The State of the Church
January 6th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
STATE OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-6-85 10:50 a.m.
And the Lord be wonderfully good to all of you who share this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the first Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing an annual message. On the first Sunday of each new year, I prepare and deliver a sermon on The State of the Church, and that Sunday is this Sunday, and the message is this one now delivered. As a background text, we turn to the last book in the Bible, the Book of the Revelation, chapter 1; Revelation chapter 1, beginning at verse 9; Revelation 1:9:
I John, who am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ,
was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last . . .
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden lampstands;
And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breast with a golden girdle.
Number 16, verse 16—
He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword:
And His countenance was as the sun shineth in its strength…
The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands.
The seven stars are the angels—
of the seven churches: and the seven lampstands which thou sawest are the seven churches.
The initial vision of the Apocalypse, this Revelation, is of our Lord walking in the midst of His churches [Revelation 1:13]. Seven denominates and represents all of them through all of the ages. And in their midst walks the exalted and glorified Son of God. He is in this church, this is one of His lampstands. And the blessings of the Lord have rested upon this congregation, and we are appealing to His grace and mercy that He walk with us in the unfolding days that lie before us in the new year.
So first we shall speak in gratitude and thanksgiving of the blessings of God upon our church. In Philippians, the last chapter, Paul said, “always with thanksgiving we are to make our appeals unto God” [Philippians 4:6]; “with thanksgiving.” So we thank the Lord. We thank Him first of all for the souls that He gave us this last year. I have torn out the leading page of the leading article of the Baptist Standard in its current issue. And the headline concerns our dear church, and the first sentence is, “For the fifth consecutive year, First Baptist Church of Dallas led all Texas Baptist churches in baptisms in the 1984 church year.” We had a total of nine hundred eighty-four baptized. The second church in the state was Sagemont Church in Houston, which had five hundred sixty-eight. We did not do as good this year as we did last year; not quite. But we are praying that this year we will go over that one thousand goal in people won to the Lord and baptized. In that achievement, we give gratitude before God for our outreach ministries, for these men who work all over our great city of Dallas, preaching the gospel and winning souls to Jesus.
A second thanksgiving to God: we are grateful for our Sunday school and its teaching ministries. This past year, we had the largest Sunday school attendance in the history of our church. For years and years, we have had the largest Sunday school in our Southern Baptist Convention. And that enlarging Sunday school continues to grow, and we are praying that God will make this year even greater in reaching people for the teaching ministry of our Sunday school than the year past. We are thankful for His blessings upon our teaching ministry.
A third thanksgiving: we are grateful to the Lord for His blessings upon our First Baptist Academy. This last year, Dallas Christian Academy was given to us—its great properties, its school buildings, its effort, its organized teaching life. The whole East Dallas Christian Academy was given to us; it is now a part of our First Baptist Church academic system. It will be a satellite school of our academy. Our boy Cris went to that academy until we organized our own school here in our First Baptist Church. This is a sign and a portent of the coming day when we shall have satellite schools all over this metroplex, teaching under the aegis and the ministry administration of our First Baptist school here in this church. I cannot describe to you how committed I am in heart, in theology, in experience, in historical understanding of the building of that great academic school.
When I was in the seminary—and I went to the seminary when I was twenty-one years old—when I was in the seminary as a young man, I used to argue with those fellows there, one particularly who became head of our Southern Baptist denomination. I used to argue with him and with others about that school in the church; about an academy, an elementary school and high school in the church. And I avowed then as I do now: I cannot understand the persuasion of a denomination that will spend millions, and millions, and millions, and multiplied millions of dollars every year in its colleges and in its universities, but oppose the idea of having the school in the church.
The reason I feel that way is this: by the time I went to the university, my life was set. The university had nothing to do with the turn or the dedication of my life. I was seventeen years old when I went to the university, and I enrolled there as a young minister. I had already begun preaching. And the university but gave me tools to work with what I had already given my life to. Well, when was it and where was it that I was molded, that I was malleable, so I could be framed into the dedication of my life for the work to which I now dedicate my every day? It was done when I was a child. It was done when I was small. And having been taught and molded and dedicated to the ministry to which I have given my life, then I went to the university.
