Christ Loved the Church
November 28th, 1993 @ 7:30 PM
CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-28-93 7:30 p.m.
The title of the sermon is also from the text, Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.” Christ loved the church: the pastor. There is no such thing as a wonderful church without a wonderful pastor. There is no such thing as a great church without a great pastor. God made it that way; that’s a part of His choice and His creation. The destiny of the house of God lies in the hands of that chosen servant of the Lord.
In 1 Corinthians 1:21, “It pleased God by the foolishness, the foolish method of preaching to save them that believe.” And in the message of our missionary Hooton this morning, in Romans 10, verse 13: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved;” but next verse, “How shall they call on Him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher?” [Romans 10:13-14].
In this Holy Bible that I hold in my hand there are three words used interchangeably in the text referring to him, describing him. He is called an episcopos, he is called a presbuteros, he is called a poimēn. He is called an episcopos, translated “bishop,” referring to the dignity of his office [Titus 1:7]. He is called a presbuteros, translated “elder,” referring to the administrative rulership of his office [1 Peter 5:1]. And he is called a poimēn, translated “shepherd” or “pastor,” referring to the compassionate heart of this man of God [Ephesians 4:11]. And the Lord speaks to His church through that pastor.
The seven churches of Asia are representative of the entire Christian dispensation, all seven of them, each one a part of the age of the preaching of the gospel of Christ [Revelation 1:4]. And in the Revelation, when our Lord speaks to those churches [Revelation 2-3], He does so through the angelos; in your Bible spelled exactly as it is in Greek, “angel” [Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14]. But the message of the word is he is the speaker, he is the messenger, he is God’s mouthpiece to His congregation.
And of all of the churches in the world, there is none more marvelously blessed than the First Baptist Church in Dallas, with the beautiful and precious pastor we have, Dr. O. S. Hawkins. Did you hear this story in Fort Lauderdale, where he’s been pastor for fifteen years? There was a mother in the congregation who became ill. And they sent for the Methodist preacher to come to see her. He knocked at the door, and a little girl came to the door in answer. And the Methodist preacher said, “I suppose your pastor, Dr. Hawkins, is out of the city, because I hear your mother is ill and you’ve sent for me, the Methodist preacher, to come see her.” “Oh no,” said the little girl, “our pastor Dr. Hawkins is here, 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 [Ephesians 5:25]—the people. My mother took me to Amarillo to go to high school. It was in the middle 1920’s, and in those days they discovered the great oilfield in Borger, in the panhandle. And Amarillo boomed. All of those tall buildings you see in the city were built in the days of that boom. There are three railroads that cross in Amarillo: the Rock Island, the Santa Fe, and the Fort Worth and Denver. On the other side of the Santa Fe was a little community. They were Mexican workers on the rip track of the Santa Fe railroad. Nobody paid any attention to them, nobody visited them, nobody prayed for them, nobody thought about them; they were over there, isolated into themselves. And in those days there broke out an epidemic of smallpox in that little community of rip track workers on the other side of the Santa Fe. The United States government in Washington D. C. in its Health Department sent federal officials down there, and they quarantined the city. Nobody could enter it, nobody could leave it, not even a train was allowed to stop in it. And when finally the federal government lifted that quarantine, Amarillo was as dead as the proverbial doornail.
I don’t care who they are, their culture, their color, their economic situation, they are vital to us and they are dear to the heart of God. That’s why, pastor, there are thirty-one chapels in this church. When I came here forty-nine years ago, I did my best to get those ethnic groups to respond to our invitation to come and be with us. If one of them would come, he never returned. And I made up my mind and my heart if they won’t come to us, we will go to them. And that’s why those thirty-one different chapels.
Let me have my church on a city 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”; S. Walter Foss]
Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it [Ephesians 5:25]—the pastor, the people, and a glorious program. I have always had in my heart that the church ought to be God’s servant to the entire family: every child, every teenager, every single, every father and mother, every married couple, every member of the family, all of them. There ought to be in the church an outreach ministry to encompass them all. And the more furious the life in which our days are cast, the more the church ought to pray God’s wisdom and blessing be given programs to reach them. This world changes, and it changes furiously.
