee was chaired by one of our ablest men, and they came back with a report that it was too costly, too expensive; under no conditions could the church afford to buy it.  What I should have done was to raise so much cain about that report until the church would have bought it just to quiet the pastor.  But I made a mistake: I let it go.  And now they say they’ve been offered four million dollars for that corner.  As the years pass, the mistakes that you have made in days past become very apparent.

What are the disadvantages of a long pastorate?  Looking over the development of life, you find truths that in the beginning you don’t realize.  A good example is the evolution of evil.  Evolution is universally taught in the educational programs of the whole earth; in our schools, in our high schools, in our universities, in our colleges.  Evolution is the background of all modern teaching.  And they have some things that bolster and confirm and affirm their hypothesis.  I think it is ridiculous and idiotic to defend the evolutionary process in life.  My impression of the evolutionary process in life is it devolutes, it doesn’t evolute.  You take a beautiful, fine strain of horses and you just let them go, and they’ll turn into broomtails.  You take a fine strain of cattle and you just let them go, and they’ll devolve into scrubs.  You take a fine strain of roses or orange trees and you let them go, and they’ll descend into bushes.  That’s my impression of life in evolutionary processes.  I think it is an undefendable and unprovable hypothesis.  I think the reason it is defended is to get rid of God.

But there are areas in life in which the evolutionist has a point to make.  There is advancement and there is progress in discovery, in invention, in technology, in science, in education. I can remember when the radio was invented.  I can remember when television was invented.  I was a grown young man when television was invented.  I remember the first televised presentation made in America.  I went to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, and the televised station was in that room, and it was seen in this room.  They were able to transfer, to broadcast the image, say, thirty feet.  And as I looked at it, I said in my heart, “If they can transfer that broadcast that thirty feet, they’ll sometime do it thirty miles, and three hundred miles, and three thousand miles, and around the world.”  Well, all of that has come to pass, and the advancement in modern technology is astonishing.  Up above us in the space above and all of the things that are around us, such as this computerized life into which we’re entering, I can understand that.  I can see that. There is progress and advancement in education and in the gadgets of human life.

But I also avow there is progress and advancement no less in war and the instruments of war, in hatred, in bitter confrontations between nations.  There is advancement and progress also in the evil of sodomy.  When I began this ministry here, I never heard of a sodomonic community.  And yet in the city of San Francisco they’ll have two hundred fifty thousand members of that community.  They have a Sodom community in Dallas, and they clamor for recognition on the campus of the great Christian Southern Methodist University here in our city.  I never heard of herpes.  I never heard of AIDS.  There is advancement and progress in evil.

I see it also in the drug culture that has developed in my ministry.  Drugs now are almost universally imbibed by our society.  We drink it in alcohol.  We smoke it in marijuana.  We swallow it in amphetamine pills.  We inhale it with cocaine.  And we inject it in our veins in heroin.  All of the drugs of all of the names and all of the pharmaceutical houses in the world do not begin to compare with the destruction and the waste of alcohol.  Thousands and thousands and thousands of lives are destroyed every year in alcohol; and yet it is advertised and almost universally imbibed.

When I was a youth, prohibition, the Eighteenth Amendment, was the result of the spiritual and religious dedication of America.  All of that is lost.  And the fabric of our nation is beginning to deteriorate and to ebb at an alarming pace and rate.  There’s also evolution in evil.  And when you look on it over a long period of time it becomes tragically, traumatically apparent.

Same thing with regard to humanism in education; the background of education outside of our Christian academies and our Christian universities, the background of all education is humanistic; it is humanism.  God is left out of it; and only what is material and human remains.

Look at this: would you believe that when I came here to Dallas, if we had an able and gifted evangelist, he would hold chapel services in the schools of our city?  All over this city the evangelist who was preaching here in our First Baptist Church in Dallas would be holding services in the schools, in the chapels of our great city.  Could you imagine a thing like that now?  It’d be unthinkable.  It’d be—I suppose that the law and the courts would close down the institution if you just had a service with the students.  It’s another world.  It’s a new day.  One of the disadvantages of a long pastorate: to observe the evolution and the progress and the advancement of evil.

