Faith of Our Fathers
July 1st, 1990 @ 8:15 AM
FAITH OF OUR FATHERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-1-90 8:15 a.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are now a part of our precious First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message in keeping with this season of the year, thanking God for the Christian foundations of our America, and, of course, a dedication that it always remain Christian.
As a text, in Philippians chapter 2, verse 15: “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” [Philippians 2:15], our Christian martyrs, in a world secular and hostile. Paul, who wrote this text, in [2 Timothy 4:6] says, “The time of my departure is at hand, and I am about to be offered up,” written from the Mamertine dungeon from whence he was taken and beheaded; the hostility of the Roman culture and civilization to the preaching of the gospel. That was about 68 AD; in about 100 AD, Ignatius was pastor of the great church at Antioch. While St. John the Divine was pastor in Ephesus, Ignatius was pastor in Antioch. And he was brought before Emperor Trajan and condemned to die in exposure to the wild beasts in the Roman Coliseum. And when the cages were lifted and the carnivorous and hungry beasts were let loose, he held out his arm to the leading lion. And as the lion attacked him, he cried, “Now I begin to be a Christian!”
Diocletian, in 303 AD, built a monument, and on it he carved these words: Extincto est nomini Christianorum—Extincto, “extinct,” est, “is,” nomini, “the name,” Christianorum, “of the Christians.” And only three years later, in 306 AD, Constantine placed on the shields of his Roman legionnaires a Christian cross and wrote underneath the caption, In hoc signo vinces, “In this sign, conquer.” And in 325 AD, the Nicene council was called, attended by the pastors of that terrible persecution, and they defined for us the orthodox Christian faith.
Out of a like persecution came the foundations of our beloved America. The Pilgrims were in those early 1600s Christian devotees, followers of the Lord, who boldly challenged the corruption and worldliness and ungodliness of the state church of England. They were hounded out of the nation. They fled to Holland, and from Holland they came to America, landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620. The Puritans were likewise deeply resentful of the worldliness and secularism of the state church in England, but they sought to reform it from within; hence their name, Puritan: “to purify the church.” But five years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, there came a new king to the throne of England, Charles I, and he bitterly and hatefully resented the Puritans, and they also fled and came to America.
Over there in Holland, among those Pilgrims who had fled their native land of England, was a man named Thomas Helwys. With others in that Pilgrim group, who, reading the Bible, embraced the Baptist faith, he was baptized as a Baptist; and a little group around him were also baptized. For conscience sake, they felt that they ought to return to England, and Thomas Helwys, in 1612, wrote to the king:
Hear, O King, and despise not ye counsel of ye poor, and let their complaints come before thee. The king is a mortal man, and not God. Therefore he hath no power over ye immortal souls of his subjects to make laws and ordinances for them, and to set spiritual lords over them. If the king have authority to make spiritual lords and laws, then he is an immortal god and not a mortal man. But our lord, the king, is but dust and ashes, as well as we. O king, be not seduced by deceivers thus to sin against God, whom thou oughtest to obey, nor against thy poor subjects. God save the king,
No English king ever heard words like that. And Thomas Helwys, our Baptist, was imprisoned, and died in the New Gate prison. But among his converts to soul-freedom was a young man by the name of Roger Williams, and Roger Williams came to America in 1631 and founded our Baptist state of Rhode Island: a free church in a free state.
Thus, on these foundations, the thirteen colonies gathered to write a constitution for our nation. And Benjamin Franklin, who was not known for his faith in Christ, but acknowledged God’s role in the writing of the destiny of the nations of the world, and now of our Constitution, and at a critical moment he made the following speech:
In the beginning of the contest with Britain—
the Revolutionary War—
when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine guidance and protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time—
he was an old man when he made this speech—
and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?
And thereafter the Constitution was written, and a Christian America began its pilgrimage in the earth.
