PASTOR HARRIS’ TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY
Castle Hills First Baptist Church, San Antonio, TX
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Well, hi y’all. I have certainly enjoyed listening to this choir and orchestra led by this master of music. If he’d let his hair grow six more inches, no telling how good he might be. Nor could I frame in sentence or word the appreciation of my heart for the unusual introduction of your gracious pastor, both at Northwest and here at this hour. I would say that was the second best introduction I ever had in my life: the best one was when the fellow who was to present me did not appear, and I introduced myself.
We are so honored to have Dr. Jimmy Draper, one of the sweetest friends I have in the world; and thank God for our Southern Baptist Sunday School Board, over which he presides so faithfully and well. And here in this audience is one of my gracious deacons and his sweet wife, who have driven all the way down here just to attend the service this morning. May the Lord write that in His book, and make it an eternal reward for them. And in this congregation is Floyd Lyon and his wife, Millie. For all of their adulthood they have been missionaries in the Wycliffe ministries in South America. And I owe my life to him. We were flying in a little two-seated plane over the jungle of the Amazon, and it seemed to me at 6,400 feet that the engine exploded—that was the way it sounded to me—and immediately fell in the heart of that Amazon jungle. And the reason I am alive is because of the genius of that young missionary and man of God. I could never express to him, never, the love of my heart for making it possible for me to live. And, of course, to be here this hour is an incomparable blessing.
I have never been more complimented in my life than thus to be invited by the glorious undershepherd, Dr. George Harris. I have thought, “Why in the world would such an honor of invitation be extended to me?” And as I thought through it, I thought of the answer: he is celebrating his fortieth anniversary in the ministry, and his twenty years here as your undershepherd, and where in the earth would he find an old man who would go beyond that record and honor him today? So here I am. Yeah, last October, first Sunday, they honored my fiftieth year as pastor in the First Baptist Church in Dallas.
So as I look back over the age of my life, my next birthday I’ll be eighty-six. Did you know, at our breakfast table one morning, some time ago, our little grandson was there. Evidently in Sunday school they had been teaching the children about Noah. And the little boy looked at me in all sincerity and said, “Granddaddy, did you know Noah?” Oh, dear! I said, “Son, he lived just a few days before me.”
And, oh! wonderful pastor, what a gladness to share this hour with you.
The sermon is a text: Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” Christ loved the church—the pastor. There is no such thing in the earth as a wonderful church without a wonderful pastor. There is no such thing in the earth as a great church without a great pastor. It pleased God that that be a truth that obtains in the kingdom of our Lord. In 1 Corinthians 1:21, by inspiration the Lord inspired the apostle Paul to write, “By the foolishness of preaching, it pleased God to save them that believe.” It is through the ministry of that man that the kingdom of heaven is proclaimed in the earth and souls are saved and baptized into the fellowship of our Lord.
In this Bible there are three words that are used interchangeably to describe that man of God. He is called an episkopos, and he is called a presbuteros, and he is called a poimēn. He is called an episkopos, translated “bishop,” referring to the dignity of his office [1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7]. He is called a presbuteros, translated “elder,” referring to the administrative responsibilities of his office [1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5]. And he is called a poimēn, translated “shepherd” or “pastor,” referring to his compassionate heart for you. And when God speaks to you, He speaks through that preacher.
In the Book of the Revelation, in a survey and a prophecy of the entire era of the Christian dispensation, it is divided into seven parts, represented by seven churches; and to each one of the church, our Lord delivers His message through the angelos [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. We take that Greek word and spell it out “angel.” But angelos is the simple Greek word for “messenger.” And when God has a message for His people, He delivers it through that man He has chosen to be your pastor and undershepherd.
And your love for Dr. Harris is beautiful beyond compare. I think it was in your church that this story has originated. There was a mother in the congregation who became ill. And they sent for the Methodist pastor to come to see her. And the Methodist pastor knocked at the door, and a little girl came to the door. And the Methodist pastor said, “I suppose your pastor, Dr. Harris, is out of town, because I hear your mother is sick and you’ve sent for me, the Methodist.”
“Oh, no” said the little girl, “Our pastor, Dr. Harris, is here in town; but we think mother has a contagious disease, and we didn’t want to expose our pastor.” Doctor, that’s real love and devotion, bless your heart. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it,” the pastor [Ephesians 5:25].
Christ loved the church; the people. Sweet people, I’m not exaggerating it when I tell you, I don’t care who they are, I don’t care what color they are, I don’t care what culture they are, I don’t care what background they are, they are not only vital to our American government, and they are not only vital to the city of San Antonio, but they are vital to us in the kingdom of God.
