Thank God for Billy Graham (1918-2018)

‘… and some evangelists …’ Ephesians 4.11

I was just 12 when I went forward at a Billy Graham ‘crusade’. At his prompting, back in 1984, I gave my life to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. It have always considered it the best decision I have ever made. I have remained forever grateful to God for Billy Graham.

Billy Graham preached in more countries to more people than any other man in history. The gospel he preached affected thousands of individuals, families and communities. Although he was known for his relationship with presidents and royalty – our own Queen included – his global mission was primarily to ordinary people.   It changed their lives as he spoke not about politics but about Jesus and the way of salvation.

In his preaching he always aimed to bring people to make ‘a decision for Christ’. He was happy to be constantly declaring “The Bible says…”. He patiently taught that the way of salvation was only by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Famously, each night he finished his meetings by inviting people to get up out of their seats as a public statement of their commitment to Christ. And thousands came forward – for prayer, counselling and referral back to a local church.  He didn’t visit Belfast personally in 1984 but his sermon was broadcast by satellite into various venues from London. I was in McCracken Memorial Church on the Malone road with some friends from school when I decided to stand up and come forward.

I’ve always been thankful for Billy Graham’s Christian character. He was continuously under public scrutiny but he established new standards of financial accountability and sexual purity, and remained free from scandal. Critics may have wanted him to do more socially, but his aim was to preach Christ and allow the social impact to follow from people’s decisions for Christ.

People who weren’t Evangelicals were astounded at his ecumenical impact. He united Christians from different denominations through the gospel he preached.  True Evangelicalism is gospel centred not institution centred. Billy Graham did not come as a Baptist but as an Evangelical.  He ignored inter-denominational ecumenism and carried on preaching the evangel. In this way, he was used significantly by God to help Evangelicalism withstand the late twentieth-century collapse of Cultural and Liberal Christianity.

Will we ever see his like again? In God’s grace it is certainly possible, though the aggressively secular 21st century western world is very different to 40 or 50 years ago. Its media would mercilessly critique and parody a similar preacher at stadium rallies – even more than it did Billy. What might be more achievable is the raising up of hundreds or thousands of mini-evangelists in his mould.   If that was a significant part of his legacy it would be another reason to thank God for Billy Graham.

Sincerely in Christ,

Bill