What we need to do—to me is obvious—is to take the child when the child is young and teach that youngster the Word of God, teaching the Bible. You cannot teach the Bible by law now in a public school; you cannot pray by law in a public school. You could not think of having a revival meeting in a public school. We have revivals in this school. We win these boys and girls to Jesus in the school. We teach them the infallible Word of God in the school. We pray with them in the school. We guide them and bring them up in the nurture and love and wisdom and grace of the Lord in the school. And that is where and when it ought to be done. And I praise God for the increasing blessing of our Lord upon that academic dedication. When I come down here to the church, and I come every day, I see these youngsters down here by the hundreds and the hundreds. And as I make my way with them and through them, I raise my hands in gratitude to God because of them. For us to persuade ourselves that we are doing the work of teaching by having a child thirty minutes in a class one day a week on Sunday, to me is unthinkable when it is possible for us to have the child every day of the week, hours and hours every day. It is a commitment to which we have given ourselves, and God works mightily with us in bringing it to a glorious achievement and fruition.
I thank God—and I haven’t time to speak any more of it—I thank God for our Center of Biblical Studies. You had a prayer here of invocation from Carl Singer, who heads that wonderful radio ministry, KCBI, over which I am preaching now—reaches the metroplex. We now have an adjunct; we have a short-wave KCBI, and the gospel we preach is now being beamed to Russia and to the eastern Iron Curtain countries; and it is beamed to Central America and to South America, where the ferment of communist confrontation now goes on. There is a vast outreach in that KCBI and in that CBI ministry. Could I add just one other word? If you want a young man, if you want a preacher to go to a hard place, a pioneer place, I can tell you where you can find him. You can find him there in that Center of Biblical Studies, and we praise God for His blessings upon that teaching school.
Now for the day that unfolds before us: we have every year here at the church, we have a beautiful party at Christmas time for all of our staff. That means all of our maids, that means all of our janitors, that means all of our keepers and cleaners, that means all of everybody connected with the church. And it is a beautiful and delightful occasion. Well, this year they had differing ones to testify, to stand up and speak of whatever was on their hearts of what they would like to say. So one of them that stood up to testify, to speak, was a big, black maid. So she stood up and she said, I quote: “Our pastor there he has dreams. And when he has one of them there dreams, I knows that we’s goin’ to build another building.” Then she said, “That means I gots more work to do, ‘cause I got to keep it clean, and keep it bright and shiny.” And then she added graciously, “But I love for our pastor to dream his dreams, and I love to keep the house of God clean and shiny.”
Well, what she said is so very true. I have vivid dreams; vivid dreams. I preach through some of them; sing through some of them; weep through practically all of them. They are so lifelike, and this is one. I had the day before arranged for an evangel group in one of the homes of our people. Evidently it was on my heart when I went to bed and slept that night, for in the dream I was in a home here in Dallas, a large home. I can see it in my mind now. And I was leading in an evangel group—in a home prayer meeting group, in an outreach ministering group—and there were so many people who had come into the home to share that evangel ministry that night that we moved out in the front yard. And I was standing there on the porch of that beautiful home, and the people were coming from every direction. There were families, fathers and mothers and their children, they were just coming there from every direction. And I was standing up there with a Bible in my hand, and I was teaching them the Word of God. And the people kept coming and kept coming. It was a marvelous thing. And as I was pleading and speaking with the group about the consecration of our life to the Lord, I closed it leading a song. We were singing a song. And I was so moved by the response of the people and by the singing of the song, that as we sang, I wept. And I woke myself up weeping and singing that song of commitment and consecration. And we are going to sing it now. Let’s all stand up then; let’s all stand up and let’s sing it together. Ready?
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
[No, there’s] a cross for everyone
And there’s a cross for me.
The last stanza is:
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels, from the stars come down,
And bear my soul away.
I want every one of us to hold up our hands toward God. Lift up your hands toward God and let’s sing that last stanza together:
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels, from the stars come down,
And bear may soul away.
[“Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?” Thomas Shepherd]
Amen! Thank you, thank you. We are building in God’s goodness and grace a lighthouse in the heart of this city for our Lord.
God bless the church on the avenue
That hears the city’s cry,
The church that sows the seed of the Word
Where the masses of men go by;
The church that makes, midst the city’s roar,
A place for an altar of prayer,
With a heart for the rich and a heart for the poor,
And rejoices in their burdens to share.
The church that’s true to the call of Christ
Who wept o’er the city’s need,
And has sent His disciples to labor for Him
Where the forces of evil breed.
The church that gives and the church that lives,
As seen by the Master’s eye—
God bless the church on the avenue
That answers the city’s cry!
