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Greatest Preachers

Dallas Billington

1903 - 1972

DALLAS BILLINGTON was born into the family of James Monroe and Margaret Kelly Billington in a log house near Kirksey in Western Kentucky on January 23, 1903. He was the tenth child and seventh son in a family of seven boys and five girls. An eighth son, Charles, died at three months of age. When Billington was six months old, the family moved to a farm in Newburg, Kentucky, near the Tennessee River. Billington lived there until he left home at age 17.
Billington’s parents were devout believers. His father’s family was from Wesleyan Methodist stock and his mother’s family was Irish Presbyterian. At birth, Dallas was dedicated to God in a simple service at their home in which his father held his son toward heaven and gave him back to God in prayer. At the daily family altar time, Billington as a child heard his father read the Bible and talk about how a Christian should live. They attended Russell’s Methodist Chapel, where the elder Billington was a trustee. They often attended area revivals held at Russell’s Chapel, the Liberty Church (Presbyterian) or the Ledbetter Baptist Church. Billington’s parents were considered strict. They didn’t allow any recreation on Sunday and the only amusement allowed in their home was checkers.

Billington began his formal education at age five and a half. He attended a one-room schoolhouse where all eight grades met in the same classroom. The school term was only six-months, from July through December. At the age of 12, Billington had completed the entire eight years of study and was awarded his diploma. Because funds were not available to send him or the other children several miles away to the area high school, Billington was not able to continue his studies. Instead, he read whatever books he could find, which included his Bible. For the next five years, he worked on the Coleman Farm, a large operation that at one time housed a great number of slaves.

On February 8, 1920, Billington left home to find his fortune in the city. He bid his father and mother goodbye and made his way to Paducah, Kentucky, where jobs were plentiful. Billington was nicknamed “Slim” because he was over six feet tall and weighed a mere 140 pounds. He applied for a job at a shoe factory. At first the foreman rejected his application for lack of experience.
Young Billington shot back, “Would you be a foreman hiring people and telling them what to do if no one ever gave you a job?”
Startled by his boldness, the foreman gave him the job. Billington was quickly promoted because he stitched more shoes faster than any other man on the line.

In 1924, he met a young lady named Nell Stokes and asked her for a date. She refused and told him she went to the Emmanuel Baptist Church. Although he had seldom attended during the past four years, the next Sunday morning Billington was at the church looking for Nell Stokes. In a short time, she invited him to attend a large tent meeting conducted by former newspaperman Howard S. Williams. After several nights of the meeting, Billington struggled under conviction that he was a sinner and accepted Christ. Standing by his side was the woman he loved, Nell Stokes. After a few months, she consented to become his wife. Two years later they were married on June 14, 1926.

In February 1925, Billington moved to Akron, Ohio, to seek a better job so he could have funds for a wedding and new home. He had family in Akron and was quickly hired at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. When he attended church there, he didn’t find any he liked and even wrote Nell that they would have to start a church of their own. Later he said he knew even then that God was calling him to preach. In the factory he looked for openings to talk to people about Christ and was thrilled to lead several to the Lord. During his free time he read and studied a wide variety of materials. He wanted to know why a person became successful and gained the knowledge needed to be able to talk to all people in varied walks of life.

After moving his bride to Akron, they attended the Arlington Street Baptist Church. His wife Nell was saved, baptized and had joined a Baptist Church at 16. Dallas’s strict Methodist/Presbyterian upbringing held that baptism was by sprinkling. Their Bible study led them to the teaching of Romans 6 that baptism is a burial. This convinced Dallas that the Baptist way was the Bible way. During this time they heard a young Baptist evangelist named B. R. Lakin. He challenged every believer to confess Christ and be baptized saying, “Don’t tell me you love God when you don’t love him enough to get your britches wet!” Billington responded to this appeal, was baptized and became a member of the Arlington Street Baptist Church. This experience began a lifelong friendship and association with Lakin.

In 1927, Nell gave birth to a son, Charles Franklin Billington, named after Dallas’s brother who died in infancy. Four months before his first birthday, the child became sick with a glandular condition that required surgery. The operation was done on his birthday while his parents sat in the waiting room praying earnestly. Dallas had been struggling with the call to preach and this event caused him to surrender. Quietly he promised God that if Chuckie could live, he would do his best to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Shortly, the nurse came and declared the operation a success. Almost immediately the child began to recover.

