The State of the Church
January 6th, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
THE STATE OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Revelation 1:9- 20
1-6-85 8:15 a.m.
We are always your debtors, our young choir and orchestra, and no less so to the praying people by the multitudes who share this hour on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas; this is the pastor bringing an annual message. On the first Sunday of each new year, the sermon concerns The State of the Church. And as a background passage, we read from the Revelation, the last book in the Bible, beginning at verse 9. Revelation chapter 1, verse 9:
I John, who am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches in Asia,
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden lampstands;
And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breast with a golden girdle.
Now verse 16:
"He had in His right hand seven stars."
Now verse 20:
"The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands. The seven stars are the angels, the pastors of the seven churches: and the seven lampstands which thou sawest are the seven churches."
This is the initial and beginning vision of the Apocalypse, the Revelation. It pictures our Lord walking in the midst of His churches. And of course, the church that the Lord has established first in this city is one of His lampstands; and He is present in the service and in this hour.
As such, we are grateful to the dear Lord for blessings in this past year that come from His gracious and benevolent and worshipful hands. Last year, our church led our convention with baptisms. The headline article in the current issue of the Baptist Standard speaks, "For the fifth consecutive year, First Baptist Church Dallas led Texas Baptist churches in baptisms in the 1984 church year." We had a total of 984. The next one to us is the Sagemont Church of Houston; and they had 568. Our church did not do as well as it did the year before, but we still have been wonderfully blessed of God in the people we have won to Christ. Especially and particularly do we thank God for our outreach ministries, our chapels that help us so wonderfully in witnessing to our Lord and winning people to Christ.
A second thing for which we are humbly grateful: we have had in this past year the largest Sunday school attendance in the Southern Baptist Convention, in the state of Texas, in the city of Dallas, and among all of the Southern Baptist churches of the world. We have had our largest Sunday school attendance this last year. We are humbly grateful to the Lord for the thousands that come every Lord’s Day, sitting at the feet of these consecrated teachers and listening to the Word of the Lord.
A third thing for which we are grateful: this last year, Dallas Christian Academy was given to our First Baptist Academy. It is a magnificent school. Our Cris attended that school in the years before we had a First Baptist Academy. And all of that property which is very valuable and the buildings and the entire teaching ministries of that East Dallas academy are given to us; they belong to us. Not only that, but a grant of one hundred thousand dollars was given to our academy, to be an umbrella over these hundreds and thousands of children who are being taught by their parents in the home. I found out last Sunday that one of our families right here, the Smith family, who comes so faithfully from Fort Worth, she teaches her children, four of them, she teaches them in the home. That’s where they go to school. And that is an increasing movement throughout the metroplex; includes thousands of children. And they have given us this grant to be an umbrella to supervise all of that work in the metropolitan area of Dallas and Fort Worth.
I could not describe the joy unspeakable that wells up in my heart when I come down to the church every day and I see these children and these young people here by the hundreds and the hundreds. It’s a ministry for Christ that goes on not just on Sunday, and not just for a Sunday school hour, but goes on through all the days of the week.
I so well remember getting in an argument when I was in the seminary, with one of the young men who became the head of our denomination. I said to him, "I cannot understand why our denominational men will pour millions and millions and millions of dollars every year into higher education, into colleges and universities, and pay no attention to the child in the most formative years of his life." By the time I was seventeen years of age, I went to the university. It had no contribution to the turning of the destiny of my life at all. I went there as a young minister, as a young preacher. Where was I formed in heart and dedication and mind to give my life to the ministry? In the college? In the university? No; when I was a child growing up. And if we intend to have any ultimate formative influence in the life of our children, it needs to be done when they are young. And it has been my dream ever since I was a youth to have a school, a Christian school where the Bible is read, where prayers are wont to be made, where revival meetings are in order, where every class presents the mind of God in Christ Jesus. And to see it flower and fruit in our dear church is a dream for which I thank and bless the name of God many times every day.
Not only that, but I thank the Lord for the blessings of heaven upon the efforts of our Center of Biblical Studies. If you want a man to go to a hard place, to a pioneer area, to plow in virgin ground and virgin soil, I tell you where you can find him: you can find him in that Center of Biblical Studies. And God has not only blessed the classroom there, but He has blessed our KCBI radio, over which I am now preaching. And we now have a shortwave station along with the FM station that covers this metroplex; and we are beginning to preach the gospel in Russia behind the Iron Curtain, and South America. It is unbelievable what God is doing here in this First Baptist Church of Dallas.
