Monday, November 21, 2005

Adrian Rogers--A Tribute

I was out of the country when I learned about the death of Adrian Rogers, longtime pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. I was saddened by the news and those I was with on the Founders Cruise prayed more than once for his family. We prayed with thanksgiving for his life and ministry. Pastor David Wooten, who serves Riverbend Community Church, was one of the speakers on the cruise. He and his wife were members of Bellevue under Rogers' ministry. He spoke with genuine love for his former pastor who taught him to honor and believe the Word of God.

Rogers was no friend of Calvinism. In fact, more than once he was quite outspoken in his criticism of the doctrines of grace and especially some within Southern Baptist life who hold those doctrines to be the truth of God's Word. He referred to them (us) as "wine and cheese theologians." I was always saddened by his public denunciations of reformed theology because he seemed always to be attacking a straw man. Some of his comments provided fuel for the flames that were directed against faithful pastors by disgruntled church members and denominational servants.

Despite all this, it has not been difficult for me to maintain a sincere appreciation for Dr. Rogers. He led the charge in calling the SBC back to a firm commitment to the authority of Scripture. And he did it, from what I could tell, with grace and kindness.

My deep respect for him was sealed when I saw him in a private gathering of conservative leaders late one night during the 1990 Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans (Nevermind how I wound up at that meeting--that is a story in and of itself!). Conservatives had finally gained a majority of trustees on the Sunday School Board and everyone knew that the executive of that agency would not last long as a result. Conservatives again won other key votes on the floor of the convention, including the election of another president, Morris Chapman, who was loyal to the cause. The attitude of many conservative leaders who had been working long and hard for the inerrancy movement were almost giddy with excitement. This giddiness gave rise to a type of gloating in this private meeting of a few dozen men. In the midst of the laughter and self-congratulations Dr. Rogers stood up and gently but firmly issued a rebuke to his colleagues. "Brothers, God's Word says that we should not rejoice when our enemy falls. And those we have defeated are not our enemies. They are our brothers. We should not be rejoicing." His words had their intended effect and the tone of the meeting changed immediately.

That kind of statesmenship is in short supply today. He was not only a great defender of the authority of the Scripture he was also committed to living it out, even when doing so required that he stand against the private celebrating of his friends. Everyone who loves God's Word should aspire to live so faithfully.

I join many others in grieving his loss, thanking God for his leadership, and rejoicing at the thought of this faithful man of God entering into the full joy of His Lord.

9 comments:

pastorleap said...

Tom, thanks for the sincerity. I agree, and am glad to hear you say these things in a genuine tone. Sometimes when I read the postings on this site, I get discouraged when I see the way my calvinistic brethren respond to or treat those who do not agree with our positions.

Make no mistake about it, I am thoroughly committed to Calvinistic soteriology and reformed church life, but that doesn't mean for one second that I cannot love my brethren who are on the other side of the aisle. I, like you, had a great and deep respect for Dr. Rogers, even knowing his theological stances. I confess, I even watched LWF often on TV, and admired Dr. Rogers masterful speaking ability.

When I see just how few friends conservative, evangelical Baptists have in the world today, I realize that when I find a sweet spirit in a brother, I welcome fellowship with this brother whether or not we agree on all points. Why do I want to isolate myself anymore than I already am isolated by virtue of my identity in Christ and my ministry of proclamation?

It troubles me sometimes to hear the vitriolic spirit that we "founders guys" use sometimes when we speak of or to (non-calvinistic) others. I hear the example of "Paul confronting Peter" kicked around quite a bit, but I seldom hear brethren reminded that 1)We are not apostles with near the same enlightenment or the same doctrinal authority as Paul, 2) Paul also called us to admonish, warn, rebuke, and encourage those who are yet immature in the faith, and to do it in love with a desire to restore and disciple them, and 3)There is (often)a lot more that we have in common with many of our brethren than we differ over.