What could I say about pornography?  The day is soon coming when every living room in America can have before that group an adult X-rated movie.  Cable will bring it to you, and you can watch it.  Think of the effect that it will have upon children and upon family groups.  It was unheard of when I came here to this church; the discouragements of a long pastorate.

Could I name one other?  The disillusionment of the association and the denomination to which you belong.  When I was a youth and began my work, I was seventeen years old.  And even when I came to Dallas, thirty-four years of age, forty-three years younger than Dr. Truett, I looked upon our Baptist communion as monolithic.  Seemed to me that everybody believed the Bible, every preacher preached the Word of God.  I knew there were others—I had no contact with them—I knew there were others who didn’t believe the Bible: liberals; they looked upon it as a piece of antique literature written by a small clan or tribe in a hidden corner of the world.  But for us Baptists, and particularly Southern Baptists, we were people of the Book: preached the Bible, believed the Bible, the inerrant, infallible authoritative Word of God [Psalm 119:89, 160].  That was the way I looked upon the denomination when I began as a pastor.

Now I’m going to read from a recent publication, a religious publication here in the South: “Spurgeon said, ‘This volume is the writing of the living God; each letter was penned with an almighty finger, each word in it dropped from the everlasting lips, each sentence was dictated by the Holy Spirit.’  Those were the words of the most revered Baptist preacher of all time.”  Now as I read the article, forgive me for reading this part.  “Dr. W. A. Criswell, called by many the Spurgeon of the twentieth century, has written, ‘With complete and perfect assurance, I can pick up my Bible and know that I read the revealed Word of God.  The God who inspired it [2 Timothy 3:16], also took faithful care that it be exactly preserved through the fire and blood of centuries.’”

On the twenty-third day of April, in 1888, the Baptist Union of Great Britain censured Spurgeon—the vote was two thousand for the censure and only seven against it—and withdrew fellowship from Charles Haddon Spurgeon and the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in London.  In 1969, I wrote a book entitled, Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True.  I was president of the Southern Baptist Convention at that time.  When that book came out, Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True, the Southeastern Association of Professors of Religion in our Baptist schools censured me.  And one of our Baptist publications wrote, published, what they said; and I have copied it: “Biblical literalism is blasphemy against God.  Biblical literalism accuses God of using men as tape recorders, a notion that dishonors God and destroys men.  Literalism borders inspiration for mechanics: it tramples on elementary honesty.”  These are our people.

“See that fellow there, Criswell?  He believes the Bible.  Ha, ha, ha!  He believes the Bible.  See that fellow there in the First Baptist Church of Dallas?  He’s naïve.  He believes the Bible.  See that fellow who pastors the congregation in the downtown church in Dallas?  He’s an anachronism: he belongs in the days when people didn’t know anything.  See that fellow there who pastors the First Baptist Church in Dallas?  He’s archaic; he’s a throwback to a last century.”  Why?  Because I believe literally the Word of God.

When I look back over the years and the years and the years, I wish I were back where I was when I was a boy, when the whole Baptist world seemed to me to be monolithic.  Everybody believed the Bible and preached it.  I think of the poem of Thomas Hood:

I remember, I remember

The fir trees tall and high;

I used to think their pointed spires

Were pressed against the sky:

‘Twas but a childish fancy,

But now ‘tis little joy

To know I’m further away from heaven

Than when I was a boy.

[“I Remember, I Remember”]

I regret the intervening years.  I wish I were back where I was when I was a boy.  I wish I didn’t know what I know.  I wish it were blotted out of my mind and memory.  I wish we were as we used to be—the disadvantages of a long pastorate.

