Dr. J. R. Faulkner Now With the Lord

post date: June 11, 2009

In the middle of the night I received an instant message that somehow found us in our stateroom on a cruise ship sailing somewhere in the Caribbean Sea. It was Peter Faulkner telling me that his father had died at the age of 95. “We are at peace,” the message said.

While thinking about Dr. Faulkner, my mind wandered back to my first contact with him almost 40 years ago. I had finished my first year at the University of Missouri but felt the call to transfer to a Christian college in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So I wrote a letter to Dr. J. R. Faulkner, whose name I found somewhere. He wrote back an encouraging letter-two pages long-telling me of the various opportunities at Tennessee Temple College (now a university). Everything he wrote I have forgotten except for this exhortation: “Where God Guides, God Provides.” If the Lord wanted me in Chattanooga, he would make a way.

And he did. During my years at Tennessee Temple, I gained two things that changed my life forever. First, I learned the Bible. Second, I met my wife. Dr. Faulkner was right about that. Where God guides, God provides.

In 1946 Dr. and Mrs. Faulkner joined Lee Roberson as part of the first faculty of Tennessee Temple. Three years later Dr. Roberson asked Dr. Faulkner to join the pastoral staff, first as assistant, then associate, and finally as co-pastor of the world-famous Highland Park Baptist Church. Together they built one of the largest churches in America, a megachurch before there was such a term. They even pioneered a forerunner of the current multi-site model by establishing 75 chapels throughout the Tri-State area of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, where young men could learn to preach and underserved communities received gospel ministry.

Every great man needs a J. R. Faulkner. As great as Lee Roberson was, it is doubtful that he could have accomplished what he did without Dr. Faulkner by his side. The visionary needs the organizer, the doer, the man of action who can take a dream and turn it into reality.

Here is Dr. Faulkner’s greatness. He never minded being the “second man", serving in Lee Roberson’s shadow. He came to Chattanooga in 1946 and he never left. He gave his life and ministry to assisting Dr. Roberson and making his dreams come true. Such faithfulness is hard to find these days.

And I remember this too. Dr. Faulkner served as the music director at Highland Park. Before I moved to Chattanooga, church to me had always been boring. I went but it did nothing for me. And then as a college sophomore I attended my first Sunday night service at Highland Park Baptist Church with 3000 others crammed into the auditorium. Every Sunday night service started with the choir singing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” and then Dr. Faulkner would turn and with a sweep of his arm bring in the great congregation and we would begin to sing along. Then he would lead us in the great chorus, “Behold He Comes,” the phrase repeated and building, building, building, and then, “And every eye shall see him. Friend, will you be ready when Jesus comes?”

I just let out a deep breath because after all these years, I can still hear it, see it, feel it. Now that was church! It was nothing like anything I had experienced before.

Dr. Faulkner lived long enough to see most of his own generation precede him in death. He also lived long enough to see all his sons grow up, raise strong families, and serve the Lord. His beloved wife died last year. This August they would have been married 66 years.

It is possible, I suppose, to live so long that you are almost forgotten before you are gone. But to those who knew him, who sat in the great at Highland Park, who had the pleasure of watching him in his strength, to those who knew him, he will never be forgotten. No man is gone who is remembered by those he leaves behind. Like David of old, Dr. Faulkner served his own generation according to the will of God, and then he died, old and full of years.

Marlene and I are happy to be among those who knew him and loved him. Now that he has gone to be with Christ, his memory will remain forever in our hearts.

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