[“The City Church,” Ralph Walker]
And that is our dedication through the years and the years, now far beyond the century of years, in building this lighthouse for our Lord; a soul-saving station in the midst of these towering skyscrapers. There are several things—and I haven’t time even to discuss them—there are several things that enter into this year concerning the expanding ministries of our church. One, we have contracted to buy the Salvation Army Building right there. That completes that entire block that we will be using for the glory of God. That building—it’s magnificently built—that building will be used not only on Sunday, but it will be used every day during the week for our work of teaching and preaching and reaching for our Lord.
We have a second thing that is, that is incumbent upon us. The fifteen thousand square feet—a little less than one-half of the land on which rests the Spurgeon Building—is leased, we don’t own it; and it has an escalating clause in it. And that land has to be bought; if it is not bought, some day the amount of money we will pay for that lease will be astronomical! It will be unbelievable; and we must buy that land underneath that building.
We have another tremendous decision that will be made this year in these coming almost few days, at the most few weeks. We have to make a decision concerning the options that are brought to our church of that land on which the Veal Building is built and the children’s playground—that block, a block long and a half a block wide—which is located right there just this side of the post office. And a decision has ultimately to be made concerning our sanctuary center, which is to be built—if it rises in realization—on that property on the other side of our sanctuary.
These are just some of the pressing decisions that our church will make immediately. And we must pray that we don’t make a mistake; that we have God’s wisdom in the choices that we make, because the decision that we make now will color the generations that worship and work in this church for God—the generations that are yet to come. We can’t afford to make a mistake. And we are praying that God will give us heavenly wisdom in that ultimate choice.
Now in the few minutes that remain to me, may I speak of our spiritual commitments during this coming year? There are some outreach ministries for which I have prayed, and these fellow staff members have agonized with me, seeking God’s mind and God’s blessings upon our attempt to reach lost people for Christ. And we are beginning in what I have chosen, what I have called, what I have named, “Evangel Group Home Ministries.” They are groups of our people who meet in homes all over the city of Dallas. And the purpose of it? To teach the Word of God; yes—but not primarily—it’s not just a Bible lesson. To pray; yes, but it is not just a prayer meeting. A fellowship group; yes, where we come together and maybe break bread and come to know each other intimately. But the main purpose of the Evangel Group is to reach families for our Lord; to win people to Jesus; to bring them into the fold of our blessed Lord in His love, and grace, and salvation. And that effort is to be made under Dr. Melzoni and our Sunday school. Beginning tonight at 5:45 in the Christian Education Building on the third floor, Dr. Melzoni will be leading us—all of us who will be committed to such an assignments—he will be leading us in the preparation for the organization of Evangel Groups throughout this great metroplex.
The purpose that lies back of that effort is very patent when you look at the history of the church. For the first three hundred years, there were no church buildings. It was only after the conversion of Constantine in about 325 AD, that they took into the Christian faith all of the Greek temples and all of those Roman temples. They baptized the whole thing. They baptized the priesthood, they baptized the images and the idols, and they baptized the basilicas, they baptized the buildings. That is when the church began to have a meetinghouse. Until then, for the first three hundred years of the church—the most dynamic centuries of the church—for the first three hundred years, there were no church houses, and the church met in the homes of the people. It was there that the children were brought up. It was there that the faith was inculcated. It was there that the gospel was preached. It was there that the lost were won to Christ.
I can give you a poignant example of the dynamic of that in the history of Judaism. For thousands of years, the Jewish faith has continued dynamically to this present day. And it has continued at times when they were persecuted beyond description; when they were burned, and crucified, and nailed to the wall; when their property was confiscated. Well, how did the faith continue? It continued because Judaism is primarily and fundamentally a religion of the family. It is a religion of the home. And the child, from the day the child can speak, is taught the meaning of the things concerning the faith of the old covenant, the Mosaic legislation, the Deuteronomic legislation. That is a poignant dynamic that we ought not to forget in the promulgation of the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. It ought to begin, it ought to have its dynamic, it ought to have its outreach in the homes of the people, where fathers and mothers are, where children are, where singles are, where single parents are—reaching into the homes of the people.
Then on Sunday and at the stated service of the church, we are gathered here, where all of us can be together and praise the Lord. But the outreach and the personal appeal and the teaching of the Word is first of all in prayer, in commitment, in appeal in the homes of the people—and that is why the outreach ministry called the “Evangel Home Group.” Each one ought to have a goal to reach; each one ought to reach a family every six months. That is a goal toward which we visit and pray and ask God with His convicting power and presence to help us to achieve.
