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‘Old-time religion’ good enough for W.A. Criswell

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–“Give me that old-time religion, it’s good enough for me,” sang W.A. Criswell, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Dallas, as a full auditorium at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary joined in during a chapel service Feb. 28.

Criswell, storying days gone by, recounted tale after tale of memories, all interwoven with the thread of old-time religion. “I’ve been a pastor over 70 years, and beyond 85 years a child of faith,” said Criswell. “The old-time religion is a delight to my soul beyond verbalization.”

Talking about revival meetings as a component of religion past, Criswell recounted the last revival service he held as pastor of First Baptist, Dallas, before giving up on their effectiveness “for this age.” Along with inviting one the most famous preachers living today, Criswell held special emphasis nights. “If I didn’t do that, I couldn’t get anybody to attend,” he lamented.

In contrast, Criswell told of his first quarter-time church at the start of his ministry, where the congregation heard their circuit-riding expositor only one Sunday a month, and then in a schoolhouse, not a church house. They had an open tabernacle on the campgrounds, and “when the crops were laid by and the summertime came,” he remembered, “it seemed to me the whole creation gathered for the services, and oh … how the power and spirit of God rested upon those congregations.”

Criswell recounted his conversion and call to the pastorate as a young boy in “revival meetings filled with emotions and feeling and tears.” His first public declaration came soon after in a “crackerbox of a West Texas church.”

When the revival preacher asked for testimonies of praise to God, Criswell recalled standing up, and with “Praise the Lord,” still resounding from his lips as he slid into his seat, beginning to weep, as did his mother beside him. An old-time West Texas gospel preacher sitting down the pew stood up, pointed at Criswell and announced, “That was a wonderful beginning.”

Such verbal affirmation seems like a thing of the past, Criswell noted. During a sermon by George W. Truett, one-time chairman of trustees at Southwestern, a woman interrupted the service as she stood and shouted praises to God. About to be escorted out, the lady was uninterrupted as Truett commanded, “She’s just happy in the Lord. Leave her alone.”

“We need more of that in our churches,” Criswell said.

Criswell also noted old-time religion’s absolute belief in the inspiration, infallibility and authority of the Bible. “So many of our young people go away to infidel, worldly, agnostic institutions of higher learning. They return asking, ‘You believe in that book? I’ve learned it’s full of Aesop’s fables, myths and all kinds of things that are man-made and man-thought,'” he said.

“‘My professor with a Ph.D. told me I was green scum, then a fish, then a fowl, then a marsupial, then a homo sapiens,’ these students continue.”

To that, Criswell responded: “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; now I’m a professor with a Ph.D.!” With sadness he admitted being dumbfounded by rampant disbelief.

A smile returned when Criswell told of an old-time preacher’s unyielding faith in Scripture, even when mischievous boys glued some of his Bible’s pages together.

The pastor told of Noah’s wife, and turning what he thought was one page he read aloud, “and she was 35 cubits broad, 86 cubits long, made out of gopherwood and gawked on the inside and out with pitch.” The preacher scratched his head, saying, “That’s the first time I ever saw that in the Word of God, but if the Bible says it, I believe it!”

“Travel back in time with me,” Criswell invited, “to the Green River Baptist Association in central Kentucky. Imagine — an opening in a grove of trees, logs split open for benches, a man way up front preaching. Suddenly the man beside you stands, then one over there, soon the whole throng of people, and they join hands and sing through tears, ‘My heavenly home is bright and fair, I feel like traveling on. No harm nor death can enter there, I feel like traveling on.'”

That, to Criswell, is the kind of old-time religion still “good enough for me.”

Kerr is a newswriter at Southwestern Seminary.

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  • Cindy Kerr