‘Obey God and Leave All the Consequences to Him’
This is probably my favorite of Dr. Charles Stanley’s “30 Life Principles,” and it represents a life completely abandoned to the will of God. I’ve never been a fan of megachurch pastors, mainly because many of them preach a prosperity gospel directly contrary to Scripture. But Charles Stanley was different. I grew up watching “In Touch” services with my parents, listening to cassettes with my dad in his 1983 Honda Accord, and reading just a few of the many books Dr. Stanley authored on practical Christian living. On Tuesday, God called this incredible man of God home to his eternal reward.
Born on September 25, 1932, in Dry Fork, Virginia, during the throes of the Great Depression, Charles Frazier Stanley, Jr. was the only child of Charles and Rebecca Stanley. The very next year, Charles’s father died from a kidney condition called Bright’s disease. He was only 29. Now a single parent, Charles’s mother Rebecca was forced to be the provider for their home, struggling to make ends meet in some of America’s darkest days. In his sermons, Charles would speak often of his mother’s inspirational faith and courage in the years to come. The two were very close and would remain so for the rest of their lives.
In 1942, Charles’s mother remarried; but his new stepfather struggled with anger and bitterness. Charles began spending more and more time by himself, and it was in these times that he drew close to the Savior he would later dedicate his life to serving. On June 9, 1944, Charles accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. Three years later, he shared with a friend that he felt called to dedicate his life to preaching the gospel. In 1949, 16-year-old Charles traveled to Siler City, North Carolina to visit his grandfather, George Washington Stanley. A preacher himself, George spent the next six days teaching his grandson the important principles that he would later to apply to his life of ministry.
In 1950, Charles graduated from George Washington High School. While he wanted to attend college, the money he had earned delivering newspapers and washing cars wasn’t enough to pay his tuition. Charles and his mother began to fervently pray for God’s provision. God eventually answered their prayers, and Charles was granted a four-year scholarship to the University of Richmond. On June 7, 1954, Charles graduated from the University of Richmond with a bachelor’s degree in History. During college, he had joined the Air Force ROTC and wanted to join the military to join a chaplain. But God was beginning to redirect Charles’s heart to go to seminary.
On August 6, 1955, Charles married Anna “Annie” Margaret Johnson, and they had two children together. The next year, Charles was ordained into the ministry at Moffett Memorial Baptist Church in Danville, Virginia. In 1957, Rev. Stanley graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. Later that year, he was invited to become pastor of Fruitland Baptist Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The president of Fruitland Bible Institute asked that Rev. Stanley begin teaching classes at the seminary. Although most of the students enrolled at the Institute were much older than Rev. Stanley and seasoned ministers, they never had the opportunity to attend seminary. While Rev. Stanley likely felt like an impostor, he found the courage to teach by relying on God. The pastors he taught quickly accepted him and mentored him in many ways, preparing him for future ministry.
In 1958, Stanley’s son Andy was born. The next year, Rev. Stanley moved his family to Ohio to become pastor of First Baptist Church in Fairborn. He was especially excited about the opportunity to serve military families at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In 1961, his daughter Becky was born. In 1962, Rev. Stanley discovered his love of photography on a mission trip to Haiti. He didn’t have a camera of his own and borrowed his wife’s. After having the pictures developed, he marveled at the beauty of God’s handiwork. From that point on, he became an avid photographer, capturing landscapes and wildlife wherever he went.
Later that year, he moved his family to Miami to become pastor of First Baptist Church. While here, he began work on his graduate degree and founded the George Mueller Christian School, which opened in 1966. In 1968, Rev. Stanley earned his Master of Theology from Luther Rice Seminary. In May, he accepted the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Bartow, Florida. But after just 11 months, God began to direct Rev. Stanley’s heart to Atlanta. He and his family moved there in 1969 to become the associate pastor of First Baptist Church. He had been warned that he might face a rocky road at First Baptist Atlanta. He and the senior pastor had theological differences, and the church had been plagued by divisive political agendas. Despite this, Rev. Stanley believed God had called him to this church and remained committed to reclaiming it for Christ.
In 1971, he earned his Doctor of Theology from Luther Rice Seminary. Later that year, Dr. Stanley was elected to become the 16th pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta after a rather dramatic church business meeting. Although the group who opposed Dr. Stanley eventually left, they did not leave without putting up a fight. In fact, Dr. Stanley was punched in one meeting. Though battered from the turmoil, those who stayed were committed to serving God and moving forward. God abundantly blessed that obedience in the years to come.
