The State of the Church

The State of the Church

January 3rd, 1988 @ 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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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philippians 3:12-14

1-3-88    10:50 a.m.


Welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television.  This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The State of the Church.  On the first Sunday of every new year, I prepare a message for our people as we face the year that lies immediately ahead.  And this is that annual sermon for this year.

As a background text, Philippians 3:12-14: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect,” to us the word “perfect” means “sinless.”  The word Paul uses here has no connotation of that at all.  What he speaks of in the word is “to achieve the purpose that God made us, for which He made us, to which He has called us:

Not that I have already achieved it. . .but I follow after, if that I may apprehend, if I may get hold of that for which also Christ got hold of me.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended—to have arrived, to have achieved it—but this one thing I do, forgetting those things behind, reaching forth unto those things before,

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

[Philippians 3:12-14]


Year after year, for so many years it’s hard for me to count them, year after year when I’ve come to this hour in the life of our church, I have prepared to set in motion the organization, the calling, the setting aside, the appointment of a search committee, a pulpit committee to find a pastor to take my place in my retirement.   And year after year, having prepared to set that in motion, there have arisen exigencies in the church that makes it impossible for me to leave.  It will be in the staff, time and again.  Or it will be in the program of the church, time and again.

So I have come to a final and ultimate decision, which is, we’re going to leave it to God.  In Psalm 27:14, the psalm closes: “Wait on the Lord . . . wait, I say, on the Lord.”  We’ll leave it to Him.  When the time comes for me to retire, I’ll not be the only one that knows it.  You will know it too.  We’ll all know it.  And that day and time will come soon enough.  Time so swiftly passes by.  And before we know it—before we realize it, the long years of my own ministry will be finished.  So let’s just leave it to God.  And when God says, “This is the day,” we’ll all know it, and we’ll obey it.

I say, “Time passes so swiftly,” increasingly so.  There’ll be a baby born into a home here in our dear church; I turn my head and look, and the child is a teenager.  I turn my head and look, and the child is a grown young man or a grown young woman; the fleeting, passing days.  And what we do for God, we must do now.  “The night cometh,” as the Lord says, “when no man can work” [John 9:4].  I speak now of this immediate future for us or our church, and speak first of the open door that God has set before us—beyond anything I ever hoped for, or ever dreamed for, or ever imagined has God opened the door of witnessing, and preaching, and soulwinning, and Bible exposition to us.

For one thing, our radio station, KCBI; the first Sunday in February—this coming month we’ll move from 10,000 watts to 100,000 watts in power.  It will be as large as any radio station on the continent of America.  It can be heard in Texarkana, in Abilene, in Waco, in southern Oklahoma.  And it is our station; we own it.  Such a providence as the open door God has set before us in the enlargement of that media ministry is beyond my thinking.  I never dreamed for it.  It is housed in a new home.  We have a beautiful and spacious area.  We own it; it’s paid for.  It’s on Interstate Highway 30, and it’s in the heart of this great, growing Metroplex.  That’s KCBI, on which you’re listening now and to which will be added millions of listeners in this immediate day that lies ahead.

And as though that were not enough, beginning that first Sunday in February, we shall be preaching and presenting the gospel message live on Channel 5, from 11:00 o’clock in the morning until 12:00 o’clock at noon, this service—every Lord’s Day, live—this service will be broadcast on Channel 5.  Could I say incidentally, before I continue, three Sundays before the first Sunday in February, we’re going to experiment with that program.  You might call them “trial runs,” were it not so mundane.  We’re going to have three Sundays before the first Sunday in February in which we’re going to see, we’re going to experiment with that program.  For example, there will be many things that concern just us here in the church.  So we will come in here at 10:50—ten minutes before—and we’ll make our announcements, and we’ll speak of the things that just concern us.  Then when 11:00 o’clock comes, we want to make that thing dynamic beyond anything anybody ever saw or heard on television.

What I fear is that we will have the hour and the people have been looking at that clear channel station to the finest programs in Hollywood and the finest programs from Kennedy Center in Washington and the finest programs from the tremendously effective center and centers in New York City, then when we get on the program, it is blah!  What I want us to do is whatever they have seen or heard from Kennedy Center, or whatever they’ve seen or heard from Hollywood, or whatever they’ve seen or heard from New York City, I want them to say, “There’s nothing we’ve ever heard or seen in our lives like that 11:00 o’clock hour on television from the First Baptist Church in Dallas.”

