Those were the types of words folks used Monday night at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina where Baptists honored the life and legacy of one of their own: Billy Graham.
Jonathan Blaylock, a North Carolina pastor and chairman of the resolution committee, presented the Resolution Honoring the Life and Service of Billy Graham just two days ahead of what would have been Mr. Graham’s 100th birthday. When it was time for the Baptists to vote, a fluttering sound filled their room in Greensboro’s Koury Convention Center as blue ballot cards were lifted high in confirmation. David Bruce, Mr. Graham’s longtime executive assistant, accepted the engraved plaque posthumously for North Carolina’s Favorite Son.
On more than one occasion in his lifetime, Mr. Graham spoke at the Baptist State Convention, and every time, he did two things: he pointed all the glory back to God, and he challenged pastors and church leaders to renew their focus on evangelism. On Monday, Bruce graciously accepted the honor.
“If Mr. Graham were here as he was previously at many state convention meetings in North Carolina, I know he would want you to be reminded of two-to-three things,” Bruce shared cheerfully. “First, to fan the flames of personal evangelism and soul winning in every North Carolina Baptist church once again.
“He would also remind us to preach the Word of God in truth and authority without any mixture of error to this generation. And then, … he would want to encourage us in our church to utilize the gifts of itinerant vocational evangelists.”
Mr. Graham, raised on a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina, couldn’t have predicted the global path his ministry would take when he was ordained in February 1939 near Palatka, Florida. He chronicled the event in his autobiography, Just As I Am:
“Being ordained meant lots of things,” Mr. Graham wrote. “Now, I had sanction to perform weddings, conduct funerals and officiate in church activities not open to me before. Far more important though, by that simple act of ordination I was henceforth ‘set apart’ for the preaching of the Gospel. Ordination did not elevate me to superiority over my fellow Christians who sat in the pews and listened, even if I stood in a high pulpit. On the contrary, it specially designated me to be their servant, their shepherd for Christ’s sake. It was meant to nurture me in humility, not pride.”
Through seven decades of ministry, Mr. Graham never lost that vision, and that is a major reason why pastor Blaylock wanted to see this resolution happen. It was the only one the committee had this year, and for Blaylock, honoring Mr. Graham was the biggest thing they could do.
Blaylock grew up in the mountains of North Carolina and he lives there today in the county neighboring Mr. Graham’s Montreat, North Carolina, home. Although their paths never crossed, Blaylock still feels a personal connection with the evangelist. The pastor of West Canton Baptist is particularly grateful for the spiritual renewal he and his wife have found at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove.
“We wanted to honor him because we understand that as pastors across North Carolina, really as American pastors, Billy Graham inevitably impacted every single one of our lives,” Blaylock said. “We didn’t have to personally know him, but everybody in our church, every church probably, had somebody that was converted under his ministry or first heard the Gospel under his ministry.
“He was an innovator in a lot of ways,” Blaylock continued. “He was willing to step out and try new ideas, especially with technology for his time. With radio ministry, television ministry that came along, then internet ministry—he was willing to use any of those means to advance the Gospel. As a young pastor, I appreciate that.”
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, spoke during the Monday night meeting and shared a personal story of meeting Mr. Graham. During that meeting, Akin was excited, hopeful to hear Mr. Graham’s personal stories. With every answer, Mr. Graham just steered the conversation back to Jesus.
“He was a perfect role model of a faithful Gospel preacher,” Akin shared. “He never wavered in his commitment that the Bible is the Word of God, and he never wavered in his commitment to make the Gospel the center of all his preaching. He set a great example for all of us to follow in his footsteps.”
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