A Commitment to the Church
April 1st, 1992
2 Timothy 2:1-2
A COMMITMENT TO THE CHURCH
Oklahoma State Evangelism Conference
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 2:1-2
I want you to know that’s the second best introduction I ever had in my life! The best introduction was when the guy who was to present me did not appear and I introduced myself. Oh, that boy! I have been married fifty-six years, and I’ve been trying to convince my wife for fifty-six years what a great man she had married; and she ought to be here tonight. Oh, I love coming back to my native state. I do love you and the glorious work you do for our Savior. And I present to you, of course, greetings from Texas: where every molehill is a mountain, and every dry wadi is a river, and every hole in the ground is an oil well, and every man is a liar! That’s Texas. That’s Texas.
Reading from the second letter of Paul to his son in the ministry, Timothy, in the second chapter, the first two verses:
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses,
the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
The commitment to faithful men, a threefold dedication: a commitment to the church, a commitment to the lost, and a commitment to the infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God. A commitment to the church: "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25]. And the pastor standing before his people to challenge his men, "Commit thou to faithful anthropos," plural, anthropoi, "faithful men the things thou hast heard of me among many witnesses." No greater thing could a pastor do than to challenge his men to lift up the glorious saving name of the Lord Jesus.
Leave it to the minister, and soon the church will die;
Leave it to the womenfolk, and the young will pass it by;
For the church is all that lifts us from the course and selfish mob;
But a church that is to prosper needs a layman on the job.
Now, a layman has his business, and a layman has his joys;
But he also has the rearing of his little girls and boys.
And I wonder how he’d like it if there were no churches here,
And he had to raise his children in a Godless atmosphere.
When you see a church that’s empty, though its doors are open wide,
It’s not the church that’s dying; it’s the laymen who have died.
For it’s not by song or sermon that the church’s work is done;
It’s the laymen of the country who for God must carry on.
["The Laymen"; Edgar A. Guest]
After preaching one Sunday night at the North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago, I was a guest in the home of James L. Kraft, the great founder of the Kraft Food Company. I invited him to come to Dallas. He accepted the invitation. And I’ll never forget one of his sentences: he said, "I count it a joy to be a layman in the North Shore Baptist Church of Chicago; but my biggest business is serving Jesus."
One of my deacon’s wives, she’s the wife of a doctor in the congregation, she came to me, and said, "Would you go with me to a foot-washing Baptist service this afternoon?" And I said to her, "Why, I’d love to go." But I haven’t got time to go back to the hills of eastern Tennessee to an old primitive foot-washing Baptist church. "Oh!" she said, "I’m not talking about going back to the hills of eastern Tennessee; I’m talking about here in Dallas." I said, "Do you mean to tell me that there is a primitive foot-washing Baptist church here in the city of Dallas?" She said, "Yes, I grew up in it." Well, I said, "You tell the doctor to come by and pick me up, and I’ll go with you." I went to that service. Did you know right in the heart of Dallas is a little white cracker-box of a foot-washing primitive Baptist church? Beats anything I ever saw in my life. Well, we sat on the back seat, and the preacher did something that I never had heard before. Now I’m not again, washing your feet – I hope all of you believe in doing that – I just may not decide, reading the Bible, that it be a, you know, an ordinance.
But anyway, when the service was done, why, he stood up and he said, "My brothers and my sisters, I’ve been paying all the bills on this church for thirty-three years." I found out that the foot-washing Baptist church doesn’t believe in paying the preacher; they believe in the preacher paying them. He said, "I’ve been paying all the bills, the janitors, the lights, the repairs; I’ve been paying all the bills for this church for thirty-three years. And I thought this afternoon, some of you might like to help me." So he said, "I’m going to ask the brethren here to take their hats and to pass them through the congregation, and I want each of you to give me a dime, just ten cents." So they started out, taking up the collection, each one of us to give ten cents. Well I reached in my pocket, and I pulled out ten cents.
I got to looking at that dime, and at him. I never said he was a ten-cent preacher: he did. He said, "Ten cents." I never said he was a ten cent-parson; he did, ten cents. I never said he had a ten-cent church; he did. I never said that he had a ten-cent gospel; he did. And when the hat passed by, I dropped in ten cents.
