Frank Gaebelein’s greatness was rooted in his love for Christ: it shaped his integrity, his love of excellence, and his service for others.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Frank Gaebelein was a great man because he loved his Lord Christ with all his heart and mind and strength. He was great because he stood upright with integrity and a desire for excellence. He was great because he cared for and served the needs of others.

The founding headmaster of The Stony Brook School, Dr. Gaebelein was an educator, author, preacher, scholar, musician, and mountaineer. Few will approach his diversity of interest and the quality of excellence that followed his efforts. Stony Brook graduates will remember a man of remarkable presence whose authoritative glance was enough to quiet a restless boy.

A concert pianist, he would play duets with young Jorge Bolet, ‘34, a student of prodigious talent and one of the world’s great pianists, who came to the school the day after Dr. Gaebelein’s death to share his talent in a touching tribute.

But Frank Gaebelein was viewed by many as a leading statesman of the Christian faith. His character, breadth, scholarship, and social concern influenced senators and congressmen, educators, and thousands who have read his works.

The most important fact of his life was Jesus Christ. It was rooted in a deep sense of reality about who Jesus Christ is—Lord of life and history. That was his starting point; here it was he would begin his day. In the study of Grosvenor House he would open the Scripture, and with thoughtfulness, humility, and openness would ask God to make him what he wanted him to be. He prayed for each student, each faculty member, for his family and friends that they too would make Christ their model, their life, their redeemer.

This rooted and realistic faith produced a quality of uprightness and moral integrity that also distinguished him. Richard Halverson, chaplain of the U.S. Senate and a long-time friend of Dr. Gaebelein, told me a story that illustrates that integrity.

Dr. Gaebelein was to make a speaking tour of India, visiting churches and speaking to Christian ministers. The government of that predominantly Hindu country was suspicious of Christian ministers at that time, and Dr. Gaebelein was cautioned to write “Editor” on his visa application, for that was his present occupation; writing “Christian Minister” would mean rejection of the application. How Dr. Gaebelein struggled! Why was he going to India? Was it not as a “Christian Minister” and not as an “Editor”? He wrote “Christian Minister” on the application, not ready to compromise his conscience. Others thought he would be refused. But he got his visa and spoke in the freedom of an open conscience.

I believe his commitment to Christ and the integrity that characterized him are the real secrets behind his love of excellence, his love of things done well. He abhorred what was shoddy! Perhaps this also was in part why he enjoyed Alpine climbing. Mountain climbers cannot be ill prepared, or make a 70 percent effort; it is life threatening to do so. Indeed, as I write of him I sense Dr. Gaebelein wielding his editor’s red pen, ready to point out errors of grammar and construction. He was quick, almost compulsive, about pointing out errors, for he loved what was excellent.

The root of that, I believe, is that his efforts were directed at honoring Christ: Christ deserved his best. His integrity demanded that what he did was to be done well. There was liberation from the self-indulgence of what was shoddy, and liberty from the fears of not achieving—a liberty of excellence for the sake of Christ.

Frank Gaebelein was great because he cared for and served the needs of others. He was concerned for the needy, and often appalled by the excesses of pomp and power in Washington where he lived.

On retirement, he became coeditor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. In 1965 he went in that role to cover Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama. Characteristic of the man, the reporter within was left at Selma. He marched with those who were calling for social justice and an end to racial prejudice. In a world of incredible affluence and abject poverty, he was concerned that Christians and others were losing their sense of values and not confronting Scripture’s challenge regarding the poor.

Frank Gaebelein was a great man. We can remember him; but we can do something more: we can understand the life he lived and know that we, too, can walk in the same quality of life. Indeed, each of us can be great as Dr. Gaebelein was great, with a greatness rooted in faith in Christ. His integrity was real, his striving for excellence something we may all emulate.

We thank God for the memory and example of Frank Gaebelein, who lived out Jesus’ call to greatness: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”

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