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  • Writer's picturePaige Patterson

Robert Tenery’s Prodigious Leap

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

Friday, August 13, about 1:00 p.m., Robert Tenery approached the track for a final run. Age 89 and a large man, he could no longer guarantee Olympic speed, and the obstacle before him appeared impossible—no inconceivable! All human bets said that the General (in the Lord’s Army) would never get airborne. But here he came and the closer the obstacle got, the more certain it was that only a terrible crash would ensue.

At the last conceivable moment, General Tenery glanced toward heaven and heard the voice of the Master say, “Come, my child.” The astounding, prodigious leap that followed in his suddenly reenergized lower torso catapulted him easily over death, and Bob Tenery’s final opponent looked on in startled amazement as the General landed in the arms of Christ. More alert now than a schoolboy at his first baseball game, he heard Jesus say something like “Welcome home, Robert. Walk with me now because I have something to show you.”

For his wife Deane and his family as well as a hallelujah chorus of thousands of friends, a pin-prick of sorrow for all of us who will experience a brief temporary separation was followed by “scriptural envy.” Is there such a thing? A few seconds of what Bob Tenery is seeing and doing in heaven is outlined in Revelation 4—5. Those of us who, like Robert Tenery, have trusted Jesus will get there soon enough according to when God has chosen. Until then, we will have “scriptural envy,” just imagining Bob’s first moments in heaven!

Now a word to you sojourners who must remain and traverse the forbidding surfaces of earth until Jesus calls. There is no doubt—a great man of God has been summoned home. What made Robert Tenery so remarkable was not the presence of a single virtue but rather the combination of many virtues in one man. As encouragement for us all to learn one last time from that saint, consider the qualities that adorned his witness. First, there was faithfulness. Tenery was faithful in his life-long devotion to his wife Deane, to his confession of Christ as his Savior, to his commitment to serve God’s people as a pastor, and to holding fast the biblical doctrines that shape the really great preachers.

Next, there is courage. Faithfulness is really nothing more than temporary infatuation unless tested in the caldron of conflict. Bob Tenery knew well the price of faithfulness. The courage he exhibited as a young man in seminary and as an aged saint in his senior years will stand forever as a monument to a man who never wavered. In an era when compromise and equivocation came easier to almost all leaders than costly adherence to a cause, Tenery is among the greatest and most faithful.

Love is no longer a potent concept. Cheapened by careless use and misapplication, love as described in 1 Corinthians 13 is as rare in our world as the discovery of a diamond in the fields of Arkansas. Unfortunately, with the departure of Tenery, it is rarer still. Sacrificial love for Christ in response to the Savior’s love for him provided the motivational fuel for both courage and faith. And enemies were as much entitled to be recipients of his love as were his friends.

Robert Tenery’s service for two terms at the Sunday School Board of the SBC, his newspaper published widely prior to and during the Conservative Renaissance, and his spectacular leadership for more than twenty years made possible the success of that effort. Tenery sponsored the first genuine public confrontation of the two sides in that debate in his pastorate of Burkemont Baptist Church in Morganton, North Carolina.

While the list could continue, long-time associate Steve Sells shared with me that the mature reflection of this pastor-theologian included a book on Jesus the Christ was complete except for the last chapter. How I hope that Sells, with Deane, will complete the last chapter in Teneryesque style and give it to us. But the point of mentioning this is to remind us all that the concluding thoughts of one of the greatest Christian soldiers of our generation or any other were appropriately about Jesus the Christ. May it be so with us!

Paige Patterson, President

Sandy Creek Foundation

Dallas, Texas

Funeral Service:

Tuesday, August 17, 2:00 pm (EST)

Eaton Funeral Chapel

325 N. Main St.

Mocksville, NC 27028

Burial at Fork Baptist Church Cemetery


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