The State of the Church
January 8th, 1984 @ 8:15 AM
THE STATE OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Revelation 3: 7, 8
1-8-84 8:15 a.m.
And God bless the multitudes of you who share this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The State of the Church. Almost always, in fact always, this message is delivered the first Sunday of the new year, which would have been last Sunday. But because the Sunday fell on New Year’s Day itself, and we planned a program on the eschatological teachings of the Bible, after which the people were privileged to ask any question that they would like, why, we did not have opportunity last Sunday to present the message. So it is done today, the annual State of the Church message. It concerns us in our assignment from heaven.
In Revelation chapter 3, verses 7 and 8, our Lord speaks to the church of Philadelphia, the sixth one in the seven churches of Asia. And the Lord says:
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth;
Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it. I have set before thee an open door.
Looking back we can recount the goodnesses of God poured upon us as a church. We could witness to it by the hours. I looked back through the years concerning the addresses I had made at this hour on the state of the church, and all of them contained program, and visions, and goals, and dreams, and prayers for the future and especially for the immediate future, and many of them have been realized; God has blessed us.
For example, one of our goals was to have a thousand people baptized. And in the lead article of the current issue of The Baptist Standard, the headline is, "First Baptist Church Dallas leads baptism tally with 1,182." And the first paragraph reads, "For the fourth year in a row, First Church Dallas led Texas Baptist churches in baptisms in 1983 with a total of 1,182. The tally was 148 more than the church reported in 1982, and more than twice as many baptisms as recorded by First Church Houston, which was second with 544." Now, that’s what we did last year: we doubled what any other church in the state has done in reaching people for Christ. This year we’re going to triple it, we’re going to quadruple it; we’re going to have at least about two thousand people won to Jesus and baptized in this coming year of 1984, in this present year of 1984.
In one of those goals that I looked forward to, I said in one of these addresses, "We hope to have seven hundred enrolled in our academy, our First Baptist Academy." We have in this current year more than eight hundred boys and girls enrolled in our academy. On the staff there are seventeen that have Master’s degrees or beyond. We have a computer laboratory with seventeen computers in it. In our graduating class this last year, this last May, we had forty-six seniors to be graduated, and forty-five of them have gone on to college.
All of us poignantly remember when we had a debt of ten and a half million dollars, and the interest we were paying on it was twenty-three and a half percent a year. We faced financial disaster. And in the providences of God, we’re free of debt. There are some of the men in the church that say, "We were just lucky." Some of them say that that was an accident. I say that’s God. God did that! We are free of debt.
We had in one of our goals back yonder years ago the hope of a new organ, but we had so many other enterprises in the church that commanded our attention that we always put off a new organ. In Toronto, Canada, there was a family that heard – especially a mother – that heard your pastor preach in Toronto. And when time came for them to bestow a new organ, a $1,300,000 organ, that mother said, "I want it to go down there in the church where that man preaches." And they installed it here this last year, the Edgar Morrison family, a gift to our dear church, an amazing providence!
We used to have goals for our mission homes. We now have five of those homes. And just this last few weeks, dear Mrs. Meadows, whose heart is in that ministry, gave us a home. She bought it for $175,000, and it’s to be a mission home for our missionaries when they come back on furlough.
We had a goal of a media program, communications. We set ourselves for a cassette ministry, and that’s come to pass; for video tapes that go out on these cable television programs, that’s come to pass; and by the end of this month, this month of January, by the end of this month, we shall be broadcasting on television alive our morning service and our evening service: one of the providences of God that is made possible for us by one of the dear, sweet members of this church, Eldred Thomas. I look forward to that. We now have a delayed television broadcast. We’re going to have it live every Sunday morning, every Sunday night.
We used to have a goal for nurseries. We had no nurseries here commensurate with the needs of our people. We now have two floors of nurseries right back of the sanctuary, and the whole Truett Building, seven stories, all of that, is given to our little children. We looked forward to the building of a gymnasium here, and the Mary C Building, and that has come to pass. The Wicker gym is on top of this building immediately back of us; and just beyond we’ve dedicated the Mary C Building.
