August 18, 2019

Billy Graham

Billy Graham

By Bill Reeves

As I write, for a few days, now, the news is dominated by the death of a 99-year-old preacher, Billy Graham. His name, like mine, is William. I am in my nineties and as a child I was known as Billy by my parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles, but it changed to Bill in later life. Billy stuck with William Graham. But, there are many differences between us two: he has preached in some 180 different countries, I only in some 30; he preached all over the world, I only in four continents, but I did in over 20 countries in the language of the citizens, in Spanish! I suppose that he used interpreters, I only once in preaching to the Zulus in South Africa. But I stop; I cannot begin to complete with his fame. His body lies today (Feb. 28, 2018) in the rotunda of the capital building in Washington, D.C. But there is one, big difference between us: He preached an ecumenical ministry of compromise, from which he gleaned his popularity, I the gospel to be obeyed (1 Pet. 1:22; 4:17; 2 Thess. 1:8; Acts 5:32; Rom. 2:8; 6:16; 16:26; Heb. 5:9). To those who asked him what to do to be saved, he said what no apostle ever told anyone: "receive Jesus as your personal Savior." The listener is left wondering: what to do to "receive" him? When an unbeliever asked, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30), he was told to believe on the Lord Jesus and Paul and Silas preached unto him the word (v. 32) so he could believe, because faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). That same hour of the night the jailor and his household were baptized, immediately (Acts 16:33). That did not happen in the Billy Graham Crusades. When believers asked the same question that the jailor did (Acts 2:37), they were told what to do: repent and be baptized (v. 38).

Billy Graham never told his listeners this but gave them an answer nowhere found in the Scriptures. But, such preaching did not offend anyone. They were told to receive Jesus but were not told what to do to receive him. There is something to do to be saved; Jesus said so! (Acts 22:10; see also Acts 2:37; 9:6; 16:30; Luke 10:25,28). An inspired preacher told Saul (a penitent believer) to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins (Acts 2:16), but Mr. Graham, either as a Baptist preacher or an international evangelist, never told any penitent believer that! What would he have told Saul of Tarsus to do in Damascus? Receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? That is not what Ananias told him!

Mr. Graham is extolled, lifted up above the ordinary, and it seems that commentators compete to find the greatest adjective for him. He was "America's Preacher," and the preacher for numerous Presidents of the U.S.A. He is called "God's Ambassador," but the apostles said that they were the ambassadors of Christ, speaking officially for him, the head of all spiritual government (2 Cor. 5:20). He is praised as one having but one message, the gospel, and preaching that constantly and on every occasion. We are told that in his humility he never promoted self, but always concentrated on the simple gospel of God's love in Jesus Christ. But, he died, as all are appointed to do (Heb. 9:27). With a few exceptions, look at how each verse in Genesis chapter 5 ends! Jesus message to his apostles was: going, make disciples (Matt. 28:19); Billy's message was to make a decision for Christ (without obeying the terms of the gospel).

Well, it is true that few people filled giant stadiums with more people that Mr. Graham did. It is true that he preached in more different countries than most others. The number of individual persons "converted" by him reach astounding totals. All that is readily admitted. (However, critics show by statistics that most his "converts" were already church members!).

He is called "Reverend Billy Graham." How humbling of him to allow others to call him "reverend," when only God is holy and reverend (Ps. 111:9), meaning worthy of worship. Jesus, in Matthew 23:5-12, condemns the wearing of religious titles, or receiving religious salutations, and gives the reason for such: his disciples all are the same, just brethren. Some are not elevated above the rest with titles to prove it! Peter did not say "Reverend Paul," but "brother Paul" (2 Pet. 3:15). The verb form of reverend is revere, and revere means to worship, or show devotion to. Jesus, being God, allowed men to worship or adore him (Matt. 2:2; Heb. 1:6). Men are not to be revered! Another such title attributed to Billy Graham is "doctor" to convey honor and dignity to him. Yet, he is proclaimed to have been a man of great humility. How does "Dr. Jesus" sound? Did Peter call Paul, "Dr. Paul?"