Now preacher, I want you to listen to me: when you go before your fellowship of deacons, and you say to them, "Brethren, I’m doing a great work for Jesus; I gotta have seventeen dollars and eighty cents there, and I gotta have a hundred fifty dollars and six cents, and I gotta have two hundred dollars there; when the deacons meeting is over, they’ll go out two by two, speaking about you as they always do, and they’ll be saying to one another, "You know that preacher of ours, he’s got money on the brain; that’s all he can think about, it’s seventeen dollars and sixty-five cents there, it’s two hundred dollars there, it’s three hundred fifty over there, that’s all he can think about is money." Preacher, let me tell you what you do: when you have your fellowship of deacons meetings, you stand up there in a good stance and you look them smack-a-doodle right square into the eye, and you say, "Brethren, I’m doing a great work for Jesus! I gotta have five hundred thousand dollars there, and I’ve gotta have one million dollars there, and I gotta have three million dollars there!" When they come to – they’ll all faint – when they come to, they’ll be walking out two by two, talking about you as they always do, only this time they’ll say, "Man, what a preacher. What a preacher! Did you hear that? Five million here, two million there, three million there, man what a preacher!" I never a saw a man in my life that was challenged by a flea hunt: every man wants to be a part of a big program and a great commitment! Don’t be afraid of it! Do it, and see what God raises up in your church to stand by your side – a commitment to the house of the Lord.
A commitment to the lost: my mother took me to Amarillo to go to high school there. And in the middle 1920s they discovered that big oil field in Borger, Texas – and Amarillo boomed; and those big tall buildings that you see now were built back there in that boom. On the other side of the Santa Fe railroad tracks was a bunch of Mexicans, they worked on the railroad tracks. Nobody paid any attention to them; nobody even thought about them. A smallpox epidemic broke out in that Mexican community. And the United States government sent their officers from the Federal Health division of the United States government in Washington D.C. and they closed down Amarillo. Nobody could enter in, nobody could leave; and when finally that interdiction and quarantine was lifted, Amarillo was as dead as a proverbial doornail. I don’t care who they are; they mean something to God, and they mean something to us.
Let me have my church on any kind of a street
Where the race of men go by –
The men who are good, the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban –
Let me have my church on any kind of a street
And be a friend to man.
[adapted from "The House by the Side of the Road"; Sam Walter Foss]
In the city of Dallas, our church has thirty-one chapels, thirty-one missions. I did my best to get those people, those ethnic groups, to come to our church; I ingloriously failed! So I took the gospel message to them; and there are thirty-one chapels preaching the gospel to every kind of a group that mind could think of. That’s God’s will for us: a commitment to the lost.
One of my deacons called me on the telephone and he said, "Pastor, right next door to us a family has come, and they’re all non-members of the church, they’re all lost. I thought maybe you might visit them." I knocked at the door, was invited in; I met a father, a mother, a seventeen-year-old girl, a fifteen-year-old boy, and a twelve-year-old boy, all of them lost. I poured out my heart to them; and they responded, and they said, "We’ll be there at church next Sunday." They didn’t come. And after about, oh, three or four weeks, I went back and I knocked at the door. And the family welcomed me in. And again I poured out my heart to them, and they said, "Pastor, we’ll be there next Sunday." They didn’t come. And on a Tuesday night, about two o’clock in the morning, a nurse from our Baptist hospital called me and said, "Pastor, there’s a man here, standing over his fifteen-year-old boy. The boy’s been hurt in a terrible accident, driving back at a furious pace to the city of Dallas. And I asked him, ‘Do you know anyone in the city?’ And he said he knew you. And I thought maybe you’d come and stand by his side as he watches his boy die."
I dressed, went to our hospital to a certain room, and there stood that father over that fifteen-year-old boy. I took my place by his side; and in just a moment, the nurse looked up and said, "Your boy is gone," and pulled the white sheet over the face of the lad, and left me standing there with that father. The father reached down and pulled that sheet down from the face of his dead boy, looked long into his face, and fell down on his knees and lifted up his arms and began to cry, "O God, and my boy is gone, and I haven’t done right by him, and I haven’t lived right before him! O God what shall I do? What shall I say? Where shall I turn?"
The following Sunday, after the memorial service, down the aisle at our church came a father, and a mother, and a seventeen-year-old girl, and a twelve-year-old boy, all of them giving their hearts to the Lord Jesus and coming into the church by baptism. Shaking hands with the people as they left, they all said to me, "Pastor, wasn’t that a wonderful sight to see that entire family coming to the Lord?" And I smiled, of course, and said, "Yes indeed, it is a beautiful sight." But what I thought when I saw that family seated there on the front row, I looked at them and I thought in my heart, "That is the saddest sight I ever saw, ever looked upon, in my life." I never told the people that there was another boy that belonged to the family, and that he lies in a Christless grave in Texas. I didn’t think that I should.