Now in that effort—in that effort, I think, now this is a personal persuasion of my own—I think you’ll find a solution to every problem that we have in the church. For example, we have a financial responsibility in the church, a tremendous one. The light bill alone in this vast complex is reaching toward six hundred thousand dollars a year; just that one bill. And it goes on and on and on. It takes a great, consecrated response on the part of our people financially to keep our church vibrant and sovereign.
Now, where do you get money? The problem you would ever have financially is not money; the problem is people. It is a people problem—never a money problem. If we have the people, we will have the money. If we don’t have the people, we’ll not have the money. It’s a matter of people, reaching people, ministering to people.
I think of Pastor Chou from Korea who preached here in this pulpit. The Korean works for a few cents an hour, it is a poor nation. Yet, he has three hundred thirty-five paid ministers who work in those home groups. And he has a budget of over $18,000,000 a year. Why, with those poverty-stricken Korean people, could he have such a vast, vast program in the church? The reason is livid, it is vivid, it is stated. We asked Dr. Melzoni to go over there and become personally acquainted with it. The reason is obvious—he reaches people—he ministers to people; the church is people-orientated.
I feel that way about us. Our church ought not to be like this: “Let’s take these people and get out of them all we can, let’s fleece them for all they are worth, let’s squeeze out of them all that is possible!” Let’s turn the thing around, and let’s say our church is to be a servant church. It is to be a ministering church. Do you need help? Then we will help. Do you need a prayer partner? We’ll be a prayer partner. Do you need somebody to help you with that load you bear? We will be that somebody. I would love for our church to be a ministering church; a helping church, a praying church, a burden-bearing church, a serving church. Not, “What can you do for us,” but, “What we can do for you?” Isn’t that the Word of the Lord?
Simon, Simon, lovest thou Me?”
Lord; You know that I love You!”
Then feed My lambs, take care of My children; Simon, do you love Me?”
Then feed My sheep, shepherd My flock”
That is the assignment of the church, and I have the deep, deep persuasion that if we will be a ministering church, “These hands are to help, they’re to work for you”; if we have a servant church, I think God, through our people, will give us money and to spare. We will pay every bill. We’ll have every deacon’s meeting a triumphant meeting, as we review how our people have supported with tithes and offerings the work of our Lord, here and beyond us to the ends of the earth.
Well, when you begin a work like that, how are you going to succeed in it? How are you going to get people to respond to it? If you have an Evangel Group meeting in a home, how are you going to get lost people to come? That is why we are going to our knees, we are going to pray; there is no other way to do this kind of a work but in the presence of the power and the Spirit of the Lord. We have to pray.
A call to prayer, I cannot sleep,
A midnight vigil I must keep.
For God doth call, I hear Him speak.
“To prayer, to prayer,” I but repeat.
“To prayer, to prayer, prevailing prayer,”
The need for such is everywhere.
It covers earth, it fills the air,
The urgent need for urgent prayer.
“To bended knee, to bended knee,”
God’s call to you, God’s call to me.
Because what is and is to be,
Shall reach throughout eternity.
O folks, I say, again I say,
A truth has burned in my heart today.
It is the need of prayer, let come what may.
We shall overcome if we watch and pray.
[author and work unknown]
I was asked, “When you have announced that you’re going to have stated days of fasting and prayer down here at the church, what are you going to pray for when you come and fast and pray, what are you going to pray for?” And I answered, “First, we are going to pray that God will give us power in our personal witnessing.” If I were to say, “I want you, or I want you, or I want you to stand up and tell me when was the last time you came down this aisle, bringing somebody that you had won to the Lord Jesus, it would be embarrassing. If you were to stand up, most of you would say, “Pastor, I have never done that. I have never brought anybody down that aisle to the Lord Jesus. I’ve never done it.” And if somebody has done it, it might be five, or ten, or fifteen, or twenty years ago. Does that mean we never, ever say anything about the Lord? No. What it means is there is no power in our witnessing. We don’t have that baptism—that Holy Ghost-poured-out Spirit of God upon us–that when we make appeal, people listen and respond and open their hearts to the convicting of the Spirit and to the acceptance of Jesus as a Savior.
