The Soul-Winning Church
January 20th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
1 Thessalonians 1:6-8
THE SOUL-WINNING CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 1:6-8
1-20-85 10:50 a.m.
We welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Soul-Winning Church. It is the fourth and the last message in the series preparing our church for the tremendous outreach ministry of prayer and Bible study and soulwinning involved in our Evangel Home Groups.
Next Sunday, this coming Sunday, I begin a long series of messages on the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet Ezekiel. The title of the message next Sunday morning is Why Study Prophecy?; the purpose of prophecy, preaching prophecy. Then the next message will be our introduction to Ezekiel himself, the father of the Jewish faith after the destruction of the temple, Judaism, and the prophet of the consummation of the age whose prophecies are coming to pass before us right now, this day, in our generation. Then the next message concerns Ezekiel and Jeremiah; Jeremiah preaching in Jerusalem and Ezekiel to the captives in Babylon. Then the next sermon will concern the whole Book of Ezekiel, as we look at it in panoramic view. Then the next message will begin the marvelous revelations, the apocalyptic visions of God that were given to him. And the title of that first expository sermon is And I Saw the Heavens Opened; then follows the most incomparable vision ever given to a man. And thus we will go through the volume of the book, coming to the vision of the valley of dry bones, coming to the revelation of Gog and Magog, which is modern Russia, and coming to the great promised millennial age of the world. I have studied for months now on these prophetic messages that will be delivered here in the pulpit, and it will begin next Sunday.
This is, as I say, is the last sermon concerning the outreach ministries of our wonderful church. And as a background text, and only as a background text, I read from 1 Thessalonians chapter, 1 verses [7-8]. First Thessalonians chapter 1, verses [7 and 8]; Paul writes, “You were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” [1 Thessalonians 1:7]. Achaia was the Greek state of which Athens was the capital. Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia, and the church there was an example to all of the whole believing world. Verse 8: “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad” [1 Thessalonians 1:8]. What a glorious tribute to a wonderful church! The whole earth was moved by their devotion, their witnessing ministries. And that is the background for our church today, the soul-saving church.
All of us, without exception, are aware of the great social movements that have characterized modern history. In my doctoral work, I had a minor in great social movements. And world history in these modern generations has been characterized by those tremendous social outreaches to the masses of the people. Instead of history being bound up, and circumscribed by, and contained in the story of a tyrant, or the story of a king, or the story of a great military leader, the story of modern history is bounded by the parameters that are described in great social movements that involve the masses of humanity. We live in example of it in America: American democracy. In these recent centuries in America, there have been tremendous political movements that have been built around the slogan, “Vote for a job,” or, “A full dinner pail,” or, “A new deal.” And the appeal is to the millions of Americans, everybody—one man, one vote, each man a vote—involved in the political process. When we look across the Atlantic Ocean, those same great sweeping social movements are in most evidence. The Italian Fascist movement under Mussolini had as its insignia, not only a fascist bundle, but a shirt––a common, ordinary, black shirt––that was the sign of the Fascist movement.
In Germany the Fascist movement––there called Nazism––would find a swastika on a shirt, a brown shirt, a workingman’s shirt identified with the people. When we look at the vast, now worldwide, communist movement, its aegis and its symbol is a hammer and a sickle, a working man’s hammer and a working man’s sickle. Without exception, these sweeping social movements of the modern centuries have involved and engulfed the great masses of humanity. They have identified themselves with the people.
When we turn to the religious world, turn to us, it seems for the most part that we are––for the most part, with exceptions––for the most part, we are the opposite of that. A religion somehow gives the impression of being in another world, in an unreal world, in a fanciful or mythological world. It’s out there somewhere, or up there somewhere, or over there somewhere, or back there somewhere. But somehow it is not involved with the realities of life down here where we live, and work, and struggle, and toil, and try. It’s kind of like a charade; it’s an acting part. It’s kind of like a facade or an affront, but the real stuff is back here somewhere. You find it in the business world, or you find it in the corporate world, or you find it in the real estate world, or you find it in the professional world, but it’s not up here in the religious world.