But we have tremendous assignments that lie before us; and it is mostly of those dedicatory challenges from heaven that ought to consume our prayerful commitment now. We had a meeting down here in the church at Christmas time; we had an annual Christmas party. Every year we have a dinner here for all of our staff, all of them. The maids, and the janitors, and the educational staff, and the outreach ministers, all of us meet down here. And this year they had representative members of the different sections of the church to speak, to testify. And one of them was a big, black woman who is in the service of cleaning the buildings; she is a maid here. So when she stood up to testify, why, she said, "Now our pastor there, he dreams dreams. And whenever he has one of them there dreams, I knows we’s going to build another building. And when we builds another building, that means more work for me; because I got to keep it clean and bright, and shining. But," she says, "that’s wonderful. May he keep on dreaming dreams."
Well, that’s true; I have the most vivid dreams that mind could imagine. And sometimes they wake me up as I am in those dreams. And here’s one of them: the day before, I had arranged for an evangel meeting in one of the homes of our people. And evidently, I had that evangel ministry upon my heart. So in this vivid, vivid dream the following night, I was in a home here; I can just see the house now. I was in a home in the city of Dallas, here in Dallas. And we had so many people coming to the evangel meeting in the home that we couldn’t get in the house. So I was on the porch in front of the house, and I was declaring and declaiming and presenting the Word of the Lord. And as I was speaking with an open Bible in my hand in that evangel group, in that dream, I saw neighbors coming from every direction, every direction they were coming. Families, fathers, mothers, and their children; they were all coming, in every direction. And as I stood there in the front of the house speaking to that enlarging neighborhood group, I was making an appeal for the consecration of our lives to the Lord and ended it singing a song. And I was so moved by the response of the people in the singing of the song, that I was weeping and singing; and I woke myself up weeping and singing. Now we’re going to sing that song, so all of you stand up. All of you stand up. And you know it, "Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone"; now let’s sing it:
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.
["Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?" stanza one; Thomas Shepherd]
I know we don’t do this in our church very often, but this time I want you to do it: when we sing the last stanza:
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels from the stars come down,
And bear my soul away.
["Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?" stanza five; Henry W. Beecher]
I want you to hold up your hand to heaven toward God, and I want you to sing it with me. Now hold up your hand, and let’s sing the last stanza:
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels from the stars come down,
And bear my soul away.
Thank you. God love you.
We have many things this coming year that ought to be determined in the prayerful wisdom of our church. I’m just going to name them, not expatiate on them, because I want to take what little time I have and speak of something else. We have coveted; we have contracted to buy the Salvation Army building that completes our ownership of the block toward town from our sanctuary. And that involves several millions of dollars. But we should do it, and all of our people have entered into that persuasion. We should have done it long time ago; we can’t go back through the years, we must do it now. And that building so well built, that building will be used not only on Sunday, but every day during the week, ministering in the name and for the sake of our Lord.
This year, we must buy the property that is leased underneath the Spurgeon-Harris Building. Once again, that should have been done years and years ago. It has an escalating clause in it; there is fifteen thousand square feet underneath the Spurgeon-Harris Building that we do not own. It is leased, and that has to be bought for future generations. We must do that. And that has to be negotiated, and our people must help us in securing that property.
We have a tremendous assignment of some kind, and we must pray God’s wisdom in it. We have a tremendous assignment to make a decision concerning the properties we own, where the school playground now is. What shall we do? There are options that are being laid before us by some of the great corporations of the city of Dallas, and decisions have to be made concerning that; as also with our proposed sanctuary center on the properties over here on the other side from town of our sanctuary. All of these things have to be decided this year; and they have to be decided in the wisdom of God. The decisions that we make now are the decisions that the church will be implementing for the generations that are yet to come.
But what I would like to speak of is our spiritual ministries here in our church.
God bless the church on the avenue
That hears the city’s cry.
The church that sows the seed of the Word
Where the masses of men go by.
The church that makes, midst the city’s roar,
A place for an altar of prayer
With a heart for the rich and a heart for the poor
And rejoices in their burdens to share.
