Dr. William R. Rice, September 23, 1920 – July 8, 2010

This last Thursday, Dr. William R. Rice, my predecessor here at Inter-City and the founder of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary went to be with the Lord. Dr. Rice wasn’t just the pastor who served here before me, he was my pastor from the time I was 8 years old. Outside of four years while I served on pastoral staff at another church, he was my pastor from the time of my conversion until I came to serve with him for several months as co-pastor, then pastor after his retirement on September 10, 1989.

He was an incredible man full of faith and zeal for the Lord’s glory. He graduated from Bob Jones College when it was in Cleveland, Tennessee, then completed his Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Theology degrees at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake. In the mid to late forties he was diagnosed with cancer and given only months to live. God preserved his life and he came to pastor the First Baptist Church of Melvindale in 1949. That small church began to grow rapidly, which led to a merger with the First Baptist Church of Allen Park and the renaming of the congregation as Inter-City Baptist Church sixty years ago in July of 1950.

This community was expanding and the church experienced incredible growth along with it. Between 1950 and 1964 the church engaged in multiple building projects until we settled in our current building. Dr. and Mrs. Rice always had a real burden for education, so the current church building was constructed so as to provide the option of starting a school. In 1966, the school was started as one of the first Christian schools in the state of Michigan. Ten years later, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary was established. In between those two, the church, following Dr. Rice’s leadership, started the Inter-City Christian Bookstore and the Inter-City Christian Manor (a retirement facility).

For years I reacted very negatively to the stereotypes of fundamentalists that I would so often hear, and the reason for my reaction was that I grew up under something very different than what I was hearing about. My pastor had an earned (not honorary) doctorate in New Testament. He preached the Bible expositionally. He thought theology was important and taught it clearly to the congregation. He stood very firmly against the ecclesiastical compromises of the mid-20th century, yet I never recall him name-calling or ever speaking derogatorily of men from the pulpit. I am so thankful I grew up in a church where separation was practiced over real issues, not the trumped up ones of the last few decades.

There never was any debate around here about the KJV—it was great translation, but only that. Our bookstore, from its inception, sold other translations. Dr. Rice regularly cited other translations. We’ve had professors who have used other translations in their seminary classes from day one.

It wasn’t until I went off to college that I even knew that anybody thought there was something wrong with women wearing pants. I’d never even heard of men like Jack Hyles or Bill Gothard. I was shocked to find out that people thought the Bible prohibited inter-racial marriage (obviously, I knew people who opposed it out of prejudice, but none who defended it biblically).

I could go on, but won’t. My point is not to denigrate others, but to rejoice that God gave me the opportunity to have a man like Dr. Rice as my pastor for almost twenty of the forty years he served this church. Even more, I am so thankful that I was given the privilege of following a pastor like Dr. Rice. He spent forty years grounding a congregation in the Word and building a foundation that was rock solid. He wasn’t perfect—no pastor ever is. But he loved the Lord more than himself, and he loved this church more than his own life. There were a lot of pastors from his generation who built everything around themselves and once they were gone it all started to fade or fall apart. Dr. Rice built this church on the Word and focused everybody’s attention on Jesus Christ, not himself.

There is no doubt that he was a strong leader, but always for the good of the congregation. He took his God-given responsibility seriously and poured his life into the work. I’ll never forget, though, the moment on September 10, 1989 when he stood in front of the congregation that he had served for 40 years and said, “Moses is dead. Long live Joshua.” He had watched too many men stick around too long and cause trouble for the pastor that followed them. He was not going to do that. He loved the church too much. In the 21 years since that day, Dr. Rice was never anything but an encouragement and help to this church and its new pastor. Better men than I have had their ministries severely hurt by their predecessors, but God allowed me to follow a man who truly believed that the Lord and His church was more important than his ego and legacy.

I am thankful today that my life was blessed by God through this great man. I stand on his shoulders. I am glad that my pastor has gone to be with the Great Shepherd of the sheep that he loved and served so well.

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