THE SEVENFOLD UNITY OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Ephesians 4:6, 13
1-31-93 10:50 a.m.
The title of the sermon, The United Church, The Sevenfold Unity of the Church, or Our Glorious Tomorrow. Our background text Ephesians 4:
I Therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.
Do it with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love;
Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body, number one; one Spirit, number two; just as you were called in one hope, of your calling, number three; one Lord, number four; one faith, number five; one baptism, number six;
and one God and Father of us all, who is above all, through all, and in you all, number seven.
The sevenfold unity of the church. Then verses 12 and 13,
For the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
In this message I speak of myself, which I am always hesitant to do. But I have been invited and encouraged and importuned to speak of our situation in the church and of my own ministries in it and through it. Whence the subtitle of the message, Our Glorious Tomorrow.
I speak first of our college into which I am pouring my life. Teaching in the school—and you are invited to come to my class anytime and welcome—you will be astonished at the things that we talk about, things that are unpublished. You are invited to attend any of those classes. We even have night classes now. Then, of course, I have the infinite possibility of multiplying the work of that school in the assignments that I accept in other cities, in other states, in other associations, and in other churches.
All of this brings to me the possibility of multiplying my dedication to two things: the infallibility and the inerrancy in the inspiration of Holy Scripture, and to the ministry to which God in His Holy Word has called us, the preaching of the gospel for the salvation of the lost.
One of the things that has characterized our Western civilization in the last one hundred years, and especially in my own lifetime, is the propagation and the teaching and the acceptance of German higher criticism. It is a part of the curriculum of practically every university and every college and every seminary in the Western world; German higher criticism, that the Bible is none other than a human book, that it is filled with contradictions and errors and mistakes, and that its pages glow with myth and legend and grotesque stories. And that has become the norm of Christian academic world in the age in which I live.
The consequence of that teaching is tragic beyond any words to describe. We are now referring to the history of Western Europe and America as post-Christian. The era of the power of the preaching of the gospel is past. If you don’t have a basis upon which to base your faith, if you don’t have a foundation on which to stand, how do you preach? So, the churches die, the ministry dies, the preaching of the gospel becomes null and void, and the death that characterizes the modern Christian faith is universal.
Walking by the most beautiful seminary campus I ever saw in my life in southern Argentina, not a soul in it. The denomination, now liberal, spent millions of dollars building it. Not a soul in it. Visiting England a few years ago, there were seven thousand churches in England for sale. You could buy one with a song. And the churches that are still viable are empty. I remember going to the church in London of the president of the Baptist World Alliance. There were thirty in attendance in a city of millions and millions of people. The churches in Canada are practically empty. Nobody to speak of goes to church in the northern part of the United States of America.
And even in our Southern Bible belt the churches are becoming increasingly limpid and wimpy and without authority. Since I have been pastor here in Dallas, there are thirteen downtown churches that have ceased to exist. One of the sadnesses of my life is driving down McKinney Avenue. And as you go out on the left you’ll find the building of one of the most dynamic Baptist churches in these years past. It is now a glowing, glittering rock-and-roll bar and restaurant.
Where does all of that come from? It comes from a denial of the inspiration and inerrancy and authority of the Holy Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16]. How is it that a man is going to preach with the dynamic of God and he stands there believing that the Book he holds in his hand is nothing but error and misrepresentation, full of myth and legend and grotesque stories? That lay back of the building of our college. Teaching those young men and women the authority and the infallibility of the revelation of God. And it also contributes to this dedication of my life to go and to speak, as God will give me ableness and power, in behalf of this truth of the gospel.
It amazes me that even our world mission movement has disintegrated into nothingness. The people, the denominations, the executives who guide that mission movement send their men out with the persuasion that their assignment is to purify and sanctify the local culture and add to it a program of social amelioration. But never the dynamic and the persuasion of the preaching of the apostle Peter, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12].
Missionaries go out. We just make finer Buddhists out of the Buddhists, or finer Hindus out of the Hindus, or more socially sensitive leaders out of these native religions and cultures. But nothing at all that these people are lost; they face the day of judgment of Almighty God. And the Lord has raised us up and called us and sent us out to deliver the message of hope and salvation. It is a surprising turn to me that even our mission movement has turned into one of vapid insipidity.
So, I have—after ten and twelve years of being here at the church, constantly not accepting invitations—I have started to be a preacher in these assemblies and conferences and churches beyond our own sanctuary.