Now I wish I had hours to speak of the advantages of a long pastorate.  One, I am now marrying the children of parents that I have married.  Through two generations now I am seeing them grow up.  You have to be about four years or some-odd to remember the days of childhood; which means there are people in the congregation who are forty-four years of age, who can remember no other pastor but me.  The advantages of a long pastorate: living so closely and intimately with the people, and seeing them grow in grace, and in the likeness of our Lord, and in the knowledge of Christ, and in the wisdom of God.  Sweet, dear, precious, in honor preferring one another, growing heavenward and Christ-ward and God-ward, it is a beautiful thing to see a congregation grow in the grace and love of our Lord.

It is no less a beautiful thing to see our people grow in love, and in kindness, and in sweetness.  The older we become, the dearer, the more precious.  It is beautiful to see a congregation grow in the sweet likeness of our humble and loving Lord.

Growing graceful, growing old—

So many fine things do:

Laces, and ivory, and gold,

These need not be new;

There is healing in old trees,

Old streets a glamour hold;

Why may not we, as well as these,

Grow lovely, growing old?

[“Let Me Grow Lovely,” Karle Wilson Baker]

And to see our people grow in grace, in love, in humility, in kindness, in charity, Christlikeness is one of the sweet rewards of a long pastorate.

What are the advantages of a long pastorate?  In our dear church the growth of an idea, the idea of the church, the body of Christ as a community, a Christian community in a world of compromise and sin; a lovely people of God in a world of worldliness.  By contrast, not a sarcastic or critical contrast, but just contrast in history, I’m speaking of now the advantages of a long pastorate, as it used to be: I think universally, as it used to be, the church was looked upon as a square meeting house in which was a pulpit, behind which the minister preached the gospel.  It was so here: this church and its assembly of people and the great pastor stand here to preach; that was the church.  The new idea, that the church is not just a meeting house with a pulpit and a preacher standing behind it, but the new idea that the church is a community, a family of God’s people, separate and apart from the world, in it but not of it, witnessing to it, and the people pulled out from its ways of compromise and evil.  All of that would mean that there had to be a program in the church that involved every member of the family.  And the heart and the center of the life of the home was not out there somewhere, but it was here in the house of God.  Our friends made here, our young people meet each other here, they fall in love here, they marry here, they rear their children here; and the children are brought up in the love and nurture of the Lord.  Such an idea as that carried with it two tremendous programs.

Number one, the expansion of the facilities of the church.  If you’re going to involve all the children, and all the young people, and all of the teenagers, if you’re going to involve them in the church, there has to be recreational areas, there has to be vast facilities.  Had I had my way about it, and had I succeeded in it, we would have owned this whole part of the city of Dallas; because I had in my mind playgrounds for children and football fields, and baseball diamonds—and we could have bought it when property was cheap.  It takes a long time for an idea to grow.  But God blessed us somewhat: we have five blocks down here.  Trying to involve the people of the church in the household of God: don’t go out there to find your wife at some bar or some joint or some nightclub or some disco; find your wife here in the household of faith, a Christian girl, and build your home around the Lord, and raise your children in the love of Jesus—the idea of a church as being a family, a community, the body of Christ.

And of course, that carried me into one other tremendous dedication in which God finally blessed us: I wanted and prayed for a school, a school for our children, finally a school training young men and women in the ministries of our dear Lord.  Our executive leader said to me, who belonged to the church in these years and years gone by, he said, “I’d hate to see you devolve from a preacher of the gospel into the management of a school.”  It has been against the history of our people, our Baptist communion, that we have a school.  “Well, why is it that you insist on it?”  Because I believe in the entire life wrapped up, dedicated to, built around the person and mind of Christ Jesus our Lord.  I think history ought to be taught in the mind of Christ.  I think astronomy, I think chemistry, I think physics, I think the humanities, I think sociology, I think all of life ought to be interpreted in the mind of God in Christ Jesus.  And when we give ourselves to that, that means an inclusive, all-inclusive program.

