The Colorful Life and Legacy of Rev. Billy Graham

Wikipedia Commons

We can say that Rev. Billy Graham was one Christian who lived a full and colorful life. Born on November 7, 1918, he lived up to the age of 99. He passed away on Wednesday, the 21st of February 2018. A driven evangelist, Billy Graham may have reached the most number of people with the message of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. This global evangelist was also able to establish relationships with many presidents of the United States, serving as advisers to many of them, including Presidents Jimmy Carter and Dwight Eisenhower who is said to have been encouraged by Graham to run for the presidency. His was indeed a life of pressing forward in furtherance of the Gospel. He defied boundaries and created new trends for ministry and relationships.


Billy Graham came to know the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ at the age of 16. By the age of 21 he received ordination from a Southern Baptist Convention church. Billy Graham began missionary work in 1944 sharing God's Word at Youth for Christ Campus Life rallies. 1949 was the first time he ever held a tent crusade. It went on for 7 weeks in Los Angeles. In 1950, he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. In 1956, he founded Christianity Today Magazine. In his lifetime, he  served as a local church pastor only once.

Billy Graham was equally appreciated and criticized for mobilizing volunteers from his own organization as well as from liberal Protestant and Catholic communities. He was an inclusivist and fundamentalists viewed him as a compromiser for uniting with those of differing theology. He has received criticism for hosting events and accepting support from those who hold non-Biblical views.

His achievements for Christ, there are many:
Billy Graham made it to Gallup Inc's list of "Ten Most Admired Men in the World" over 50 times. Gallup is into research-based global performance-management consultancy. It is highly respected and sought by organizations worldwide for public opinion research, strategy, and advice.

In 1983, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1998, he received the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2001, Billy Graham received an honorary knighthood from Britain.

His commitment and methods to preaching the Full Gospel to anyone he can reach in cooperation with anyone who is willing has been credited as the very thing that paved the way for differing faiths to unify and find common ground for interaction and relationship worldwide.


Billy Graham would be the first to create doors for the Soviet community to openly entertain religion. From 1978, he was granted access to visit Soviet-controlled countries for purposes of preaching and encouraging citizens and leaders towards religious freedom. It may have been the first time in which Communist leaders were straigthly told that the restriction of religious freedom was counterproductive and Billy Graham was the one who told them that.


His character, many speak highly of:
Former President Jimmy Carter describes Billy Graham as "broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve. He had an enormous influence on my own spiritual life."

Former President Gorge W Bush valued their friendship. He thinks Billy Graham "touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man."

Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, opined that Billy Graham was "the most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul. He preached Christ, not himself, not politics, not prosperity. He carried unimpeachable personal integrity."

Joel Osteen, Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church thought right when he said that Billy Graham "paved the way for young ministers like myself." His fearlessness encouraged many to be innovative barrier breakers in doing ministry for Christ. Billy Graham utilized technological advances in media and the Internet  to champion Christ's message of salvation. His methodology of ministry was both classic like Billy Sunday's and modern like Rick Warren's.

His integrity, no one ever questioned:
Billy Graham was careful to study the common reasons why ministry and ministers fall. From consultations held within his ministry group, namely, Billy Graham himself, Cliff Barrows, Grady Wilson, and George Beverly Shea, the Modesto Manifesto was born. These 4 men of God would make a pact to uphold the highest standards of biblical modesty and integrity.  They vowed to stay away from ministry wreckers and minister wreckers: money, sexual temptation, and excessive pride or self-confidence.

Many have fallen into obsession with financial gain. They resort to strong emotional appeals to audiences for more offerings. And many subject themselves to little or no financial accountability whatsoever. Billy Graham and his minsitry group chose to task specific committees to plan and disburse ministry finances in advance.

Many have fallen into sexual immorality due to extended time away from families and peers. Billy Graham and his group chose to avoid any situation that would put them in question. They never traveled nor dined alone. They never met with any other woman except their wives.

Many have fallen into a self-righteous attitude towards ministry, carrying work apart from the local church, criticizing others who do not put in the same skill and passion they have in service. Billy Graham and his group deemed the attitude counterproductive and biblically wrong so they decided to never develop an anti-clergy and anti-church sentiment and vowed to cooperate with those who would cooperate with them in furthering the Gospel.

Many have fallen into the claws of publicity. A lot of evangelists and ministers have diverted their focus and values towards maintaining their public profile and prestige, resorting to exaggerated accomplishments, focusing on getting the numbers up instead of propagating the mission of God, and valuing public opinion rather than the principles of Scriptures. Billy Graham and his group committed themselves to maintain integrity in public as in private and to always be accountable thru proper disclosure.

The Watergate Scandal, his only public misstep:
A Recording of former President Richard Nixon and Rev. Billy Graham was released in March of 2002. The audio showed both making anti-Jewish remarks. From the conversation it can be derived that Billy Graham agreed with what Nixon believed as Jewish domination of the news media and Hollywood. Billy Graham said, ''A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them.''

