Former Southern Baptist Convention President Adrian Rogers, whose deep preaching voice was broadcast for decades and whose conservative leadership helped change the Southern Baptist Convention, died Tuesday, November 15, in a Memphis, Tenn., hospital.
Rogers, 74, had suffered recently from colon cancer and double pneumonia.
Credited as one of the pre-eminent preachers in his denomination and beyond, Rogers was the first Southern Baptist president in a conservative resurgence that began in 1979 in the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
"Few men have left such an impact on a church, a denomination and the larger world," said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., writing on his website. "His personal defense of biblical inerrancy and the great truths of the gospel awakened a generation of Southern Baptists to a crisis in our midstand he put his own ministry and reputation on the line for the sake of denominational recovery and reformation."
Rogers' emphasis on inerrancya belief that the Bible is without errorin heated annual Baptist conventions marked a turning point for the denomination.
"He understood that grass-roots Southern Baptists were going to be energized around this issue from the pulpit," said the Rev. Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest University Divinity School in Winston-Salem, N.C. "That rhetoric was necessary to articulate doctrine in ways that would galvanize them. And I say that as a moderate. I don't think moderates understood that in the beginning as clearly."
Rogers was elected president two other times, in 1986 and 1987, making him the only leader in recent history to serve in the post three times. He founded Love Worth Finding Ministries, a radio and broadcast ministry, in Memphis in 1987. He was inducted into the hall of fame of the National Religious Broadcasters in 2003 and was honored in June by the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, in a resolution of appreciation.
"When they write on my tombstone, I'd like for them to say something like this: Here lies Adrian Rogers, a man of God," he said at the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference earlier this year in Nashville, Tenn.
Conservative Baptist leaders showered Rogers with accolades on the day of his death.
"If we Baptists had a Hall of Fame, Dr. Rogers would be enshrined tomorrow," said Paige Patterson, another architect of the conservative resurgence who now is the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Added Richard Land, president of the denomination's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, "If there were a Mount Rushmore for Southern Baptists, Dr. Rogers would certainly be on it."
Others across the nation and the globe who may not have been intimately involved with the inner workings of Southern Baptists knew Rogers as a resonant voice for decades on radio and television. He retired earlier this year after serving 33 years as pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., a Memphis suburb.
Even in the hours before his death, his prerecorded message aired on the radio.
"Many around the world, because of the broadcast ministry, came to know Christ through his messages," said Ron Harris, chairman of the Manassas, Va.-based National Religious Broadcasters. "There was a sense of his daily impact on people's lives through his powerful preaching."
Mat Staver, president of the Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Counsel, and a Southern Baptist layman, said more Americans knew Rogers than they probably realize because his broadcasts of "a practical and biblical message" were so widespread.
Fellow religious broadcaster James Dobson, founder of Colorado-based Focus on the Family, said of his colleague, "There is no one in America whom I respected more than Dr. Rogers."
Bill Skelton, executive vice president of Love Worth Finding Ministries, said Rogers' messages, which have been carried on some 2,300 radio stations and more than 13,000 television outlets, will continue for years to come. Rogers preached more than 3,000 sermons in his 33 years at Bellevue Baptist, and Skelton said "fresh messages" that have not yet aired can be broadcast through 2008.
"He said to me recently, 'You know, one day the messenger will be gone but the message must continue,'" Skelton recalled in an interview. "Our desire is and his desire was that the ministry continue and so, as long as that is feasible, we are committed to doing that."
Rogers' funeral is scheduled for Thursday at the Tennessee church that named him pastor emeritus upon his retirement.
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