It’s like this:

An old man going a lone highway,

Came, in the evening cold and gray,

To a chasm vast and deep and wide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim,

The sullen stream had no fear for him;

But he stopped when safe on the other side

And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

“You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way;

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,

Why build you this bridge at evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head;

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,

“There followeth after me to-day

A youth whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm which has been naught to me

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

[“The Bridge Builder,” Will Allen Dromgoole]

And that’s a dedication of our church as a family of God to include in it the child that’s born, the youth and the teenager growing up, the young marrieds who are building their home, the men and women in the strength of their lives, and the old and feeble who come to the twilight years looking to the great promise and hope in Christ Jesus above.

As the seventy-third Psalm, 25 and 26 verses say, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?  And whom do I desire in earth but Thee?  My God, the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” [Psalm 73:25-26].  Our vision, our prayers, our toil and labor, our gifts, the energies and dedication and strength of our lives are upward, and heavenward, and God-ward, and Christ-ward; and when we turn to the world, we invite them to share that same full, beautiful life with us, the one that we have found in our living Lord.

Young man, come, and walk with us.  Beautiful girl, come, find the true meaning and joy and happiness of life with us.  Little family, come with us.  Men and women in the strength, in the meridian days of life, come with us.  And down to old age and to death, share with us the faith, and the strength, and the glory, and the promise we have in Christ Jesus.  It’s a beautiful way to do; it’s a glorious way to go.  It’s the purpose of Christ, I think, for His children, His family, His church in the earth.

God bless you as we pilgrimage from this world to the world that is to come with the wonderful Friend and Savior by our sides.

We’re going to stand now and sing our hymn of appeal.  You want to stand now?  Fine.  And while we sing the hymn, our invitation to you, a family, a couple, a one somebody you, “This is God’s day for me, and pastor, we’re coming…I want to accept Jesus as my Savior, and open my heart to Him,” you come [Romans 10:9-10].  “This is my whole family; we want ot put our lives here in this church.”  Or, “Pastor, I want to be baptized, just as God says in the Book, and I’m coming” [Matthew 28:19-20].  As the Spirit shall guide and lead in the way, answer with your life.  In the balcony round, down these stairways; on the lower floor, down one of these aisles, and a thousand times welcome.  God speed you as you come, while we sing our hymn of appeal.

TODAY WE BEGIN OUR FORTIETH YEAR

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philippians 3:12-14

10-2-83    10:30 a.m.

It is a joy to welcome the thousands and the thousands who share this hour with us on radio and on television, and to my great surprise, on cable in places and on stations and at hours that I know nothing about.  I run into people all the time who tell me that they heard a message delivered by this pastor upon a cable, and I am so surprised.  All over America here and yonder and still over there the message is presented.  And for that, I am grateful if it honors the Lord and calls all of us to a renewed dedication to Him, or to a commitment of our life in faith and trust to our wonderful Savior.

The published title of the message is Today We Begin Our Fortieth Year.  A more accurate description delineation of the message would be “The Advantages and the Disadvantages of a Long Pastorate.”  As a background text, in the Book of Philippians chapter 3, verses 12 to 14, Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, in Philippians 3:12-14:

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfected: but I follow after, if that I may get hold of that for which also Christ got hold of me.

Brethren, I count not myself to have attained it: 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.

 

The advantages and the disadvantages of a long pastorate; and as I think of the years, in some areas of the message it refers not only to the fortieth year that we are sharing together here, but also to the fifty and four years that I have been a pastor.

First: the disadvantages of a long pastorate.  One of the sorrows of a long pastorate is to see the people whom you have come to know and to love dissolve before your very eyes.  The seven members of the pulpit committee that called me to this place have been dead for many, many years.  Even Ralph Baker, who represented the young people, who himself was so young, for whom Ralph Baker Hall is named, even Ralph has been dead many years.  All of the deacons who served under Dr. Truett, and who were here when I came to be undershepherd of his congregation, all of those deacons have been gone many, many years.  And the congregation, the household of faith, to which Dr. Truett preached for forty and seven years, all of that congregation is gone, except a very few surviving members.  One of the sadnesses of a long, long pastorate is to see the dissolution of the congregation before your eyes; years and years take them away.

