Billy Graham’s Southern Baptist Ties Highlighted

While Billy Graham was widely known for working across denominational lines, he also was more involved in his own denomination — the Southern Baptist Convention — than many may realize.

Graham, who died Feb. 21, spoke at 13 SBC annual meetings between 1951 and 1995, served as a trustee of two SBC entities, and, including references to two institutions and a professorship named in his honor, his name has been mentioned in every SBC Annual since 1951.

He even was nominated for SBC president in 1963 — though then-convention president Herschel Hobbs ruled Graham could not be considered for office that year because he was not an SBC messenger.

Graham “has an interesting variety of denominational ties,” said Tom Johnston, a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and author of “Examining Billy Graham’s Theology of Evangelism.” But “among the Southern Baptists he found a home of warmth and welcome for his evangelistic gift.”

Raised in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Graham became a Southern Baptist in 1937, receiving baptism at East Palatka (Fla.) Baptist Church along with new believers saved at a revival he had preached, Johnston, professor of evangelism at Midwestern, told Baptist Press.

Graham went on to hold membership at Curtis Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga.; First Baptist Church in Dallas for 55 years; and most recently First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., according to BP reports.

The first of 67 consecutive years Graham was named in the SBC Annuals — record books published by the convention — came in 1951, when the evangelist addressed the SBC annual meeting in San Francisco on “the need for revival.”

In a handful of those 67 years, the only mentions of Graham were the endowed chair and school of missions, evangelism and ministry named for him at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. But at the vast majority of their annual meetings, Southern Baptists mentioned Graham in motions, resolutions, reports of his crusades, sermons and announcements of his service on boards and committees.

Graham told the SBC at its 1995 Atlanta meeting, “Many of the great Southern Baptist leaders encouraged me from the beginning of my ministry when they weren’t even sure I was a Southern Baptist … I remember Dr. R.G. Lee and J.D. Gray and Jimmy Morgan and Herschel Hobbs and Duke McCall and W.A. Criswell and many others — I could go down the line — that encouraged me from the very beginning,” according to a transcript of his address.

His friendship with Hobbs was evident in 1970, when Graham made a surprise visit to an elderly woman in an Oklahoma City nursing home at Hobbs’ request, BP reported.

Only two of Graham’s addresses to the SBC — 1979 and 1987 — came during the height of the convention’s Conservative Resurgence, and Graham made a point of not taking sides.

He said in 1987, “I have determined that as an evangelist I do not want to get into a denominational dispute that in my mind is a combination of theological differences and personality clashes.”

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Source: Baptist Press