We’ve looked forward in goals to our men’s service fellowship, these young men who help us so mightily and greatly in our congregation, and that has been achieved. They do so much good. Every time I come to the church, one of those, or two of those, or three of those young men are there to grasp my hand and to welcome me to the house of the Lord.
We had a goal, you remember, of giving a million dollars in one year to the Cooperative Program. And we did that. We’ve only faltered and failed in one goal. Would you stand up, brother and Dr. Tom Melzoni, if you don’t mind? As I look through all of those goals of our church, we have achieved every one of them except one: we had a Sunday school goal of an enrolment of 14,000. We had a Sunday school goal of an average attendance of 8,300. I remember in 1976 we had a goal of 7,600 in Sunday school, an average attendance of 7,600 in Sunday school in 1976. Well, we have failed in all of that. That’s the only goal we’ve ever set for ourselves that we haven’t achieved. So we prayed God, and He sent you to us: and your assignment is spelled out. You can sit down now. You’re going to do that, aren’t you? Amen.
Now with faith, and courage, and commitment we face the future. I was in Dan Mitchell’s office down here in one of these Bryan Towers, and he had a placard in his office; it read, "A ship in a harbor is safe; but this is not what ships are built for." Our Lord said to Simon Peter in Luke 5:4, "Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught." Don’t stay in the shallow waters, close and safe at shore; move out. So we speak first of the building of our facilities.
There is an enormous program being studied now by our deacons. Jack Brady here, the chairman of our fellowship, Jim Bolton here, who will lead our benediction, the vice chairman; the chairman of our long range planning committee, Ed Drake, the chairman of our building committee, Ed Yates, and the chairman of our budget committee, Lewis Cole; these men, with our other men, are studying a vast program here in the church. There are some things in that program that are dear to my heart. Now I just pick out one, or two, or three.
I would love to have a fellowship center here in our church, a great hall in which our people could meet together for the breaking of bread. I don’t invent that idea; I read it throughout the pages of the New Testament. The New Testament church met together constantly, in what they called an agape feast. Agape, a word they used for "love." The Greek literary men and women, like Sappho, and Euripides, and Aristotle, and Plato, and all the rest of them, they used eros for the word for "love," eros; but it had overtones and connotations with it that were offensive to the Christian people. So they used the word agape, which is a New Testament word. Agape, a love feast, agape, the love of God is an agape love. And the church met together constantly. In Acts 2:46, they were meeting each day, and they closed their meeting with the Lord’s Supper. In Acts 20:7, they were meeting each week; they met in a great agape, a love feast, and they closed it with the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11:21, you have a correction of the extremities that the carnal church at Corinth entered into in those agape feasts: they gormandized, some of them, and others went away hungry; they got drunk, some of them – wasn’t any church like the church at Corinth – but that was in connection with the Lord’s Supper feast. It shows you that the New Testament church met together in a great fellowship and in an agape; and they closed the agape with the Lord’s Supper.
In 1 Corinthians 10:17, Paul describes that as an artos, a loaf, all of us – however many we are – are one loaf in Christ. I would love to be able to do that here in this glorious church. I wish we had a hall, a fellowship center, where our people could come together every Wednesday night in an agape feast, in a New Testament love feast; and we invite our friends and our neighbors to come and to break bread with us, and we close it with the Lord’s Supper. I would love for us every quarter, in that agape feast, to invite as our guests all of the new members of that quarter who come into the church that quarter, and then we close it with that agape feast. I just love for us to move forward to the New Testament pattern of church life. O Lord, I would love that!