What are the disadvantages of a long pastorate?  You come to see the outworking of your mistakes.  For example, structurally, when we built the Veal Parking Building here, it was done in a day when an attendant could be counted on and the salary paid was commensurate with what we were well able to afford.  But all that has changed in these years and years.  The building was constructed for attendant parking: you drove your car into the building and an attendant took it to its parking place and returned it to you.  All of that is passed now, and we have been forced to make it a self-parking building.  And that is very, very inconvenient.  It is structurally now a great mistake.  But you don’t see that until the passing of the years.

Take again, looking at the mistakes of a long ministry, long time ago the Salvation Army offered us their building and the lot for $150,000.  I greatly coveted it because we were building our Good Shepherd ministry downtown, and I wanted the property for our Good Shepherd chapel.  So we appointed a committee to study the buying of the property.  The committee was chaired by one of our ablest men, and they came back with a report that it was too costly, too expensive; under no conditions could the church afford to buy it.  What I should have done was to raise so much cain about that report until the church would have bought it just to quite the pastor.  But I made a mistake: I let it go.  And now they say they’ve been offered four million dollars for that corner.  As the years pass, the mistakes that you have made in days past become very apparent.

What are the disadvantages of a long pastorate?  Looking over the development of life, you find truths that in the beginning you don’t realize.  A good example is the evolution of evil.  Evolution is universally taught in the educational programs of the whole earth; in our schools, in our high schools, in our universities, in our colleges.  Evolution is the background of all modern teaching.  And they have some things that bolster and confirm and affirm their hypothesis.  I think it is ridiculous and idiotic to defend the evolutionary process in life.  My impression of the evolutionary process in life is it devolutes, it doesn’t evolute.  You take a beautiful, fine strain of horses and you just let them go, and they’ll turn into broomtails.  You take a fine strain of cattle and you just let them go, and they’ll devolve into scrubs.  You take a fine strain of roses or orange trees and you let them go, and they’ll descend into bushes.  That’s my impression of life in evolutionary processes.  I think it is an undefendable and unprovable hypothesis.  I think the reason it is defended is to get rid of God.

But there are areas in life in which the evolutionist has a point to make.  There is advancement and there is progress in discovery, in invention, in technology, in science, in education. I can remember when the radio was invented.  I can remember when television was invented.  I was a grown young man when television was invented.  I remember the first televised presentation made in America.  I went to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, and the televised station was in that room, and it was seen in this room.  They were able to transfer, to broadcast the image, say, thirty feet.  And as I looked at it, I said in my heart, “If they can transfer that broadcast that thirty feet, they’ll sometime do it thirty miles, and three hundred miles, and three thousand miles, and around the world.”  Well, all of that has come to pass, and the advancement in modern technology is astonishing.  Up above us in the space above and all of the things that are around us, such as this computerized life into which we’re entering, I can understand that.  I can see that. There is progress and advancement in education and in the gadgets of human life.

But I also avow there is progress and advancement no less in war and the instruments of war, in hatred, in bitter confrontations between nations.  There is advancement and progress also in the evil of sodomy.  When I began this ministry here, I never heard of a sodomonic community.  And yet in the city of San Francisco they’ll have two hundred fifty thousand members of that community.  They have a Sodom community in Dallas, and they clamor for recognition on the campus of the great Christian Southern Methodist University here in our city.  I never heard of herpes.  I never heard of AIDS.  There is advancement and progress in evil.

I see it also in the drug culture that has developed in my ministry.  Drugs now are almost universally imbibed by our society.  We drink it in alcohol.  We smoke it in marijuana.  We swallow it in amphetamine pills.  We inhale it with cocaine.  And we inject it in our veins in heroin.  All of the drugs of all of the names and all of the pharmaceutical houses in the world do not begin to compare with the destruction and the waste of alcohol.  Thousands and thousands and thousands of lives are destroyed every year in alcohol; and yet it is advertised and almost universally imbibed.

