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03
Apr

Dr. Stafford’s funeral

I attended the funeral of Dr. Gil Stafford at Park Place Church of God this morning. He died of cancer on Sunday after just over a year’s worth of struggle with the disease. It’s hard to overestimate the impact that this man has had on the Church of God in general and on me in particular. When I first enrolled at the seminary, I made sure to sign up for Stafford’s Constructive Theology sequence of classes, because the word on the street (from a trusted faculty source!) was that he might be retiring soon, and that it would be advantageous for me to take all three theology courses from Dr. Stafford, the premier Church of God theologian. I did take those classes, and one more, with him, and I enjoyed them thoroughly. I’m even using one of them (the worship class) as the basis for a Sunday School class I’ve been teaching at church since November. So many of the things he taught me have stuck with me these four years…

Two comments about the funeral.

First, Dr. Stafford, in each of his classes, had a habit of charging us to preach, should one of us preach at his funeral, on Colossians 1:15-20. Those six verses, speaking of the supremacy of Jesus Christ in all things, were the theme verses of his life. To be honest, this week I’ve been nervous that the speaker at today’s funeral would somehow have missed that communication and would have planned to preach on some other passage. (Can you imagine a few hundred people standing up and clamoring for the Colossians text to be read?!) But the pastor of Park Place preached on the right passage, and all was right with the world. It was a fitting way to give tribute to Dr. Stafford – by giving real tribute to the Lord.

Second, on multiple occasions, Dr. Stafford explained to his students why he believed that “And Can It Be” had the best hymn lyrics ever written. A short description here will suffice: each verse approaches the saving work of Christ from a different perspective, and all biblical perspectives are covered. It truly is a Christ song grounded in strong faith that speaks of the glory of Jesus Christ and his redeeming work on the cross. And so we sang it at the funeral today. Let me tell you, that was the most powerful time I have ever heard that song sung. It was powerful for me because I knew (and could see) many other people around me who knew the meaning that Dr. Stafford saw in this hymn, and we knew how fitting it was that we should sing it at his funeral. There was no other closing hymn that we could possibly have sung… it was the only choice that would have made any sense. I’ll never think of that song in quite the same way again.

*sigh*

It’s times like these that I wish I were living closer to campus, so that I could process this week with my fellow classmates. I feel oddly disconnected from the community… I’ve never had a professor die – especially not one so important as this one.

One Response to “Dr. Stafford’s funeral”

  1. Dad A. Says:

    “And Can it Be” is also my favorite hymn, but I never had the opportunity to hear Gil’s explanation. I didn’t know, for example, that each verse approaches the saving work of Christ from a different perspective, or that all biblical perspectives are covered. I’d like to hear more. Maybe you can enlighten me.

    On the sermon, I was disappointed. Yes, the pastor used Gil’s chosen text, but he did not preach an expository sermon from it. He never exegeted the text, and he barely mentioned it. Most of the sermon was actually a eulogy to Gil. He spent most his time talking about Gil, not about the Christ of scripture.

    Oh well

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