This week, this week in which we now are, I’ll be preaching to the State Evangelistic Conference in Indiana. Next week I’ll be preaching in Little Rock, Arkansas. And the meeting in Arkansas is one out of many, many of the assignments that Dr. Richard Melick, the president of our Criswell College, is arranging for me. On Sunday, I’ll go to a church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and I’ll be preaching in one of those churches. Then on Monday, I’ll be speaking to the pastors. If it is in a city, it will be the pastors in the city. If it is a smaller town, I’ll be speaking to the associations. If it is in a smaller still area, like one of the appointments made for me is in Forest City, Arkansas, if it is in a smaller city like that I’ll be preaching to the pastors in all eastern Arkansas. So through the days and the days and the days trying to build up a commitment to the faith once for all delivered to the saints [Jude 1:3] that in our generation has become, almost as I say, null and void.
The college is located in East Dallas, and the Baptist Building of the Baptist Convention of Texas is located in East Dallas, just down the street. So, last week Dr. James Semple, who is the number two man in our Texas Baptist Convention and has charge of all of its ministries, Dr. James Semple had about a dozen men who are leaders in the convention for a lunch. And to that meeting he invited me. He invited Dr. Melick. He invited Jack Pogue. And he invited Gary Hearon who leads our Dallas Baptist Association.
And the purpose of the meeting was, and I’m speaking now of the great dedication of our hearts and lives in the work of the Lord, the purpose of the meeting was to see if we could build a ministry in East Dallas to reach those thousands and thousands of lost people who live in that part of the city. That has been a burden to my heart for forty-eight years. I drive down those streets going home and back.
When Charles London was pastor of the Gaston Avenue Baptist Church, I did everything I possibly could to amalgamate our two congregations. I almost succeeded, carried it all the way through committee after committee for months and months, and finally failed in a final business meeting of the church on a Wednesday night.
The reason for it is, Dr. Hullen London and I took a census of East Dallas, and we found eighty thousand lost people there, eighty thousand of them, their names and addresses, eighty thousand in East Dallas. And, as I say, that has been a burden on my heart for these years and years. How is it that we would be moved by an appeal for the mission effort in Nigeria or in Thailand or in southern Brazil, and eighty thousand lost people there, and no one have any burden of prayer or any effort to win them at all. I can’t understand that.
So, to my infinite delight and joy, Dr. James Semple, who’s a sweet member of our church, Jody’s father-in-law, Dr. Semple had us there this last week for lunch. And that was the purpose of his meeting. He wanted us to enter into a great effort to win those eighty thousand lost people to the Lord. They are Orientals. They are Mexicans. They are blacks. And Jack Pogue, in real estate, was given the assignment to find a piece of property that we could use with its building for the outreach ministries of those people. And Dr. Melick was there to use those students in the college to win those people to the Lord, to visit them and to preach the gospel to them. Three hundred of those preachers were there.
And as I entered into it I thought of my own life as a student. When I went to Baylor University I was seventeen years of age and a young minister. When I went to the university every afternoon I took my Bible and I visited those slums between the school and the Brazos River. All up and down that Brazos River were slums. I would knock at the door, knock at the door, and I would introduce myself with a Bible in my hand. And I would say my name and that I am a Christian. “Are you Christians here?” And if they said “Yes,” I would say, “May I come in and pray with you and read the Bible with you?” If they would say, “No. We’re not Christians here,” I would say, “May I come in and show you how to be saved, how to go to heaven, and how to have Jesus in your heart and home?” I did that the years I was at Baylor every afternoon in those slums, from house to house.
Then when I was in the seminary in Kentucky a group came to my little village church and said to me, “Jackson Grove is our church in the Knob country, and it’s closed, and we have families and many, many young people. Our church is shut down. It’s locked. It’s closed. Would you come? Would you come and preach the gospel at our church on a Sunday afternoon when you’re here at your village church? Sunday afternoon would you come and preach for us?”
I said, “I shall.”
And you know what I did? After we unlocked the church, cleaned it out, washed it, cut down all the weeds and everything, what I did was, I got a tall young man in a family. And I said to him, “I want you to come with me. And we’re going to start here at the church and go down this road; then when we go down that road we’ll come back to the church, and we’ll go down this road. And every family on this road, on either side, we’re going to knock at the door. And I want you to introduce me to the family. And then I’m going to say, ‘I’m preaching the gospel there at that Jackson Grove Church. And I want you to come and listen to the preaching of the Word. And may, now even, I come in and read God’s Book to you and pray with you?’”