In the great assize, in the judgment day of Almighty God, when the Lord opens the Book of Life, and calls the names of those that are in glory, He will call the name of that father, and that father will say, "Here." He will call the name of that mother, and that she’ll answer, "Here." He will call the name of that seventeen-year-old girl, and she’ll answer, "Here." He will call the name of that twelve-year-old boy, and he’ll answer, "Here." And the Lord God will look into the face of that father and say, "And is that all?" And the father will reply, "No, Lord, there is another boy, a fifteen-year-old boy." And the Lord will say, "And Dad, where is he?" And that father will reply, "He lies in a Christless grave in Texas."
When the choir has sung its last anthem
And the preacher has prayed his last prayer
When the people have heard their last sermon
And the sound has died out on the air
When the Bible is closed on the altar
And the pews are all emptied of men
And each one stands facing his record
And the great book is opened – what then?
When the actor has played his last drama
And the mimic has made his last fun;
When the film has flashed its last picture
And the billboard displayed its last run;
When the crowds seeking pleasure have vanished
And gone out in the darkness again,
And the trumpet of ages has sounded
And we stand before Him – what then?
When the bugle’s call sinks into silence
And the long marching columns stand still;
When the captain repeats his last orders
And they’ve captured the last fort and hill;
When the flag is hauled down from the masthead
And the wounded afield checked in;
And a world that rejected its Savior
Is asked for a reason – what then?
["What Then?"; J. Whitfield Green]
"The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved," [Jeremiah 8:20] O God! O God!
Let me add a little word here that I didn’t intend to speak of. One of the things in my life that I’ll never ever forget: I was a teenager – I’ve been a pastor sixty-four years – I was a teenager, and in Bethel Baptist Church in Coryell County, in the middle of the summertime I was holding a meeting, preaching in a meeting under a brush arbor. I’d done my best to prepare the eleven o’clock sermon that morning; stood up and delivered it, and felt that I had ingloriously and ignominiously failed. And feeling that failure, I never gave an invitation; I just said, "We will now stand and have the benediction." And when I did that, Brother Angel, who was the pastor of the Bethel church, stood up and said, "Oh, Brother Criswell! Oh, Brother Criswell, don’t dismiss the congregation without an invitation! There are people here that I prayed for. There are these that I have visited. There are those that ought to come to Jesus. Sing an invitation, Brother Criswell, sing an invitation." So I said, "We’ll sing an invitation." And when they sang that appeal, down the aisle in that brush arbor came a whole host of people. And I’ll never forget: "It is not by power, and it is not by might, and it is not by a brilliant sermon, and it is not by a scintillating personality, it is by My Spirit, saith the Lord" [Zechariah 4:6]. Amen. And I have never held a service since that I didn’t give an invitation. And we’re going to have one tonight.
A commitment to the church, a commitment to the lost, and a commitment to God’s inerrant and infallible Word. Two mischievous boys got the preacher’s Bible and glued some of the pages together. And he stood up to read, and he read, "In those days, Moses was a hundred forty-seven years old. And he took unto himself a wife, and she was," and he thought he turned one page, "and she was thirty-five cubits broad, eighteen cubits long, daubed on the inside and out with pitch." He scratched his head and he said, "Brothers and sisters, that’s the first time I ever saw that in the Word of God." Then he added, "But if God says it, I believe it! It just goes to prove that other passage," and Angel Martinez quoted it tonight, "We am fearfully and wonderfully made" [Psalm 139:14]. Oh dear,! to believe the Word of God!
I am surrounded by young college students who bombard me day and night. They scoff at these stories of creation. And they say to me, "I came from a green scum. I was an amoeba, and I was a paramecium, and I was a tadpole, and I was a fish, and I was a fowl, and I was a marsupial, and I was a monkey, and I was an ape, and here I am." And I say, "Who taught you that?" And those kids reply to me, "Our learned professors."
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 as professor with a Ph.D.
[Author and Work Unknown]
Oh! And by law in Texas you cannot teach in the public school system that God created us. By law in the state of Texas, you are forced to teach that we came from lower animals. Great God!
