In October of 1989, Billy Graham was given the status few could ever hope to attain- he was officially made a star. His name was set in a five-pointed bronze star which was cemented into a sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard. So now you can see his name and his star right along-side 1900 of the greatest stars of the entertainment world.
Becoming a star was inevitable from the beginning of his ministry when media tycoon William Randolph Hearst began to promote him in his chain of newspapers. To quote a Christianity Today editorial, “the media took over and created Billy Graham, his evangelistic career, and its worldwide success.”
From that time Billy Graham has grown to be the world’s greatest missionary evangelist. He has preached his gospel face-to-face to over 100 million people and has led more people to confessions of Christ than anyone else in history (over two million). Over the last forty-five years he has traveled to more than sixty-five countries with his well-known and well-publicized crusades.
When Billy Graham accepted his official stardom in Hollywood, his comment was prophetic. He said, “I hope it will identify me with the gospel I preach.” This is certainly a true statement because it is precisely the gospel he preaches that has made him a star. And the glory of this star shines very brightly to guide millions in the ranks of Christianity today. In fact, he is viewed as one of the most popular men in the modern world.
He has gained his popularity by preaching his message of salvation in Jesus Christ, giving evangelical Christians tremendous momentum against a once-powerful, liberal, mainline-Protestant church. His personal moral life has never betrayed him, and his financial practices have survived forty years of public scrutiny. Every aspect of his life has remained faultless in the eyes of an oftentimes skeptical world; his sincerity stands unquestioned.
Since Hearst endorsed this evangelist in 1949, he has grown to become the unofficial pastor of the White House, the spiritual adviser to every President since the days of Eisenhower, leading the prayer at Presidential Inaugurals and the funerals of such men as Lyndon B. Johnson. Past Presidents have called him a close friend; former President Nixon hailed him as “one of the giants of our time” and “the top preacher in the world!” He has hob-nobbed with foreign dignitaries of every stripe and reputation, to the extent that President Nixon told him, “When you went into the ministry, politics lost one of its potentially greatest practitioners!”
Over the years he has received dozens of honorary doctorates, has been the Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade (others were Bob Hope and Roy Rogers), was listed as one of 1970’s Best Dressed Men and one of the Ten Most Admired Men of that year and others. Because of his ministry as an evangelist, this former Fuller Brush salesman from the sticks has risen from humble beginnings to see such things as Billy Graham Day in his hometown of Charlotte, NC, when President Nixon, accompanied by telegrams and congratulations from all over the world, flew down for a motorcade and dedication of a bronze plaque engraved with the words “Birthplace of Dr. Billy Graham, World-renowned Evangelist, Author and Educator and Preacher of the Gospel to more people than any other man in history.” Let’s not forget to mention the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, Illinois, with a museum devoted to his life, or the Billy Graham Parkway dedicated to him in Charlotte in 1983 ... and the list goes on and on. Perhaps you noticed his picture on the cover of the November 15, 1993 issue of Time Magazine.
In the realm of money, Mr. Graham has seen big televangelists crash and burn because of their excessive indulgences, while he has continued to carry on his work, making sure that the budgets of his vastly expensive crusades are made public. Because of his unique position as America’s premier Christian spokesman, he has been swamped with gifts of large sums of money, expensive clothing, cars, houses, and whatever else his admirers felt he might need. Fearing that such gifts would make a wrong impression upon others that he was only in it for the wealth, he once lamented “I have struggled and struggled to keep my income down, yet I’m always embarrassed by how much I have.”
He altered his rather unique situation in 1973, and brought his personal finances under the control of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The men on this board have appointed him a salary which at the time was that of an upper middle-class pastor. His current yearly salary is $101,250, plus a housing allowance of $33,750. He owns some $420,000 of land in North Carolina, as well as a donated house in California.
Some thirty years ago, Billy Graham turned down the offer of a star on Hollywood Boulevard because he thought it would bring too much attention to himself. Considering the great volume of praise that has been heaped upon him over the years, it should not be too surprising that he would finally submit to yet one more attempt on the part of American society to express appreciation for his labors. Can wealth and fame come from preaching the uncompromising gospel of the Kingdom of God, or is there something wrong with that?
Mr. Graham has consistently proclaimed from the beginning of his ministry that he desires that Christ alone would be glorified. One of the hallmarks of his ministry, indeed a theme that he has constantly repeated from his pulpit is “The Bible says...!” Since he is a proclaimer of the gospel to many millions, he bears a tremendous responsibility to see to it that his life is consistent with the gospel, as are all who claim to be ambassadors of Christ.