My predecessor, Dr. George W. Truett, pastored this congregation for forty-seven years, and he visited everybody with a horse and buggy. Dr. Truett never learned to drive a car, much less was he ever in an airplane. So when I came here, I said to the deacons, “I’m going to get in an airplane and fly.” You never heard such lugubrious prognostications in your life! They gathered round me and said, “Oh young pastor, not you. You’re not going to get in an airplane. You’ll fall out of the sky. We’ll pick you up with a blotter. You’ll turn into a cinder. You’re not going to get…” I said, “I’m going to get me a ticket and fly.” And I went out to Love Field, which was our airport at that time, and bought me a ticket. I was exactly like that west Texas cowpoke who came to the counter, laid down a five hundred dollar bill and said, “Give me a ticket.” And the counter agent said, “Where to?” And the cowpoke said, “Anywhere, son, I got business all over.” I was just like that. I got me a ticket.
I got in that airplane. They wound it up, and it took off into the wild blue yonder, and scared the living daylights out of me. I looked across the aisle and there was a guy there reading the paper. I wanted to tell him, “Man, put that down and start praying. Don’t you know we’re up here in the sky?” When finally I got enough nerve to look out the window, I looked slap dab smackadoodle right in the middle of a cemetery! 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 took his first airplane ride, and he said, “You know I did pretty good, until a buzzard flew alongside, looked in the window and winked at me.” But I rode that thing. I’ve been riding them ever since.
The program of our church ought to be different than what it was sixty-six years ago when I was a boy, a teenager, and pastored my little congregations. For years, even when I came here, to make an announcement was enough. You never had to think about anything, just say it and the people were there to respond. I remember one time way back yonder, I made an announcement here that I was going to the Holy Land, and if anybody wanted to go with me, come out to Love Field at such and such date, such and such time, and we’d all go together. That was all. You have promoted yours in Fort Lauderdale. You’ve been to the Holy Land thirty-seven times. And somebody promoted them, somebody arranged for it, I don’t know what all you did. But you sure did put it over. All I did was make an announcement, “I’m going to the Holy Land. If you want to go with me, you come.” When I went out there to Love Field there were 423 people out there, 423, just by way of announcement.
And when we had our revival meeting, we just announced it, and the people came from the ends of the earth. They came by horseback, they came by foot, they came by wagon, they came by families; everybody under creation was there when we had our revival meeting. Preacher, it’s going to be interesting to me to see how you have a revival meeting in this church. Oh! What a difference between the days of those long ago and the days today. But God is the same. Christ died for us, according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And the program we have now needs to be commensurate with the fast, furious pace of the life in which we presently live.
Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it—the pastor, the people, a vibrant, dynamic program, and a passion for the Word of God.
There were two mischievous boys that got hold of the pastor’s Bible, and glued some of the pages together. So he stood up to preach, absolutely unaware that some of the pages of the book had been glued. And he started off, “And in those days, Noah took unto himself a wife, and she was,” and he turned what he thought was one page, “and she was fifteen cubits broad, thirty-five cubits long, made out of gopher wood, and daubed on the inside and out with pitch.” He scratched his head, and said, “Brothers and sisters, that’s the first time I ever saw that in the Word of God, but if the Word of God says it, I believe it. It just proves that other passage that says, ‘We are wonderfully and gloriously made [Psalm 139:14].’”
A passion for the Word of God. So these kids go off to the university, and they go off to the college, and they come back here to me and they say, “You know that Book, I don’t believe that Book. That Book says God made us, God created us [Genesis 1:26-27]. I’ve learned altogether different. I have evolved from a green scum. Once I was an amoeba. Then I was a paramecium. Then I was a bug. Then I was an insect. Then I was fowl. Then I was a monkey. Then I was a chimpanzee. And now I am homo sapiens. I have learned that I have evolved. And that Book out of which you preach says that God created us. God made us. And I don’t believe that Book. And I hold it in contempt.”
