Faith of Our Fathers
July 1st, 1990 @ 10:50 AM
THE FAITH OF OUR FATHERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-1-90 10:50 a.m.
We praise God with you wonderful choir and orchestra. And we welcome the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message in keeping with this glorious time of the year in the life and destiny of America.
The title of the sermon, The Faith of Our Fathers, from 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]. The Christian witness began in a civilization, a culture, an empire that was antagonistic and hostile. The author of this passage I’ve just read, the apostle Paul, died a martyr in 68 AD, taken out of the Mamertine dungeon and beheaded for the faith. In about 100 AD, Ignatius was pastor of the great church in Antioch. He was a contemporary at the same time that the apostle John was pastor of the church in Ephesus. Ignatius was taken before the emperor Trajan, condemned to die by exposure to the wild beasts in the Roman Coliseum. And standing there in that Coliseum, when the cage was lifted and those lions burst forth, he reached forth his arm to the leading lion and said, “Today I begin to be a Christian.”
The persecution continued and under Diocletian, the Roman emperor in 303 [AD], Diocletian raised a monument, and on that stone monument he carved the words, “Extincto est nomini Christianorum”: Extincto, “extinct,” est, “is,” nomini, “the name,” Christianorum, “of the Christians.” In the fierce persecution that slew the Christians, he thought he had dissolved the faith. Yet only three years later, in 306 AD, Constantine placed on the shield of his Roman legionnaires the cross of Christ, and underneath wrote this caption on each one: In hoc signo vinces, “In this sign, conquer.” And the Christian religion became the faith of the cultured and civilized world. In [325 AD], the pastors who had suffered so greatly in the Diocletian persecution gathered in Nicea, and there proclaimed the orthodox Christian faith.
Our nation was born in a persecution of the Christian religion. The Pilgrims in England openly opposed the godlessness, and the immorality, and the secularism, and the worldliness of the state church of England. They were persecuted and hounded out of the country, fled to Holland, and from Holland came to America, landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620. At that time, in those early 1600s, the Puritans were in the Church of England. They sought to reform it from within; called Puritans because they sought to purify, purify the godlessness and secularism of the state church of England. Five years after the Pilgrims had landed in the New World, a new king, Charles I, came to the throne in England, and he was congenitally bitter against the Puritans and hounded them out of the nation, and they came also to America.
Among those Pilgrims who were thrust out of the land and landed for a while in the Netherlands, there was a man, a godly Christian follower of the Lord, named Thomas Helwys, Thomas Helwys. In the Netherlands, among the Christians, reading the Bible, he became a Baptist, and was baptized; and another little group with him. And out of conviction that they ought to stand for their faith in England, they returned back from the Netherlands to their native country, and in 1612, Thomas Helwys wrote a letter to King James, the King of England, and these are his words:
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 the lord, our king, is but dust and ashes, as well as we are. 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—Thomas Helwys.
That was the first time that any English king ever heard words like that. And Thomas Helwys, our Baptist forefather, was imprisoned in New Gate prison, and stayed there condemned until he died.
Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If we, like them could die for Thee.
[“Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still,” Frederick W. Faber]
Thus died Thomas Helwys. But he had a young disciple, a young convert, and his name was Roger Williams, who came to America in 1631 and founded our Baptist state of Rhode Island, and created a free church in a free state.
As the days and the years passed, the thirteen colonies came together to form a nation. And in that Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin, who was not known for his faith in the Lord, Benjamin Franklin acknowledged God’s role in the writing of the Constitution, and at a critical moment of disagreement, he made the following speech:
In the beginning of the contest with Britain—
our Revolutionary War—
when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. Have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? or do we manage no longer to need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time—
he was an old man when he said this—
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 without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?
Thus America began on religious foundations laid by our forefathers. And from those 1600s, for three hundred following years, our schools were instruments under God of teaching our children, in prayer, in Bible reading, in chapel services, the presence and power of the Almighty who reigns in heaven and in earth.
And now we have come to a turn in the life and fortune of our nation that is hard to imagine, we who are cognizant of the birthright of our people. We can hardly recognize modern America against the background of its religious foundation. The Supreme Court says, and I quote, “We cannot define and we do not know what pornography is.” Thus, on the newsstands, in the magazine racks, on radio, on television, in every area of American life is seen a continuing slush of filth. Imagine the Supreme Court of our land saying, “We do not know what pornography is.”
And a philosophy has breached our people in an unbelievable and unimaginable secularism. Tom Paine, the famous infidel, faced the full implications of his atheistic worldview, and as he died, he said, “I would give worlds if I had them,” that his 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 hereafter? Sir, 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. Tom Paine’s words reveal the futility of a worldview that leaves God out; yet his philosophy is the current prevailing worldview in our society. It is called humanism, and that godless humanism is the philosophy that lies back of the educational system of our entire nation.
Like you, I am amazed and full of wonder at our modern educational presentation of the supposed truth to our children. They are strange, these new and modern pedagogues. Our chickens were dying in East Texas, and the universities sent their finest dialecticians and pedagogues to see what it was killing our chickens in East Texas. So after their study, they came and made their official report, and it said, “We cannot find out what it is, the virus that is killing these chickens, but this we have ascertained: that the chickens that catch the virus and continue, they have a better opportunity to survive than those that die immediately”—a profound educational premise.
And by law you cannot teach creation; by law you cannot teach God made this universe, and by law you have to teach evolution, by law. This is the law of the land: teaching 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]
By law in the public school system of America, these children are taught that we came from a green scum, from an amoeba, from a paramecium, from a marsupial, from an ape, from a monkey.