Graham immediately sought and found forgiveness from the Jewish community. Billy Graham went on to say, ''Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon. They do not reflect my views, and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks. ''Throughout my ministry, I have sought to build bridges between Jews and Christians,'' he said. ''I will continue to strongly support all future efforts to advance understanding and mutual respect between our communities.''


This publicized error must have given Billy two memorable learnings:

  1. One unguarded and thoughtless statement can destroy one's lifelong work. It can instantly erase relationships that took a long time to build.
  2. One should be careful to opine in a selected private conversation only that which he can likewise  opine to a larger public audience.
Graham also pulled back from the political scene after the scandal and started warning against the pitfalls and temptations that befall religious leaders who tangle themselves in political matters.

The Guilt of Compromise and Modernism: A Lingering Controversy
Heated debates still go on regarding Billy Graham's way of ministry. Those for him reason that he greatly championed the cause of Christ and was instrumental in opening countless doors for the propagation of the Gospel. Those against him reason that he greatly caused confusion within the believing and non-believing community and was instrumental in opening doors for compromise and modernism to creep into faith communities. They believe that because of his seeming success, many Christians have come to accept and defend compromise and many have gained comfortability in employing questionable means to doing ministry.

Bob Jones Sr., founder of Bob Jones University, an iconic figure to Christian Fundamentalists and Billy Graham would have a number of opposing views throughout their lifetime. Firstly, Billy Graham didn't take a liking to Bob Jone's College's standards and rules of conduct for students. He felt the school atmosphere to be too strict and strictly wrong. He left after one semester of studies and completed his degree at Florida Bible Institute. Bob Jones Sr., told him he would be a failure one day. 12 years later, Bob Jones College would confer on him an honorary Doctorate of Humanities.

On his experience at Bob Jones College, Billy Graham in his autobiography titled "Just As I Am" sharedI found myself in an environment so rigidly regimented that it shocked me. Our social life was restricted," he said. "Dating had to be scheduled and was governed by the dean’s code book. When you did date, you could not sit on the same sofa or chair as the girl. You were chaperoned and watched like a hawk. Outside of approved dating times, you could not stop to talk to your girlfriend. “I disliked the overwhelming discipline, which often seemed to have little rationale behind it. I disliked being told what to think without being given the opportunity to reason issues through on my own or to look at other viewpoints. I asked for an interview with Dr. Bob (Sr.) in his office and told him about my discontent and my thoughts of leaving. He pronounced me a failure and predicted only more failure ahead. I left his office disillusioned and dejected.”


He gave less regard for associations and affiliations. He forged global friendships with anyone who would join and assist his ministry pursuits. His affiliation with the National and World Council of Churches concerned Bob Jones Sr. greatly. He viewed Billy Graham as a peddler of a "discount type of religion" who was "sacrificing the cause of evangelism on the altar of temporary convenience."  

The 1950s would deepen the rift between them. As fundamentalists, they were strongly against Graham seeking sponsorship from non-fundamentalist religions and believed that crossing denominational lines violated Biblical principles of separation.


Bob Jones Jr had this to say about Billy Graham: "I think that Dr. Graham is doing more harm in the cause of Jesus Christ than any living man; that he is leading foolish and untaught Christians, simple people that do not know the Word of God, into disobedience to the Word of God.”



A 1957 crusade held at the Madison Square Garden by the Protestant Council of New York would have people hearing Billy Graham say, "I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the gospel of Christ, if there are no strings attached to my message. The one badge of Christian discipleship is not orthodoxy but love. Christians are not limited to any church. The only question is: are you committed to Christ?" However, as noted by The Gospel Coalition, that crusade may have been the "bridge to far" that finally and officially separated Bob Jones and Billy Graham, defining Fundamentalism and Neo-Evangelism. When Billy Graham came to Greenville for a scheduled crusade in 1966, Bob Jones University students were prohibited from attending.

One other differing views they had was Bob Jones Sr.'s belief in Racial Segregation. He once delivered a message entitled "Is Racial Segregation Scriptural?", the content of which proposed it was so. The university would later repudiate this view officially. Billy Graham believed one cannot be a christian and be a racist. He was against any form of segregation among races. Ministry mates testified that he would have none of this segregation going on in his crusades and recalls Billy Graham even saying: "We don't have segregated meetings, whatever their reason for segregating them. They can sit wherever they want to.' And he took a stand for his belief that every man is equal before Christ and the gospel was for everyone."

The 1966 World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin participated by 1,200 evangelical leaders from 104 nations, and the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland were deemed as significant breakthroughs to the Christian community. Christians began to see themselves as a global force that can accomplish much more together rather than separately. This did not sit well with fundamentalists, especially the Jones'.


On this matter, Jonathan Pait, a spokesman for Bob Jones University thought that problems started when Graham began moving towards ecumenicalism. He said, “Having multiple types of theology to participate in his campaigns is basically giving credence to others with quite different beliefs.”

In response to outspoken criticisms against him, Billy Graham never reacted aggressively. He only expressed that despite the problems, he had love and respect for both Bob Jones Sr., and Bob Jones Jr.

other issues cited against him are listed here:

resources:

Comments