The Apostle Paul knew that he was accountable to maintain a pure life so that he could preach a pure message, and at one point said “who is adequate for these things?”1 Paul concluded that no one is, unless he has the power from God to preach, meaning that he has the ability to judge himself rightly so that he is free from any hidden, shameful ways, or any crafty motives; only then would he not be adding anything to the simple message, or flavoring the gospel so that it would not be offensive to the world.2 Apparently there were many in Paul’s day who were doing just that, and so Paul encouraged the believers to observe his way of life and follow his example.3
Did you know that Paul believed that there was more than one gospel? To the Romans he spoke to them of “my gospel,”4 but he feared the Corinthians had abandoned Christ for a “different gospel.”5 To the Galatians he wrote that he was amazed that they were forsaking what they had heard from him to follow a distorted gospel, which he said was really not the gospel at all.6 Paul was so convinced of this that he said:
But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8)
To the apostle, there was only one true message, and in order for it to save anyone, it had to come from men of pure motives, from those utterly devoted to bringing all the glory to Christ, leaving none for themselves.
Mr. Graham could have chosen to be remembered in some other way than as a star. But in accepting the invitation after thirty years, it appears that he wants to be remembered by a gospel that made him a star. Remember his words at the Hollywood ceremony: “I hope it will identify me with the gospel I preach.” Isn’t that a dangerous thing to say, considering that Jesus said “I do not receive glory from men?.”7
If the Son of God would not let men of the world honor him with their smooth words, what business do his followers have in receiving such, and especially the preachers and teachers who claim to represent Him? According to Him whose words will never pass away, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.”8 Should we not instead fear the world’s praise as a possible sign of our compromise with His words? Or should the gospel be popular and well-received by the world? The Master’s words should cause all of us to, as Paul put it, “examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith.”9 How much more a person claiming to show the way of salvation to over 100 million people?
Jesus Christ said, “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory, but he who is seeking the glory of the One who sent him, he is true, and there is no deceit in him.”10 So who is really getting the glory? Whose name is plastered on the billboards, the bus ads, the bumper stickers, the TV screen, before every Crusade? Is it the name “Jesus Christ?” Then whose praise is Billy Graham seeking, God’s ... or man’s?
One time when Billy Graham was asked what one word he wanted future generations to remember him by, he quickly remarked, “Integrity! That’s what I’ve worked for all my life: integrity!” If the name set in concrete on that October day in Hollywood had been “Jesus Christ” instead of his own, then the famous evangelists words might carry more weight, although it is impossible to imagine that the Son of God would want His name up in lights along with Sodomites like Rock Hudson. But Billy Graham did. It is consistent with the publicity he has enjoyed for his entire career.
Who is it that people go to see at his crusades? Most people respond “Why, we go to glorify Jesus, not a mere man.” But it cannot be denied that when a crusade takes place and Billy Graham fails to come because of such factors as health, attendance is very low. Then when the star appears, the numbers swell dramatically. This very thing happened in the Albany, NY, crusade of 1990.
Of course, there are those who consider Mr. Graham to be a great man of God who has poured out his life to preach the gospel and deserves to be honored by the world. They see this glory as an aid to evangelism, where the man’s fame is enough of a spectacle to draw the curious. To them, having your name put in a Hollywood star is a minor point when compared with the millions of “decisions” made for Christ through his preaching. They see nothing wrong with a man receiving praise from the world for the gospel that he preaches - the use of a preacher as a media spectacle is common and perfectly valid. But what could Christ have possibly meant when He spoke to the religious leaders and said “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight?”11
This is why Jesus said to judge with a righteous judgment, and not merely by outward appearances.12 Just as it was very difficult for the people in His day to determine who was misleading them, so it is very difficult to determine in the confusion of Christianity today who is truly sent by God and who is living for his own glory. How can you know?
Is this why Paul said that even Satan himself comes masquerading as an angel of light?13 Satan knows that his power to deceive the whole world is through those who appear outwardly righteous, not through some crackpot who is obviously wicked. So how can you safely judge such a perplexing matter without the firm standard of the Scriptures? Without the greatest respect for the absolute standard of the Word of God, we may find ourselves approving what the world approves which is condemned by God, or worse, condemning what the world condemns that is approved by Him!
Sadly, there are many in Christianity today who use the gospel to glorify their own name. Perhaps those who approve of such men do so because they secretly desire to be a star, too. But the Bible says that if anyone loves the world or the things of the world, the love of the Father is not in him.14 This surely includes a love for the praise of men.
The Master made it quite clear that a person who deceives others while claiming to speak from God is like a tree that bears fruit. According to Him, you can know for sure it’s false, if it bears bad fruit.15
So just how do you judge who is of the truth, and who is not? Are you too, only wishing upon a star?