When I was a youth, prohibition, the Eighteenth Amendment, was the result of the spiritual and religious dedication of America.  All of that is lost.  And the fabric of our nation is beginning to deteriorate and to ebb at an alarming pace and rate.  There’s also evolution in evil.  And when you look on it over a long period of time it becomes tragically, traumatically apparent.

Same thing with regard to humanism in education; the background of education outside of our Christian academies and our Christian universities, the background of all education is humanistic; it is humanism.  God is left out of it; and only what is material and human remains.

Look at this: would you believe that when I came here to Dallas, if we had an able and gifted evangelist, he would hold chapel services in the schools of our city?  All over this city the evangelist who was preaching here in our First Baptist Church in Dallas would be holding services in the schools, in the chapels of our great city.  Could you imagine a thing like that now?  It’d be unthinkable.  It’d be – I suppose that the law and the courts would close down the institution if you just had a service with the students.  It’s another world.  It’s a new day.  One of the disadvantages of a long pastorate: to observe the evolution and the progress and the advancement of evil.

What could I say about pornography?  The day is soon coming when every living room in America can have before that group an adult X-rated movie.  Cable will bring it to you, and you can watch it.  Think of the effect that it will have upon children and upon family groups.  It was unheard of when I came here to this church; the discouragements of a long pastorate.

Could I name one other?  The disillusionment of the association and the denomination to which you belong.  When I was a youth and began my work, I was seventeen years old.  And even when I came to Dallas, thirty-four years of age, forty-three years younger than Dr. Truett, I looked upon our Baptist communion as monolithic.  Seemed to me that everybody believed the Bible, every preacher preached the Word of God.  I knew there were others – I had no contact with them – I knew there were others who didn’t believe the Bible: liberals; they looked upon it as a piece of antique literature written by a small clan or tribe in a hidden corner of the world.  But for us Baptists, and particularly Southern Baptists, we were people of the Book: preached the Bible, believed the Bible, the inerrant, infallible authoritative Word of God.  That was the way I looked upon the denomination when I began as a pastor.

Now I’m going to read from a recent publication, a religious publication here in the South: “Spurgeon said, ‘This volume is the writing of the living God; each letter was penned with an almighty finger, each word in it dropped from the everlasting lips, each sentence was dictated by the Holy Spirit.’  Those were the words of the most revered Baptist preacher of all time.”  Now as I read the article, forgive me for reading this part.  “Dr. W. A. Criswell, called by many the Spurgeon of the twentieth century, has written, ‘With complete and perfect assurance, I can pick up my Bible and know that I read the revealed Word of God.  The God who inspired it also took faithful care that it be exactly preserved through the fire and blood of centuries.'”

On the twenty-third day of April, in 1888, the Baptist Union of Great Britain censured Spurgeon – the vote was two thousand for the censure and only seven against it – and withdrew fellowship from Charles Haddon Spurgeon and the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in London.  In 1969, I wrote a book entitled, Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True.  I was president of the Southern Baptist Convention at that time.  When that book came out, Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True, the Southeastern Association of Professors of Religion in our Baptist schools censured me.  And one of our Baptist publications wrote, published, what they said; and I have copied it: “Biblical literalism is blasphemy against God.  Biblical literalism accuses God of using men as tape recorders, a notion that dishonors God and destroys men.  Literalism borders inspiration for mechanics: it tramples on elementary honesty.”  These are our people.

“See that fellow there, Criswell?  He believes the Bible.  Ha, ha, ha!  He believes the Bible.  See that fellow there in the First Baptist Church of Dallas?  He’s naïve.  He believes the Bible.  See that fellow who pastors the congregation in the downtown church in Dallas?  He’s an anachronism: he belongs in the days when people didn’t know anything.  See that fellow there who pastors the First Baptist Church in Dallas?  He’s archaic; he’s a throwback to a last century.”  Why?  Because I believe literally the Word of God.

When I look back over the years and the years and the years, I wish I were back where I was when I was a boy, when the whole Baptist world seemed to me to be monolithic.  Everybody believed the Bible and preached it.  I think of the poem of Thomas Hood:

I remember, I remember

The fir trees tall and high;

I used to think their pointed spires

Were pressed against the sky:

‘Twas but a childish fancy,

But now ’tis little joy

To know I’m further away from heaven

Than when I was a boy.