And beginning with those foundations, for three hundred years the Bible was taught in the public schools, and the Christian literature and doctrine and faith were presented to the young people and the children who attended our public institutions.
Then there came about in our time, there has come about a tremendous change. When you read the story of America and its Christian foundations, and look at the America of today, you can hardly recognize that we are in the same country and belong under the same government. The Supreme Court of the United States says, “We cannot define, and we do not know what pornography is,” and that’s why you see the filth in published literature, and on television, and in a thousand other places and demonstrations of public life. Even our highest court of the land says, “We do not know what pornography is.” And the philosophy that lies back of our secular nation—Tom Paine, the infidel, facing the full implications of his atheistic worldview, said just before he died, quote, “I would give worlds if I had them, that Age of Reason,” his book, “had not been published. O God, what have I done to suffer so much? But there is no God. But if there should be, what will become of me? Stay with me, for God’s sake. Send even a child to stay with me. For it is hell to be alone. If ever the devil had an agent, I have been that one,” end quote. Paine’s words reveal the futility of a worldview that leaves God out of the picture, yet his philosophy is the current prevailing worldview in our present society, and it is called “humanism.”
The pervading philosophy of modern America is humanism, secularism. And it is most poignantly demonstrated in our educational system. I look at our modern educational system, as do you, and it is a wonder. It’s beyond description. Over there in East Texas, the chickens were dying with some kind of a virus, a new ailment, and they sent these experts from the schools to find out what it was and to identify the virus. And they made their official report to the government, in which they said, “We cannot identify the disease, we don’t know what the virus is, but this is our learned opinion that the chickens that catch it and linger have a greater opportunity to survive than those that die immediately,” a profound educational observation.
And by law in America you cannot teach God’s creation. By law in America you have to teach our children evolution.
Once I was a tadpole, beginning to begin.
Then I was a frog with my tail tucked in.
Then I was a monkey in a banyan tree;
And now I’m a professor with a Ph.D.!
[author and work unknown]
This is modern America.
You find this endlessly and tragically in our public schools. In my reading, like many Americans, while I knew Christianity had something to do with our history, I couldn’t make the connection. My high school history teachers could explain the influences of Buddhism and Islam on third world cultures, but discussing the influence of Christianity on American history was out of the question, because it would violate, quote, “the separation of church and state.”
In one history textbook, Joan of Arc is discussed without any mention of God. In another, the Pilgrims’ first thanksgiving day is described without any reference to their thanking God for their survival in this new land. In Lake Worth, Florida, high school administrators took razor blades to the Lake Worth High yearbook, and cut out the page that carried a Scripture verse, and a picture of the high school’s Bible club, which had been meeting in the school for twenty-five years. The editorial comment that went with that: “We need to ask ourselves whether a dose of God is more hazardous to our health than a dose of herpes or AIDS.”
In Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire—that’s the fourth school: Harvard was the first one, started by our Christian forefathers; Yale was the second one; third one was Brown, started by our Baptist forefathers; and Dartmouth was the fourth Christian school—all right, today, this is a news report: “Students arriving at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire this winter received something more than course books and dormitory keys. Every student received free of charge what Dartmouth is pleased to call the—quote—“safe sex kit.” Similar kits are available at many colleges and at many high schools around the nation.”
All right, imagine, just imagine that instead of the safe sex kit, Dartmouth, or Yale, or Stanford, or Ohio State, or Texas University were passing out copies of the Bible. Picture what would happen: faculty resolutions, the headlines in the newspapers, the lawsuits, the protests, the gnashing of teeth. The tragedy of our great universities is that it is nearly impossible to conceive of such an event as the giving out of the Bibles; yet the safe sex kit is not only imaginable, and not only possible, but is factual. That is modern America.
