Three-time Southern Baptist Convention president Adrian Rogers retired after 32 years as senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis last weekend.
Several current and former denominational leaders honored the popular preacher credited with launching the “conservative resurgence” that moved America’s second-largest faith group sharply to the right during the 1980s.
“As the Southern Baptist Convention’s president for three terms in the 1970s and ’80s, Rogers was among a stalwart corps of conservative leaders who pushed back a liberal tide and solidified the church’s devotion to the principle of Biblical inerrancy,” the Memphis Commercial-Appeal said in a Sunday editorial.
Rogers was the first of a string of fundamentalist presidents elected to lead the SBC beginning in 1979. Using the president’s authority to appoint key nominating committees, Rogers and his successors systematically replaced moderate trustees with conservatives at the various SBC entities. Over time those trustees removed entrenched moderate professors at seminaries and other denominational staff and replaced them with like-minded conservatives, moving the SBC from the mainstream of American religion into the religious right.
“Adrian Rogers saved the Southern Baptist Convention,” Steve Gaines, pastor of First Baptist in Gardendale, Ala., said to thunderous applause at a Friday night celebration, the Memphis Commercial-Appeal reported.
“If Dr. W.A. Criswell was our Peter, you’re our apostle Paul,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said during a Sunday morning service.
In addition to serving three terms as SBC president, Rogers chaired the committee that rewrote the Baptist Faith & Message in 2000, best known for adding a sentence to an article on “the church” that declares, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Earlier he was credited with shaping the work of a bipartisan SBC Peace Committee, which in 1987 delivered a much-anticipated report that also favored conservatives.
One finding was that most Southern Baptists interpret “truth without any mixture of error” describing the Bible in the Baptist Faith & Message to mean they believe in the “direct creation” of mankind and that Adam and Eve were real persons, that the named authors of biblical books wrote the books of the Bible attributed to them, that miracles described in Scripture actually occurred as “supernatural events in history” and that historical narratives by biblical authors “are indeed accurate and reliable as given by those authors.”
“We call upon Southern Baptist institutions to recognize the great number of Southern Baptists who believe this interpretation of our confessional statement and, in the future, to build their professional staffs and faculties from those who clearly reflect such dominant convictions and beliefs held by Southern Baptists at large,” the report continued.
A number of distinguished preachers paid tribute to Rogers at services over the weekend.
“There’s no one in this country I respect more than Adrian Rogers,” said Focus on the Family’s James Dobson on Sunday morning. “You draw me to Christ. When I’m with you, I feel closer to the Lord.”
Tim Goeglein, White House liaison to religious groups, brought greetings from President Bush.
Jerry Falwell, recovering from pneumonia, sent a letter calling Rogers “one of America’s greatest pastors and spiritual leaders.”
Former SBC presidents Paige Patterson, Jerry Vines and Jack Graham also spoke.
Graham, immediate past president of the SBC and pastor of Prestonwood Baptist in Plano, Texas, recalled sharing a meal with Rogers many years ago at an Oklahoma Long John Silver’s.
“It was like eating with one of the apostles,” Graham said. “We bowed our heads and Adrian prayed over our paper baskets of fish. I was convinced that when I opened my eyes the fish would be multiplied all over our table.
“But that didn’t happen.”
Near the end of the Friday program Rogers and wife, Joyce, were presented with a sign authorized by the Memphis City Council renaming the portion of Appling between Interstate 40 and Dexter as Dr. Adrian P. Rogers Parkway.
Rogers will continue his Love Worth Finding broadcast in retirement. He is working on a book and will teach a preaching course at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.