Billy Graham, America’s pastor, has died

This was the title of the article referred to by my Internet Home Page (the Drudge Report) when I first read about Billy Graham’s death, a little over an hour ago. Since then tributes have been popping up everywhere reflecting on the passing of a truly great man (aged 99), many by people I greatly respect who have been much influenced by Billy Graham, and some I strongly disagree with but who still mourn his passing and wish to pay their respects.

I could do further research and write a more polished article but see little point, for in the next few days we will no doubt see many articles reflecting on the life and legacy of Billy Graham. One such is titled “Billy Graham – 1918 — 2018 – Official Obituary“. His legacy includes many he has helped lead to Christ, who have gone onto lead fruitful Christian lives. As a fifteen year old in 1966, the church I attended, which was supportive of Billy Graham crusades, hired a coach to take a party up to Wembley Stadium, London, to hear him preach. I recall many going forward when he made his appeal, as a sign they wanted to commit their life to Christ, and I too was touched and became a Christian two months later.

I am loathe to hero worship anyone, least of all American preachers, but Billy Graham comes close. He has faithfully preached the gospel from some twenty years before that original exposure up to the present day, and there would be little in that message I would dispute. He was best known for his evangelistic crusades held worldwide, aimed at bring people to Christ, which reached millions, along with many more through radio, writings etc. While he lost friends from among those who didn’t like his style or that he mixed with Christians deemed doctrinally dodgy and might have appeared to have endorsed false teaching, he undoubtedly gained many more and was instrumental for many to become true disciples of Jesus. He had the amazing ability to get on with people who don’t get on with each other and who would respond to his gracious demeanor.

One of his remarkable achievements was to be respected by people from all sides of the political spectrum and who oppose each other in the culture wars, which is evidenced by the tributes that are now coming out. Some might say (including Graham himself) there may have been a need to speak on some of the real issues that divide us (it would be interesting for example to know his views on gun control) and that affect the prevailing worldview (something his son Franklin has managed to do, albeit with mixed results) but for Billy fulfilling his commission as an evangelist that serves all the people had to come first, and besides which he understood his limitations.

While he may have alienated some LGBT folk with his strong traditional views on LGBT matters, he did espouse unpopular causes. He was at the fore front of the fight for racial justice and reached out to the then “enemy” – the Communist world. Some things doctrinally he got wrong and arguably made too many overtures to Catholics, Mormons and Muslims, to name but three. Some have stumbled as a result and others have disowned him, but then the same could be said of many a man of God, yet his approach serves as a model in a day when Evangelical leaders are sharply divided on many matters of lesser importance than the Gospel.

Few would dispute he took the Great Commission (to preach the Gospel) seriously and was mighty effective in doing so. The respect he was held among world leaders, including all US Presidents from Truman to Trump is evident for all to see. While he was forthright and unyielding when it came to putting across his message (the one he saw as being in the Bible), his approach was winsome. He was careful to avoid unnecessary controversy so that he could focus on the message and, unlike many a famous preacher, he did not succumb to the temptations of money, sex and power, but rather to live a simple, honest life with family away from the limelight. He lived his life without hints of scandal who practiced what he preached. His lifetime focus was on sharing the simple unchanging transforming gospel message and urging folk to follow Christ.

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Billy Graham has made a considerable positive impact on many lives, including my own, and his passing will no doubt be greatly mourned. History may well record him as the greatest evangelist of the twentieth century. Yet as God buries His workman, the work continues, and one prays He will raise up others to carry on this vital work. This salutary reminder was brought home to me as a result of the passing on of not one great evangelist but three, all in the past month. Besides by far the best known of the three, Billy Graham, there is Dick Saunders (see here) and Varghese Mathai (my father-in-law) (see here). All three were fully committed to doing the work of an evangelist. Somehow, I hear the Lord speaking to me because of their dedication to preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ.

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