“Billy Graham’s greatest crusade.” His “largest crusade.” “One of the most meaningful and profound moments in my life.” Those were among ways the late evangelist’s funeral was described by Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity presidents and former SBC presidents in attendance.
Additionally, they told Baptist Press (BP) via email that Graham’s March 2 funeral has opened doors for personal evangelistic conversations and noted the array of Christian and world leaders present.
Photo by Bob Carey
Ronnie Floyd, bottom left, said Billy Graham’s funeral “brought together Christians from all over the theological landscape.”
Some 2,300 invited guests attended the funeral, which was held in a revival tent at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C. Graham, who preached in person to more than 210 million people, died Feb. 21 at age 99.
‘His largest crusade’
SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page said even though it was Graham’s funeral, “the primary subject and focus of the day was the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“I was overjoyed to be there,” Page said, and “then to find out the vast coverage that the funeral received in both secular and Christian outlets. A BGEA [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association] staffer told me that this would be his largest crusade. So many gospel seeds were planted Friday. I thank the Lord for that fact.”
During the service, Graham’s son Franklin presented the gospel message and told listeners “there would be no better time than at Billy Graham’s funeral” to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. The BGEA told BP statistics are not available yet regarding response to Franklin Graham’s message.
Former SBC President Ronnie Floyd said a friend with the Billy Graham Library told him that “with 497 media outlets present,” the memorial service was “Mr. Graham’s greatest crusade.”
In addition to evangelism at the funeral, “Gospel conversations at all levels have happened … because of Billy Graham’s legacy,” said Floyd, president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
Former SBC President James Merritt said attending Graham’s funeral occasioned an evangelistic conversation with a waitress the previous evening.
“I told her that we were in town for the Billy Graham funeral and got to share with her about the Lord Thursday night over dinner,” said Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.
‘Moved to tears’
Former SBC President Jack Graham called the funeral service “a taste of what Heaven will be like,” adding he and his wife Deb “were moved to tears as the children of Billy and Ruth Graham shared personal reflections of their parents, and as Franklin Graham shared the gospel powerfully.”
“Billy’s granddaughter Cissie Graham Lynch told me after the service that the great evangelist would have said ‘too much Billy’ regarding the funeral,” said Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, “but in reality, it was all about Billy’s Savior and Lord. God’s man was honored appropriately and his life celebrated but, above all, Jesus was exalted.
“Deb and I have shared a lifetime of wonderful memories, but this was truly one of the best days of our lives,” Graham said.
LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer expressed similar sentiments.
“Billy Graham’s funeral was a testament to the man who always pointed others to Christ,” Rainer said. “I was totally amazed by the tributes of each of his children. We were given glimpses into the personal life of Billy Graham that were absolutely amazing. One of his children told us without hesitation the man we saw in public was the same man they saw at home.”
Rainer, founding dean of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, added, “Unequivocally, going to his funeral was one of the most meaningful and profound moments of my life.”
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley said he appreciated “the number of media members, celebrities and others who closed remarks about” Graham surrounding his funeral “by saying something like, ‘Billy Graham would want you to know you can find salvation and life change in Jesus right now.’”
“I have never,” Kelley said, “heard so much gospel from so many ‘non-professionals.’”
‘So many … leaders’
Rainer noted opportunities at Graham’s funeral “to connect with many Christian leaders.”
“I have never been anywhere where so many of these leaders were gathered in one place,” Rainer said. Their “presence was a tribute to the incalculable influence of Billy Graham.”
Floyd recalled talking at the funeral with Chick-fil-A President and CEO Dan Cathy, “pastors from outside our nation” and a man “who told Billy Graham to plan his funeral because God wanted to use it one day in a great way.”
“His funeral brought together Christians from all over the theological landscape,” Floyd said. “While groups outside and within even our own denomination wrestle over secondary issues theologically, … on this day none of this seemed to matter at all. Dr. Graham’s faithfulness to believing the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus is the only way to salvation and that the evangelization of the entire world is our priority, is what brought us each together on this day.”
Merritt recalled an occasion seven years ago when he visited Graham and asked him, “If you could gather the whole church together and could say one thing, what would it be?”
In response, Merritt recalled, “the old Billy Graham came to life with those blue eyes flashing and he pointed that long finger in the air” and said, “James, I would say to the church, ‘Stay true to the Word!’”
Jack Graham, who sat near President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence at the funeral, said he “was amazed to witness our nation’s leaders being fully engaged in singing the great hymns of faith and listening to every word spoken regarding Billy, and the strong testimonies of the gospel.”
‘What a preacher is supposed to be’
Attendees said they departed thinking of Graham’s legacy.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson said, “Billy Graham has established the high-water mark for the uncompromised preaching of the gospel of salvation from a platform of moral godliness and humility. The message of his memorial service was a clear testimony to his remarkable life. Doctrinal purity, prophetic proclamation and a platform of righteousness serve as a reminder to us all of what a preacher is supposed to be.”
Kelley said Graham “showed us the fields really are ‘white unto harvest,’ having a significant public response to the gospel wherever he went, even when such a response was unexpected.
“He showed us the power of focus, focus, focus on evangelism, using every available means to share the gospel, including new technologies as they emerged over his lifetime,” Kelley, who studies evangelism, said. “The least noticed aspect of his evangelism strategy were the massive mobilization for prayer and personal evangelism that were incorporated into every crusade, the unprecedented efforts to follow up with those making professions of faith and the continuous teaching of evangelism and evangelists through the years.”
Two days after the funeral, Kelley’s experience preaching at a Virginia church suggested others had Graham’s legacy on their minds too.
“In each service I mentioned attending the Billy Graham funeral,” Kelley said. “After each service one or more people came to tell me how they or a family member came to Christ through a Billy Graham event. Their memories were very vivid. Their gratitude was profound.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)