I thought of this last week at the annual meeting of the KY Baptist Convention. This is where I was when I heard about Dr. Rogers death. It was announced by Dr. Hershael York, a friend of Dr. Rogers, who is committed to evangelistic calvinism and general church reform. I looked around the room and realized that there were about 1500 other Southern Baptist messengers there who probably differed with me on a lot of issues! (This is an understatement). At the same time, I thought about the world outside that convention center. A world that was looking at ALL of us and laughing, often mocking what we stand for and criticizing us on all fronts. For just a moment, I was content to know that I was surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ who (for the most part) loved Jesus Christ, cherished the word of God, and were concerned about the spread of the gospel. Sure we had some "in-house" differences, but I was still able to love these brothers and sisters and be genuinely amicable toward them. Would I have liked to have ascended the pulpit and pleaded with them to abandon certain doctrines and adopt others? Sure. But reform and change come in time, with love.

I am glad to see you set such a positive example of honoring a great man with kind words. I appreciate this gesture. I'm sure that we can all agree that now, Dr. Rogers is no longer concerned about the doctrinal differences here below, but rather he is rejoicing in the presence of the great God whom he served so faithfully for so long.

This just reminds me of the importance of giving people the respect they deserve while they are living, and not just waiting until they die to say kind words about them.

Jeremy Weaver said...

I think he was attacking a straw man and I would attack that caricature of calvinism as well.
But I him preach from Ephesians 2 once, and you would have sworn he was a five-pointer.

Todd Wilson said...

Tom,

Thanks for your gracious eulogy of Dr. Rogers. I was able to watch the funeral on the Daystar Network. Steve Gaines preached a message that magnified Christ and not man. I too looked at Dr. Rogers as a man of Christian integrity. While not always agreeing with him, you knew where he stood. I appreciated that of him.

Scripture Searcher said...

Thomas, I appreciate all you have penned regarding our beloved brother, mutual friend and fellow soldier in God's spiritual army.

There are no PERFECT people on earth and Adrian Rogers was no exception - a truth he often openly admitted.

He had his failures and blind spots and his serious
misunderstanding of the sovereignity of God in the salvation of sinners was one of the most glaring!

He understands the full truth of this (and other) subjects now.

I, too, thank God for the life of Adrian Rogers. I loved him - warts and all.

He was one of the finest men
I ever met and debated.

G. F. McDowell said...

I like hearing about dealing with those within the faith with whom we disagree.

Derrille said...

I had the honor of working for Dr. Rogers as editor and graphic designer for his ministry Love Worth Finding for five years. Dr. Rogers' homegoing is a profound loss to me. And I am humbly grateful to have had the privilege to have known this remarkable man of God who had a burning desire from the moment he woke until he went to sleep to tell the world about Jesus. I have never known another who had such zeal and boundless optimism. What is remarkable about this is that he knew on the front end that I was reformed and yet he hired me. We had a mutual admiration and respect for one another's positions and never debated or disagreed. I am humbled by this man's trust in me. It is hard to believe he is gone and was even more difficult to hug his dear wife's neck at the funeral and weep with her. His funeral was all about his mission to tell people to come to Jesus...may my life have a glimmer of his sold-out commitment to the
Savior!

allofgrace said...

Thanks for the kind words about Dr. Rogers. I sat under his ministry for three years, and like Dr. Ascol, I was often saddened and sometimes angered by the caricatures of Calvinists and Calvinism that he sometimes painted in his messages. Although often at odds with him theologically, I greatly admired the fervor and energy with which he conducted his ministry, and the character he displayed in his daily walk. He will be greatly missed.

jpep2424 said...

Sad that you would mention that you were firmly committed to Calvinism and the reformed church life and not mention that you were firmly committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Calvinism has no leg on which to stand and it certainly wont save you. Dr. Rogers was right but he is with the Lord now due to his faith in Christ not because of his theological views.

Earl Bailey said...

Could someone please enlighten me as to Adrian Rogers view of Calvinism. It may be that I am blind and deaf or that I just did not hear him enough, but this is all news to me. His messages on Grace seemed to be right on in my mind.
Your response would be appreciated.