- - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Many biographies could be written about Jerry Falwell. Each could concentrate on his purpose and HIS various callings. As a Christian leader, you must begin with his conversion and coming to faith in Christ as a teenager in 1950.

He was encouraged to reconsider his previous goal of attending Notre Dame University and attend a new Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. After graduation, he went back to his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia and started the Thomas Road Baptist Church with 35 adults. College instilled in him a passion for people that was almost unmatched.

He would begin each day with devotion, Bible study and prayer for the people of that small city of 45,000; then go out and knock on the doors of at least 100 houses, inviting people to his new church. Relentlessly, he knocked on 100 doors each day, 6 days a week. His motto was, “Jesus loved to knock on doors and so do I.”

On the first anniversary of starting Thomas Road Baptist Church, there were 867 people present. Falwell was successful in transferring his vision of winning Lynchburg for Christ to hundreds of followers.

It was about this time he discovered the power of the media, even in this small town of one television and two radio stations. He began with a 30-minute TV broadcast on Sunday afternoon. Falwell would speak, his fianc, Macel, would play the piano and a friend from another church would sing a song.

The novelty of a local TV personality inviting people to a Church service increased the crowds so the Church was in a permanent building program. By the time of the Church’s 10th anniversary, Sunday attendance was toping 3,000 people. Falwell was 32 years old. The thought occurred to him and others, if this success could be generated in tiny Lynchburg, Virginia, why not nationally. Christian television was in its infancy. The Old Time Gospel Hour was expanded to the national arena and brought Falwell national recognition even if it was only on a limited stage.

As the local Church grew, Falwell made the decision to create a Christian school beginning with kindergarten and continuing through high school. In 1971, he called a press conference to announce the creation of a college that would eventually be for Evangelical Christian young people what Notre Dame is for Catholics and Brigham Young is for Mormons. It would be a place where a child could enter kindergarten and go all the through to a Ph.D. and never sit in a classroom where the teacher or the professor was not a born-again, Bible-believing Christian. He further said the college would eventually play NCAA sports at the highest level and one day have 50,000 students. Today, Liberty University (formally Lynchburg Baptist College) is 44 years old and has achieved each of the goals Falwell set in that news conference.

From the beginning of his journey, Falwell never considered his calling past being the pastor of a small town Church. The motivation of everything he was doing was to expand the reach of his mission and to give the Gospel to as many people as can be reached by every means possible.

Early in his career, his mentors told Falwell that the Scriptures admonished him to pray for those in authority, but that pastors should not publically comment on political issues. The old adage is true, religion and politics don’t mix. However, Falwell began to look at the real world around him and was not comfortable with what he saw. Lynchburg was a small southern city on the edge of history. The Civil War ended at Appomattox, only 20 miles from the front door of his church. Slavery officially ended on that day 100 years before, but segregation did not. Falwell was convinced slavery was America’s national sin, and he was determined not to pastor a segregated Church.

In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled on Roe vs. Wade, effectively legalizing abortion on demand in America. This, along with the decision to ban prayer in schools 10 years earlier made Falwell rethink his choice not to publically comment on political issues. Roe vs. Wade was not a political issues, it was a spiritual issue. Taking the life of an unborn child was murder. Forbidding a child from praying is not only denying his or her God-given right of access to the throne of God; but it will also eventually lead to banning God from the public square, and the moral fiber of America will be damaged permanently.

This was a day that changed Jerry Falwell and maybe the world. He wondered if one man could make a difference. That’s when he was introduced to William Wilberforce. He became fascinated with how Wilberforce challenged the British Parliament on the importance of religion, morality and education in public policy and to totally abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. He worked tirelessly for 43 years before the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833. Wilberforce died 3 days later. The last letter he received was from John Wesley who labeled him with the Latin phrase Athanasius Contra Mundum, “Athanasius against the world.” Athanasius was a Priest who defied the church alone.

Jerry Falwell preached a message entitled, Athanasius Contra Mundum, and began a crusade that brought him national recognition. During the bi-centennial year of 1976, he and more than 50 Liberty University students performed the I Love America patriotic and inspirational musical program on the steps of 47 State Capitols and on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Thousands of people responded to see the musical program and to listen to Falwell speak about why pastors should inform their membership of the issues of abortion, prayer ban in schools and other issues that effect the family unit. He urged them to encourage their parishioners to get registered to vote and actually vote.

Out of those events came millions of people who became active in speaking out and writing to Congress. Pastors came to conferences to be challenged and trained to confront the culture. At one of those conferences in Indianapolis in April of 1979, the “Moral Majority” was born. The four basic fundamentals of the “Moral Majority” were pro-life, pro-family, pro-national defense and pro-Israel.

The pastors began looking for a political leader to challenge the morally bankrupt status quo in Washington. They found him in Ronald Reagan, and the Reagan Revolution began.

Jerry Falwell died at age 73 on May 15, 2007. His legacy is intact.

Liberty University, under the administration of Jerry Falwell, Jr., is now the largest non-profit university in America. Liberty pioneered a Distance Learning Program in 1985, which eventually became the On-Line Studies program. It now has more than 103,000 students, including about 14,000 on campus and the remainder on-line. On graduation day 2015, 34,000 students were in attendance to watch 17,580 students graduate.

Jonathan Falwell, Jerry’s youngest son, is the Senior Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church with more than 20,000 members. The average attendance each week is about 15,000. The Church has sponsored and started more than 1,000 churches around the world.

• Dr. Duke Westover was Dr. Falwell’s Executive Assistant, colleague and life-long friend.

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