We sometimes think of religion as being fictitious, “It’s a story––not actually, not really––these things aren’t blood, and bone, and life, and reality. It’s make believe. It’s a picture show. It’s a story!” I one time heard of a cowpoke in western Texas, long time ago. And he was taken for the first time in his life to see a picture show. He’d never heard of one. He’d never seen one. And there he was looking at one of those typical, melodramatic stories on the screen where the villain, vile, evil, vicious villain ties up the good hero to a tree. And he mounts his horse, and he sweeps up in his arms the heroine, and he furiously rides away with her. And when he looked at that, that cowpoke stood up, pulled out both of his six-shooters and riddled the screen with bullets saying, “You low-down dirty skunk, you can’t do that!” And the fellows around him yanked him down and said, “Sit down. Sit down. Sit down. That ain’t real, that’s just make-believe.” That’s kind of the attitude of the world toward religion, “Don’t get excited. Don’t be responsive, that’s make-believe. That’s not something real. That’s something just on a screen.” And we give that impression.
If I were to ask you, “Where is the church?” you’d say, “There it is. See these stained-glass windows, and see that steeple, and see the ecclesiastical architecture on the inside of this sanctuary; that’s the church. That’s the faith. That’s religion.” And isn’t it a strange thing? Jesus never referred to it nor did He ever mention it. We give that impression, I say, that we live in religion in an unreal world. We––in many, many, and most of the areas of modern Christendom––we watch as spectators a gorgeous ritual, a ceremonial procession, the litanies, all the things that concern the accouterments and vestments of religion. And we say, “That’s the faith. That’s the faith.” And isn’t it a strange thing? Jesus never referred to it; not once did He mention it. Or we listen to a preacher, and he rises from one parabolic metaphor, and simile, and peroration, from one to the other. And as we see him rise in his message, we say, “That’s the faith. That’s religion.” And isn’t it a strange thing? Jesus never referred to it. He never discussed it. He never mentioned it.
Well, what did He talk about? What did He say? This is what Jesus would talk about: He would talk about a cup of cold water given in the name of a prophet to somebody who was thirsty [Mark 9:40-41]. Jesus would talk about the lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7], or the lost boy [Luke 15:11-32]. What Jesus would talk about was knocking at the door: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock” [Revelation 3:20]. Or what Jesus would talk about is the sheep that do not have a shepherd, scattered abroad [Matthew 9:36], needing somebody who loved and cared and ministered. It is a different thing that we read in the Word of God than what we see in the manifestation of organized religious life. Isn’t that a tragedy? Even the preacher for the most part will remove himself from the common ordinary trials and tears and tribulations of the people. He has a tendency to live in another world.
A certain pastor of great austerity climbed up in his high church steeple to be nearer God that he might hand God’s Word down to the people. In his day, God said, “Come down and die.” And he cried out from his steeple, “Where art Thou, Lord?” And the Lord replied, “I’m down here among My people” [“The Preacher’s Mistake,” William Croswell Doane]. If we turn ourselves around, and evince, and incarnate, and exhibit, and follow after another kind of religion––the New Testament kind of religion, the soul-winning kind of religion––the caring, loving kind of religion, then how would you do it? Two things and only two; the first involves a heart to care. It is a concern to me, these; it is a concern to me how they fare, how they do, how they are, their children, these young people, the marriages, the birth, the death, the aged, the sick, the needy, the lost. It is a concern to us. Basically, it is that, it is a concern of the heart how people are.
One time I came across a book, and the book concerned the Roman people and the Coliseum long, long time ago. And in the book there is Marius the Epicurean, Marius the philosopher, and he is seated there in that vast thousands, watching those gladiatorial combats of blood and agony and death there below him. As you know, the Roman Coliseum, the floor was covered with sand, so that when one group had spilled their blood unto death, a caretaker with just a rake could cover it over. Then they’d be ready for the next violent combat to death: men fighting with each other or men fighting with wild beasts, both unto death.
And in this book Marius, this Epicurean philosopher, is watching that. And as he watches it, he says to his neighbor who sits by him, he says to him, “What is needed is the heart that would make it impossible to look upon such a spectacle, such agony and blood.” Then he added, “And the future would belong to that force that could create such a heart.” And as you know, there was born in the Roman Empire at that time a force, a tremendous thrust, and dedication, and drive called the Christian religion. And if you have been to Rome, that Coliseum lies in utter ruins. And not only did that force called the Christian religion do away forever with those bloody gladiatorial combats, but it also forever ridded the world of the execution crucifixion, nailing men to a cross or to a tree. And finally in God’s grace and time, it took away from the earth the entire trade of slavery. The power of the human heart that is sensitive to human need, and human suffering, and human want, and human trial, human sorrow; now, that is our dereliction. We pass it by with scarcely a thought, no burden of heart, no concern of ours. And that’s almost universal among us.