Well, where does that power come from? It comes from intercession, it comes from prayer, it’s not fleshly, it is not worked up by human means. It is God who convicts! It is God who saves, and it is God alone [Deuteronomy 32:39; Jude 1:25]. It is not we; it is not our brilliance, it is not our education, it is not our personality, it is not our fine words, it is not our oratorical perorations. It is not anything about us, it is all of God! [Ephesians 2:8]. God does the convicting! God does the drawing! God does the saving! [John 6:44, 16:8]. And we’re shut up to an appeal to God to help us and work with us and to bless us. That’s the first thing. We’re going to pray that God will give us power in our witnessing, that we will win people to Jesus.
Number two, these Evangel Groups will become just one other organized life effort in the church unless it is baptized and blessed with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in it. If it is the work of the flesh, it will be nothing. It has to be the work of God. Lord, Lord, bless this effort to take this message of Christ into the homes of the city of Dallas and to win people to the Lord in that sacred, domestic convocation.
Third, “What you going to pray for when you come and fast and pray?” We are going to pray for revival. O Lord, I would to God that our eyes could see a great, mighty moving outpouring of the Pentecostal Spirit of God [Acts 2:1-42]. I wish my eyes could see it, I wish my heart could feel it, I wish my soul could exult and rejoice in it. A great revival; a spirit of revival that we all feel, that we all sense, that we all share in, that we all rejoice over. I wish God would send us a mighty revival, and that’s why our stated times of fasting and prayer.
Somebody asked me, “Pastor, what if nobody comes?” I have four dates down here, “What if nobody comes?” Fine, I’m going to be here, and the Lord is going to be here, and why shouldn’t I be happy if I’m here with the Lord? Why shouldn’t I? What could be better in the world than to be with the Lord and spend the day with the Lord, praying, reading the Bible, interceding? In these days of fast and prayer, we are going to have two stated services in the day; at twelve o’clock noon to one o’clock, we will have a stated service. By that, I mean the pastor will lead us in a service of praise, and prayer, and testimony, and just looking to God and loving Jesus all over again. Then we will have another one each evening from seven o’clock to eight o’clock.
And the four dates of our stated prayer and fasting are: first, next Tuesday—not of this week—Tuesday of next week, this will be led by our staff and their families. We’ll have it, we’ll meet here in the sanctuary and come and go as the providence and necessity may dictate. But we will have two stated services Tuesday of next week, here in the sanctuary led by the staff and their families, and we’ll be here all day long as we have opportunity, praying, fasting, not eating. The next one will be the following Monday; Monday, January 21. That will be for our deacons and their families. They have their deacon’s meeting that night, and we’re not going to eat; always we have a dinner at the deacon’s meeting. We won’t this time. We are going to fast and we are going to pray. And then as soon as that meeting is done, we will have our meeting, our stated meeting here in the sanctuary at noon and in the evening. The third one will be the following Wednesday on January 30. It will be led by our Sunday school leadership and their families, all of them here in the sanctuary, all day long, fasting and praying with our two stated services. And the fourth one will be the following Wednesday which will be February 6 at which all of our members are invited to share and to lead. And we will again have our two stated services at high noon and at seven in the evening.
This is an attempt; how it will be blessed of God, I do not know. All I know is just this; I’m going to prostrate myself before the Lord. I’m going to bow down before Him. I’m going to ask God to give us of the moving of His Spirit in the personal testimony by which we witness to the Lord in these Evangel Groups, in the outreach ministries in our homes. And Lord, that there might be in our church, a great moving of the spirit of revival, and that we see it, and that we can feel it, and that we can rejoice in it. That’s the purpose of our intercessions. Then it is in the hands of God, as the Lord shall bless in His grace and in His goodness.
Now we are going to sing us a song, and while we sing this song, if the Spirit of God has moved in invitation in your heart, would you answer with your life? “Pastor, God has spoken to us, and we are coming today. This is my family; all of us are coming to put our lives in the church.” Or, “God has moved in my heart to accept Jesus as my Savior; in the forgiveness of my sins [Ephesians 1:7], and in writing my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], and to stand by me in the hour of my death and forever [John 8:51, 14:23], I’m coming to accept Jesus as my Savior.” Or, “I’m answering a call of God.” As the Lord shall make the appeal, answer, “Lord, here am I.” Come, that first step will be the most meaningful in your life. Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor.” And may the angels of heaven attend you as you come. Make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing, “Here I am pastor, I’m on the way.”