The church that’s true to the call of Christ
Who wept o’er the city’s need,
And who sent His disciples to labor for Him
Where the forces of evil breed.
The church that gives and the church that lives
As seen by the Master’s eye –
God bless the church on the avenue
That hears the city’s cry.
["The City Church"; R. Walker]
To build a lighthouse for God in the heart of this tremendous city is, I think, the most pivotal of all of the devotions to which God’s people could ever give their lives.
Now, when we build the church downtown, its ministries cannot be just behind these stained glass windows or in these multiple buildings that you see surrounding us; our people live in homes, they live in houses. That’s where the children are growing up. That’s where they gather around the table. That’s where I could pray they listen to the Word of God read and listen to their fathers and mothers speak of the faith of our Lord. The reason Judaism, the Jewish faith has survived for thousands of years, hundreds of them where they had no opportunity publicly to worship, where they have been persecuted in the darkest pages of history, the reason they lived is because of the religion in the home, the house faith, the house prayer, the house reading of the Bible, the house teaching of the Word of God.
If we were to go back to a New Testament type of Christianity, that is the type of worship and teaching to which we would return: it was in the home. For three hundred years and more, there was no such thing as a church house. That came after the conversion of Constantine. But the most dynamic centuries of the Christian faith were in those first three hundred years when there was no church house, and the message of Christ was preached and prayed over, and wept over, and appealed for in the homes of the people, the house church.
Now what we are going to do, please God, with the help of heaven, we’re going back to that New Testament form of the Christian faith. Under the guidance of Dr. Melzoni and our staff and our Sunday school, we’re going with God’s help to organize evangel groups throughout the homes of this great metroplex. Beginning at 5:45 tonight, in the Christian education building, on the third floor, beginning at 5:45 tonight – in the Christian education building on the third floor – all of us who would be interested in sharing in an evangel ministry like that, you come and meet with us. And for four Sunday nights, we shall meet, preparing for the life and existence and ministries of these evangel groups.
We pray that the Lord’s blessing will be upon that effort to reach families for Christ. We actually here in our church, in this sanctuary, we actually reach very few families for Jesus. As you watch the people respond, there are not many whole families who come to the Lord by confession of faith and by baptism. But that does not mean there are not thousands of families who need to be won to the Lord. And our dedication ought to be for the reaching of those people. And that defines the evangel group: it is not a Bible study group as such, though we’ll study the Bible; it’s not a prayer meeting, though we’ll pray; it’s not a fellowship meeting, though we will meet together and break bread; but the ultimate purpose of the evangelical group is to reach families for Christ, to win them to the Lord. We are interested in people.
I can say this with certainty: there are no problems in the church that are, say, financial, that are not people problems. If we have people, if we win people, we’ll have the money to do anything God calls us to do in this earth. It is people that we need to reach. It is people to whom we need to minister. I so well and poignantly remember a visit with David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of the new government, the new nation of Israel. The nation had just won its independence, and I was introduced to him. And he and his wife were seated there in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, and I was introduced to him as the pastor of the largest Baptist, Southern Baptist church in the world. Well, that intrigued him; he had married a Brooklyn, New York Jewish girl. So he had me sit down, and I visited with him at great length. And one of the things that he said to me, was, "So you’re a pastor of the biggest Baptist church in the convention." He said, "There are one hundred million people in America who don’t go to church, who belong to no church. You have an enormous assignment."
I said, "That’s right, Mr. Ben-Gurion, that’s right. It’s an enormous assignment." And of that one hundred million in America who don’t go to church, hundreds of thousands of them are in this great metroplex, thousands and thousands of them. So as I talked to him, I said, "Mr. Ben-Gurion, why don’t you come to visit us in Dallas? There are many wealthy Jewish leaders in the city of Dallas. Why don’t you come to the city of Dallas, and here you could find a great response in giving you money for the building of this new nation?"
And he said something to me, and repeated it: he said, "I’d love to see them, of course. But I’m not interested in their money. I’m not interested in their money. I’m interested in their children. I’d love to have their children." And he said, "For the building up of the nation of Israel, we need their children to come and to live here, and to build and to farm," he himself was a farmer in Beersheba, "to toil in the land and to live from the soil. We need their children." And he expatiated upon it.