Now that means, choir, you’ve got to come to life.  That means orchestra; you’ve got to do good.  And that means, preacher, you’ve got to preach like an angel from heaven, an archangel, like Michael himself! [Jude 1:9].  After all, isn’t the purpose of our church to preach the gospel, to win the lost?  We don’t have any other reason to exist, except as God can use us to reach people for Him.

I never think of a church in terms of it being a social club, a country club, some kind of a political organization.  The church is the body of Christ [Ephesians 1:22-23].  It’s the incarnation of God’s Son in the earth [John 1:1, 14].  And it has a unique and marvelous ministry and calling and commission: preaching the gospel, winning the lost, bringing souls to Jesus, getting us ready for heaven someday.  That’s why we are giving to every member of our congregation this card.  And it reads: “Broadcasting our services live over TV, Channel 5.  One: our church under God exists for the purpose of making Christ known, preaching the gospel, saving the lost, and helping those who are saved to grow in grace.  Two: the Lord has opened a door for us to enter every home in this vast metroplex and throughout North Texas, broadcasting live, our services on Sunday from 11:00 to 12:00 o’clock on TV, Channel 5.

God has done that.  For years and years and years, I have been sought a clear-channel station for the live proclamation of our praising God and preaching the gospel from this sacred pulpit.  And I could not get a broadcasting station even to talk to me, even to listen to me.  I did not seek this.  Channel 5 came to me and said, “We would like to broadcast your services live, the Sunday service, at 11:00 o’clock.”  I didn’t do that.   They did that.  It came from God.  Nor did I ever dream in a thousand years we’d be able to change our KCBI station from 10,000 to 100,000 watts.  God did that.  He has opened wide the door.

Number three: the cost is $10,000 for an hour each Sunday, a most reasonable figure in the television world of marketing.  I was told by a man that on one of the tremendous broadcasts, such as the Super Bowl, that you have to pay $300,000 for one-half a minute.  It is expensive.  It is costly, but we can do it.

Number four: God blessing us, we can do it if we divide the weekly costs among us who love our Lord Jesus, who love our First Baptist Church with its saving message.

And last: “So here am I, Lord, with my gift, gladly and prayerfully dedicated to the preaching of the gospel, to the worship of the Lord.  I shall make the gift, check by the week, by the month, by the year.  This is my name, this is my address.”  And we’re asking every member of our congregation and every friend that God will bestow upon us, to put their names and addresses there and give it to us; turn the card into us.  “I’ll help, preacher.  I’ll give.  I’ll make it possible.”

It seems—and I have made aware of it by people talking to me—it seems that every time we come to church, we have an appeal for our people to give, give, give.  Somebody said that to a pastor.  You know that somebody, talking to him, said, “It’s just that always, when we’re going to church, it’s to give, it’s to give, it’s to give, and it’s to give.”  And the pastor replied, “Sir, I want to thank you for the best definition of the Christian faith I have ever heard in my life,” it’s to give and to give and to give!

There was a father complaining to a friend, saying, “This boy of mine, he costs so much, and it never ceases, it never runs down; it never runs out.  He’s knocked the toe out of his shoe, and he’s got to have new shoes.  And he’s torn his pants; he has to have a new pair of pants.  And he’s always asking for something: it’s a baseball, or it’s a football, or it’s a bat, or it’s something.  It is always something that boy costs.”

And the man to whom he was speaking said, “You know I had a boy one time, and he was like that, always needing something and always costing something—shoes, and pants, and bats, and mitts, and footballs.  But,” he said, “you know, my boy now doesn’t cost me anything.  We lost our boy. He died last summer.  And now he doesn’t cost us anything.”

My brothers and my sisters, it is because the church is alive that it costs!  If it were dead, it’d cost us nothing.  We could tip the Lord and it’ll be just the same.  But if the church is dynamic and if it’s alive and if it is serving, and if it is doing what God called us to do, it costs!

