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.