Biblical Thoughts on Billy Graham,
by Zephaniah Mel, M.Div.
The focus of this post is not for the purpose of debating the salvation of Billy Graham or the success he garnered, but a post to bring another perspective concerning the dangerous pitfalls of ecumenism (*[for this context] “an ideology that desires unity among all Christian (and those who claim to be “Christian”) churches or denominations with opposing views) that flew under Biblical scrutiny. The meandering/liberal seductions have caused evangelicals to undermine the authority of Christian belief and practice. The problem is that Graham was charitable to Roman Catholicism (*RCC believes justification by works, sacraments, the idolatry of Mary, mass, purgatory) and liberal (*did not believe all Scripture to be the authoritative Word of God, denied penal, substitutionary atonement) Protestant churches. Let me be clear, it is different when you invite unbelievers to attend the crusade with the intention of being saved. But it is a different story when you accept others as believers when they hold onto heterodox beliefs (i.e. justification by works, inclusivism, wider-mercy). And to collaborate with religious leaders that oppose the essentials of Christianity is not only hazardous but sinful because the Bible warns about being unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14).
The goal is to present facts so that the Evangelicalism of today will not tolerate the same trend; a trend that is okay with ecumenism, anti-intellectualism, anti-essentials, etc. Knowledge of these matters is also sanctifying for the church. We need to learn from the past. Folks are dying because of a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6) and ignoring the subtle realities that the enemy operates as an angel of light has been lethal. I could be wrong but in my humble opinion, perhaps the devil does not mind someone having the right beliefs (the devil knows the truth) for the “most part” and mixed with some “unsound views” in order to achieve a greater end: massive confusion, double-mindedness (James 1:8), apostasy.
As I write this, I also understand that humility is required when dealing with sensitive matters because apart from the grace of God we can all fall into the same temptation. Ian Murray once said, “Unusual success, popularity, and eminent positions are dangerous things. For those of us who have little exposure to such dangers, it is easy to imagine how much better we might have done” (Ian H. Murray, “Divisive Unity,” TMSJ (Fall 2001): 231-47, accessed February 24, 2018, https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj12k.pdf.). But in a fallen world where enemies of the cross infiltrate like a trojan horse and where evangelicalism is replete with, anti-discernment, anti-intellectualism, anti-inerrancy, anti-justification by faith, etc., I understand that disagreements can’t be fully avoided and must be addressed. It also pains me to write this because I have family (my father, myself) and friends I know personally (in SoCal and other states) who were positively impacted by Graham’s ministry. And I am thankful that God used His Word to impact souls for His Son’s glory. However, it does you no good if I do not address Graham’s dangerous compromises throughout the years and evangelicals’ apathy to primary doctrines. Some are probably saying at this moment as they are reading this, “Did you see Graham’s last message?” Yes, and I believe the substance of the Gospel was good. But keep in mind that was in 2015 and I don’t have any substantial evidence that he repented of his ecumenism and other compromises. With the entire scope of his ministry in mind, it is quite possible that he preached with an ecumenical spirit. Yes, you can preach the truth and be in the wrong with God.
Have you assessed the cultural milieu of evangelicalism today? Teachers/preachers are being circulated favorably in the halls of church history without proper discernment. You may not get much out of this if you are not desiring to look deeper into Graham’s life but only from what you saw on television. There is more granularity to Graham’s ministry than the Gospel that he preached at the crusades. There is more that meets the eye.
For those who argue that this is not timely, you may want to be sensitive and walk in the shoes of other folks who have experienced massive first-hand damage that resulted from Graham’s ministry. I have seen my wife’s side of the family who thinks Roman Catholicism is okay because leading evangelicals see them as brothers. I have heard the story of my friend who lives in Australia where he was trapped in a liberal church for years before realizing its false teachings. Imagine how many like my friend are being enslaved to false teaching because of Graham’s policy of ecumenism. And perhaps hundreds if not thousands were led astray to hell because of that. That is just one example of what ecumenism does. It breeds false assurance, blurs the line between real religion and false religion.