Sweet people, when I stood up to preach at the church, you couldn’t get inside it, you couldn’t get inside it. It was jammed with people, and they were thronging out there in the churchyard. And when I held my revival meeting there in the summertime we had the biggest baptismal service that Warren Association had ever seen in the Barren River that runs by Bowling Green.
I’m just saying to you, sweet people, that these can be won to the Lord. They’re not impossible. They are open in heart and mind and soul to the invitation of the gospel.
May I make a little aside here? Sweet people, you know I’ve been a pastor over sixty-five years. When I was in high school I drove a truck for a Jewish merchant who had a grocery store, and I carried groceries to his Jewish clientele. Sweet people, I have never been rebuffed in my life, not one time. I have witnessed to the grace of God to every kind of a man or a person that you can imagine, hardened criminals, people of other faiths, of other denominations, people of no conviction at all. And not one time in my life, not once, have I ever been cast out or cast down or belittled. Always it has been received with deepest listening and, I could pray, appreciation. We need to pour our lives into that kind of a ministry.
And that’s going to be one of the things we do in our college. I say to those trustees, “These preachers, these young preachers, will learn more by getting out there and witnessing and preaching than they will by studying these books in our classes.”
God bless us as we attempt to reach East Dallas for the Lord, and of course our wonderful church, our precious church. We are seeking, as you know, a pastor. When you get through with our service here, you’ll be asked to call an interim pastor. And they’ll name him for you. And that will be a wonderful thing.
But we need day and night to ask God to bless that search committee. It is important, that man of God to fill this pulpit and to be our undershepherd. Like a marriage, if you marry the wrong one it is tragic and disastrous. If you marry the right one it’s like heaven itself. It’s like a commander in chief or the field marshal of a great army. It’s like the head of a marvelous and growing corporation.
Day and night our people need to intercede in behalf of that search committee, and of course the work of the church. Did you know this last week—I had no idea of it—this last week I was told that sixty-nine point seven percent of the people of Dallas—and we belong to the Bible belt—sixty-nine point seven percent, almost seventy percent, of the people of Dallas are unchurched. They are not Christians. Seventy percent of this city. O Lord, to what You have called us!
And it is remarkable to me, I repeat, how people will respond. I was walking down that hallway right back of where you are seated in the choir, right back yonder, and I met a little family that I had baptized: father, mother and the little children. And visiting with them they said to me, “The first time we were ever invited to come to church, we came.” They said, “We had never been invited before. The first time, we accepted the invitation.” And of course, coming here, listening to the gospel, accepted Jesus, and I baptized them. O God, what we can do in a true unity in our congregation.
I want to illustrate that. Mrs. C’s Sunday school class had a committee meeting presided over by Dan Shelton. And they were setting a goal for the budget. And I said to them, “You know, you have a practice of giving ten percent of whatever the budget is. You subscribe ten percent. So, our people are going to be asked to give seven million dollars, and that means ten percent would be seven hundred thousand dollars. So, you set as your goal seven hundred thousand dollars.”
Well, Dan Shelton said, “Pastor, we’re not going to set a goal of seven hundred thousand dollars. We’re going to set a goal of a million dollars.”
I said, “A million? Why don’t you set a goal you can possibly reach, not one that is impossible for you?”
“No,” he said, “We’re going to set a goal of a million dollars.”
Well, he prevailed. I didn’t. I would have set that goal at seven hundred thousand dollars. He set it at a million dollars. And when they got through with their pledging in that one class the total was one million one hundred forty thousand dollars and beyond.
Darling people, sweet people, my fellow pilgrims, there’s hardly any limit to what we can do if we’ll be together in it. In these days past once in a while we would run over eight thousand in Sunday school. I am convinced that with the right leadership and the united dedication of our people that we can have ten thousand in Sunday school here every Sunday. And we can have a budget of fifteen million dollars. We can do it; united with one heart, one spirit, one dedication, one love, one commitment, together we can do it. That is our glorious tomorrow.
Now I want to close with an observation. What it takes to do a great work for God is to have a marvelous enthusiasm in it, a marvelous persuasion about it, to do it triumphantly and gloriously. Did you ever look at that word enthusiasm? In the Greek e-n, en, theos, t-h-e-o-s, entheos. Entheos means in God. So, the Greek word enthusiazō is built upon that “in God.” Enthusiasm is God in you. That’s what the word means, enthusiasm, God in you. And to have a spirit like that is heavenly, felt and seen and rejoiced in itself.
