CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH
Florida Baptist Pastor’s Conference
Dr. W. A. Criswell
The work you are doing here in Florida is a monumental achievement in the name of our dear Lord. I wish I could bring my own people over here to see the blessings of God upon you. I am like that rooster who came across an ostrich egg: he gathered all of his hens, and pointed it out, and said, “Now, I ain’t a-finding fault with what you are doing, but I just want you to see what they are doing in other places.” And that is you.
In the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, verse 25: “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. Christ loved the church—the pastor. It is still in this Holy Book: 1 Corinthians 1:21, “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” There are three words in the Bible used to describe this sacred office of a pastor. He is called an episkopos, translated “bishop,” referring to the place of dignity. He is called a presbuteros, translated “elder,” referring to the leadership he gives to the church. And he is called a poimēn, a “pastor,” a “shepherd,” referring to his compassionate ministries to his people. That office is exalted above anything we know in human civilization or in present culture: the place of a pastor, a bishop, an elder. When I turn to the Revelation, it is our Lord speaking to the angelic pastor of the church at Ephesus, at Smyrna, at Pergamum, at Thyatira, at Sardis, at Philadelphia, at Laodicea [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. No place of honor or glory comparable to that of being a God-ordained and God-called pastor.
I think it was of Dr. Mike Hailey that I heard this story over there in Lakeland. There was a mother who became ill, and they called for the Methodist preacher to come to see her. So he knocked at the door, and a little girl came to the door, and the Methodist preacher said, “I suppose your pastor, Dr. Hailey, is out of the city, because your mother is sick and they’ve called for me, the Methodist, to come to see her. And the little girl said, “Oh no, our pastor, Brother Hailey, is in town. But we think mother has a contagious disease, and we didn’t want to expose our pastor.”
“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25], the pastor. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it”—the people, all of them. My sweet people, I don’t care who they are, they are precious and dear in the sight of God. That’s why in our own congregation we have thirty-one chapels. When I went there, over forty-eight years ago, I did my best to get those people in Dallas to come to our church. Some of them would, never come back; those ethnic groups. So I decided, if they won’t come to us, we’ll go to them. And all through the city we have those thirty-one chapels, honoring God, preaching the gospel, and winning them to the Lord. “Christ loved the church”—the pastor, the people.
“Christ loved the church,” the program that exalts our Lord. We live in a day of fury, of movement. And in the days in which I grew up, years and years ago, I’m eighty-three years old, in the days in which I grew up, a very simple organization was quite sufficient. In the little white crackerbox of a church house in which I attended Sunday school, our educational program was very simple: right down the middle of the church they drew a curtain, across this way they drew a curtain, and I sat here, and I have a privilege that I remember as a boy that these kids that come to our church now in those little cubicles all around they didn’t have, when I sat here, if I didn’t like that teacher, I tuned in on that one there. If I didn’t like that one, I tuned in on that one there. But oh, today, such a program not the beginning to be commensurate with the tremendous need of this fast, furious life to which our people today our subjected.
My great predecessor at the First Church in [Dallas], George W. Truett, First Church in Dallas, George W. Truett, pastor there forty-seven years, he visited everyone in a horse and buggy. And when the horse and buggy went out, Dr. Truett never learned to drive an automobile, never. And he was never in an airplane in his life, not once. When I went there, I made the announcement to some of my deacons that I was going to get in an airplane and fly. You never heard such lugubrious prognostications in your life! They gathered around to me and said, “Oh no, pastor, not you! You’ll fall out of the sky. We’ll pick you up as a cinder, as a blotter. Oh, you’re not going to fly in a plane.”
“Yes,” I said, “I’m going to fly in an airplane.” And I went down to Love Field to buy a ticket. I was exactly like that cowpoke from West Texas who stood there and put a five hundred dollar bill on the counter and said, “Son, give me a ticket.” And the clerk said, “Where to?” And the cowpoke said, “Son, anywhere. I got business all over.” So I bought a ticket. And I got in that plane, and it wound up and took off into the wild blue yonder, and scared the living daylights out of me. When finally I got enough nerve to look out the window, I looked slap dab smack-a-doodle right into the middle of a cemetery, right down there. And it seemed to me that every one of those tombstones was waving to me up there in the air. I was like that fellow who said, “You know, I did real good, until a buzzard flew alongside, looked in the window, and winked at me.” But I’ve been riding them ever since.
I came here last evening in an airplane from Dallas. And I’m telling you, the latest approach that I can learn, or observe, or read, or see, how to reach people for Jesus, I’m for them, whatever it is. The organization that is commensurate with our present pace of life is something the church needs to learn and to implement.
“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25], the pastor, the people, a dynamic program, and a passion for the Word of the Lord. Did you hear about those mischievous boys who took—I saw some Afro-American people come in and sit down over there a while ago—one of your pastors. A mischievous boy in that black congregation glued together the pages of part of his Bible. So the pastor stood up and he began reading out of God’s Word, “In those days, Noah took unto himself a wife, and she was,” and he thought he turned one page—they were glued together, “and she was,” and he read, “fifteen cubits broad, eighteen cubits long, made out of gopher wood, and daubed on the inside and out with pitch.” He scratched his head, and he said, “My brothers and sisters, that’s the first time I ever read that in the Word of God.” Then he added, “But if God’s Word says it, I believe it. And it just goes to prove that other marvelous verse: ‘We are fearfully and wonderfully made!’” [Psalm 139:14].