Do I believe that there was some fruitfulness (and he preached truth many times in the crusades) in Graham’s ministry? Yes, and the same could be said for other preachers (Phil. 1:18) who deny major tenets of biblical and historical orthodoxy. I know a person who got saved by a Word of Faith preacher. Does that mean I downplay or remain silent about this person’s false teaching? You may be saying, “Well Bill largely did not teach false doctrine in the crusades.” That may be true, but Graham has brought in false teaching through other ways with his ecumenical spirit. And it got worse over the years. Remember, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. I would not go through all this if it was a secondary issue.
There is a sacred cow in evangelicalism today. That sacred cow is that men who are producing good works while compromising Christ and His Gospel are being lionized to celebrity status. There is even this mentality of what one brother called it: “the justification of the dead.” That pregnant statement means that you should not talk bad about the dead, but only the good. Really, the last time I checked Jesus (Luke 13:4ff) and the apostle Paul had no problem referring to the problems of people who died in order to be used as valuable lessons for our instruction (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1-11). So why do we talk about people after their death? So we can learn from their sins and not repeat them. Do we want more mangled souls? Do we want more people in Hell because of unbiblical beliefs and practices? Yes, we must present the truth in love, but at the same time, if the desire to postpone truth is for the sake of pleasing men then we can possibly be committing spiritual malpractice. Truth can’t be slaughtered for a moment in the public while error goes unchecked. And for those who don’t want us to address the negatives of Graham’s ecumenism, but merely praise Graham during this time, then you may want to know this: “unjust scales.” The Bible detests unjust scales (Prov. 11:1). Truth is timeless and universal. Paul instructed Timothy, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). In other words, regardless of the conditions, the truth is primary because we are people of truth.
The ones who are overly praising Graham’s life are the ones (not all) that are responding with vitriol. Why? Because like Martin Luther King Jr., C.S. Lewis, etc., Graham is considered as being in the same class of the untouchables in evangelicalism. He has become an idol to some. How? because some respond in sin towards those speaking the truth in love. Graham preached truth from the pulpit. Well so did Judas and look where he ended up. Judas had an evil spirit. Graham had an ecumenical spirit and because of that, he was well loved by many (i.e. Vatican, presidents, the world). They will say, you don’t understand, “These men are rare and amazing because of their indomitable & insightful imaginations, depth, eloquence, and social justice success.” The great J.C. Ryle once said, “Beware of supposing that a teacher is to be trusted because although he holds some unsound views, he yet ‘teaches a great deal of truth.’ Such a teacher is precisely the man to do you harm: poison is always most dangerous when it is mixed with wholesome food.” To me that was Graham. He taught an overwhelming amount of solid Gospel substance for the most part, but he held onto some unsound views that were immensely destructive to the body of Christ. Didn’t James warn about being friends with the world (James 4:4)? Didn’t Paul warn that bad company corrupts good morals (1 Cor. 15:33)? So what were the details concerning Graham’s unsound views? And just in case some Graham apologist say, “Well Billy Graham did not know about the details concerning Roman Catholic dogma or liberal Protestant beliefs because he referred to himself as a preacher not so much a technical theologian.” Well facts paints a powerful reality in reminding us to choose facts over unstable emotions. See these excerpts that my friend Andrew Deane was able to extract from a book written by a great bona fide historian entitled, Evangelicalism Divided (Murray, Iain Hamish. The Unresolved Controversy: Unity with Non-Evangelicals. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001.). Here is what we found:
P. 27: “At the earlier date (before 1956) the mainstream denominations where liberalism was to be found had no place in his thinking.”
P.29: “When Graham was the youthful president of Northwestern schools (a fundamentalist college in Minneapolis), he had said, ‘We do not condone nor have any fellowship with any form of modernism.'”
– this is very significant – modernism includes liberalism – and Graham clearly knew that modernism/liberalism is contrary to the Bible. Being fundamental means that he held to the fundamental doctrines of the Bible – the fundamental doctrines which liberalism/modernism denies!!!!!
P.29 then goes on to say that he began to work with liberal churches and that his ministry would send people to all the churches who were involved in his Crusades – including liberal churches!!!! In his own words (see footnotes), “We’ll send them to their own churches – Roman Catholic, Protestant or Jewish.”