We ought to care for our buildings. Our buildings ought not to be run down or dirty; they ought to be clean and repaired and maintained. And we need an academy building here, a building for our First Baptist Academy. We are beginning now to organize satellite schools throughout our city; but the great central school ought always to be here in our church. Schools belong to the church or the synagogue; that’s where they started. They started in the synagogue, teaching those little children Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible. And they started in the church. There’s no exception to that. Every, even the great universities, all of them, the Sarbonne in Paris, or the Cambridge or Oxford Universities in German, in England, or Harvard, or Yale, or Princeton, or Brown, all the great universities were church schools, all of them. It belongs there. This thing of the secularists and the humanists and the American Civil Liberties Union that have taken education out of the church is a new thing. It’s a brand new idea. Education has always been in the church; it belongs there.
The child is taught the mind of God. The American Civil Liberties Union said to me when I was proposing to have a chapel service in one of the high schools here, "You name the name of Jesus, and we’ll shut down the school." That’s what they said to me; "We’ll shut it up." I went to our chapel last Thursday, for kindergarten through second grade, held over there in Ralph Baker Hall. I just was overwhelmed by the deep spiritual service for those little bitty kids, little bitty kids, kindergarten through the second grade: praying, singing the hymns of Jesus, quoting Scripture, teaching the mind of God.
Now, I think every family ought to have a choice. If you want your child to have a Christian education and to be taught Jesus and all Jesus can mean, you ought to have that choice. If you don’t want your child taught the faith of God, that’s fine. I believe in the freedom of choice. But if you would like your child to be taught Jesus our Lord, I think you ought to have that privilege and opportunity.
When I got through with the chapel service, I walked out, and I met three young couples on the street that I didn’t know. They stopped me, spoke to me; they have come here to enroll in this present semester at our Bible school. Oh, I just rejoice and thank God, the open door the Lord has set before us!
Now, buildings are of no use without people. The First Baptist Church of Modesta, California, was blessed with a great revival meeting. And the church statedly and formally gave itself to evangelism, and soulwinning, and discipleship. And they threw out – that’s the word they used in telling me about what they had done – "We have thrown out everything in the church that does not contribute to that end." I’m in favor of that. Anything in the church that does not contribute to winning people to Jesus, to baptizing our converts, and to teaching them the way of the Lord, throw it out. Get rid of it. The Great Commission is very plainly spelled out: "Poreuthentes, Going, matheteuo, make disciples, baptizo, baptize them, didasko, teach them" [Matthew 28:19-20]. We have that assignment. And oh, there’s so many ways in which we can implement that.
Cho, who is coming here to preach the eighth of July, Cho is the pastor of the Assembly of God Church in Seoul, Korea. He has 300,000 members; 300,000 members. And how do you do that? He has achieved that by 40,000 home fellowships, home Bible studies, home meetings; 40,000 of them. After he’s done that, don’t think that he’s got all the folks over there: the biggest Presbyterian Church by far in the whole world is over there in that same town of Seoul, Korea. And they’ve got other millions that need to be won. Dear people, if we had a church here of a hundred thousand members, there still would be uncounted thousands in this metroplex that are unreached for God.
I would love to see our people do things like this. I went to a dessert fellowship in the home of Ed Burnett one time. They’d invited their friends and their neighbors to come. The house was filled with those dear people. And Ed Burnett testified and played on his banjo, and his wife testified, and they gave opportunity for people to say a word about Jesus. Then they had a beautiful dessert; people, all the people had brought something that they’d made with their own hands. There were three adults won to the Lord that night, and I baptized them. That’s the only one that I’ve ever been to. I don’t see why we don’t multiply that ten thousand times. Why not? Why not take our message to the people, invite them, pray with them, talk to them, sing with them? I don’t understand why we don’t.
Our Park and Ride is a ministry that our people could use, if we would. It doesn’t work of itself; we have to visit. We have to get those families to come, and to join with us, and to come down here to the church. Our international classes are one of the finest ways to reach people for Jesus. We send these missionaries across the sea; God sends thousands and thousands of those people on the other side of the sea here to Dallas. And our international classes are instruments of God to reach them for Christ. Because we’re a downtown church, we have the most marvelous opportunity to witness for Jesus of anybody in the earth. On Monday, we have a lunch here for businesswomen, and on Thursday we have a lunch here for businessmen. Let’s keep up things like that. We’re downtown, and it is an infinitely precious open-door opportunity God has set before us.