A passion for the Word of God: my young people, through the years and the years, go away to college and come back half-infidels. There are more young people that lose their faith in our schools of higher education than in any other experience in life. So they come back to me and they say, “You know that Bible that you preach, full of myth and legend, says God created us?” Did you know, by law, in Texas, by law in Texas every public school has to teach evolution? Did you know by law in Texas, to teach the children that God created them is contradictory to what the legislature has passed? And these young people come to me and say, “You know that Bible you preach out of, full of myth and legend, teaches that God created me? I came from a green scum. I was an amoeba, then I was a paramecium, then I was a tadpole, then I was a fish, then I was a fowl, then I was a monkey, then I became Homo sapien.” And I say to them, “Where did you learn that?” And the student says, “My professor in college taught me that I came up from a green scum.” I say to him, “You mean a professor in college teaches you that?”
“Yes, and he has a Ph.D. degree.” How impressive.
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]
So when our great institution in Texas disassociated itself from the Baptist people, the Baptist denomination, even though we had placed seven hundred fifty million dollars in that school—several months ago disassociated itself from our Baptist denomination. I do not know why, but the following Sunday at the morning service when I was done preaching, there were eleven young people that came up to the pulpit, and surrounded me in a half-moon, eleven of them. “Where do you young people come from? And why are you here?”
“We come,” and they named the university; “We are students in the university.” Well, I visited with them; they just came to talk to me. Gracious, kind, generous; so I asked them, “Do you young people, do you attend Bible courses in the university?”
“Well, what do they teach you? Do they teach you that the Bible is inerrant, and infallible, and inspired?”
“Oh no,” they said, “our professors teach us that the Bible is full of mistakes and errors and contradictions.” Well, I said, “Do they teach you that the Bible is historically authentic, that the stories in it, the history in it is true?”
“Oh no,” they said, “our professors teach us that the Bible is full of myth and legend and grotesque stories, such as Jonah living in a whale’s belly” [Jonah 1:17].
So, my Bible that I hold in my hand, out of which I preach the gospel, is full of myth, and error, and legend, and mistakes, and contradictions. And when I open the Bible to preach, how do I know whether it is the authentic, inspired, infallible Word of God, or whether my text is a myth, or a mistake, or a contradiction? Nothing for me to do but to throw it away, throw it away. Then I stand in the pulpit, what do I preach? I have to preach social amelioration, book reviews, all kinds of political confrontation; but I don’t have any word from the Lord.
Sir Walter Scott, the incomparable poet of Scotland, lay dying and his son-[in-law] Lockhart, was ministering to his father-in-law. And Sir Walter Scott said to his son-in-law Lockhart, “Son, bring me the Book.” And Lockhart replied, “Father, there are thousands of books in your library? What do you mean bring me the book?” And Sir Walter Scott replied, “Son, there is just one Book. Bring me the Book.” And Lockhart went to the library and picked up the Bible, God’s Holy Word, brought it back to the great poet. And Sir Walter Scott died with that Book in his hands.
“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]
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 P. Morris]
I have said to my dear wife, I have said to my people from the pulpit, “When I die I want you to take my Bible and put it in my hand, and my hand on my breast, and when the people come by and look on my face for the last time, I want them to see the Word of God in my hand.” There’s just one Book: and the privilege of preaching it, declaring its gospel message of salvation, and to make appeal in the name of the Lord and His infallible Word is one of the sweetest privileges in human life.
Preacher, if you will dedicate yourself anew and afresh to proclaiming the infallible message of this inerrant Word, would you come and kneel right down there? Would you? Would you? This is a reconsecration and a rededication of your life to preach the infallible and inerrant Word of the Lord. Are you a pastor, such as I have been for over sixty-five years, are you a pastor? If you will reconsecrate and rededicate yourself to the proclamation of the infallible and inerrant Word of God, would you get up out of your seat and come and kneel here together? And we’re going to have a prayer of recommitment: our lives to the Lord, opening this infallible Word, proclaiming it to our people, and on the basis of God’s promise, call for repentance, and faith, and commitment in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:20-21].
My fellow preachers, I do not know in human life any experience comparable to that of the assurance and the foundation on which you stand when you preach God’s infallible Word [2 Timothy 4:2]. And for these years and years and many years, I have seen the power of the Lord poured out upon the people as I have declared this inerrant, infallible Word of the inspired God who loved us, and gave Himself for us [Galatians 2:20]. Oh, the Lord bless you, you my brethren, as you pour your lives in that pulpit, making appeal to the people on the basis of the promises that can never fail or fall.
Our Lord in heaven, no sweeter privilege could ever be given to me than that I have the opportunity to bow with these godly men, to thank God for their ministry, to praise Thee for calling us into this state, and the wonderful incomparable privilege of opening this sacred Book and proclaiming its life-saving, life-giving message. Bless them, Lord, as they kneel in Thy presence, then as they turn their faces homeward and minister to their people. O God, what it means to me in a funeral, in the face of death, to open this Book and to read from it the assurance of God in heaven that when we die in the love of Jesus, He just opens for us a more beautiful home in a more beautiful place. O Lord, without my Book, what do I do and what do I say in the presence of death? Great God, my only hope and assurance lies in the promises of this blessed Book. And help me, Lord, as I stand in those hours before those grieving, weeping people, and assure them that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, and He is coming back to receive us unto Himself; that where He is we may be also [John 14:2-3]. God bless my brethren as they minister the saving Word of God to the people who so desperately need their message. Thank You, Lord, for the answered prayer, in Thy dear and saving and heavenly name, amen. Amen.