“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t believe a word of it; I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” -Billy Graham.
Billy Graham, without a doubt, preached the gospel to more people than anyone else in the modern world: to over 80 million people in person, to countless millions more over the airwaves and through films, and spiritually counseled 12 United States Presidents since Harry Truman. Virtually every year since the 1950s, he was a fixture on lists of the ten most admired people in America or the world.
Graham was born near Charlotte, North Carolina in 1918 and dreamed of playing baseball. Yet, in 1932 at the age of 16, he found himself at a series of evangelistic meetings spellbound by the white-haired preacher Mordecai Ham who seemed to be shouting and waving his long finger directly at him. Night after night, Graham went to the meeting and finally yielded his life to the Lord Jesus Christ.
He moved to Florida Bible Institute when he began preaching the gospel and it was then that he changed his affiliation from Associate Reformed Presbyterian to Southern Baptist, being subsequently baptized. Eventually, he would move north to Wheaton College to round out his intensive but academically narrow education, and it was there that he met his wife Ruth Bell, the daughter of a medical missionary, and undertook his first and only stint as a local pastor.
As Graham’s ministry and prestige grew, particularly among mainline, non-evangelical Christians, he began to draw criticisms for cooperating with the National and World Council of Churches. In 1957, the controversy came to a head when Graham accepted an invitation from the Protestant Council of New York to hold a crusade in Madison Square Garden. However, Graham responded succinctly:
I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the gospel of Christ, if there are no strings attached to my message…. Christians are not limited to any church. The only question is: are you committed to Christ?
While the gathering together of believers is important, Graham’s ministry was akin to that of the Apostle Paul’s ministry, who said, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). That crusade in New York also marked another significant development in Graham’s ministry, inviting the fellow Baptist preacher Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to discuss and pray over the racial tensions in the nation. While Graham never felt comfortable with some of King’s confrontational tactics, he was willing to let both whites and blacks know that he was willing to be identified with the civil rights movement because of his conviction that God created all people equal regardless of race, desiring they all turn from their sins and to the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. His voice was important in declaring that a Christian racist was an oxymoron.
Billy Graham became so beloved across the nation primarily because of his determination just as the apostle Paul “to know nothing” in his preaching “except the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ,” doing better than any other preacher on either the right or the left to remain bipartisan. He also took his call to preach seriously, doing all he could to remain “blameless” as the apostle Paul urged of preachers, refusing to even be in an elevator alone with a woman and having the television removed from any hotel room in which he stayed.
Consequently, he was asked many times if he would consider running for the presidency, but each time Graham denied, only wanting to preach the gospel of salvation. Thus, the Lord was able to open doors for him to preach that were not possible for many of his contemporaries. Today, Billy Graham was called home by his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ early this morning.