One of the things that we can do: our CIA, Christ’s International Agents, whenever you go across the water, whenever you visit, whenever you go on a vacation, go to church. If you’re going abroad, travel where the missionaries are and tell them you’re coming. I never had any program in my life that blessed me more than for about thirty-five years every summer I’d make out an itinerary, I’d mimeograph it, I’d send it to all the missionaries. If they wanted to meet me, fine. If they didn’t, I had my hotel reservation and all of my things cared for. I didn’t want to be a burden to anybody. But there wasn’t anything that I have ever done that ever was blessed more than those journeys that I made in the summertime. I have literally preached all over this world; went around the world three different times. Any time that we go abroad, any time, get in touch with the missionaries. It encourages them just to see you. It encourages the church. It’s an infinite blessing. And our choir tours, oh, how much they mean!
Our mission chapels, without doubt, are blessed of God beyond anything in this earth. We have twenty of them now, and out of those twenty, I choose one: I am praying that God will increasingly bless us and help us in building our inner city mission. We’re downtown, and there are those that come to the church every day, almost every moment of the day, seeking some kind of help. I have always, always, ever since I started preaching, been interested in that kind of a ministry.
I began my ministry in the Depression. I guess if I lived a thousand years, I’d never get away from that. I was single in the first ten years of my life as a pastor, and I lived with the people. Hardship, debt, mortgage payments, disaster, sickness; there is no providence of life that does not overwhelm some people. What do you do? They fall into despair. They lose their homes, lose their health, lose their hope. That’s where God calls us!
I read this last week, Dr. Kenneth Scott, who is with the Christian Medical Society, he said, "An excellent way to size up any religion is to look at its response toward human suffering and need." He went on and said:
The Buddhist says, ‘Forget it; these problems exist only in your mind. Pay no attention to them.’ The Muslim says, ‘It is Allah’s will; it’s inevitable. Don’t resist it.’ The Hindu says, ‘You deserve it; it’s what’s coming to you. You should try harder in the next reincarnation.’ The Christian says, ‘God loves you, neighbor, and I do too. Let me do what I can to help.’ And Christ says, ‘Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’
This to me is not optional for the church. I think it is God’s will for our people.
Do you remember – and I’m sure many of you do – I spoke of my beginning ministry in my first fulltime church out of school, in Oklahoma. And being in the Depression, and especially that part of the world, so poor, I began my Good Shepherd Chapel ministry, helping those people who were cold and hungry. Well, when I came to Dallas, I don’t come to the church in the morning; my study is in the house, and I stay there in the morning. I study every morning. I don’t know why it was I came down here to the church, right after my moving here to Dallas to be undershepherd of this dear congregation. I came down to the church in the morning, and when I did, there was a large group of people gathered at that front door on Ervay Street, right there. Well, I wormed my way through the crowd to see what it was that had called their attention. And when I went to the, made my way into the middle of the crowd, there was a man, a workman, had blue overalls on, and an open collar, he was lying on his back with his arms over his head, stretched out toward our church door, lying on our steps; and as I looked down at him, he breathed his last. And he died there on our church doorsteps, with his arms extended toward our door. Well, the sirens sounded, the police came, picked him up, carried him away, crowd dispersed and forgot about it, but it stayed in my mind; has through the years. What was his name? And where did he come from? And why was he on that doorstep? And why should I have been there just then, and watched him die?
From that day to this, as you know, I have furthered a ministry of outreach to the poor in our church. I am no less given to that now after forty years than I was in the beginning. I think it is God’s assignment for us. Out of all of the things we do which are blessed of God, we ought also to do that.
I don’t know of a more beautiful, meaningful poem than this one written by Leigh, L-e-i-g-h, Leigh Hunt. He was a British poet of the last century; died in 1858. He was the first man of letters to recognize the poetic genius of John Keats and Alfred Lord, Tennyson. Now, you know the poem:
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel writing in a book of gold:
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The Vision raised his head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men."