“Oh?” I say, “so you don’t believe God made us. You believe you evolved from a green scum. Once you were an insect, and now here you are talking to me.”
“Yes!” Well I said, “What makes you think that?” And he says, “That’s the way I was taught by my professor. And he has a Ph.D. in biology. And he says I wasn’t created by God; I evolved from a unicellular insect.”
“Well,” I say, “and you?”
“Yes,” his companion and friend says, “I was taught here in the church that God created me and that this Bible is the inspired Word of the Lord; but now I know altogether different. I have evolved from an insect and I have been taught that by my professor of genetics. And he is a Ph.D.” 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.
So we are losing all of our institutions of higher learning, all of them. We have lost all of them in Canada, every one of them. We have lost all of our colleges and universities in the North, all of them. And we are beginning to lose them one by one here in the South. Our senior university in Virginia has disassociated itself from the Baptist denomination, Richmond University. Our senior university in North Carolina, Wake Forest University, has disassociated itself from the Baptist denomination. Our senior university in South Carolina, Furman University, has disassociated itself from the Baptist denomination. Our senior university in Florida, Stetson University, has disassociated itself from the Baptist people. And not very long ago our senior university in Texas disassociated itself from the Baptist people.
There is no such thing as that disassociation not resulting in the secularization of the school. There is no exception to that in Christian history. When the school disassociates itself from the mother denomination, give it time and it becomes completely secular, such as Brown University, such as Chicago University, such as George Washington University, such as Colgate Rochester, all of them, there’s no exception. And it’s just a matter of time until our great senior university in Texas becomes completely secular. And in that school we have invested 750 million dollars, three-quarters of a billion dollars.
So after they had voted to disassociate themselves from our Baptist denomination, on a Sunday morning when I got through preaching here, down the aisle came eleven young people. And they came up here on the platform where I was standing. And all eleven of them gathered in a semicircle about me up here in this pulpit. They were from our great senior university that had disassociated itself from our Baptist denomination. And they began talking to me. And I was most interested in talking to them. And they said to me, when I asked them, “Do you all attend Bible classes in the university?”
“Oh yes,” all eleven of them. “Well what do they teach you about the Bible?” And their reply was, “Well, some of the professors teach us that the Bible is full of errors and mistakes and contradictions.” Well I said to them, “What do they teach you about the historical portion of the Bible?”
“They teach us that the Bible is full of legends and fables and outlandish stories such as Jonah and the whale.” Well I said, “What do they teach you about the Book as such?” And they said to me, “They teach us, some of those professors, that the Bible is a human book, like any other human book.”
So I come to the First Baptist Church in Dallas, take my place here as a preacher, and I open the Bible, and what I have in my hand is a book of distortion, Aesop’s fables, legends, unbelievable far-out stories, full of errors and mistakes and contradictions. How do I preach out of a book like that? I throw it away. And I take my place in the pulpit now as a liberal minister. I preach about social amelioration. I preach about political confrontation. I preach about the headlines in the newspaper. I preach about current events. I preach about book reviews.
Fine—until I hold a funeral service, and that grieving family sits there, crying. And where is my message from God? So I think about Sir Walter Scott, the great Scottish poet. He lay dying and turned to his son-in-law Lockhart, and said, “Son, bring me the Book.” And Lockhart said, “Father, what book? There are thousands of books in your library. What book?” And the great poet said, “Son, there is just one Book. Bring me the Book.” And Lockhart his son-in-law went to the library and picked up God’s Book, the Bible, brought it back to his father-in-law and placed it in his hands. And the great Scottish poet died with that Book 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.
And I have said to my family, Mrs. C and my family, I have said to this church publicly, when I die, when I die, when I die, I want you to place my Bible above my heart. And when the people come by and look on my face for the last time, they’ll see the infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God out of which I’ve been preaching over sixty-six years.
Thou truest friend man ever made,
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]