Yesterday we learned that Billy Graham had passed away at age ninety-nine. He was one of us, a Southern Baptist. He was ordained by a Southern Baptist church in Florida in 1939, and he was a member at First Baptist Church of Dallas. When I heard of his passing, immediately, I thought of Genesis 25:8, which says of Abraham: “Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years…” (NKJV). Truly, Billy Graham died at a “good old age,” and his years were full of fruitful service to the Lord. In this post I’ll not repeat the biographies you can find on any news website. You can find the biography published by the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College here (http.www.wheaton.edu/billy-graham/biography/)and Ed Stetzer’s tribute here (http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/february/reflections-on-passing-of-rev-billy-graham-one-of-greatest-.html). Instead, I want to share my thoughts on Billy Graham’s distinguished ministry. The news networks and pundits are lauding him as a great man and “America’s pastor.” What made Billy Graham so great?
Fidelity to the Bible. Early in his ministry Billy Graham began to doubt the reliability of God’s Word, but one night he expressed his doubts to God and received assurance from the Lord. In my mind’s eye I can still see him with the Bible in his left hand and gesturing with his right, declaring “the Bible says.” In that he set an example for all preachers to follow.
Passion for Souls. Billy Graham understood his calling—to serve as an evangelist. Through his life many offered him positions in institutions or encouraged him to run for political office. Through it all he remained focused on his calling, preaching the gospel and inviting people to profess faith in Christ. Some estimate that he preached the gospel to two billion people. Amazing!
Great Team of Co-Workers. When we think of Billy Graham, we also think of his great evangelistic team: Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, George Wilson, and T. W. Wilson. He assembled this team in the early 1950s, and they continued with him until they died. That says a lot about Billy Graham and about those good and godly men. Billy Graham always spoke in glowing terms about his “team,” and he emphasized that their faithful service was a key element in the success of his ministry.
Unquestioned Morality. In 1948 Billy Graham and his team (Barrows, Shea, and Grady Wilson) were conducting a crusade in Modesto, California. During that meeting they discussed building their ministry on a sound ethical foundation. This discussion resulted in the Modesto Manifesto, a compact between the men that guided their ministry and personal lives. The Manifesto called for absolute accountability in financial matters, cooperation with all evangelical churches, no criticism of local churches or pastors, no exaggeration of attendance figures or response, and integrity in their personal lives. This last provision required them to pledge that they would never be alone with a woman other than their wife, not even on an elevator. That Billy Graham adhered to this commitment his whole life did much to validate his ministry.
Devotion to His Wife. Billy Graham met Ruth Bell at Wheaton College, and she was the love of his life. He often described her as his prayer partner and closest confidant. He testified that he turned to her for counsel first. Her passing in 2007 grieved him terribly, but he expressed his confidence that they would reunite in heaven.
Detachment from Politics. Billy Graham advised and prayed with presidents, but he never endorsed a political candidate. He declared more than once that Christianity is bigger than any political party and that the gospel was for both Democrats and Republicans. In his later years he expressed regret that he had allowed some presidents to exploit him. Pastors today should take note of that.
Advocacy of De-segregation. In the early 1950s Billy Graham insisted that all his crusades must be fully integrated. Beyond that, he invited Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak at his New York City Crusade. Graham also spoke out against apartheid in South Africa and corresponded with Nelson Mandela for years, while Mandela was in prison. Late in life, Billy Graham expressed regret that he did not march with the protesters in Selma, Alabama. He said, “I should have done more.” For sure, he did more than most.
Innovation in Mass Media. Billy Graham and his team demonstrated remarkable innovation in the use of mass media. He wrote thirty books and a popular newspaper column, “My Answer.” His organization published Decision magazine, and he led in the founding of Christianity Today magazine. The Billy Graham Association produced Christian films, televised crusades, and broadcast radio programs. Late in his active ministry Graham used satellite television to preach to 185 million people simultaneously.
I believe we can apply the Apostle Paul’s testimony to Billy Graham. “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness , which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day…” (2 Tim 4:7-8a, NKJV).
These are my thoughts about the life and ministry of Billy Graham. What are yours?