And when I think of our congregation, I would love to think that all of us felt a dynamic, vital part of this ministry, the humblest and the poorest, all of us are vital in God’s work; all of us.  Not just “they” are vital, not just “these” are necessary, not just “God has called those to do His work,” but all of us are vital, every one of us.

For the lack of a nail, the shoe was lost.

For the lack of a shoe, the horse was lost.

For the lack of a horse, the rider was lost.

 For the lack of a rider, the kingdom was lost,

All for the lack of a nail.

[adapted from “The Horseshoe Nails,” in Fifty Famous People:

A Book of Short Stores, by James Baldwin, 1912]

Every one of us, a vital part in the calling and commission and work of our blessed Lord, and when I face the responsibility, I thank God that He gave it to us.  And for me to have a part in it is a thanksgiving to the Almighty Lord who saved me.   And I love to think of our people making their service to Christ the very heart of their house, and home, and life, and energy, and children, and witness—the whole gamut and spectrum of life, centered around the calling of God in our souls.

May I speak now of our Wednesday services?  Dr. McLaughlin made the announcement that beginning this coming Wednesday at 7:00 o’clock, in the evening here in the sanctuary, that I would begin a series on creation, evolution.  It is especially addressed to an academic community in high school, in college, and elsewhere in the academic world.  And the title is “The Phantom of Evolution,” or “The Reality of God’s Creation: Evolution verses Creation.”

And the reason I’m doing it is very apparent.  The Supreme Court of the United States of America, by law, has interdicted and prohibited the teaching of God’s creation in our public school system.  And by the same law, the United States government compels the teaching of atheistic evolution.  Would you have thought you would ever have lived to see the day when America, founded upon the presence and blessing of God, would prohibit by law the teaching of our children that God made us?

No greater inanity, absurdity, stupidity, fatuity was ever perpetrated by the infidel atheist in the name of science as this incredible doctrine of evolution.  There is no evidence—and this has now been studied for generations—there is no evidence, ever, not a piece of it, that species ever evolved into other species.

There are little dogs, and big dogs, and white dogs, and bulldogs, and hound dogs, and white dogs, and police dogs, and hunting dogs, and tracking dogs and lap dogs, but you never saw one of them ever turn into a cat.  There are little cats, and big cats, and fat cats, and tom cats, and pussycats, and Persian cats, and Maltese cats, but you never saw one of them turn into a squirrel or a skunk or a rat.  There are little horses, and draft horses, and quarter horses, and racehorses, and cutting horses, and black horses, and spotted horses, and Arabian horses, but you always see a horse.   You never see them turn into a cow.

I was in Poland.  And in Poland I bought some little pieces of amber, dug out of the bottom of the Baltic Sea, thirty-five million years old—amber, thirty-five million years old!  “Well, why did you buy those little pieces of amber?”  Well, on the inside of those little pieces of amber are mosquitoes, thirty-five million years ago, and he is the same obnoxious creature today as he was thirty-five million years ago.

Or I was in Australia, and there to the northeast is a barrier reef one thousand five hundred miles long, made out of coral—coral, little animal, coral. And down there at the bottom of that thing, uncounted thousands and thousands of years ago, and up here at the top where he still works, he’s the same little coral animal; down there or up here.  That’s true.  That’s true science.  That is the work of God; creation.  Only God can create.

So Wednesday, this coming Wednesday at 7:00 o’clock, here on January 6, the first message will be God’s Creation of Man: The Creation of Man; God or Gorilla?  The second one, Wednesday, January 13: The Fading, Vanishing Case for Evolution; the next Wednesday, A Seeing God or Blind Evolution?  The following Wednesday, Person or Process in Creation?  The following Wednesday, The Incredible Evolutionist: what he’s able to swallow to believe.  It’s incredible.  The next Wednesday, In the Image of God; and the next Wednesday, God: the First Universal Fact, and so through the Wednesdays that follow after.

May I speak now of our stated program of prayer?  God grant we be a praying people.  I am convinced that many things that have happened to us in the past would not have happened if we were a praying people.  In our decisions, in our work, in our program, in our appeal, all of it ought to be bathed and undergirded, surrounded by intercession.  God encourages us to pray.  Jeremiah 33:3, “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”  First Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”  Philippians 4:6, “Be burdened for nothing,” anxious for nothing, “but in every thing with thanksgiving, by prayer and supplication, tell it to God; let it be known to the Lord.”  We are encouraged to pray.  And I am looking forward to an increasing emphasis in our congregation upon our personal and church-wide intercessions.