Billington was very grateful that God spared his son and began to study hard so he could preach the gospel. He could not afford to attend a school, so he studied at home. His books were the King James Version of the Bible, Webster’s Dictionary, Cruden’s Concordance, Bible dictionaries, histories of the Old and New Testament, commentaries and biographies of great preachers such as John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon and others. He was especially interested in the preachers’ study habits, prayer life, personal ministry to people and preaching. He didn’t tell anyone, not even his wife, that he was going to preach.

Although Billington taught a class of boys in the Sunday school, he yearned to preach. His first opportunity came while an usher at the Furnace Street Mission. During the first week of October, 1930, mission supervisor Bill Denton became hoarse and asked Billington to fill in. Although he was very nervous, Dallas preached on the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son from Luke 15. He felt God’s peace upon his soul as he preached and was thrilled to see three men accept Christ when he gave the invitation. He soon sought opportunities to preach. When he returned to West Kentucky for a visit the following summer, two brothers-in-law built a brush arbor and invited relatives and friends to hear him preach. All were shocked when over 500 showed up on the first night. Before the end of the meeting the arbor had to be enlarged and 75 people accepted Christ. For the next two years in Akron his shifts at the Goodyear plant were scheduled so he could be available to preach anywhere within a 50-mile radius. This he did without cost to those who invited him. He also did much witnessing, soul winning and house-to-house visitation for his church.

In 1932, he began a weekly 15-minute radio broadcast on station WJW financed from his own salary. He dubbed the call letters “Watch Jesus Win.” He enlisted a quartet of fellow factory workers to sing. He told his listeners that he worked in a factory, taught Sunday school in a Baptist church and worked in a rescue mission. He preached the gospel and urged people to accept Christ. Listeners responded with requests for visits and mailed in gifts to help pay the fee of $7.50 per week. When Billington lost his job during the Depression, many times God sent funds to pay for the broadcast through unusual means. Before long he was rehired at Goodyear.

In 1934, a half-dozen families meeting in the Rimer School on Manchester Road wanted to start a church and needed a pastor. Billington was invited to come and preach because these families had heard him on the radio. On the second Sunday of June, 14 came to Billington’s first service and one lady accepted Christ. After he announced the services on radio the next week attendance increased to 39. In a month the attendance was 81. In July he was ordained at the Surgarcreek Baptist Church of Murray, Kentucky. On Easter of 1935, the Akron Baptist Temple was organized with 81 charter members.

The church grew so rapidly that Billington said they hardly knew what to do next. The church grew to 1,184 in 1936. This growth made facilities at the Rimer School inadequate and Billington led his people in urgent prayer for a new building. The Depression dried up the possibility for a loan, but in August 1937 the church began constructing their new 1,600-seat facility anyway. In December the 105 x 89 foot building had a roof, but the church was $5,000 short of funds and the work had to cease. Billington called for an all-day prayer meeting and requested urgent prayer before his people and on the radio. The following Monday, an elderly grandmother called him to her home. She explained that she had heard the broadcast and his prayer for $5,000. She invited him to be seated while she went into the kitchen. She returned and presented him a shoebox with $5,500 inside, saying, “Here is the money and $500 more. This is not a loan, but a gift.” Other gifts brought the total to $8,200. The building was completed and dedicated on the next Easter Sunday with over 2,000 in attendance. A year later a two-story 80 x 80 foot educational building was added to provide for the 2,600 people who attended.

Of his strategy for building such a large church, Billington said, “It is the custom of the Akron Baptist Temple to assemble all of the adults or married couples into one Bible class which the pastor teaches each Sunday morning at ten o’clock ... I teach the Bible, book by book, and an invitation is always given ... to accept Christ as their own personal Savior. We like to think of it as being like a Billy Sunday meeting.” One member said that Billington by himself probably won more souls to Christ per year than the sum total won by the average fundamental Baptist church. His oft-repeated motto was, “I didn’t write the Bible; I simply read it, preach it and teach it.” Annual revival meetings were also conducted resulting in hundreds of people accepting Christ. A favorite evangelist was B. R. Lakin.