I was over there in North Carolina going to our Southern Assembly at Ridgecrest. And there was a bunch of kids over there, college kids that were working in a restaurant. And they took our order, and then when it was filled in the kitchen, came back, you know, oh, just man, they were just, oh, so and so, and so and so. Then when they got through serving us, they all got over there in the corner and sang some religious songs. It was a sight.
Well anyway, after we ate we went to a restaurant—I mean, after we ate we went to a church, we went to a church, Wednesday night church. And it was the dullest, driest, most unappealing service you could ever attend. And you know, one of those in the group said, “You know, if both of them had given an invitation that night, I would have joined the restaurant.” Oh, dear!
In the days when Bud Wilkinson was the football coach at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, in those days Oklahoma and Texas played their annual game in the Cotton Bowl. And every year for about, oh, half a dozen or more years, Oklahoma just ran over Texas. It was just pitiful. Well, anyway, I was out there at the Cotton Bowl and seated as you would know with those Texans. I was with about forty thousand on that side of the Cotton Bowl, about forty thousand avid Texans rooting for Texas University. How in the earth that guy ever got there I don’t know, but right there in front of me, right there in front of me was an Okie, right there, with forty thousand Texans all around; he was right there.
Well, just as the game started, he stood up and he waved a hundred-dollar bill, and he said, “Say, all you Texans, I’ll give you seven points and bet you this hundred-dollar bill we’ll beat you.” Well, nobody took him up. And he set back down right there. As the game went on, why, that crazy Okie stood up again and waved that hundred-dollar bill and said, “Say, all you Texans, I’ll give you fourteen points and bet you this hundred dollar bill we’ll beat you.” Well, nobody. He just sat down there in front of me. And as the game went on, he stood up a third time. And he waved that hundred dollar, “Hey all you Texans, I’ll give you twenty-one points and bet you this hundred-dollar bill we’ll beat you.” Well, he didn’t get anybody to respond. And he sat down there right there in front of me. Well, I just looked at that guy. And as I looked at him, I said, “Man, man, I’d like to have that critter in my church. Oh, boy. I’d like to have him in my church. He’s enthusiastic. He believes in his team. And he puts his money where his mouth is.” Ah, dear.
It is absolutely wonderful to be filled with enthusiasm and persuasion that God’s going to do a wonderful thing for you. I think of that old critter, young critter we’d call him. He was eighty-seven years old. He married a girl, and immediately began to look for a bigger house close to an elementary school. Now, that’s what we need. That’s what we need. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! And that’s what I pray for our church.
We’re not looking down and down. And we’re not out and out. We’re on the side of the Lord. And the Lord is on our side. He’s with us. God has His greatest days in His dynamic purpose and will for us. And I’m going to pray and to work and to help and to do all I can to make those days glorious for our people and for our families and for our homes.
O God, how I feel it many times! For the first time in the history of our church we have a majority of children from single parent homes. And for the first time in the history of our academy the majority of our children are from single parent homes. Who’s going to raise those children in the love and admonition of the Lord? [Ephesians 6:4]. We are called to help that father, that mother, those children; O God, what an infinite responsibility the Lord has laid upon us, beside the vast thousands and thousands of families in our city who don’t know the Lord. They’re not here this morning. And nobody is witnessing to them. Oh, the glorious tomorrow God has in store for our dear church. And to be a part of it is a blessing from heaven.
UNITY OF THE CHURCH
I. The college into which I am pouring my
B. Multiplying my dedication
inerrancy and inspiration of Holy Scripture
2. Preaching of
the gospel to the lost
C. Consequences of
German higher criticism
D. Missions vs.
refining national culture(Acts 4:12)
1. So I accept
invitations beyond our sanctuary
E. Effort for East
F. As a student, going
visiting every afternoon
G. Jackson Grove
II. The church
A. Seeking a new pastor
1. Praying for
the search committee
B. The work of the
1. The need –
69.7% of Dallas unchurched
have never been invited
What we can do with true unity
a. Mrs. C’s Sunday
1. It takes
enthusiasm to do a great work for God
College kids working a restaurant – “I would have joined the restaurant”
b. Lone Okie at the
c. Eighty-seven-year old
marries, looks for house next to school