[“I Remember, I Remember”]

 

I regret the intervening years.  I wish I were back where I was when I was a boy.  I wish I didn’t know what I know.  I wish it were blotted out of my mind and memory.  I wish we were as we used to be – the disadvantages of a long pastorate.

Now I wish I had hours to speak of the advantages of a long pastorate.  One, I am now marrying the children of parents that I have married.  Through two generations now I am seeing them grow up.  You have to be about four years or some-odd to remember the days of childhood; which means there are people in the congregation who are forty-four years of age, who can remember no other pastor but me.  The advantages of a long pastorate: living so closely and intimately with the people, and seeing them grow in grace, and in the likeness of our Lord, and in the knowledge of Christ, and in the wisdom of God.  Sweet, dear, precious, in honor preferring one another, growing heavenward and Christ-ward and God-ward, it is a beautiful thing to see a congregation grow in the grace and love of our Lord.

It is no less a beautiful thing to see our people grow in love, and in kindness, and in sweetness.  The older we become, the dearer, the more precious.  It is beautiful to see a congregation grow in the sweet likeness of our humble and loving Lord.

Growing graceful, growing old –

So many fine things do:

Laces, and ivory, and gold,

These need not be new;

There is healing in old trees,

Old streets a glamour hold;

Why may not we, as well as these,

Grow lovely, growing old?

[“Let Me Grow Lovely,” Karle Wilson Baker]

 

And to see our people grow in grace, in love, in humility, in kindness, in charity, Christlikeness is one of the sweet rewards of a long pastorate.

What are the advantages of a long pastorate?  In our dear church the growth of an idea, the idea of the church, the body of Christ as a community, a Christian community in a world of compromise and sin; a lovely people of God in a world of worldliness.  By contrast, not a sarcastic or critical contrast, but just contrast in history, I’m speaking of now the advantages of a long pastorate, as it used to be: I think universally, as it used to be, the church was looked upon as a square meeting house in which was a pulpit, behind which the minister preached the gospel.  It was so here: this church and its assembly of people and the great pastor stand here to preach; that was the church.  The new idea, that the church is not just a meeting house with a pulpit and a preacher standing behind it, but the new idea that the church is a community, a family of God’s people, separate and apart from the world, in it but not of it, witnessing to it, and the people pulled out from its ways of compromise and evil.  All of that would mean that there had to be a program in the church that involved every member of the family.  And the heart and the center of the life of the home was not out there somewhere, but it was here in the house of God.  Our friends made here, our young people meet each other here, they fall in love here, they marry here, they rear their children here; and the children are brought up in the love and nurture of the Lord.  Such an idea as that carried with it two tremendous programs.

Number one, the expansion of the facilities of the church.  If you’re going to involve all the children, and all the young people, and all of the teenagers, if you’re going to involve them in the church, there has to be recreational areas, there has to be vast facilities.  Had I had my way about it, and had I succeeded in it, we would have owned this whole part of the city of Dallas; because I had in my mind playgrounds for children and football fields, and baseball diamonds – and we could have bought it when property was cheap.  It takes a long time for an idea to grow.  But God blessed us somewhat: we have five blocks down here.  Trying to involve the people of the church in the household of God: don’t go out there to find your wife at some bar or some joint or some nightclub or some disco; find your wife here in the household of faith, a Christian girl, and build your home around the Lord, and raise your children in the love of Jesus – the idea of a church as being a family, a community, the body of Christ.