In 1940, Billington was arrested for using a loudspeaker to broadcast services to overflow crowds outside the building. Billington defended his and the church’s rights before a jury. A crowd of several thousand cheered when he was acquitted of the charge of disorderly conduct. Even editorials in the Akron Beacon Journal backed the embattled preacher. In April of 1942, when informed that the local bus company could not provide transportation to and from his services, Billington protested to the federal government. He argued that if the 21 contracted buses were not permitted to bring people to church, then beer trucks should also be barred from the streets of Akron. Within three weeks, bus service was resumed and the story was carried throughout the country by nearly 3,000 newspapers. In another case, he won a similar appeal over gas rationing that hindered him from ministry.

On June 12, 1941, Billington had his first heart attack. At first, his doctor treated him at home. Later he was moved to a hospital. Several months passed without improvement. Billing-ton became discouraged and felt his death was near. His son’s earnest pleading led him to a night of fervent prayer which resulted in a “sweet, peaceful sleep.” The following morning he was greatly improved. As he recovered, he experienced a new, enlarged faith and purpose. He said, “God caused me to stop and think. My illness made me very humble. I realized I could do nothing without God. My sickness was over and … I was rich in God’s love and mercy.”

The church continued to grow during the war years. On Easter Sunday 1945, Akron Baptist Temple had 10,123 attend with over 80 people accepting Christ. On June 29, 1947, ground was broken for a new five-story, air-conditioned church facility that would seat 4,000 people. It had 41,000 square feet of floor space and included a main auditorium with balcony, classrooms, three additional auditoriums, nursery, family parlor and restrooms. Parking lots had space for 1,500 cars. Total cost was one million dollars, but the church mortgage was less than $250,000 at completion. It was dedicated the first Sunday of April 1949 with over 38,000 people present and over 100 people accepting Christ. The event was reported in national magazines and newspapers throughout the United States. Another educational building was constructed in 1957. In 1960 a Sunday school campaign brought average attendance to over 6,000.

Over the years, Billington received many honors. He was recognized far and wide as an effective evangelist, church builder and leader. In 1955, Bob Jones University awarded him the Doctor of Divin-ity degree. In 1969, Christian Life magazine honored Billing-ton and Akron Baptist Temple with the “World’s Largest Sunday School” award. At that time the membership of the church was over 16,000 and average Sunday school attendance was 5,762 each week. Billington said the church’s growth was the result of godly jealousy, evangelism and visitation, use of Sunday school buildings, promotion, tithing, busing and separation from worldly influence. At the church’s beginning in 1935, Billington enlisted J. Stanley Bond as his Sunday school superintendent and told him, “You stick with me, Stanley, and together we’ll build the biggest Sunday school in the world.”

In the 1930s, Billington began to associate with the independent Baptist group led by the Texas fundamentalist J. Frank Norris. When the Baptist Bible Fellowship was established in 1950, he aligned himself with the new movement, although he didn’t participate in the events involved with its founding. His church bought the first neon sign for Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. Over the years, young preachers called under his ministry planted numbers of churches throughout the country. Billington maintained an active revival ministry as an evangelist. During his ministry, Akron Baptist Temple contributed to the support of over 200 missionaries in nearly 100 countries. From the beginning the church had a radio broadcast and later a television ministry. It also owned Ohio Baptist Acres, a 178-acre all-purpose camp. In 1962, Billington wrote and distributed thousands of copies of his autobiography titled, God is Real.

In the early evening on Saturday, August 26, 1972, after a full day of activities, Dallas Billington began experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. He was immediately taken to the Akron Medical Center where he died at 11:20 p.m. Funeral services were conducted by his longtime friend, Evangelist B. R. Lakin. He described Billington as a rugged man’s man who had great faith, mighty devotion and character. He explained that Billington had millions of dollars pass through his hands but they didn’t stick; he used them for the glory of God. Above all, he spoke of Billington’s great love for souls. He loved and preached and worked and toiled for souls, he said. A crowd of more than 6,000 people
attended the services. His son, Charles F. Billington, succeeded him as pastor.



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