Let me show you. Sometime ago on the front page of the newspaper here in Dallas, I read a headline and then perused just summarily the story of the crime of a teenager. It’s so common. It happens every day. I just summarily looked at it. About a week after that, a woman, a mother brought to me her teenage boy. He looked to be about sixteen or seventeen years old. And when she sat down with her boy in my study here at the church, she said to me, “I’m sure you know why I have come to see you.”
I replied to her, “No, I have no idea why you have come to see me. I’ve never seen you before. I don’t know who you are.”
Then she said, “Well, I am sure that you have read about my boy in the newspapers.”
Then it just came to my mind; she had introduced the boy to me by name, of course. And I turned to him and I said, “Son, is your name?” and I called the name of that boy who’d committed that crime on the front page of the newspaper. I said, “Are you he?”
And he said, “Yes sir, I am. I am.”
I turned to the mother, and I said, “Well, why have you come to see me?”
And the mother replied, “Yesterday my boy came into my bedroom where I was seated, and he fell down before me. And he said, ‘Mother, I need God. I need God. Mother, can you show me how I can find God?’” The mother said to me, “When I was a small little girl, I went to a Sunday school class, but I can’t remember anything that I was taught.” So the mother said: “I went next door to my dear friend and neighbor, and I said to her, “My boy is on his face in my bedroom weeping saying, ‘Mother, where can I find God?’ And I don’t know what to tell him. I thought maybe you could come and tell my boy how to find God.” And that neighbor replied, she said, ‘Dear, I don’t know what to tell him. I wouldn’t know what to say. But every Sunday I listen to Brother Criswell on the radio. You take your boy to him, and he’ll tell your boy how to find God.’ So, she said “that’s why I’m here. I brought my boy for you to tell him how to find God.”
I turned to the lad and I said, “Son, let me ask you one or two things before we talk about giving your heart and life to the Lord Jesus. Let me ask you, son, were you ever in church? Did you ever go to church ever in your life?”
He said, “No, sir. I have never been in a church.”
“Well,” I said, “son, were you ever in a Sunday school class?”
He said, “No, sir. Not in all of my life, I’ve never been in a Sunday school class.”
“Well,” I said, “lad, let me ask you just one other question. Son, did anybody, anywhere, anytime, ever ask you or invite you to a Sunday school class or to church?”
And the boy replied, “No, sir. No, sir.” The boy was born here in Dallas. He lived all of his life, his sixteen or seventeen years, here in Dallas. And there’s not one somebody, anybody, anywhere, anytime who ever invited the lad to Sunday school or to church. That’s what I’m talking about.
When you read in the papers and the neighbors speak to you about these teenagers that are ruined by drugs, and the violence, and the crime that characterizes this city and this rising generation, you don’t need to wonder, “Where does such a thing come from? How could such a thing be? What a different culture and a different society!” My brother, it’s common! Because we pass them by, “Don’t bother me; don’t let it be any burden to me. It’s none of my care, or prayer, or intercession, or business. I’ve got something else to do.” That is what I’m talking about: the first thing, and the vital thing, and the fundamental and moving thing is first of all, a heart, a concern, that remembers the needs of people.
Number two: first, there has to be that heart of care and concern. It is a matter to me whether these people are saved or lost, whether these families know God or not. The second one: a commitment deep in our souls that I will implement, I will incarnate that care and concern. I will do it. That means that when we face our vast assignment, and it becomes increasingly larger every day, when we face that vast assignment, that means that we are setting our hearts toward reaching these families, these children, these young people, these fathers and mothers. It is a goal before us toward which we are praying and working and marching. That’s in our Sunday school. That’s in our church services. That’s in our baptismal record. That’s in our soul-saving response. That’s in the harvest for which we pray when we gather in God’s house.