Our Evangel groups, may God multiply them.  These meetings in our homes where we read God’s Word, where we pray, and where we witness to others, and then, in our program of praying here in our dear church, just asking God to bless.  And our program of visitation: here is a memo that Dr. Charles McLaughlin sent to the staff, one: “Workday for staff on Mondays will be from noon through evening dinner and visitation.”  Instead of coming in the morning, say, at 9:00 o’clock and working until 5:00 o’clock, the hour on Monday for our staff will be from noon, coming in at noon, and then continuing through the dinner hour and the visitation.

Number two: the visitation meal will be one dollar, one dollar, and the children are free.  There are some of us who have subsidized that and make it possible; the meal will cost one dollar, and the children will eat free.

Again, the calendar must be clear for Mondays.  Our programming of the church on Monday is not many, many other things, but it will be for visitation.  And Louie Mann will take care of our parking needs.  Don’t have to worry about parking.  You come.  We’ll take care of the parking.  And all child care facilities will be available up to the sixth grade.  You bring the child, and we’ll take care of that little boy and that little girl.  And you’ll be free to go visiting—to knock at the door.

What we’re seeking to do is to reach families and homes for Christ, for God. Over here in our First Baptist Academy is a newspaper.  They call it The Chronicle.  And in the last issue of that newspaper, I read this; “Who is to Blame?”


We read it in the papers and hear it on the air

Of killing and stealing and crime everywhere.

With sigh, we say as we notice the trend,

“This young generation—this bunch that’s coming up—where will it end?”


But, can we be sure that it’s their fault alone?

Are we less guilty, who place in their way

Too many things that lead them astray?

 Too much indulgence, too much idle time;

Too many movies of passion and crime.

Did you ever in your life see a change as you see in television?  The violence, the promiscuity, the language, the whole background of it is devastating.

Too many books not fit to be read

Too much evil in what they hear said.

Too many children encouraged to roam,

Too many parents who won’t stay at home.

Kids don’t make the movies.  They don’t write the books.

They don’t paint the pictures of gangster and crooks.

They don’t make the liquor.  They don’t run the bars.

They don’t change the laws, and they don’t make the cars.

 They don’t peddle the drugs that muddle the brain.

That’s all done by older folks, eager for gain.

Delinquent teenagers? Oh, how we condemn

The sins of the nation and blame it on them.

For in so many cases, it’s sad but it’s true:

The title “Delinquent belongs to older folks too!

[from “Don’t Blame the Children,” song lyrics, Sammy Davis, Jr.;

H.B. Barnum, et al, 1967] 


And that’s what we’re seeking to do, is to reach these homes, and these people, and these fathers and mothers, these households for Christ.  I do not think we will ever, ever solve the problems that we increasingly face in America, unless we do it in the name of the Lord, in the saving grace of our Lord Jesus.

One of our staff members, Robert Rohm, sent me a Christmas card.  And here is what is written on this card:

If our greatest need had been information,

God would have sent us an educator.

If our greatest need had been technology,

God would have sent us a scientist.

If our greatest need had been money,

God would have sent an economist.

If our greatest need had been pleasure,

God would have sent us an entertainer.

But our greatest need was forgiveness, salvation.

So God sent us a wonderful Savior!

[adapted from Roy Lessin quote, owner and write, Day Spring Cards Co.]

How true!

See that boy there? That’s Jerry Waite, the cellist; one of my deacons, so faithful.  In our state Baptist paper, the Standard, he wrote a letter and here’s what they published.  Jerry says:

I feel very compelled to write that Southern Baptists need to heed what Roy Fish—

professor of evangelism over there at the seminary—

what Roy Fish said in his sermon at the Texas Baptist Convention, when he mentioned that the SBC is only increasing by two percent, with the projection that soon we will be decreasing: “The problem in the convention is not the controversy, but lack of witnessing.  We are not even reaching all the children in the families in our church.  Truly, we need revival and a new commitment by those who are in Christ, a new life to those who are in our church rolls in name only.  May the Holy Spirit convict us to see ourselves as God sees us.”

