The Call Of Christ To Our Church
August 27th, 1989 @ 10:50 AM
THE CALL OF CHRIST TO OUR CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-27-89 10:50 a.m.
Welcome to the service of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Call of Christ to Our Church. It is a sermon, it is a subject sermon preparing us for the tremendous fall and winter and spring that lie ahead. The background text, which is just a background text, is Revelation chapter 2, verse 10: the word of our Lord to the church at Smyrna, the only church of the seven for which the Lord had nothing but praise. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" [Revelation 2:10]. The Lord has set before us in this wonderful church the greatest program, opportunity, open door, that I could ever have imagined; and He has not only done it as a factual providence of life and time, but He has done it miraculously and marvelously. I can hardly believe the hand of God upon us. One of the things I can incidentally say is this radio. We have a radio station. It is ours, we own it, God gave it to us; we have a radio station as large as any on the North American continent. God gave it to us, and God is doing the same thing over and over again as we face the tremendous opportunities set before us by His Spirit this fall, and winter, and spring.
I begin with the harvest field around us. That is the way the Book and the Great Commission of our Lord begins. It begins here. If we make a thousand mile journey, it has to start with the first step; so the building of the witness of Christ here is according to the will and providence and command of God. In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, verse 8, our Lord said to us, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will have power from above, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem," in Dallas, "in Judea," in Texas, "in Samaria," in America, "and to the ends of the earth" [Acts 1:8]. But it begins here in our "Jerusalem." If we fail here, if we hesitate here, if we stumble here, we are going to fail and stumble and hesitate everywhere else on this planet. We have to do God’s work here. Then, in strength, from here we reach out to all of the nations and tribes and peoples of the world; beginning here.
In 1947 and for practically every year thereafter, I have been in England. My great-great-grandparents came from England to Virginia, from Virginia to Kentucky, from Kentucky to Texas. When I go back to England, practically everything about it religiously and ecclesiastically breaks my heart. One year I was there, and they were advertising six thousand churches for sale. At that time, you could buy a church of England in a beautiful country setting, a rural setting, for practically nothing. And not two percent of the people attend church, and the repercussion from that is found wherever the English speak. For example, I was in India, preaching through India, and they were sending emissaries from England to close down all of the mission stations founded by William Carey, the father of modern missions; founded by William Carey on the Ganges River. And when I went to Agra to look at the Taj Mahal, there was Haiderali, one of the Indian leading pastors and ecclesiastical potentates of our Baptist witness there in that subcontinent. He had been sent to Agra to close down our Baptist church in that city. I stood with him in front of our Baptist church house in Agra. Up there in the pediment were written these words: "Founded in 1812, this church house built in 1845." And Haiderali had been sent there in 1948 to close it down.
When we lose our witness here, we lose it to the ends of the earth; beginning, as God said, "in Jerusalem" [Acts 1:8]. I want to read to you the closing sentence of a letter written to us, talking about our city, "Thanks for your part" – this is the closing – "thanks for your part in this work. My wife and I have a taste of the mission field, though it is less than one mile from our home." He is writing me about a ministry of our Lord in our city, and a section of it where we are trying to witness for Christ. And God has done a marvelous thing with us and for us. We now possess the properties of the great Gaston Avenue Church on Gaston Avenue: the two blocks of that church are now ours. Back yonder several years ago when I was trying to amalgamate our two congregations, the pastor and I took a census of that part of the city of Dallas, and we found eighty thousand lost people around that church – eighty thousand of them. If you are at all familiar with the demographics of our city, the geophysical constitution of the people that live there, everybody of every kind and nation and ethnic background live over there – eighty thousand of them, lost! And what we are going to do is take our preachers out of our preacher’s college, four hundred of them, we are going to have services all day and all night, seven days and seven nights out of the year to reach those people for Christ! A long time ago, Dr. McLaughlin – you knew Dr. W. L. House, he helped me here in my beginning ministry in our educational work – and I remember a sentence of his prayer. He got down on his knees with us here and said, "Dear God, help us not only to think in terms of the people we are now reaching, but help us think in terms of the people that we ought to reach." This is our Jerusalem, this is our mission field, this is our harvest, here in the city of Dallas.
Nor could I expatiate emphatically enough on what these cities mean to the kingdom of God. About, oh, over a hundred years ago, ninety-nine percent of the people of the world lived in open country or in country villages. Even in 1900, ninety-five percent of the people of the world lived in country villages or in open countrysides. Today, two-thirds of all of the population of the world lives in cities. London is England. Paris is France. Rome is Italy. Moscow is Russia. Cairo is Egypt. Damascus is Syria. These cities control, define the cultural and economic life of a nation and of the people of the world.