Then I hear the response all over this theological world. “Uh-oh, there they go. They’re interested in numbers. They’re interested in numbers. They’re striving after numbers.” Dear me, I’ve heard that all the days of my born life, interested in numbers! Numbers are nothing other than people. That’s all numbers are, folks—people, families, children, young people. Numbers are the people, the people. And isn’t it a strange thing? It is only in religion that you’ll ever hear that response: “They’re interested just in numbers.”
You won’t hear it anywhere else. You won’t hear it in the political world. You elect the president of the United States of America by counting noses. And the party that has the most noses to count is the party that wins the executive office in the White House. You do it by numbers. You do the same thing in electing a governor in Texas. You do the same thing in electing a senator. You do the same thing electing the mayor and the council, the whole earth. Isn’t that strange? They never decry numbers. It’s only in the church, in religion, that you’ll ever decry numbers, numbers, numbers! Isn’t that a strange thing?
I read in our Baptist news journal in Georgia, the editor said, “We’re not interested in numbers. We’re interested in quality.” When I went to the seminary, there is a beautiful church there, the seminary church, and I heard the pastor say, “We are proud of the few baptisms we have because they represent quality baptisms.” And the theological eisegesis, not exegesis: exegesis is taking the Word of God, what God says. Eisegesis is reading into it what the preacher thinks, what the theologian thinks. The eisegetical preacher says, “We want to pass these masses by, the flotsam and the jetsam of humanity, and we’re interested in that quality few in great discipling ministries.” Isn’t that strange? You’ll only find that in religion. That’s the strangest thing.
In the Bible, in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost, isn’t it a strange thing? They counted those converts. And the report in the Bible is that there were three thousand of them, three thousand of them added to God’s family on the day of Pentecost [Acts 2:41]. Counted them! Numbers.
When I turn the page to the fourth chapter, there the report is that there were five thousand andrōn who were obedient to the faith—andrōn, not anthrōpoi, “people,” andrōn, “men” in contradistinction to women. There were five thousand andrōn [Acts 4:4]. They counted the men, counted these men: numbers. And when I turn the page, it will say, “And all Asia turned to the Lord” [Acts 19:10, 26]: numbers. That’s the Bible.
And when I come to reverentially look at the life of our dear Lord: when they bring to Him all of these that were demented, and all of these that were sick, and all of these that were possessed, and all of these that were sick, and when they brought to Him all of the poor and the outcast, did you ever read in the Word of God, did you that the Lord said, “Take these flotsam and jetsam away! Take them away?” What the Bible says when they were there hungry, it says He fed them [Matthew 15:32-39]. And when they brought to Him the sick, He healed them [Luke 4:40, 6:19]. And when they brought to Him the poor, He preached the gospel to them [Matthew 11:5]. And the Bible sums it up saying, “And the common people heard Him gladly.” “The common people heard Him gladly” [Mark 12:37].
Once in a while—not often, we’ve kind of grown beyond it—but once in a while, especially when we first started, I used to hear people object to our church as it entered its ministries to the Special Education people, and to our Good Shepherd Chapel, and to our deaf, all of those folks around us; don’t hear that much anymore. We’ve kind of grown in grace. I say that just to point out to us, it is good for us. It blesses us more than we bless them, to have these people close around us. We need it. We need it. We need to be conscious of their need, that they’re here in our earth, that they live on our streets, that they breathe our air. I say the twenty-three chapels that we have in our church do more for us than we do for them.
O Lord, how Your heart was! I don’t know of anything more precious than the Word in the Bible, “Jesus, looking upon those vast multitudes,” and it says, “He was moved with compassion upon them” [Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34]. “Jesus, moved with compassion” is His everlasting and enduring name [Mark 1:41]. I tell you truly, if the Lord didn’t care for them, how would I know that He cared for me? If He passes them by, what makes me think He wouldn’t pass me by? If He has no heart of love and concern for them, how would I know He had any heart or concern for me?