The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
He came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And, lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest!
["Abou Ben Adhem," James Henry Leigh Hunt]
"He who loves God, loves his brother also." And the lawyer said, "And who is my brother? Who is my neighbor?" And the Lord told the wonderful story of the good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-33]. We deny the faith if we don’t do that.
I don’t have time to speak of my last vision and prayer for our people in the new year; namely the consecration and commitment of our own souls to the Lord. Everybody is somebody in the sight of Jesus. And everybody has something to offer to our wonderful Savior. In the Book of Exodus, 31, the Spirit of God comes upon Bezaleel and Aholiab [Exodus 31:1-6]. For what? To make sockets, and pins, and cords, and bars, and badger skins, and staves, and spoons, and bowls, and tongs, and snuff dishes, and selvages, and in Exodus 26:6, to make taches and complete curtains together, and couple curtains together with the taches – I didn’t even know what a "tach" was, and I had to look it up – what is a tach? I found out that a tach is a buckle, it’s a clasp. Now doesn’t that beat anything you ever heard of or thought of in your life? The Holy Spirit of God, the Bible says, came upon Bezaleel and Aholiab in order to make taches, buckles, beside all the spoons and snuff dishes and selvages and all the rest. All of us can do something for Jesus, all of us.
In Romans 12:6-8, there are seven different gifts of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 there are nine gifts of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 and 30 there are nine gifts of the Spirit. In Ephesians [4:11] there are five gifts of the Spirit. I totaled them up, added them up: seven, nine, nine, and five, there are thirty different gifts of the Spirit in those few passages. All of us have something to offer to Jesus, all of us. God says we’re all a part of the body of Christ, and we all have something to dedicate to Jesus.
One of the things: we can pray. I want to close with one of the beatenist things I ever ran into in my life. They were talking to me; they were talking to me about this man Cho coming here to preach July 8, from Seoul, Korea. I’ve never seen him, I’ve never heard him – I’d just like to see and hear a man that has three hundred thousand members in his church. And these Baptist missionaries who come home from Korea say he’s more Baptist than he is Assembly of God. Well, anyway, they asked me about his preaching here on Sunday night, and I said, "I tell you what let’s do. Instead of just having a service here on Sunday night, let’s have one in the afternoon, and let’s have all of the people from all creation come and listen to him."
Well, the answer beat anything that I ever heard of in my life: he’s preaching at a church already assigned on Sunday morning; and when I said, "Let’s have a great convocation, and invite all of the churches of all the metroplex at a big convocation on Sunday afternoon, say, at three o’clock," the man who represents the pastor said, "Cho can’t do that. He’s preaching at the noon hour on Sunday morning, and he prays three hours before he preaches any time, and he doesn’t have time if he preaches Sunday morning to bring a message Sunday afternoon. You’ll have to make it Sunday night." And that’s why it is published that he’s going to preach here Sunday night: to give him time to pray.
Well, that’s a rebuke to me. To pray, and great God, isn’t that the Lord’s open door into the sanctuary for us all? We can pray, we can love, we can offer God whatever gift the Lord has placed in our hands, and Paul says that when the eye functions as the eye, and the foot functions as the foot, and the hand functions as the hand, the body of our Lord is complete. When you do what you’re able to do, and you do what God has given you gifts to do, and I do what little God has enabled me to do, when all of it is put together, it makes the body of Christ complete and glorious, blessed. O God that each one of us in our Lord’s communion, and fellowship, and service, and church might find his place of service and, faithful in it, magnify His glorious and saving name.
We’re going to stand right now and sing a hymn of appeal, and because of the lateness of the hour, we’ll just sing one stanza. And while we sing that one stanza, in the balcony round, on the lower floor, down one of these aisles, come. "Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m on the way." A family, a couple, or just you, make the decision now, and when we stand, that first step will lead you into the kingdom and into the dearest life of ministering service you could ever know. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.