By Norm MillerLYNCHBURG, Va., (BP)–Thousands thronged Lynchburg, Va., and the facilities of Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University for the May 22 memorial service of Jerry Falwell.
The capacity crowd heard a statement from President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush as read by Tim Goeglein, special assistant to the president.
The statement offered the Bushes’ sympathies and said that Falwell was a man who “cherished faith, family and freedom.
“The Bushes wrote that one of Falwell’s “lasting contributions was the establishment of Liberty University, where he taught young people to remain true to their convictions, and to rely upon God’s Word throughout each stage of their lives.”
“Today, our thoughts and our prayers are with his wife Macel and the rest of the Falwell family.”
Addressing the Falwell family, Goeglein said, “On behalf of all of us in the Bush-Cheney White House, please know that we are holding you up in prayer — that we hold the Falwell family in very high regard.”
Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, called Falwell “a prophet of our generation. I’m going to miss him.”
“People have asked me, ‘Franklin, did you agree with Jerry Falwell?’
“Every time he opened the Bible I agreed with Jerry Falwell,” Graham said.
Graham called Falwell “controversial” and then ticked off a litany of social issues championed by Falwell, such as the sanctity of marriage and human life.
“He believed in the Gospel. That’s controversial.
“He believed in the inerrancy of Scripture. That’s controversial.
“He believed in the sanctity of life; he was against abortion. That’s controversial.
“He believed in the family, and who would’ve ever thought that would be controversial?
“He believed in marriage as the union between a man and a woman.
“He believed that moral decay weakened the fabric of America. That’s controversial.
“He believed that political leaders should be men of integrity and character.
“He believed in the local church. God bless him,” said Graham who noted the impact Falwell had on his own family because all of Graham’s children attended Liberty University.
In concluding remarks at the 90-minute service, Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and a former chairman of Liberty University trustee board, recalled one of Falwell’s oft-noted requests — that his own funeral last for only 45 minutes.
“And if they go over that,” Vines quoted Falwell as saying, “then I’m going to get up and walk out.”
“So, I have been watching carefully,” said Vines, glancing at Falwell’s casket.”My assignment is to preach the Gospel, and in Jesus’ name, and in the name of Jerry Falwell, to invite people to commit their lives to Jesus Christ,” Vines said.
Vines noted that Falwell knew the “will of God, the work of God and the welcome of God,” and that Falwell had a “three-fold anointing of God.” One was as a prophet to the United States and “not just some preacher who decided he would dabble into politics.”
Another role was as an educator, said Vines, who said he would belabor the well-known story of Liberty University, but invited everyone to “look around.”
The third role was as a pastor. “God used this man to build a Gospel-preaching church. [Falwell] was a mega-church pastor before mega-churches were cool,” Vines said.
Falwell started Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1956 with 35 members. The church has grown to more than 24,000 members. He founded Liberty University in 1971 and its enrollment has expanded to more than 21,000.
Vines concluded his remarks by inviting people to commit their lives to Jesus Christ. Following Vines’ remarks, the combined choir and orchestra of Thomas Road Baptist Church erupted into the well-know “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” after which pall bearers wheeled Falwell’s casket out of the church’s auditorium.
Falwell’s interment was a private, family affair.
Falwell who had a history of heart problems, was found unconscious in his office and without a pulse. He was pronounced dead at 12:40 p.m. Eastern time on May 15. He was 73.