Evangelists add Fish, Ham to Hall of Faith
The evangelists' group also heard a challenge from Frank Page, who was elected two days later as president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, to "unite around the Jesus agenda and become a Jesus people."
Fish, known for igniting a passion for evangelism in pastors for more than 40 years, is distinguished professor of evangelism professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the namesake for the seminary's Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions. He also served as interim president of the North American Mission Board from 2006-07.
Ham (1878-1961) is known for leading thousands to Christ in the early 20th century -- perhaps most notably, in 1934, a young Billy Graham.
The Hall of Faith, housed in a meeting room at the North American Mission Board offices in Alpharetta, Ga., was established by COSBE in 2008 and dedicated in January.
In introducing Fish, Richard Harris, interim president of NAMB, said that because he grew up in a non-Christian home, Fish became his "father in the faith."
"There's been no man any more influential in my life than Dr. Roy Fish," Harris said.
Fish accepted Christ at age 19, Harris said, and soon thereafter felt the call to preach. "In 1958 God told him he would be teaching at Southwestern," Harris joked, "but it took eight years for Dr. Robert Naylor to hear God speaking and invite him to teach at Southwestern."
Fish's ministry, Harris said, was characterized by classes that took on the tone of sermons as Fish instilled a love for evangelism in students. For years his books and speaking appearances at evangelism conferences have continued to influence pastors.
"I can't think of anybody in any denomination that has taught so many people and influenced them," Harris said.
"He's a soul-winner," Harris added. "He not only told us to do it, he modeled it for us. And I've seen him all through the years, in every circumstance that you can imagine ... always trying to bring just one more to Jesus Christ."
In accepting the honor, Fish joked that it was the sort of occasion where he wants to "ask God to forgive me for enjoying it so much and you for stretching the truth." But he added that "never in my life has there ever been an occasion where I was so overwhelmed."
"I say thank you," Fish said to the assembled evangelists, "but I also say that there are many men who sit out there at those tables who justifiably could stand where I'm standing."
During the induction of Ham, COSBE member Jim Coldiron said the evangelist acted on his earlier call to preach by spending eight months in 1901 "doing nothing but studying the Bible, and soaking it in prayer and starting the public preaching of the Gospel."
Ham served as a vocational evangelist from 1902-41, with the exception of a stint as pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City from 1927-29. From 1927-41, Coldiron said, it's reported that Ham led more than 200,000 people to Christ.
Coldiron told the story of how three young men came to hear Ham preach at a 1934 crusade in Charlotte, N.C.
"When he would preach, he would point that bony finger, and they got under conviction," Coldiron said. The three decided to join the choir to avoid facing Ham directly, but then "he'd point the finger, but his thumb would point back into the choir. And they couldn't get away from God when he was speaking."
All three of the men received Christ as Savior during the meeting, Coldiron said; one of them was to become evangelist Billy Graham. But he also noted the other two -- T.W. Wilson and Grady Wilson -- were the father and uncle of evangelist and COSBE member Jim Wilson of Orlando.
Frank Page noted his own connection to Ham's legacy. As a child, he said, it was Billy Graham's preaching that "touched my life more than anyone else."
"We cannot ignore those who have gone before us," Page said. "We will not ignore and we will not forget."
Page preached from Hebrews 12:1-2, calling Christians to "run with patience the race that is set before us."
"Friends, that text calls me to a renewed vision," Page said. "It calls me to a renewed optimism -- not in our own ability, but to what God has called us to do."
Page said his agenda for leadership was already laid out in Scripture -- in this case, where the author of Hebrews talks about "looking unto Jesus." "He is our goal," Page said. "He is the author and finisher of our faith."
"I want Southern Baptists to realize that it's time for us to unite around the Jesus agenda and become a Jesus people," Page said. "I want us to realize it's time to pull together and not pull apart. We don't always have to agree, but let's just look each other in the eye and shake hands and say, 'As a man of God, I agree that if I have a problem with you, guess who's going to hear about it? I'm going to talk to you, not to somebody else.'"
Secondly, Page said, "I want to project an image, a face to this world that says, you know, Baptists are not bad people. In fact, if you give us half a chance, you'll find that we'll love you -- beyond death. We'll love you; we'll share the best news you've ever heard in this world. And you just give us half a chance, we'll take care you. We'll love you when you're lost, we'll love you when you're saved."
James Dotson is a writer for the North American Mission Board.