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,” Sam Walter Foss]
Pastor, that’s why, when I went to Dallas over fifty years ago—there are ethnic communities all through that city—I tried to get those people to come to church. They might visit one time, I’d never see them again. So I said, “If they won’t come to us, we’ll go to them.” And when I turned over that church to a successor, we had thirty-two chapels; we had thirty-two missions. Pastor, God bless the sanctuary here, full to the top. And God bless your great ministry in this house. But, pastor, don’t forget outside there are thousands of people who need you and need the Lord.
“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. Christ loved the church—the pastor. Christ loved the church—the people. Christ loves the church—a great program. As I said, I grew up in a little town of three hundred people, and our educational building and our educational program was commensurate. Right down through the middle of that little white crackerbox of a church house they pulled a curtain, and then across this way one other curtain and that was our educational program. I look at these kids at our church in Dallas, and they’re all, you know, in those cubby holes around, all of them, all graded according to color, and sex, and every way else. And I look at them, and I think, “Oh, what a marvelously greater opportunity I had growing up.” When I went to Sunday school, I sat in this quadrant. And I if didn’t like that teacher there, I tuned in on that one there. Then if I didn’t like that one, I tuned in on this one here. But, oh dear, the program that I knew then and all the things attendant to our educational outreach, today would be infinitely ineffective and inappropriate. We live in a fast and a furious age. And the work of the church and its ministries must become passionate and comparable. There is no other choice. We’ll do it, or we’ll die!
You spoke of my predecessor there in Dallas, George W. Truett, pastor there forty-seven years. Dr. Truett never learned to drive an automobile, never in his life; much less was he ever in an airplane, not one time in his life. Well, when I went to be pastor of the church, I said to the deacons, “I’m going to fly in an airplane” and they said, “Oh pastor, not you. You’re not going to fly in an airplane. You’ll fall out of the sky. They’ll pick you up with a blotter. You’ll turn to a cinder. You’re not going to fly in an airplane.” I said, “I’m going to fly in an airplane.” And I went down to Love Field to buy me a ticket. I was like that West Texas cowpoke who came and put down a five hundred dollar bill and said, “Son, give me a ticket.” And the airline agent said, “Where to?” And the cowpoke said, “Anywhere, son, I got business all over.”
I’m exactly like that: I went down and I bought me a ticket, and I got in that little contraption. They wound it up; and it took off yonder and scared the living daylights out of me. I looked across the aisle, and there was a guy reading the paper. I wanted to yank it out of his hand, and say, “Man, put that down. Don’t you know we’re up here in the air? Start praying.” When finally I got enough nerve to look out the window, I looked smack-dab-smack-a-doodle right into 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 the thing. I’ve been riding them ever since. Preacher, I came up here to see you on an airplane. We live in that day: a fast and furious day. And the programing of the church and the outreach of our ministry must be in keeping with the day and the generation in which God has cast our life.
And that does not mean that we turn aside from that Book. Base everything we do upon the revelation of God, and that Holy Word. Christ loved the church—the pastor, the people, the program, and a passion for the Word of the Lord.
So, two mischievous boys got a hold of the pastor’s Bible; and they glued some of the pages together. And the pastor stood up in the pulpit to read his text. And he started off, “And in those days, Noah took unto himself a wife. And she was,” and he thought he’d turn one page, “and she was thirty-five cubits broad, sixty cubits long, made out of gopher wood, and daubed on the inside and out with pitch.” The pastor 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.” And then he expounded on it: he said, “It just shows that other wonderful passage: ‘We am wonderfully and fearfully made’” [Psalm 139:14].
So these kids in our church go to the university. And they come back from the college, and they say to me, “That Book that you preach out of and that Book that you believe, it’s foolishness, it’s idiocy. I don’t believe any syllable in it.” And they say to me, “It says in that Book God created this universe. God created the universe [Hebrews 11:3]. God never had anything to do with this universe. This universe came from a speck. And there was a big bang; the big bang theory. And all that you see came out. No hand of God, no intelligence, no direction. The universe came out of that big bang. And that’s just the opposite of what the Bible says. I don’t believe the Bible,” they say. Then they continue: “And the Bible says God created all of the animals, and God created the man and his wife. I don’t believe a syllable of that,” those kids say to me. “I have learned better. I have learned in the university that we all evolved from a speck, all of us did. And I did. I came from a speck. I evolved from a speck. I once was an insect, then I was a tadpole, then a frog. Then I was a fowl, a bird. Then I was a chimpanzee; then an ape. And now I’m Homo sapiens. I don’t believe a word of that Bible. I’ve learned different.”
So I say, “So you’ve learned different than what the Bible says.”
“Well, who taught you all that?”