Now, the great tragedy of our generation: our churches are forsaking the hearts of our cities, everywhere! We have a Spurgeon-Harris Building right across the street, right there: the Spurgeon-Harris Building. When I came here to the city of Dallas, one of the most beautiful churches in America was located there, and they had a noble, far-famed pastor; tore it down and built that building that we secured for our church. Right there, just right there, right out that door was a marvelous church; been there for a hundred years almost. They sold it to us, moved out! In the years I have been here, thirteen downtown churches have either ceased to exist or they moved out. That, to me, is our great high calling in Christ Jesus: to remain as a lighthouse for our Savior in the heart of this vast and growing metropolis.
To have here the finest, most unexcelled program for babies, for little children in the earth – they said to me when I came here forty-five years ago, "You can’t have a children’s ministry, they don’t bring these little babies downtown." I began there, that is where I started in rebuilding this congregation, was with our babies. I’ve said facetiously for the years, "I’ve never yet seen a baby come to church by itself. Not one time." Every time I see a baby, you’ve got mama, or papa, or grandpa, or grandma; somebody is bringing the child. That is where I began, and we’re continuing; on a good Sunday now, an ordinary good Sunday now, we’ll have three hundred and fifty babies in that nursery. And that’s the reason that I so wanted and prayed for and we established our First Baptist Academy, building a ministry to our children in the heart of this city. And then no less an excelled program for our Singles, and for our Adults, and for our Young Marrieds, and for our Older Adults; for the whole family, all of them included in the love and grace of the kingdom of our Savior.
And I haven’t time, of course, even to begin to expatiate on the ministry that we have beyond our five blocks down here in the city of Dallas. This radio, this television; I walked out of my study door over there, and one of my assistant pastors was talking to a young man. He had been won to Christ listening to television, and that young pastor of mine had just baptized him, and he is talking to him. Well, when had I rejoiced with them, the young pastor said to me, he said, "Pastor, let me tell you what has just happened." He said, "Last Sunday there was a man, furious and bitter, preparing to murder his wife and then kill himself. And he just happened, in that fury, to walk in front of the television," and there I was preaching the gospel. And the young man, my young assistant, said to me, "There was something about it, and he paused, and he stopped, and he listened, and he called us here at the church, and I went to his home. I won him to the Lord, I won his wife to the Lord, I won every member of the family to the Lord, and this coming Sunday, they are all going to be baptized into the faith." That’s great! That’s the kingdom of God! And that’s what God is doing with us here in this precious congregation.
Now let me take just a moment. How do you sustain a program like that? What kind of a stewardship appeal do you make? Well, I have a very definite conviction about that. Our goal is never money – never monetary – our goal is people. If we win the people, God will give us the stewardship support for all that we need. Our goal is people. I was over there, as you know, in Israel many times in these years past, and gained the friendship of David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel. He and I shared a program one night in the big city auditorium in Jerusalem. One time, our pictures – I wish I had time to tell you what happened that made me so overcome with laughter – our pictures were in Time magazine, a whole page about us. Well, he said something that when I heard it, I could hardly believe it. But thinking of it since, every syllable of it is God’s truth. He said to me, "Make appeal to our people in America, not for their money, that they send us their money, but that they send us their children." Well, knowing Israel and the poverty of the nation and its need for support, that stayed in my mind and my heart, "make appeal they send us not money, but they send us their children." Well, as you can see that stayed with me in my mind and memory for all these years since. And the more I have thought about it, the more I think it is true: our goal ought to be not money, but people, reaching people. And our appeal always is personal. Always you; always you, your children, your family – you!
We used to have down here in these years past a marvelously moving banquet on Christmas time, at Christmas time, for our missions. We have twenty-nine, as you know, of these mission chapels around the city. And at Christmas time, they bring all of those children here with fathers and mothers, and they have a big Christmas remembrance down there in Coleman Hall. Well, I was seated here at the table with those kids, and one of the elders, one of the sponsors in our church said, "Randy, hold up your hand! Hold up your hand! They’ve just called your name!" And the little urchin held up his hand. They had some kind of a gift for him; you know, giving something to all of those poor, outcast children. Well, the little ragged, dirty urchin seated next to me, he turned to me, and he said, "Mister, will they call my name? Will they call my name?" Good night alive! Had they not done it, I would have gone up and done it myself! "Will they call my name?" That’s religion! That’s God! It is not impersonal, separated, at a distance; it is close like your heart, like your soul, like the dearest one that you love. Religion is personal, and the appeal is to be made always personally. We are involved.