But, in all these public accolades and marks of recognition for Mr. Graham I do not hear the story told in its fulness. He started out as a simple, Baptist preacher. But with the end in mind of becoming an "international evangelist" he knew, as others experienced, that one cannot be that without becoming, to use a common, but revealing expression, "any body's dog that will hunt with him." He had to quit preaching the doctrine of just one denomination, the Baptist, and preach only that "God loves us," and other generalities that most religious folk accept, and not do any "reproving, rebuking, and upbraiding," using teaching (2 Tim. 4:2; Gal. 1:6-10; Mark 16:14), as Jesus and his apostles did. People do not like to hear that, and popularity will not come to any who do that. He started out preaching the truth that baptism is immersion, not sprinkling nor pouring, but preaching that would disgruntle the Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Catholics. Condemning denominational traditions that make "void the word of God" (Matt. 15:6), and doctrines of men in vain worship of God (v. 9), which by Jesus is called hypocrisy (v. 7), for it honors God with the lips but shows that the heart is far from God (v. 8), will not fill stadiums with denominational folks.

When Mr. Graham preached as a Baptist preacher I respected him for his conviction in preaching what he had been taught in a Baptist Seminary, although mistaken in his belief about salvation by faith only. But, he knew that to be a famous, international evangelist, he could not continue as a simple, Baptist preacher. So, he gave that up and organized evangelistic campaigns with designated associates to go ahead of his arrival to promote, advertise, and guarantee an audience for his preaching occasions. He created a business, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, for a purpose, and it grew! He could not preach (and practice) 2 Timothy 4:2; he would not imitate Paul (Gal. 2:11), nor Christ (Luke 13:17, 31-35).

As a local evangelist I was approached one time by such a campaign and was told that any "converts" of the general address of our meeting house would be directed to "my church," and others to other churches engaged in the campaign. This appealed to a lot of churches (denominations) and they participated in the scheme. Half a city block of nightly crusades was filled by the audiences. The churches of the city that were contacted guaranteed an audience for the campaign and "a crowd draws a crowd"! Such campaigns are presented by highly organized businesses and as they prosper they grow. Billy Graham's grew! His campaign, a word not found in the Scriptures, was a product of a business arrangement. The word "ministry" is found often in the Scriptures (Greek, diakonía, which transliterated becomes "deacon") and simply means service or servicing. Note it in Acts 1:25; 12:25; 1 Cor. 16:15). It in no sense means a business venture with salaried employees and projects by pay (TV, Radio, advertising, publications, etc.). Such requires donations! But Jesus drew crowds, multitudes, and it did not cost him a penny! He requested no donations.

Billy Graham's Evangelistic Association was begun in 1950, and because of his age and physical problems he turned it over to his son, Franklin in November of 2000. Worldwide it has had some 500 members. This multi-million-dollar organization, with its affiliates, produced radio, TV and film publications, a syndicated newspaper column, and many books that became bestsellers. Mr. Graham's organization was first based in Minneapolis and then in 2003 moved to Charlotte. This business put on "crusades" but later eliminated the term "crusades" as being objectionable to Muslims who associate the term with the crusades of centuries gone by to recover control of Jerusalem. However, later the term was taken up again.

Jesus had no such business arrangement. He did not get millions of dollars in donations every year. How did Jesus manage without it all? Well, he was not operating an Evangelistic Association nor engaging in "Crusades." He simply went about teaching and preaching (Matt. 11:1; 7:28, 29), debating (Matt. 21:23—24:1), and doing good (Acts 10:38). He was not operating a business, covering great operational costs!

Telling the truth makes enemies (Gal. 4:16); preaching anything other than what the apostle Paul preached means that one is striving to please men (Gal. 1:10). Mr. Graham would not preach what Paul did in Galatians 3:26-27. As a Baptist he did not believe that baptism is essential to salvation, and as a popular, international evangelist he could not preach what Baptists believe, that is, that baptism is a burial in water (immersion), Colossians 2:12, not sprinkling nor pouring (as practiced by many that participated in Mr. Graham's campaigns).