“My professor. My professor. My professor of genetics, and he has a Ph.D. degree. And my professor of biology, and he has a Ph.D. degree.”
“Wonderful! He’s got a Ph.D. degree.”
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]
Oh dear! Oh dear!
So, we are losing our great universities; one by one, we’re losing all of them. We’ve lost all of them in Canada. We’ve lost all of them in the North, such as Brown, such as Chicago. And one by one we are losing them here in the South. Our great senior university in North Carolina has disassociated itself from the Baptist denomination. Our great senior university in South Carolina has disassociated itself from the Baptist denomination. Our great university in Florida has disassociated itself from the Baptist [denomination]. Our great university in South Carolina has disassociated itself from the Baptist denomination. And our great senior university in Texas has disassociated itself from the Baptist denomination, into which we have placed seven hundred fifty million dollars—three quarters of a billion dollars!
And the Sunday after they had disassociated themselves from our denomination, when I got through preaching, I was standing on the left side of the pulpit, like this. And down the aisle came eleven young people, and came up on the platform, and surrounded me in a semicircle; eleven of them, young men and women. They were from the university; and they began to talk to me and talk to me. And as we visited together, I said, “You eleven kids are you in the Bible department? Do you attend classes in the Bible department at the university?”
“Oh yes,” all eleven of them said so. “Well, what do they teach you,” I asked, “in the Bible classes, in the Bible department there at the university?” And all eleven of them answered to me, “They teach us that the Bible is full of mistakes and errors and contradictions.” Well, I said, “What do they teach you about the historical sections of the Bible?”
“They teach us that the historical sections of the Bible are nothing but myth, and legend, and fable.” Well, I said, “What do they teach you about the Bible as a book?” And they replied, “They teach us that the Bible is a human book full of all the foibles and errors of human kind.”
And a few minutes ago, I asked your son, Jeff, who is pastor of that Northwest Castle Hills church, I said, “Son, when you attended Bible classes there in the university, is that what they taught you?” And he said, “Yes, that’s what they taught me.”
So, I stand up to preach. As I stand up looking at you this holy and sacred hour, and I open my Bible; and when I do, I hold in my hand a book of mistakes, and contradictions, and errors, and falsifications, and legends, and fables, and myths. I throw it away. And now I stand in the pulpit and preach like a liberal: I preach about social amelioration, I preach about politics, I preach about book reviews, I preach about the headlines in the papers, I preach about current events. Fine! Excellent, except, pastor, there are times when I have had five funeral services in a week. Fine, preach about politics and social programs, and here in front of me seated a grieving family, crying their hearts out: this one in that casket has suddenly died. And what do I say? Where is a message from God? Is there a revelation from heaven? O God, what is it to die?
And then I remember: when Sir Walter Scott, the great poet of Scotland died, he called for his son-in-law Lockhart, and he said to him, “Son, bring me the Book.” And Lockhart said, “Father, in your library are thousands of books. What book?” And the great Scot poet replied, “Son, there’s just one Book. Bring me the Book.” And Lockhart went into the library, and picked up the Bible, brought it back to his father-in-law, and placed it in his hands. And the great Scot poet, Sir Walter Scott, 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.
[author and work unknown]
And I have announced in my pulpit in Dallas, “When I die,” and I have said to my wife, “You listen to my heart: when I die, and they bring my body into this church and look on my silent face, I have one request. I want you to take my Bible and put it above my heart.”
Thou truest friend man ever knew,
Thy constancy I’ve tried;
When all was 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 has taught me how to die.
[“My Mother’s Bible,” George P. Morris]
There’s just one Book!
Now, preacher, I want you to come along with me. I want you to stand down there, want you to stand down there, right there on the floor; stand right down there. Now you stand down there. Right. And singer, I want you to pick you out a song, any song you like, just any song you like. And sweet people, I’ve got something I want you to do: you can’t say anything to him, you can’t shake his hand, but if you will say to your pastor, by coming, “Pastor, you preach that Book, and we’ll hold up your hand, we’ll pray for you, and we’ll ask God’s dynamic to rest upon you as you break to us the Bread of Life. And, pastor, I’ll be praying for you, and standing by you, as you preach that unsearchable riches of God.” And here’s what I want you to do: we’ll all remain seated, and I want you, just one by one, somebody, everybody you, I want you to get out of your seat, and come up here, and just touch him; then go back to your seat. Just touch him; you can’t say anything to him, can’t shake his hand, but just touch him. And by that touch, that’s a sign open and unashamed, “Preacher, you preach the Book, and I’ll be praying for you and upholding your hands.”
All right, you turn around now, you turn around. Singer, you got you a song? All right. And you, if you will hold up the hands of your preacher as he preaches, just come and touch him, and go back to your seat.