Seated by a taxi driver in New York, I naturally, as you know, would talk to him about the Savior. And here’s what he said to me. He said, "I’m like a lost sheep. I don’t know where to go, and when I get there, I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know what to say, and there’s nobody to tell me. So I don’t know." He said, "I grew up in a little country church, and I went to Sunday school in that little country church. But here in this great city, I’m like a lost sheep. I don’t know where to go or what to do or what to say when I’m there." Dear God in heaven, are we like that? The thousands and thousands and thousands of people in this city that are not in anybody’s church, they are not in the kingdom of God, and they don’t know what to do.
I have been a pastor sixty-two years, sixty-two years; I have talked to people of every kind and description that you could imagine. And in all of the years of my life, I have never been rebuffed, not once, not once. Any time, anywhere I have ever talked to anybody about the Lord, I have had an open heart and an attentive ear. That’s why we so desperately need our Sunday school. I think it is a gift from heaven to match the fury and the pace of our modern world. We all can have a part in our Sunday school. Not all of us can stand here and preach. And maybe not all of us can build a building, such as some of the generous people have done for us in our wonderful church. But we all can share in a Sunday school ministry, all of us. We don’t want our preacher paid to do our praying for us, the reading of our Bible for us, the witnessing for Christ for us. There are things that God has committed to us, each one, and to be true to them is our highest calling from heaven. Did you know if we can get them to come to Sunday school, one out of every three that will attend will be baptized? One out of three! Did you know that outside, beyond the pale and walls of our teaching ministries, not one in five hundred are ever won to our Lord or ever baptized? Think of that: one in five hundred out there. If we can get them to come here, one in three. O Lord, what a challenge!
Nor do I have time to speak of our wonderful evangel ministry in the homes of our people; gathering to witness, to testify, to read the Word, to study God’s Book, to pray. O God, what an open door for our families and our people. I dreamed the other night I was attending one of the evangel groups in one of the homes of our people, and they closed it singing a song. And you know me, I sat there and I wept as we sang the song, and I woke myself up singing and weeping in that dream; and the song was one that we sing so often here:
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all of the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.
["Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?"; Thomas Shepherd]
Individually; an assignment from heaven to each one of us. I have to close.
When I was in the seminary, when I was in the seminary, I had a friend; he was born in England, and his father was an officer in the British army. While he was a little boy, when he was a little boy, his father died, his mother immigrated to America, and Vernon Taylor, that young minister with me in school, Vernon Taylor had given his life to be a preacher and was in the seminary. Well, while he was in the seminary, he went back to England where his father had lived, and he picked up there from his father’s belongings, he picked up his father’s diary. It looked like a big ledger. It was about that way and about that way, and was yellowed with the years; and he laid that in my hand that I could see it. And as I turned the pages, there were the stories of his campaigns – mostly in India. And at the end of that ledger-looking book, his diary, were the names of all of the soldiers that he commanded, every one of them. And by the side of every soldier’s name, he wrote a little sentence. He wrote a little sentence. Here’s what moved me as I looked through that roll, he wrote so often these words by the side of the name of the soldier: "Died on the march," "Killed in action," "Fell in battle." And as I looked at it, I thought of the roll call of God in glory. When the roll call is made, will God write by my name: "He quit, he deserted, he failed Me?" Or will He write by my name, "Faithful unto death?" God grant it for us; faithful unto death, true to our Savior as long as God gives us life and breath.
And sweet people who have listened on television, could this be a day of the consecration of your life to our blessed Lord, to accept Him as your Savior? If you don’t know how to accept the Lord as your Savior, you call us. We will tell you how. Call us and let us pray with you. There are dedicated and consecrated people here in the church who will answer your call, and they will talk to you as from God in heaven. And sweet precious friends who have listed to this telecast, if you will give your heart to the Lord, I will see you someday in glory. We will live up there forever with our marvelous friend and Lord. And to the great throngs of people who fill this sanctuary, in this moment of appeal, make the decision in your heart to give your life to Him. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He was raised from the dead for our justification to see to us that we make it to heaven [Romans 4:25]. And He stands by us as they sang a moment ago "in the hour of our death, and it is He that opens for us the gates of heaven." Come. Be a fellow pilgrim with us, and journey with us, love God with us, go to heaven together with us.
In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me and here I am." Welcome, while we stand and while we sing.