Dear God, what an assignment to which You have called us!

In this Revolutionary War, these Americans in this battle were losing the fight.  And the commander of our forces came to the drummer boy and said, “Drummer boy, beat a retreat.  Beat a retreat.”  And the American drummer boy said to the commander, “Sir, I don’t know how.  I was never taught it, to beat a retreat.  But, sir,” he said, “I can beat a charge that will make the very dead fall in line!”  And he did.  And they won the battle that day.

That’s what we need.  Not a retreat, not a retrenchment, not a lessening, but a charge!  God help us, as we march in His name, as we go out for His sake, as we witness to the lost, and as we look for God’s blessings upon our dedicated efforts.  Let’s do it.  Let’s do it.  Now, may we pray?

Our Lord, to what a vast program and assignment have You called us.  “Please, Savior, don’t let us go into this effort in human strength, by the flesh.  But may we enter this assignment in the power of God.  May the Lord be with us.  Please, Savior, may we fear Thy presence.  May the Holy Spirit of God, the presence of Jesus in our hearts, may all of us feel the calling and presence of Jesus in our souls.  And then, Lord, bless the work of our hands.  When we knock at the door, stand by us.  When we pray, bow down Thine ear to hear.  When we teach, may it be in the great commitment that this is the infallible Word.  And when we make appeal, may the Holy Spirit give us souls.  Thank You, Lord, for answered prayer, in Thy saving name, amen.

In this moment we stand and sing our hymn of appeal.  And while we sing it, you, somebody you, “Today, pastor, I have opened my heart, and I have invited Jesus to come into my soul, and I am standing here with you” [Romans 10:9-10].  Or a family you, coming into the fellowship of this dear church, or answering a call of the Spirit in your heart, as the Holy Spirit shall press the appeal, you answer with your life.  What a glorious time and what a new day and beginning to walk into the new year with God! Come.  Come and welcome, while we stand and while we sing. ”This is God’s day for me and here I am.  And here I am.”


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          Retirement

A.  Year
after year, prepared to set in motion the search committee, and year after year
an exigency arises

B.  The
ultimate and final decision – leave it to God(Psalm

Time passes so swiftly

What we do for God, we must do now (John 9:4)

II.         The open door


First Sunday in February we move from 10,000 watts to 100,000

A new home built for the radio station

B.  TV
Channel 5

1.  Beginning
first Sunday in February, we will be live every Sunday

The purpose of the church, why we exist, is to preach the gospel

The card going to each member

The appeal that each one of us can help

Every one of us is a vital part in the calling and commission and work of our

b. Poem, “For Want of a

5.  The
constant appeal – “give, give, give”

All of us in the effort to make the TV hour the best to be seen

Making the message of salvation the center of our lives

III.        The Wednesday series on evolution

A.  Especially
addressed to our students in high school, college and elsewhere in the academic

B.  Supreme
Court by law interdicts and prohibits the teaching of creationism in public
schools, and compels the teaching of evolution

C.  No
greater inanity, absurdity, stupidity, fatuity was ever perpetrated by the
infidel atheist in the name of science

1.  No
evidence, ever, that species ever evolved into other species

The amber I bought in Poland

3.  Great
Barrier Reef – coral at the bottom is still coral at the top

IV.       The stated program of prayer

A.  A
praying people

I am convinced many things that happened to us in the past would not have
happened if we were a praying people

B.  We
are encouraged to pray by the Word of the Lord(Jeremiah
33:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Philippians 4:6)

C.  Our
program of prayer

Evangel groups

2.  Here
at the church

V.        Our program of visitation

A.  Workday
for staff on Mondays will be from noon through dinner and visitation

Visitation meal will be one dollar, children free

Programming calendar must be clear for Mondays

Louie Mann will take care of parking needs for Monday evenings

Child care facilities will be available through sixth grade

F.  We
are seeking to reach homes, people, families for Christ

Poem, “Don’t Blame the Children”

Poem by Robert Rohm, “If our greatest need…”

Letter by Jerry Waite in “The Standard”

4.  Revolutionary
War – drummer boy didn’t know the retreat, but beat a charge and they won the