Adrian Rogers, the longtime pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis and one of the fathers of the grassroots movement that brought the Southern Baptist Convention back to its biblical, historical roots, died November 15. He was seventy-four.
Rogers died following a battle with cancer and double pneumonia.
Rogers came to Bellevue Baptist in 1972 and retired this year, and in his thirty-five years there helped build the church from a membership of nine thousand to more than twenty-nine thousand. His face and voice were known to millions of believers worldwide thanks to his Love Worth Finding television and radio ministry, which is carried in more than 150 countries.
But Rogers may be best remembered for his leadership in what is commonly called the Conservative Resurgence, the movement in which Southern Baptists elected a series of conservative leaders in response to evidence of theological liberalism within the denomination's seminaries and entities.
Rogers' election as president at the SBC annual meeting in 1979 marked the official beginning of the resurgence. Rogers, and the other conservative presidents that followed, promised to use their nominating powers to name only those who believed in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. Over the course of the next two decades, Southern Baptist seminaries and entities saw dramatic change, as conservative leaders and professors took the place of moderates who had held those positions for years.
Rogers, who also was elected president in 1986 and 1987, served as chairman of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message Study Committee that reviewed and revised Southern Baptists' confession of faith.
The author of eighteen books, Rogers is survived by his wife, Joyce Rogers, as well as four children, nine grandchildren, and one great grandchild.
In October, in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper, Rogers humbly acknowledged the significance of his role in the Conservative Resurgence.
"I look back on my life and there are a lot of things that have happened. I have written books, pastored churches, preached on radio and television around the world. But I think the part that God allowed me to have in the turning of the SBC may have the longest-lasting effect and be the most significant," Rogers said. "[The conservative resurgence] is part of church history. We think of the ancient councils of the church in decisions and so forth, but this thing is not small; it is big."
At the SBC annual meeting this year, Rogers was honored with a resolution passed by the SBC Executive Committee that noted many have called Rogers the "Prince of Preachers" and the "preeminent pulpiteer" among Southern Baptists.
Although Rogers' election in 1979 was a turning point in the conservative movement, it nearly didn't take place. As recounted in Paul Pressler's book A Hill On Which to Die, Rogers, on the night before the presidential vote, told those around him that he was not going to allow his name to be placed in nomination, believing it was not God's will. But then Bertha Smith, a retired Southern Baptist missionary to China and a well-respected prayer warrior, told Rogers she felt God was telling her he should allow himself to be nominated. Joyce Rogers, his wife, told him something similar. Rogers and his wife, along with Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson, subsequently gathered in Rogers' hotel room to pray about the situation.
"Finally, Adrian knew that he had God's direction that he should run for president of the Convention," Pressler, another leader in the resurgence, wrote.
Conservatives, who had driven to Houston in droves that year, elected Rogers on the first ballot over five other candidates with 51 percent of the vote. The second closest candidate received 23 percent.
"He was always a reluctant candidate," Pressler told Baptist Press. "He loved preaching more than leading the Convention, which spoke to his humility."
Rogers chose not to be a candidate again for president in 1980, saying he wanted to spend more time with his church and family. Conservatives, though, kept winning the presidency. In 1986, with forty thousand messengers registered in Atlanta, Rogers again allowed his name to be placed in nomination and was elected with 54 percent of the vote. In 1987, in St. Louis, messengers re-elected Rogers with 60 percent of the vote. Throughout his service, Rogers promised only to nominate people who affirmed Scripture's infallibility and inerrancy.
"He was the center of everything that the conservative movement did," Pressler told BP. "We looked to him for leadership, and we looked to him for inspiration. The conservative movement would never have succeeded without Adrian Rogers. Southern Baptists owe him a great debt of gratitude."
Rogers preached at the SBC Pastors' Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, June 20, appearing energetic and showing no signs of cancer. Messengers gave him a standing ovation.
The family is asking that memorials be sent to the Adrian Rogers Pastor Training Institute, c/o Love Worth Finding, 2941 Kate Bond Road, Memphis, Tennessee, 38133.
Reflections on a Great Man of God
by Morris H. Chapman
President and Chief Executive Officer of the SBC Executive Committee
Our hearts grieve deeply over losing a true champion of the faith, yet we commemorate the completion of Adrian Roger's remarkable journey and celebrate his home-going to be with the precious Lord He loved and served so faithfully.
In His grace, mercy, and wisdom, God chose to anoint and elevate Adrian Rogers at a critical juncture in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. His tenacious yet humble commitment to the absolute authority and inerrancy of God's Word stood in stark contrast to the ominous theological drift that threatened the Convention.
That commitment to God's Word led to his election to three terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. When selected to take the helm of the SBC, he led us in making critical course corrections that helped return the Convention to its original course. Today, as a result, the mission boards, seminaries, and entities of the SBC have all been returned to their historic theological foundations.
His unwavering confidence in God's Word was clear to all who were blessed to sit under his eloquent and powerful exposition, but also to all who observed his commitment to live and minister according to its timeless and precious truths.
Adrian Rogers was a model preacher, pastor, evangelist, husband, and father. He was an inspiration to untold millions, and the full impact of his life and ministry likely will not be comprehended or calculated this side of eternity.
On a personal note, Adrian Rogers was a pastor to my family. During her childhood, my wife, Jodi, was a member of Bellevue Baptist Church. When Jodi's mother was terminally ill, Adrian ministered to her in many ways, including visits, phone calls, and notes. When she died in 1990, Adrian conducted her funeral.
When I needed counsel, I often sought his advice. Not only was I blessed by listening to his powerful sermons, I looked at his life and saw no greed, no grudges, no jealousies, and no egotism. However, I did see Jesus. Adrian was my mentor in the ministry, and became for me a model of the Christian life — a model for whom I had enormous love and respect.
Yet, beyond all of the accolades that could be heaped upon Adrian Rogers, the pinnacle of his accomplishments and the richness of his legacy is that his life and ministry brought highest honor, praise, and glory to the Lord he loved so deeply and served so admirably.
For all of these, we are truly grateful to God.
Now, we pray that Joyce and the family will sense the Lord's warm embrace as they mourn. May His peace, the peace that passes all understanding, guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus in the days and weeks to come.