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At Bellevue Baptist, thousands say goodbye to Adrian Rogers ‘til heavenly reunion

CORDOVA, Tenn. (BP)–A golden, 8-foot shepherd’s staff leaned against the casket.

Inside, next to the body of Adrian Rogers, was an open Bible –- his Bible. He had scribbled notes in the margins. He had highlighted verses, including Psalm 112:1-6, which concludes: “Surely he shall not be moved forever: The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.”

Thousands at Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn., gathered Thursday night, Nov. 17, to remember Rogers -– their pastor, their family member, their mentor, their friend. Rogers died Nov. 15 at age 74 after a struggle with cancer and double pneumonia.

In March, masses packed Bellevue to celebrate the life and ministry of Rogers, who retired after serving the church as pastor for 32 years. Thursday evening, just eight months later, they returned -– this time to say goodbye.

Throughout the service, speakers recalled Rogers’ loving adoration of his family, his kindness and his sense of humor. They remembered Rogers as a man who refused to compromise God’s Word, who preached it unashamedly and who desired more than anything to see lost people “come to Jesus.”

“He was my hero, my knight in shining armor, who was always there to slay my dragons,” said Janice Edmiston, Rogers’ daughter. “My comforter through the hardest of times. My counselor whose words were a deep well of wisdom that I could draw freely from.”

Edmiston spoke of the love between Rogers and his wife Joyce, “one of the greatest love stories this world has ever known.” Rogers never dated another girl. He often said that he and Joyce met in the fourth grade but didn’t get serious until the sixth grade.

Edmiston also recalled her father’s contagious positive spirit, and his ability to put a positive spin on everything –- even the cancer that would eventually claim his life.

“This is good for me,” Edmiston recalled her father saying about the cancer. “It’s given me something to focus on, kind of like a hobby.”

Her emotional eulogy was her “tell-all” story about her father -– but Edmiston said it wasn’t sufficient to communicate the truth.

“Of everything that has been said today about my daddy’s character, his love and his greatness -– take that, multiply it by 100, and yet the half has not been told,” she said. “And when he stepped over into glory, although it left a hole in my heart the size of the Grand Canyon, we are comforted to know that our loss is heaven’s gain.”

The two-hour service also included a eulogy from Rogers’ son, David, who said he learned from his father generosity, a love for God’s Word, acceptance of others and courage.

“I’ve learned what it means to take a stand when the easiest thing was to stay quiet,” he said.

Other speakers included James Whitmire and Bob Sorrell, who served on staff with Rogers for years; longtime friends Joe Boatwright and Peter Lord; pastors Jerry Vines and Ken Whitten; and James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.

“He was great because of the way he lived his life and because of his deep commitment to Jesus Christ and His Word,” Dobson said.

Steve Gaines, Rogers’ successor as Bellevue’s pastor, preached the message and compared Rogers to the biblical Samuel. Rogers was a prophetic, wise, prayerful preacher, Gaines said, who has now reaped the reward for his life’s service.

“As Dr. Vines has said, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope,” Gaines said. “We know that just as surely as Jesus died and rose from the dead, Adrian Rogers is alive. He has entered the gates of pearl…. All of life’s heartaches, including cancer, have been forgotten. He has won the victory.”

Though not on the program, other Southern Baptist leaders, Bellevue members and former members in attendance had memories to share about Rogers:

— SBC President Bobby Welch labeled Rogers as kind, accessible, encouraging, audacious and courageous. “That’s an interesting mix in one guy,” Welch said. “Usually those characteristics don’t run together.”

— Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, called Rogers a model, a mentor and a friend.

“I just don’t think there’s any greater servant of the Lord who has lived in this generation than Adrian Rogers,” Chapman said.

— Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said integrity was the first word that came to mind when he thought about Rogers.

“There was very, very little difference between the walk and the talk with Dr. Rogers -– just incandescent integrity,” Land said. “When I first heard that he had gone home to be with the Lord, I thought, the prince of preachers is now in the presence of the Prince of Peace, hearing ‘Well done, thy good and faithful servant.’”

— O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, said, “Had there never been a need for a conservative resurgence, he’d have still been our champion because of his godly life.”

— R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said being at Bellevue in close proximity to Rogers’ pulpit reminded him that preaching was the essence of the man.

“He was a preacher of the Word, whose heart for the Word of God and for the preaching of the Gospel led him to summon a movement, to build a church, to call thousands to Christ and to serve as a model for so many other ministers,” Mohler said. “To be here is to be reminded of his heart, his passion, his courage and his conviction, but also to know that it came in a personality that will be so missed -– the loss to us is incalculable.”

— Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Rogers was distinctive because of his “incredible ability and talent, held in a vessel of absolute integrity.”

“It’s a very rare coupling of virtues and gifts,” Patterson said. “That is what has made him a great preacher as well as a great leader.”

— Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, said Rogers was a champion for the message of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, evangelism and missions.

“In all of his boldness for truth, it was always with a heart for evangelism, and that’s what I always appreciated about Adrian,” Graham said. “I think the greatest thing I can say about him is he was a winner of souls.”

— Fannie Sammarco, a member at Bellevue, said she and her husband began attending the church in 1998 after attending a Pentecostal church for 45 years.

“I have learned more and benefited more since I’ve been coming here to this church with Dr. Rogers than I did in 45 years,” she said.

— Ashley Ray, pastor of Avon Baptist Church outside Indianapolis, grew up under the Rogers’ ministry at Bellevue and called Rogers his hero.

“If I could choose to spend five minutes with anyone on the globe, it would be Dr. Rogers,” Ray said. “He’s a great example, a great mentor. He called me a friend in the Gospel and treated me like a peer even though I was just a young, pipsqueak preacher boy of his.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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