And it has been convenient for the secular humanist, and the materialist, and the liberal, and the feminist, and the genetic engineer, and the bureaucrat, the Supreme Court justice, and the state to use an excuse to crush the convictions of its religious citizens by that phrase: “the separation between church and state.” It was not considered a violation of the church and state for the Quakers to be in the forefront for the abolition of slavery. It was not a violation of the separation of church and state when the National Council of Churches, represented by [William] Sloane Coffin and others, to lead opposition to the Vietnam War. It was not a violation of the church and state for Martin Luther King to march in that Civil Rights support. It was not a violation of the church and state for Jesse Jackson to seek the office of the president of the United States, or to conduct his campaign primarily from local pulpits. It was not a violation of the separation of church and state for our forefathers to pass laws drawn from the Bible against murder, rape, abuse, incest.
Today, however, if a teacher attempts to pray in a public school, he is told he violates the separation of church and state. The constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, rather than imposing a strict absolute separation of church and state, meant in the First Amendment to protect us from the state, not that we were to take God out of our political process. I doubt that they could have conceived of how some people today have twisted their words to actually take away religious freedom. This is the America in which we live today, and our founding forefathers would not recognize it—that you can’t name God, and you can’t pray to the Lord, and you can’t teach the Word of Christ in our educational process.
I have to conclude; my time is done.
That’s why we need our First Baptist Academy. My heart goes out to the men who are Christians—one of them is right there, one of my sweet deacons, who labor and work in our public school system. It is not their fault that they can’t have chapel services. Even when I came to Dallas forty-six years ago, all over this city I conducted chapel services in our high schools. It’s been a turn of secularism that is astonishing to us who are in these pulpits and who try to preach Christ among our people. But that’s why I praise God for our academy. If you want to send your child to a Christian school, where the Bible is taught, and where chapel services are held, and where prayer is made, and where revival services are conducted, if you want to send your child where the youngster can be taught the Word of the Lord and the presence of Christ in his life, welcome to our First Baptist Academy.
That’s why I praise God for our Christian college. Building it on the foundation of that Holy Word, and teaching those young men and women the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, an inerrant Bible, an infallible revelation, and the hope we have in a world to come in Christ Jesus our Lord. And that’s why I praise God for our dear church; as Paul said in my text, “We are a light, a shining light in this world” [Philippians 2:15], continuing on in the faith of our fathers and in the faith of our dear Lord.
So well do I remember, poignantly, ten years of age, when I gave my heart to Jesus and was baptized in a little white crackerbox of a church. In those days, on Wednesday nights at prayer meeting, we always had testimonies. People would stand and testify, recount their experience of grace. Well, I had been converted and been baptized, so on that Wednesday night, even though I was just ten years old, I stood up to testify. No sooner had I started than I broke down crying. I have struggled against tears and crying in the pulpit all of my life. I’ve been a pastor sixty-three years, and I am as helpless before it after sixty-three years as when I began. I cannot explain it; I don’t know why, but my response to the love of Jesus is expressed in tears. Well, anyway, when I stood up to testify, I broke down crying. I turned to my mother who was seated by my side in the little church, seeking strength and encouragement from her to continue on. And looking at her, she also was crying. And there wasn’t anything for me to do but just to sit down in tears.
In the congregation, in the little assembly that Wednesday night, was an old frontier pioneer preacher, Brother Gant. And when I sat down in tears, that old pioneer preacher stood up, and turned toward me, and with the wave of his hand, said, “That was a fine beginning, my boy. That was a fine beginning.”
And I look upon my life and my work as an ongoing. We have made a beginning. We are in the process of going on, and up, and over, and beyond, and we’ll continue to do so till Jesus comes again [Luke 19:13]. This is our commitment to our Lord and is our persuasion and deep conviction and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re going to continue until we see Him face to face [1 Corinthians 13:12]. God bless all who thus are persuaded in the ultimate triumph of our Lord. Amen.
Now, Fred, let’s sing us a song, And while we sing the hymn, a family you to come to be with us, a couple you, anybody, somebody you to respond to the appeal of the Spirit in your heart, welcome, while we stand and while we sing.