by Keith Bassham
Someone not well acquainted with the Baptist Bible Fellowship may well misunderstand the coverage of the passing of John Rawlings in this magazine. Hagiography is not the intent, but since Mr. Rawlings will have only one homegoing tribute, I thought I would make it a good one. With good reason, by the way.
Mr. Rawlings was the last survivor among the figures central to the founding of the Fellowship. At 99, he outlasted the others, some by nearly 40 years. There are other founders still living, of course; among them James Combs, Verle Ackerman, Al Janney, Wally Williams, and Gene Milioni. But of the leading lights, John Rawlings was the last.
Ironically, Rawlings’ longevity caused many in this Fellowship to forget how youthful those early Fellowship leaders were. For many of us, he always had gray or white hair and spoke with an airy rasp. However, in 1950, at the age of 36, he and many of his cohorts represented youth and vitality. The Baptist Bible Fellowship was truly a young man’s Fellowship.
I was reminded of that relative youthfulness a few weeks ago when I was with the Texas Baptist Bible Fellowship and the National Church Planting Office Candidate School held in San Antonio (see the story on page 24). Having attended Fellowship meetings since the 1970s, I have gradually become used to seeing a lot of gray when preachers get together, but the banquet hall of the Riverwalk Holiday Inn looked much more like someone had spilled the salt in with the pepper as the gathering I witnessed had plenty of young men and young women and children (and not just in the praise band, by the way). Young missionaries and church planters were everywhere, pressing their vision and asking for assistance to get them on their way.
Nothing, I repeat nothing, would do more to get our Fellowship back on the rails than for us to keep this youthful energy among us. I mentioned last month that I had a conversation with Mr. Rawlings a few weeks before his death. I was joined in that conversation by Herb Rawlings, Harold Rawlings, and Leland Kennedy. At some point, I recall distinctly Harold Rawlings made that very case, that case for youth, as he reminded his father of the youthful character of the Fellowship founders (remember that Combs, Janney, et al. were just barely out of their teens at the time). He said, “This was a young man’s Fellowship.”
And it can be again …
… if our young men and young women can fully appreciate and embrace the essential principles of our founders, become sound in doctrine and practice, and understand the importance of being a Fellowship gathered around a great purpose.
… if our older men and older women can fully appreciate and embrace the essential principles of our founders, become visionary and courageous, and understand the importance of being a Fellowship gathered around a great purpose.