Several commentators that I heard on TV indicated that Mr. Graham now is in heaven with God, but he is not. [Mr. Graham is reported to have said: "Most of my life has already been lived. I'll be glad when the moment comes when the Lord calls me to heaven. I get tired down here sometimes." No one is in heaven yet, nor will be until after the resurrection of both the just and the unjust at the last day (John 11:24; Acts 24:15). All who get to heaven, will get there at the same time.] Mr. Graham, like all who physically die, will be buried (as to his body) and his soul, when it was required by the angels (Luke 12:20; 16:22) went to the realm of the unseen, to Hades. In Hades, since it is the abode of all spirits, there is a state of repose or comfort and a place of anguish (Luke 16:25). Where the spirit of Mr. Graham is only he and God know; the TV commentators do not know! And I do not know. The words of Jesus in Luke 6:26 have bearing just here: "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets."

Popularity is not a sought-after acquisition for the righteous. Consider the stem of the word: from populus, meaning people. (Think of "population," the word meaning the number of people in a given area). One who is popular is one who is well-spoken-of. But, by whom? Not God, but the people in general when they hear what they want to hear. Who applauds and commends us, God or man? 1 Kings chapter 22 is a good commentary on Luke 6:26. You will do yourself a favor to take time to read it!

Truth is never popular because it is of God (John 14:6; 17:17), not of people. God is found true always, and when man is in conflict with God, man is a liar (Rom. 3:4). Popularity comes from the ability to say to the people what you know they want to hear. It is a proof that one is not a disciple of Christ. Christ never sought to please man, but only the Father (John 8:29). "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" (Jas. 4:4). "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own" (John 15:19). Who among us should love the praise of men more than the praise of God? (Rom. 2:29).

When Jesus got through debating the false teachers they became his "adversaries," not his friends (Luke 13:17). The world hated Jesus because he testified that their works were evil (John 7:7). Mr. Graham did not get his popularity from doing this! The world hated the apostles (John 15:19). We would all do well to read John 8:29, 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 4:1, and 2 Timothy 2:4.

"I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins," said Mr. Graham at his final Crusade in June 2005 at in New York City. After convicting the Jews on Pentecost that they had crucified Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, the apostle Peter told them to repent, but he also told what Mr. Graham never told his audiences: "be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins." Had he told them that, the campaign would have been abandoned by the crowds and Mr.
Graham's popularity would have been over! But he did not tell them what the inspired apostle Peter told his audience. And Mr. Graham is the greatest evangelist of all time?

On his grave marker are to be inscribed the words: "Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ," but Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Mr. Graham preached a false gospel, saying, He that believeth shall be saved and later as a saved person can be baptized. He preached salvation by faith alone, but we read of some who believed on Jesus but would not confess it lest they be cast out of the synagogue (John 12:42). Mr. Graham, were those believers saved? Yes, or No. Tell us! Remember, that the next verse (43) says that those believers "loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God." James, the brother of the Lord, wrote that man is not justified only by faith (Jas. 2:24).

One professor of sociology at a great university called him "the most powerful evangelist since Jesus" in a 2002 magazine article. More powerful than the inspired, miracle-working apostles of Christ (Mark 16:17-20; Heb. 2:3,4)? What a ridiculous appraisal!

Mr. Billy Graham a few days ago had the experience of angels that came and required his soul (Luke 12:20; 16:22), and the body died (Jas. 2:26). His soul, or spirit, is not in the rotunda today in Washington, but in Hades since the day he died. His body is to be buried in a few days and is to return to the dust from which it was taken. His destiny is sealed, indicated to him by the condition of repose or torment in Hades (Luke 16:25). Nothing that he nor any human being can affect will change that state. God determined that when he ordered the angels to bear his soul to Hades, into one of two states. These are the facts! Praising him, nor deriding him, can change the decision of the "Judge of all the earth" (Gen. 18:25). Our concern is to obey the gospel and be faithful unto death, even to having to die for Christ (Rev. 2:10).