“Like many Americans,” a man writes,
. . . 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. It was a violation of 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 the 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 school’s Bible Club. That Bible Club had been meeting in the school for twenty-five years. An editorial comment on that: “We need to ask ourselves whether a dose of God is more hazardous to our health than a dose of herpes or AIDS.”
Dartmouth College is the number four college established by Christians in America: after Harvard, Yale, Brown—our Baptist university, which is an atheistic university now—Dartmouth, founded by Christian people; that one, founded by a Christian minister. I quote from a news article:
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 at registration what Dartmouth is pleased to call the, quote, “safe sex kit.” Similar kits, sex kits, are available at many colleges and high schools around the nation.
Now, imagine, just imagine that instead of the safe sex kit, how to have sex without catching AIDS or herpes, or any of those other terrible diseases, just imagine, instead of being given the safe sex kit, Dartmouth, or Yale, or Stanford, or Ohio, or Texas University were passing out copies of the Bible. Picture it: immediately there would be faculty resolutions and headlines in the newspapers, and lawsuits, and protests, and the gnashing of teeth. The tragedy of our great universities is that it is nearly impossible to conceive of such an event as handing out Bibles, yet the safe sex kit is not only imaginable, and not only possible, but it is factual. That is modern America!
It has been convenient and expedient for the secular humanists, the materialists, the liberals, the feminists, the genetic engineers, the bureaucrats, the Supreme Court justices, to use, as an excuse for what they do—the separation of church and state. It’s only been in recent years, in your lifetime, that that phrase has been used to put down the conscience of God’s people.
In these days past, it was not considered a violation of separation and 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 for representatives of the National Council of Churches, like [William] Sloane Coffin, to lead opposition to the Vietnam War. It was not a violation of the separation of church and state for Martin Luther King to march in the Civil Rights program. It was not a violation of the separation of church and state for Jesse Jackson to seek the office of president of the United States, and to use the pulpits of the black churches for his campaign. 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, child abuse, incest, theft. But today, if a teacher attempts to pray in a public school, he is told this violates the separation of church and state. The constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, rather than imposing an absolute separation, meant in the First Amendment to protect the faith from the state, and I doubt that they could have conceived of how some people today have twisted their words actually to take away our religious birthright before God.
My heart goes out to the leaders in our public schools. It is not their fault. When I came to Dallas forty-six years ago, in the years following, I preached in most of the high schools of the city of Dallas. I held chapel services, I read the Bible, I prayed, I preached the gospel. You couldn’t begin to start to commence to think about such a thing today. It is a new day, it is a new world, it is a new culture, and I don’t recognize it.
That’s why I praise God for our Christian academy. Bless God’s name! You have a choice: you can send your child to this Christian school, where the Bible is faithfully taught, where the Book is revered and honored, where the name of Christ is preached, where chapel services are held, where appeal is made in the name of the Lord. For years and years I wanted a Christian school, and could not achieve it. The men would not follow me: the money was too great, the outlay was too expensive. Then, in God’s providence, the superintendent of the public school systems of the city of Dallas joined our church, Dr. Nolan Estes. And when I spoke to him about the dream of my heart to have a Christian academy, he said, “I’ll help you.” And in the fellowship of the deacons, he stood up when I made appeal for the school, and he said, “If the day ever comes that education is the sole prerogative of the government, totalitarian dictatorship is just around the corner,” and we started our Christian school. Oh! I thank God for it. And I thank God for our college: teaching the infallible Word of the Lord, and training those young men and women in the faith to be preachers and missionaries and ministers and staff people in the churches of God.
And I thank God for our wonderful church: for you, and for all God intends for us; not only thanking Him for the days that are past, but believing in the glorious future under His hand for a tomorrow.
I was converted when I was ten years of age, and baptized in a little white crackerbox of a church house, in a little town of about three hundred people. In those days, on Wednesday nights, we had testimonies, and having just been converted and having just been saved, I stood up as a ten year old boy to testify my witness of grace. Having started to say words of love and gratitude for what Jesus had done for me, I broke down and cried. I looked at my mother to find strength to finish my testimony, and there she was crying. I couldn’t continue. I finally sat down in tears. That’s one of the things for which I have asked God ten thousand times, “Lord, Lord, why is it that when I preach, I cry? When I speak of the Lord, my response is one of tears? I melt down in my heart.” Sixty-three years I have been a pastor, and I am today as moved as I was when I began and as I was when I was a child, weeping in love and praise before the Lord.
Well anyway, when I sat down in tears, in that church, out there in far Northwest Texas, was an old pioneer, rugged preacher. And he stood up when I sat down crying, and with his hand, said to me, “There, there, my boy. That was a good beginning. That was a good beginning, my boy.” And the word of that old pioneer country preacher has rung in my heart for these decades since. That’s the beginning. That’s the beginning, and we’re going on, and up, and over, and beyond, serving God in triumph, in the promise of His grace and presence, until Jesus comes again [Luke 19:13]. We’ve just started. “Son, that was a good beginning.” We’ve just begun, and our greatest days of victory and triumph lie ahead. Praise His name! And bless God that we can have a part in that kingdom.
And to you who have heard this service of our nation and of the kingdom and patience of Jesus, what a wonderful thing this day to give your heart in faith to that blessed Lord [Romans 10:9-10]. On the screen you will see a telephone number. Call that number, and if you don’t know how to accept Jesus as your Savior, there’ll be a faithful, consecrated, godly man or woman who will answer and show you the way to heaven. Open your heart to the Lord. Give your life in faith to the blessed Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]. And I’ll see you in heaven some glorious day. And to the throng in this sanctuary, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, God has spoken to me today, and I’m answering with my life.” On the first note of the first stanza, come, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.