I think of that. Lord, Lord, it isn’t money that we need as such; it’s the hearts and the devotion and the love of people. And I think of the church not in terms of what we can get out of the people, but what the church can do for the people. How can we minister? Do you need help? Then we ought to help. Do you need somebody to bear a burden? Then let’s bear the burden. Do you need somebody to pray with you? Then let’s pray. A church that ministers, a church that reaches people, that has the burden, and the hearts, and the welfare of the people on their souls, that’s what I’d like to see. Not what we can get out of the families, or get the people to do, or get them to contribute; but what can we contribute to them? What can we do to help them? What can we do to uplift them? I’d love to think of our church as a servant church, as a ministering church.
I have to quit.
We’re not going to succeed in a ministry like that without large, large, large commitment in prayer. So I have announced here in this sanctuary, Tuesday of next week – not this week – Tuesday of next week, January 15, we’re going to have a day of prayer and fasting here, sponsored by our staff and their families. All of our staff and all of our families are to fast that whole day of January 15, Tuesday; and we’ll be here for the most part of the day in this sanctuary. And we’ll have a stated service at twelve o’clock to one o’clock, and we’ll have another stated service from seven o’clock to eight o’clock in the evening. And if you want to come, fine. The staff and their families will be here praying and fasting.
Then following Monday, that’d be January 21, our deacons and their families are to be here in the sanctuary praying and fasting. Then the following Wednesday, January 30, our Sunday school leadership is to be here in the sanctuary with their families, praying and fasting. And then the following Wednesday, which would be February 6, all the members of the church are invited to come, and to pray and to fast. And we’ll have a stated service at high noon for an hour and at seven o’clock in the evening for an hour.
Well, I was asked yesterday, "Well what are you going to pray for? And what are you going to fast for?" And my reply is very simple. Number one: we don’t win people to the Lord by the main, by the great masses of us. If I were to ask you one at a time, just pick you out anywhere, "I want you to stand up and tell me, when was the last time you came down the aisle here at the church with somebody that you’d won to the Lord?" It would be embarrassing. We don’t have power in witnessing to the Lord. We need God’s Spirit working with us, and that’s the first thing we’re going to pray for and fast for, "Lord, give me power when I testify, when I witness, when I invite somebody that’s lost, when I invite them to the Lord. God give me power in that invitation." That’s the first thing.
A second thing: we’re going to fast and pray that God will bless our evangel groups. I don’t think we will succeed at all without the power and blessing of God upon us. For us to do it, as Jack Brady prayed, "in the strength of the flesh," is to fail. And if we did succeed in it in the strength of the flesh, the praise and glory would be to us. We’re not interested in that. We’re trying to glorify our Lord and bring people to Jesus. And we want to do this in His grace and presence and outpouring of His Spirit; and that means we must pray, we must pray for God’s blessings on this evangel ministry.
And a last thing: I wanted to fast and pray for revival, for revival. God send us a revival. May it be felt, may it be seen, may it be manifest, may it begin in me. God do it, do it, do it now. Do it now, Lord, do it now.
Then we’ll just see after we have consecrated ourselves, and given ourselves, and prostrated ourselves, and offered ourselves, then it’s with God’s grace and will what comes of our dedication.
O Lord, I humbly pray it’ll be the most blessed and enriching and happy, and glorious experience that we’ve ever known in our lives.
David, we’ve got to sing our song of appeal. And just remain seated, just remain seated. While we sing this song, just get up out of your seat, wherever, just get up out of your seat; in the balcony, coming down one of these stairways, "Pastor, we’re going to put our lives with you today, and we’re coming. This is my family, all of us are coming today." Or, "I want to accept Jesus as my Savior, to begin the new year with my Lord; I want to begin with Him." Or, "God has spoken to me, pastor, and I’m answering with my life." As the Spirit of the Lord will press the appeal to your heart, on this first note of the first stanza, just stand up where you are, walk down this aisle, "This is God’s day for me, for us, pastor, we’re on the way." Or, walk down one of these stairways. May angels attend you while you come, as you come. God bless you as you answer with your life, while we sing our song, while we sing our song. "This is God’s day for me, and I’m coming, I’m coming." God bless you. God bless you.