The first six months of 2023 have seen the Church in America lose four legends.
Two of these men were paramount in my own Spiritual development, the second being a former employer—the only one of the quartet whom I knew personally—and they were the bookends of the passings.
Two Southern Baptists, one Pentecostal, and one Presbyterian.
On January 8, Foursquare denominational pastor, and pastor to pastors, Jack W. Hayford, died at the age of 88. He took over a tiny church in the Van Nuys community of Los Angeles in 1969 which had only 18 attendees at his first service, including his own family.
“Pastor Jack” as he was fondly known, watched that church grow into the megachurch known as the Church on the Way. He was the author of over 50 books and, more famously, hundreds of Christian songs and choruses, including the world renown “Majesty.” In an age when many famous leaders barely touch books published over their names, there is little doubt that Jack scrutinized every principle if not every word. Hayford was also the general editor of the “Spirit-filled Life Bible” version of the NKJV.
On April 18, Pastor Charles Stanley died in Atlanta at the age of 89. Born in southside Virginia, and born again in a small Pentecostal church in Danville, he did early ministry in Florida before taking over First Baptist of Atlanta, where he also helped engineer the conservative resurgence and salvation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Two of his partners in that venture have since been disgraced by scandal, but Stanley remained squeaky clean to the end, albeit suffering a divorce. Anyone familiar with his preaching can recall his extended index finger followed by the words, “Listen.” His memorial is available on YouTube and was basically an old-fashioned hymn and gospel sing.
Third, on May 19, came the youngest of the group, the Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. He died at age 72 from a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Keller pastored in Hopewell, Virginia, before being asked to head a church in the daunting venue of New York City. But his pastorate of Redeemer vaulted him into a trusted cerebral leader of the faith. He once said that it was a shame when merchants and customers in the heartland go to court, if not to war, over selling products and performing services. He suggested that in New York’s multicultural melting pot, people respect each other’s religious beliefs (Christian, Jew, Muslim, whatever) and just shop somewhere else. He was a favorite guest of Focus on the Family listeners.
And finally, on June 8, exactly six months after Pastor Jack died, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson passed at the age of 93. A broadcast pioneer, television preacher, political candidate, author, educator, and founder of many ventures that changed people’s lives across the world. Robertson started CBN as the umbrella of other ministries such as Operation Blessing, Regent University, Middle East Television, the Christian Coalition, the American Center for Law and Justice, the Freedom Council, the Founders Inn and Conference center, and others.
The Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler called Robertson “a titanic figure.” He certainly was a titanic figure in my life, being responsible not only for my theological education under his auspices, but also much of my political resume. But when he shaved in the morning, he thought about souls and the return of Jesus.
I would say that due to the exponential reach of daily satellite television, Pat led more people to faith in Jesus Christ over his sixty plus years on TV than any other American.
Each of these men were scholars in their own right, albeit at different depths, each preachers, each Bible teachers, each at the pinnacle of his own arena. CNN and Fox covered neither of their funerals, unlike a legend such as Billy Graham, who was a peer of Presidents. But these men were in fact earthly prophets, forth telling (if not foretelling) God’s word to a generation.
Will they have more clout in heaven than the little old widow who spent time on her knees praying for them and supporting them sacrificially with her mite? Hardly. Most likely they will be in line behind her at the heavenly buffet.
Will they have a better seat at heaven’s table than the small-town pastor who labored over his flock for his entire life, or the believing nun who taught God’s children for decades, or the missionary in the 10-40 window who lost his life at the tip of a spear? Again, hardly. Fame on earth means nothing in heaven.
And God gives assignments to each of His servants according to their abilities and callings, each to his own, just as in the parable of the talents. We can only be the best of ourselves in God’s grace, not look around and measure ourselves by the successes or callings of others.
There will be literally millions of souls in heaven because these men told them of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
But in terms of setting examples of biblical leadership, starting young and ending with stellar life-long careers of national prominence, these four will be greatly missed. Yet the year is only half over.
Photo credit The Foursquare Church.