Kenneth Ridings: In the spirit of John the Baptist
    March 10 2015 by Greg Mathis, Guest Column

    We have a tendency to believe the greatest people we know will live forever. It’s hard to imagine that the day will arrive when we must continue on without those who mean so much to us. The disciples of John the Baptist seemed to think that way about his departure. The students, faculty, alumni and friends of Fruitland Baptist Bible College feel the same way with the passing of one of our spiritual heroes – Kenneth Ridings.
     
    I believe Kenneth was like John the Baptist. God spoke to my heart about the similarities between these two unusually gifted preachers. Both had a Spartan spirit, a unique personality, a heavenly power, an enormous ministry and an unexpected departure.
     
    At the age of 78, Kenneth Ridings, who spent 60 years as an extraordinary expositor of God’s Word, has gone to be with the Lord. Like many “heroes of faith,” this world was probably not worthy of Kenneth’s ministry, and will pay an eternal price for not hearing and heeding his preaching.
     
    Like John the Baptist, Kenneth burst onto the scene out of nowhere to stir, rebuke and rally many through preaching. Like the Judean wilderness, Fingerville, S.C., is not a well-known location. But the small, rural, hometown mill village, gave us a great prophet. He used to jest that any of us who rode by his old home place on “scenic highway 11” could put that on our resume.
     
    Few could have imagined the slender country boy who married the local preacher’s daughter would erupt on the platform as such an exciting expository preacher. God sovereignly set the direction Kenneth’s life would take. The heavenly prediction Gabriel gave prior to the birth of the Baptist “that he would be great in the sight of The Lord,” could have also been prophesied about Kenneth. He had few peers in scriptural insight, exposition and heavenly giftedness. Listening to him was spell-binding!
    I wish everyone in our Southern Baptist Convention could have heard him. He was a “prince among preachers.” Like John the Baptist, he preached repentance and demanded righteousness. He grew us spiritually with his well-prepared, homiletically-crafted messages. Many of his alliterated outlines will linger with us long after his passing.
     
    His messages on The Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23 and Hosea 14 are legendary. With his King James Bible firmly held in his left hand and the unforgettable gestures of his right hand as thumb and fingers pointed out at his audience, his voice cut the air with the precision of the most seasoned orator. He never finished with the scriptural text until the text was spiritually finished with us!
     
    Kenneth’s sermons were often loud and long. He regularly preached for more than an hour, generally to the delight of his listeners. Most preachers have neither the content, the attention of their audience nor the stamina to preach that long. I told Kenneth that my brain couldn’t think as fast as he could preach, and that my seat would get sore from listening to his long sermons.
     
    I asked him if he had ever considered shortening his sermons, and he said he would think about it. So in our next Bible conference he decided to become a short-winded preacher. After I preached my usual 30-minute sermon, Kenneth arose to the platform and preached exactly 29 minutes. He then sat down beside me snarling, “You ain’t going to out short me!” I never again heard him preach another short sermon.
    Recently I told him that some of the young preachers were finding it stylish and acceptable to preach nearly an hour. I suggested if he would consider purchasing a deep V-necked shirt, and some skinny jeans, perhaps some contemporary churches might invite him to preach for an hour. He glared at me and let me know that Baptists were more apt to see him in John’s camel hair and a leather girdle than skinny jeans.
    But I appreciate Kenneth’s willingness to realize that other preachers were arriving on the scene who didn’t look or dress like him. That’s another thing he had in common with John the Baptist. He wisely informed us that God could call whomever He chooses.
     
    Kenneth was a herald like John who gladly humbled himself so that Jesus alone would be seen and magnified. He accepted his preaching assignment with John’s humility. For much of his life, he felt most at home at Fruitland Baptist Bible College. His sole purpose was to point his listeners to Jesus, and he taught his “preacher boys” to do the same.
     
    Like John, Kenneth had his followers and imitators. Perhaps his greatest impact was on the preachers who would graduate and emulate him in their preaching. Today the college chapel bears his name with the motto, “Where preaching is our passion!”
     
    Kenneth said many times that he and his wife, Ann, wanted to finish their lives in the rapture. In the end, God saw fit to welcome him to heaven through death.
     
    Like John, no one expected Kenneth’s life to end as it did. I thought Kenneth or John the Baptist might have died preaching or baptizing. I certainly would not have thought that John should die in prison lonely and uncertain in his thoughts.
     
    In his last days Kenneth experienced John’s isolation, insecurity and intimidating circumstances as he suffered in his own emotional confinement brought on by dementia. Alzheimer’s is a painful mental prison. It was difficult to witness the toll it took on his once keen mind.
     
    His loving wife Ann and his daughter Beverly were so good to him. They were with him every step of the way. Ann, who led Kenneth to the Lord when he was a teenager, was there to place Kenneth’s hand into God’s as he stepped into glory an aged, weathered and faithful servant. God’s man finished his course!
    Even if Kenneth’s ministry lessened toward the end, his deserved respect will never be lost. I am reminded that it was in John’s prison experience when Jesus asserted that John was more than a prophet and better than the best man who had ever lived. If John the Baptist was the greatest man to ever live, could Kenneth, with John’s spirit, be far down the list?
     
    Those who knew him witnessed his spiritual greatness. We cherished our time with him. Hopefully we can carry a little of his legacy with us. Young or aged, modern or old fashioned, we should all strive to move forward in Kenneth’s spirit and in John’s spirit.
     
    The famous preacher, Alexander Maclaren, commended us to emulate John the Baptist in this way: “[With] an unalterable resolution, stand as solid as an iron pillar, live as an unshakeable reed, speak with a clear vision from heaven and minister with a calling to ready people for the Kingdom of God!”
     
    Kenneth Ridings completed his ministry pursuing God’s glory. He allowed others to come along as he quietly faded off the scene. He allowed God to move him out of the spotlight of success to the shadows of obscurity. What a lesson from a man of God who lived his life in the spirit of John the Baptist. Kenneth seized his opportunity, and shouldn’t we as well? God bless the memory of a “unique, one of a kind” preacher.
     
    Perhaps, like John the Baptist, we may never see another like him.
     
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Greg Mathis is senior pastor of Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville.)

    Related Story:

    Relatives, friends say goodbye to Ridings
    3/10/2015 1:51:24 PM by Greg Mathis, Guest Column | with 2 comments




Comments
Ned L. Mathews
Thanks, Greg, for the wonderful tribute to our friend, Kenneth Ridings. We were friends years ago at SEBTS.
I am thankful for his life, testimony and his great work at Fruitland. May his tribe increase!
3/16/2015 11:17:33 AM

David MacEachern
Amen! A Word from God about one sent from God. God bless you Greg Mathis!
3/11/2015 8:39:14 AM