First Baptist Atlanta’s services had been broadcast on a local television station prior to the church political divide but were taken off air when things got nasty. In 1973, Dr. Stanley was able to relaunch First Baptist Atlanta’s presence on two televisions stations and one radio station. Due to exponential growth in the ministry, Dr. Stanley soon began reaching a nationwide audience and renamed the broadcast “In Touch” in 1977. The next year, the Christian Broadcasting Network asked if they could include the program on their new satellite network. In one week, “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley” grew from an audience of 16,000 to nationwide. At its peak, the program reach nearly every market in the nation and was broadcast to more than 115 million households. Currently, the “In Touch” program is broadcast on more than 4,000 television, radio, and satellite networks nationwide.
In Touch Magazine began soon thereafter as a newsletter in 1979. In 1980, “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley” began airing on its first FM radio station. In Touch Ministries was incorporated in 1982 as Dr. Stanley’s vision continued to grow, and In Touch Magazine was first printed in digest form in 1982. In 1990, In Touch Ministries expanded internationally and began broadcasting on Russian television. In 2014, Dr. Stanley cut the ribbon for In Touch Studios, a special recording facility that allows the ministry to create special television programs and seats up to 400.
In 1984, Dr. Stanley was elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. At the time, the SBC was deeply divided over the inerrancy of Scripture. Dr. Stanley was narrowly elected with just 52.18% of the vote. He was reelected the next year and throughout his tenure was able to solidify biblical inerrancy as a cornerstone of the SBC.
In 1992, First Baptist Atlanta opened its current location in Dunwoody, having agreed to purchase the property in 1988. The building required significant renovations and construction took the next four years. The last service at the downtown property was held on April 6, 1997, and the congregation worshipped for the first time together in the Dunwoody location the following Sunday. Later that year, God called Dr. Stanley’s dear mother home to Heaven. Though he grieved for her loss, he knew they would be united again one day. Her legacy continued to influence his ministry at First Baptist Atlanta and In Touch.
In 1994, “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley” began airing in Spanish on radio stations across North America, Latin America, and Spanish-speaking nations across the globe. The next year, In Touch’s Spanish ministry aired on television and was in every Spanish-speaking country by 1998. As the internet came to life in the 1990s, InTouch.org was launched in 1996. The Spanish and French ministries launched in 2002. Today, Dr. Stanley’s sermons can be accessed on the website, social media, and phone apps.
In 2003, Dr. Stanley became a New York Times bestselling author with his book, “Finding Peace.” Throughout his ministry, Dr. Stanley authored over 70 books, many of which are on my dad’s bookshelf at home. In 2005, Dr. Stanley published his Life Principles Bible, which included many of the biblical principles that have guided him throughout his life and ministry.
Dr. Stanley had long desired to have his messages translated into 100 languages. In 2006, he reached that goal. Today, his sermons have been translated into 127 languages. The next year, he launched In Touch Messengers, which are solar-powered audio devices that include the Bible and Dr. Stanley’s sermons. These were distributed to U.S. military troops around the world and later translated into more than 100 languages, including Spanish, French, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Hindi, Indonesian, Telugu, and Bengali. The Messenger lab was created in 2015, further expanding the efforts of this ministry to distribute devices with the hope of the Gospel around the world. Dr. Stanley dedicated the 1,000,000th In Touch Messenger in 2019.
After more than 50 years of faithful service, Dr. Stanley retired as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Atlanta on September 13, 2020, and assumed the role of Pastor Emeritus. On Tuesday, God called his servant home. When Dr. Stanley went to bed on Monday evening, he was listening to an audiobook about heaven. When he awoke, his faith had become sight.
Dr. Stanley’s ministry reached untold millions of lives. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Stanley at an event in 2017. I was able thank him for his years of ministry and share the impact his teachings had on my family. His success is largely due to three critical decisions. First, he made a personal choice to repent of his sins and ask Jesus to be his Savior. Second, he dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel. And third, he refused to give up on God’s call on his life when things got difficult.
Of his 30 Life Principles, the one that has always meant the most to me is “obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.” I think this sums up Dr. Stanley’s life perfectly. He had full faith and trust that the God who had called him would provide for him. Although he is gone from this earth, may we continue to learn from the legacy of Dr. Stanley. Following God is always worth it.