– in other words, Graham knew that the liberal churches were unbiblical, but he then began to send people (those who responded at his Crusades) to these churches, KNOWING THAT LIBERAL CHURCHES ARE WOLVES!!!!
– Graham partnered with liberal churches and then before too long with the Roman Catholic Church, because this led to a broader base of people who would come to His Crusades etc – this is detailed in Iain Murray’s book.
– his sending people to these churches – is this being faithful to the gospel and looking out for the spiritual welfare of people???
P. 29: “The sponsors for 1957 (New York Crusades) were the Protestant Council of the City of New York which meant, in the words of one impartial commentator, ‘cooperation with a group that was predominantly non-evangelical and even included out-and-out modernists. It also meant sending converts back to their local churches, no matter how liberal those churches might be.”
P.42 (Graham’s question to Archbishop Michael Ramsey): “‘Do we have to part company because we disagree in methods and theology? Isn’t that the purpose of the ecumenical movement, to bring together people of opposing views?’ Therefore there was no more opposition.”
P. 58: “The reason why the BGEA decided to co-operate with liberals and other non-Evangelicals was never set out in terms of principle. The fact is that the policy was seen as a necessary expedient designed sincerely for the best end, namely, to gain a wider hearing for the gospel. Crusades depended upon crowds and in the Graham story there is an almost ever-present concern for maintaining and increasing numbers.”
Well there you have it. In light of those citations, you can see that Graham referred to his ministry as ecumenical. As his ministry progressed, his ecumenism caused his Christian dogmatism to decrease even more, which led to other heresies. For example, he believed people could be saved without knowing Jesus, held onto a wider mercy/inclusive gospel (https://www.gty.org/…/The-Exclusiveness-of-the-Gospel-Part-…), and of course, had counselors at the front in the crusades that included Roman Catholic priests and liberals from Protestant churches. As far as I know, Graham’s son still works with Roman Catholics at their Festivals. But some believers don’t care because they argue that people got saved. But that is the mentality that is leading souls astray because they do not know what “the church of Christ” is and are being referred back to man-made religious institutions.
Anyone who understands the importance of the Reformation, the 5 Solas, and the slogan “We are saved by grace, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8)” would know better than to lead these dear people back to religious institutions that taught the slavery of justification by works. This was nothing that developed later in his life when he was in poor health but went back to the 50s.
I know some are you are probably angry and perhaps shocked. But please, for the sake of truth and future generations and in commemoration of the Bereans (Acts 17:11), think of the implications. Here are some sources to read below in case you think I am making this up. Please do not interact here if you are going to throw ad-hominems at us. Instead, channel your energies towards these questions from Murray that was from Jones’ frame of mind, “‘How can evangelicalism be said to represent biblical essentials if one regards those as Christians and works alongside those who actually deny these essentials?’ ‘If evangelical belief is in essence, gospel belief, how can Christian fellowship exist independently of any common commitment to such belief? How can a right belief on fundamentals retain the primary importance which Scripture gives to it if, after all, it is not necessary to salvation? How can evangelicalism be said to represent biblical essentials if one regards as Christians and works alongside those who actually deny these essentials? The effect of such broad co-operation, he argued, would be bound to promote the doctrinal indifferentism characteristic of the ecumenical movement.'” All to say, what is the irreducible minimum one can have without denying orthodoxy?
I want to also encourage saints to gird up their loins by consuming Scripture consistently in order to be discerning and to be appreciative of pastors, teachers, and watchmen who lovingly warn the body of Christ. Acts 20:29 says, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” That verse was presented to me last week by a dear brother. It was a sobering reminder that gave me an acute awareness that there were wolves among the Ephesian elders. In application, we need to be reminded that in the times and days we are living, wolves are around us presently. We must be on guard and contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). I will end it with Francis Schaeffer who stood with D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. When he spoke at the Berlin Congress on Evangelism, he said:
“Let us never forget that we who stand in the historic stream of Christianity really believe that false doctrine, at those crucial points where false doctrine is heresy, is not a small thing. If we do not make clear by word and practice our position for truth as truth and against false doctrine, we are building a wall between the next generation and the gospel.”
6) Biased Biography of Billy Graham: https://youtu.be/O6vWeAY5Fz8
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