January 8: D. James Kennedy

Prestigious Congregation Votes into the Presbyterian Church in America
by Rev. David T. Myers

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church has had a remarkable history.  The Fort Lauderdale, Florida congregation began in an elementary school cafeteria in 1959 with forty seven people under the ministry of D. James Kennedy. 

Graduating class at Columbia Theological Seminary, 1959.
From left to right Masaya Hibino, Seth Q. Shaver, Sam B. Laine,
David B. Pedersen, Clarence D. Weaver, Jr. and D. James Kennedy.

Preaching his first year of ministry in what he claimed were the fifty-two best sermons ever heard by an American congregation, the attendance dropped from forty seven to seventeen!  Upon receiving an invitation from a rural pastor in Georgia to come and preach a week of evangelistic meetings, he gladly accepted, anything  to get away from the fiasco then in the making in Florida.  Upon arriving in Georgia, the rural pastor, Kennedy Smartt, informed him that in addition to the public proclamation of the Word, Jim Kennedy would be going door to door in the area to personally present the gospel.  This badly scared Jim Kennedy. He used to tell people that he couldn’t do personal evangelism because of a “back problem.” If pressed, the “back problem” was a yellow streak down the back.

After a bungled attempt at the first “cold” door, the young minister then watched Pastor Smartt lead the person to a profession of faith.  In fact, over the next week, he watched Kennedy Smartt lead soul after soul to Christ.  What he didn’t know at the time was that the two rural congregations had prayed for the salvation of specific people for two years.  Further, just prior to the evangelistic meetings, a young banker has dropped dead.  That fact, plus the prayers, made the diagnostic question which began with “Suppose you were to die today,” suddenly real to every citizen in the area.  D. James Kennedy would return to his young dying congregation with a new emphasis in soul-winning.

Using the method and later making it his thesis for his Ph.D. degree from New York University, the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church became the fastest growing church in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, with 8000 in attendance at the dedication of their new building in 1973.

[» Construction of the stainless steel spire, with cross being hoisted in place »]

All was not well however with their membership in the Presbyterian Church, U.S. Theological liberalism was gaining ground, despite the best efforts of conservatives to win the battle for the Bible.  After years of seeking to reclaim the denomination back to its historic stance of biblical faithfulness, on January 8, 1978, the church voted to throw its support to the Presbyterian Church in America.

Words to Live By: “The visible church is a society made up of all such as . . . do profess the true religion, and of their children.”  (L.C. 62)  This answer centers around the phrase “the true religion.” Suppose a denomination with a great past of faithfulness to the true religion slowly but surely turns away from the faith of their spiritual fathers.  Suppose that any and all attempts to turn it back fails.  There is only one remedy, and that is to leave it for a denomination which still proclaims the whole counsel of God.  And that is what this congregation, and countless others, did back in 1973. Praise God for the Presbyterian Church in America.

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