And of course, that carried me into one other tremendous dedication in which God finally blessed us: I wanted and prayed for a school, a school for our children, finally a school training young men and women in the ministries of our dear Lord.  Our executive leader said to me, who belonged to the church in these years and years gone by, he said, “I’d hate to see you devolve from a preacher of the gospel into the management of a school.”  It has been against the history of our people, our Baptist communion that we have a school.  “Well, why is it that you insist on it?”  Because I believe in the entire life wrapped up, dedicated to, built around the person and mind of Christ Jesus our Lord.  I think history ought to be taught in the mind of Christ.  I think astronomy, I think chemistry, I think physics, I think the humanities, I think sociology, I think all of life ought to be interpreted in the mind of God in Christ Jesus.  And when we give ourselves to that, that means an inclusive, all-inclusive program.

It’s like this:

An old man going a lone highway,

Came, in the evening cold and gray,

To a chasm vast and deep and wide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim,

The sullen stream had no fear for him;

But he stopped when safe on the other side

And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

“You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way;

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,

Why build you this bridge at evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head;

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,

“There followeth after me to-day

A youth whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm which has been naught to me

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

[“The Bridge Builder”; Will Allen Dromgoole]

 

And that’s a dedication of our church as a family of God to include in it the child that’s born, the youth and the teenager growing up, the young marrieds who are building their home, the men and women in the strength of their lives, and the old and feeble who come to the twilight years looking to the great promise and hope in Christ Jesus above.

As the seventy-third Psalm, 25 and 26 verses say, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?  And whom do I desire in earth but Thee?  My God, the strength of my heart, and my portion forever” [Psalm 73:25-26].  Our vision, our prayers, our toil and labor, our gifts, the energies and dedication and strength of our lives are upward, and heavenward, and God-ward, and Christ-ward; and when we turn to the world, we invite them to share that same full, beautiful life with us, the one that we have found in our living Lord.

Young man, come, and walk with us.  Beautiful girl, come, find the true meaning and joy and happiness of life with us.  Little family, come with us.  Men and women in the strength, in the meridian days of life, come with us.  And down to old age and to death, share with us the faith, and the strength, and the glory, and the promise we have in Christ Jesus.  It’s a beautiful way to do; it’s a glorious way to go.  It’s the purpose of Christ, I think, for His children, His family, His church in the earth.

God bless you as we pilgrimage from this world to the world that is to come with the wonderful Friend and Savior by our sides.

We’re going to stand now and sing our hymn of appeal.  You want to stand now?  Fine.  And while we sing the hymn, our invitation to you, a family, a couple, a one somebody you, “This is God’s day for me, and pastor, we’re coming,I want to accept Jesus as my Savior, and open my heart to Him,” you come.  “This is my whole family; we want ot put our lives here in this church.”  Or, “Pastor, I want to be baptized, just as God says in the Book, and I’m coming.”  As the Spirit shall guide and lead in the way, answer with your life.  In the balcony round, down these stairways; on the lower floor, down one of these aisles, and a thousand times welcome.  God speed you as you come, while we sing our hymn of appeal.

WE BEGIN OUR FORTIETH YEAR

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philippians 3:12-14

10-2-83

I.          The disadvantages of a long pastorate

A.  The death of those dearly loved

B. Come to see the outworking of your mistakes

C.  You find truths that in the beginning you don’t realize

1. Evolution, progress, advancement in education, science – but also evolution and advancement in evil

a. Progress in war, weapons of war

b. Sodomy communities

c. Drug culture

d. Humanism in education

e. Pornography

D. Disillusionment of the association and denomination to which you belong

1.  As a boy, denomination seemed monolithic – everyone believed Bible

2. Poem, “I Remember, I Remember”

II.         The advantages of a long pastorate

A.  Marrying the children of parents that I have married

B.  Seeing our people grow in grace, in the knowledge of our Lord and in His likeness

1. Poem, “Let Me Grow Lovely”

C. The growth of an idea

1.  It used to be the idea of a church was a square meeting house with a pulpit and preacher

2. The new idea that the church is a community, and the center of the life of every member of the family

a. The expansion of the property, facilities

b. The expansion of programs – on Sunday and weekdays

i. Our school

ii. Poem, “The Bridge Builder”

3.  Our vision, prayers, toil, gifts, energies, dedication are Godward; and we invite the world to share this beautiful life with us(Psalm 73:25-26)