And sweet people, to the heartache and heartbreak of this pastor, we are losing all of our institutions of higher learning, all of them. We have lost every higher institution of learning in Canada, such as McMaster in Hamilton, Ontario. We have lost every institution of higher learning in the North, every one of them: Brown, Chicago University, Colgate, Rochester, all of them. And we are beginning to lose them in the South.
Last week I was on the campus of Richmond University. It has disassociated itself from the Baptist people. Wake Forest University, our senior university in North Carolina, has disassociated itself from the Baptist people. Furman University is now in court trying to disassociate itself from the Baptist people. Stetson University has definitely been lost and disassociated itself in Florida from the Baptist people. And to my sorrow, beyond any way I could describe it, Baylor University has disassociated itself from our Baptist Convention. It is now a secular school.
A few Sundays ago, there came up to me in our pulpit there in Dallas, there came up to me eight students; and they said, "We’re from Baylor University." And they surrounded me in a half-circle. And I asked them as we visited together, I said, "Do you eight students attend Bible classes in Baylor University?" All eight of them said, "Yes." Well I said, "Do your professors teach you that the Bible is inerrant and infallible and inspired?" And they laughed and said, "Folly wide the mark. They teach us that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions and mistakes." Well, I said, "Do your professors teach you that the historical records in the Bible are true and authentic?" They laughed again and said, "Our professors teach us that the Bible is full of myths and fables and grotesque stories, such as Jonah and the whale."
So, I stand in my pulpit with a Bible that is full of errors and mistakes and contradictions. I stand in my pulpit with a Bible full of myths and fables and grotesque stories. How can I preach from a Book that is filled with fable and errors? O God, how could I preach from a Book that misleads these who read it? All I can do – throw it away, throw it away, throw it away. I can’t preach error and mistake and myth and fable to the people who are facing Almighty God. And I stand in my pulpit without my Bible, and what shall I say? Speak on social amelioration, speak on political confrontation, speak on the philosophy and sophistries of men – great God, what shall I do?
And above all, last week, we had five funerals in our church; and the minute I get back to Dallas in the morning I will go to the memorial service in our church of one of the dearest saints God ever made. And when I stand in that sacred place without my Bible, what shall I say? O God, facing eternity and the judgment to come, and I have no inspired, infallible, inerrant revelation from the Almighty in heaven! What shall I do?
When Sir Walter Scott lay dying, he turned to his son-in-law Lockhart – who has written one of the greatest biographies in the English language – he turned to his son-in-law Lockhart, and said to him, "Son, bring me the Book." And Lockhart said to his father, "Father, what book? There are thousands and thousands of books in your great library, what book?" And Sir Walter Scott said, "Son, there’s just one Book. Bring me the Book!" And Lockhart went to the library and picked up the Bible, and went to his daddy-in-law, Sir Walter Scott, and placed that holy Book in the hands of the great Scottish bard. And Sir Walter Scott died with that Bible in his hand.
"There’s just one Book!" cried the dying sage,
"Read me the old, old story."
And the winged word that can never age
Wafted his soul to glory.
There’s just one Book.
[Author and Work Unknown]
And I’ve told my wife, and announced it publicly in the congregation, "When I die I want you to put my Bible in my hand. I want to die with that Bible on my breast."
Thou truest friend man ever knew,
Thy constancy I’ve tried;
When all were false I found Thee true,
My counselor and guide.
The mines of earth no treasures give
That could this volume buy:
In teaching me the way to live,
It taught me how to die.
["My Mother’s Bible"; George Pope Morris]
There’s just one Book.
Dr. Wayne Bristol, if you’ll give the leadership of your life to encouraging the pastors and preachers of this great state of Oklahoma to be true to the infallible and inerrant, inspired Word of God: if you will, I want you to come down here and kneel; I want you to come down here and kneel. This is a sign and a commitment, "I give myself and all the energies of my office to the inspired and inerrant Word of God."
Dr. William Tanner, are you here tonight? Dr. Tanner, as the leader of our glorious Baptists in Oklahoma, if you will give yourself to the encouraging of your ministers, and pastors, and evangelists, and missionaries in the state, to be true to the infallible and inerrant Word of God, the sign is your kneeling there. Bless your heart, wonderful executive leader. If you are a preacher – you’re a pastor, or an evangelist, or a missionary – if you are a preacher, and you will dedicate yourself tonight to preaching the infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God, I want you to come down here and kneel with us.