A Word from Pastor – On the Passing of Billy Graham
No doubt many of you did as I did last Friday afternoon and watched the livestreaming of the
funeral service for Evangelist Billy Graham, who just passed at the age of 99. He was known for
decades as “America’s Pastor.” Thousands came to Christ through his preaching and writings –
including some in our church. He was not perfect. He humbly acknowledged several faults –
including getting too close to politicians and not spending enough time with his family.
Regardless of what people thought of his theology or methodology, they had to admit —
Graham was a man of unimpeachable integrity. In an era of scandal among high-profile
preachers, never once was there even a hint of impropriety alleged against Graham in his
dealings with women or in his handling of money. In fact, he was so scrupulous, he refused to
get on an elevator alone with another woman. He would wait for the next one.
Nevertheless, Graham disappointed and even alienated many fundamentalists and fellow
evangelicals for two primary reasons:
1) His pioneering of ecumenical evangelism
2) His 1997 TV interview with the late Robert Shuller
In the 1940s and early 50s, the young evangelist was influenced greatly by such
fundamentalists as Richard Clearwaters, Monroe Parker, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., and Dr. John R.
Rice. These fundamentalists – especially Dr. Rice – urged him to enter into city-wide
evangelistic campaigns. For a time, Graham shared their separatist convictions and refused to
yoke up with unbelievers just to gain a larger audience.
That all changed in 1956 with his New York City crusade. For the first time he decided to use
non-Christian religious figures in leadership positions during the campaign. Even worse, he now
started channeling converts from his crusades back into apostate denominations to which they
It was sheer pragmatism – operating on the principle that the ”ends justify the means.” With
tears, his fundamentalist counterparts and mentors had to sever fellowship with him and tell
others why. It broke their hearts. They loved Billy Graham. They continued to pray for him.
Graham’s compromise sank to a new low in 1997 when he was interviewed by the late TV
evangelist Robert Shuller on his Hour of Power telecast in May, 1997. The modernist Shuller did
not hesitate to ask loaded questions trying to get Graham to side with his universalist views.
Sadly, Graham “took the bait.” He said the following:
“God is calling out a people for His name, whether they come from the Buddhist world,
or the Muslim world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world. They are
members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not
even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something
that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think they are
saved, and that they are going to be with us in Heaven…
I’ve met people in the various parts of the world in tribal situations, that have never seen
a Bible or heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and
they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which
This was rank heresy! Graham’s remarks undermined the whole basis for missions! And
fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals (like John MacArthur and John Piper) rightly
called him out on it. This pastor did personally from his present pulpit.
Fast-forward to Graham’s 95th birthday on November 7, 2013. From his easy chair in his
home near Ashville, NC, the feeble preacher gave his “Last Message to America and to the
World.” In it he emphasized that the “cross is offensive… Jesus is the only way to Heaven. He
said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.,’ the only way…When you come to Christ, you must
come by the way of repentance… You must turn from your sins and turn to Jesus Christ… Say to
Him, ‘I know that you’re the only One Who can change me…’”
So which Billy Graham are we to believe? I choose to believe the words of the 95-yr. old
feeble man, staring death and God in the face. Did he compromise to reach a larger audience?
Yes. Did he run with the wrong crowd and get burned by them at times? Yes. Was he
pressured by them to trim his message? Yes.
But let’s remember that association with apostates does not make one an apostate. Read
the story of godly Jehoshaphat’s affinity with apostate Ahab in 2 Chronicles 18 and God’s rebuke
of Jehoshaphat in 19:2-3. (By the way, thank God that Graham’s son Franklin takes a
courageous stand on the exclusiveness of the gospel and indispensability of faith in Christ for
salvation! What a clear presentation of the Gospel he gave at Friday’s funeral! He minced no
words about an awful Hell!)
In my sanctified imagination, I rejoice to think about how Billy Graham is in Heaven right now
hugging Clearwaters and Jones and Parker and Rice, who all wept over him more than 60 years
ago when he went in an unscriptural ministry direction.
If you were to ask me, “Pastor, do you believe that you will see Billy Graham in Heaven?”, I
would have to answer the same way George Whitefield did when asked that question about John
Wesley more than 250 years ago. “No, he will be so near to the throne, and I will be so distant, I
do not think I shall get a glimpse of him.”
Written by Pastor Vradenburgh, Senior Pastor