But when I see the Lord Jesus touching the leper [Matthew 8:1-3], you don’t touch lepers, not in that day. Do you ever wonder how in the world was it that that leper just walked up to Jesus when He was thronged by a multitude on every side? This leper just walked up to Jesus. How did he do that? Well, the answer’s very simple. Wherever the leper was, he was commanded by the law to cover his mouth and to say, “Unclean, unclean, unclean!” [Leviticus 13:45]. And I can just see the crowd falling back, falling back, as that leper just walked up to Jesus in the midst of a vast multitude. Well, did the Lord move away or back? No. The Lord stood there with a heart of love and welcome. And I can just see the throngs gasp as the Bible says, “And He put His hand upon him and touched him” [Matthew 8:3].
My brother, that was half the cure! He hadn’t felt the warmth of the touch of a human hand all of his life. And when Jesus touched him, I say, it was half the cure. Lord, Lord, that is my encouragement and warmth of heart in response. If the Lord loved them and healed them and helped them, then the Lord will include me too. He won’t pass me by. That’s the gospel! And if we reflect the spirit of Jesus at all, that’s the spirit that we reflect.
I mustn’t elaborate the point; I must close. Just one other thing: when we come to the great judgment, the consummation of the age, and we stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God, and there is a great separation between the right and the left, the sheep and the goats, and these shall go into everlasting life, and these into everlasting punishment [Matthew 25:31-46]; when we stand at that great judgment day of Almighty God, I want you to tell me, do you think, do you think that there will be any one of these modern theologians, who, looking at these on the right, will say, “We are the quality ones, and that flotsam and jetsam and the outcasts on the other side, they’re in hell; they’re in hell?”
O Lord, dear God, that they would be lost, whoever they are, whatever their color, or race, or life, or status, whoever they are, that they are condemned to everlasting punishment, to the fire of damnation and hell; Lord, Lord what a tragedy! What a tragedy! And for me to think of these few quality ones and forget these thousands that are lost, is unthinkable, it’s impossible. While we have time and while God gives us opportunity and days of grace, Lord, may we be at this task, witnessing, winning, inviting, encouraging, praying, interceding, even fasting.
This is the Lord. He likens the kingdom to a great supper [Luke 14:15-24]. And so he sends out his servant to bid people, to invite them to his supper. So the servant comes to this man, and says “Come! Everything is now ready” [Luke 14:17].
And the first one, “I cannot come,” and he gave him his excuse.
And the next one, “I cannot come,” and he gave him an excuse.
And the other one, “I cannot come,” and he gave him an excuse.
So the servant came, and showed his master all these things. And this is what the master said, this is what the Lord said: “Go out into the streets and the lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the lame, and the halt, and the blind” [Luke 14:21].
And the servant said, “Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room” [Luke 14:22].
And the lord said unto the servant, “Go into the highways and hedges, and compel them, constrain them to come in, that my house may be filled” [Luke 14:22]. That is the Lord Jesus.
Dr. Truett, as you know, was pastor here for forty-seven years, and every time he had a baptismal service, every time he concluded it with that word: “Lord, it is done as Thou hast commanded, and yet there is room” [Luke 14:22]. What a beautiful thing to say! These who have come to the Lord, how grateful we are for them! But there is room and to spare for you, and for them, and for those, and for all who would turn to receive God’s invitation.
And that is our heart, and our spirit, and our love, and our commitment. God bless us as we turn toward the whole city with outstretched arms of love and welcome. Your baby, your little girl or boy, your teenager, your youth, the young marrieds, our strong men and women, the people that guide the destiny of our city, these who are aged and old, and these who are bowed in sorrow and care; a ministry, a caring, a praying––a soul-winning church. Lord, grant it for us!
In this moment now we are going to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, as God shall lay the invitation on your heart, answer with your life. “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming today,” welcome, thousand times welcome. A couple you or a one somebody you, as God shall press the appeal to your heart make the decision now and answer with your life. “Pastor, I want to accept the Lord as my Savior. I need Him now, I need Him in the hour of my death, I need Him in the day of judgment to stand by me, to take me to heaven. I want to take Jesus as my Savior.” Or, “I want to follow Him in baptism [Matthew 3:13-17], as God hath written and commanded in His Word [Matthew 28:19]; I want to be baptized,” or, “put my life in this wonderful church to pray and to work with you.” Or to answer some call from heaven pressed upon your heart, “and here I am pastor, I am on the way.” God bless you as on the first note of the first stanza, that first step into that isle or down that stairway will be the most meaningful you have ever made in your life. Do it now, welcome now, while we sing, while we sing.