When you hear Billy Graham speak of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will hear echoes of the Apostle Paul’s message to the Corinthians:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and He appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)
Sitting in our seats at the Crusade, we are told that we are sinners in need of deliverance from the problems that we face, and that Christ came to help us, to give us a new dimension to our life. We hear such things as the Gospel of John, “Truly I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”1 From the podium we are encouraged to believe in Him, to come to Him. Guilt-laden, sorry for those things which we have done against our conscience, we trudge sheepishly down before the altar, desiring that God would forgive us our trespasses and let us start over again. Having been told by Mr. Graham that the Bible says “Ye must be born again,” we submit ourselves, hanging our heads to say the Sinner’s Prayer, a concerned counselor waiting at our side.
Then having been received by God into His family, we go out to find a Bible-believing church where He lives so we can be nourished in this new life, strengthened in our faith. As new babes in Christ we merrily return to our work-places with our new-found faith, eager to win lost souls to Christ, happy that we have some good news to share. We are saved now — but what are we saved from? If the Almighty God can save us from hell, that incomparable horror, why do we find ourselves daily grinding away at our jobs, the best years of our lives consumed with house payments, car payments, school loans, house insurance, car insurance, health insurance, and a thousand personal concerns? Aren’t we supposed to be seeking first the Kingdom of God, that all these things shall be added unto us? Isn’t there more to the abundant life? Why hasn’t God given us a beautiful home in the mountains and a six-digit salary like Mr. Graham’s? Why does the gospel that he preaches cause him to be so prosperous, while so many who believe in his message must struggle to make ends meet?
Long before Billy Graham, the apostle Peter faced the whole issue of wealth and fame quite squarely. He wasn’t afraid to tell the rich to leave their possessions behind. For three and a half years the Master had prepared him for the day when he could preach a gospel that provided for every man’s need. He commanded others to do what he himself had done — he had turned his back on his boat and nets to follow the One who could save him. As one of the Master’s disciples, Peter had been in many situations in which money and the love of it had played a major role. Once the Pharisees had sneered at his Teacher when He told them that they could not serve God and Mammon (the spirit behind wealth). He told them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of man, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”2
What is more highly esteemed among men today than riches, fame, and power? But when Billy Graham holds a Crusade, who sits up there with him on the platform? Isn’t it the influential, the powerful, the famous, the rich of this present age? They sit there, the wise and noble of this world, to lend credibility to the gospel he preaches. Apparently obeying the words of Jesus Christ makes you into such a person. Or does being that way disqualify you as His disciple? Can a man be rich and be a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ? “So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”3
What does Billy Graham teach about possessions? He teaches people to keep them, and be a good steward like himself. He has received many expensive gifts and tributes from high officials and wealthy admirers. These he stewards by carefully storing them away, unlike Peter who once told a lame beggar on his way to the Temple, “Silver and gold have I none!”4
Peter instructed the multitude on Pentecost with many words how to not live like the world, how to be saved from “this wicked and perverse generation”, in which people are isolated from one another and don’t take responsibility for the welfare of their brother. Those who believed that message parted with their wealth because Christ was worth everything to them, and they desired to love him by loving their brethren who were poor. Unlike those converted at a Billy Graham Crusade, the rich did not walk away rich while the poor walked away still poor. How much does a man think of Christ if he won’t give up his dream house and bank account for Christ’s sake and the sake of the gospel?5 Those who respond at a Crusade are eventually told that it’s no longer necessary or even possible to give up one’s possessions, to live like the early church. They are told the times have changed. But have they changed, or is it just the message?
We are taught by Billy Graham and others that the central requirement is to believe apart from having to obey anything, because having to obey would be “works salvation.” But the Bible says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”6 Without obedience it’s little wonder that the gospel is so powerless in Christianity today.
After a typical Crusade, some of the new believers depart in their Cadillacs to their swank homes to sleep peacefully, thinking that the Holy Spirit is comforting them with His joy. Other new believers, also promised the same Holy Spirit in their hearts, catch a bus back to their shabby apartments, wondering how they can keep from being evicted, because they’re too poor to pay the rent. Both have been convinced that He is now in their hearts. How could this be the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of unity dwelling in both of them, since they return to the same divided existence that they just left? Is Christ divided?
Several years ago Billy Graham knelt down in Hollywood before a brass star with his name cast into it and said, “I hope this will identify me with the gospel I preach.” He could have chosen to be remembered in some other way than as a star. But in accepting the invitation (after refusing it 30 years ago), he has now been immortalized as a star along with some 1900 others who have been so honored.
Jesus said some very pointed things about glory, and especially about where that glory comes from. There is a glory which comes from the Father. He gave it to His disciples for a specific purpose: “And the glory which You have given me, I have given them, that they may be one, just as We are one.”7 It is a glory that shines through the unity of His followers, exalting His name.
There is another glory which is very different: “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.”8 Two glories: each exalts a name, but whose name? From what the Master said in these two verses about glory, it is obvious that if a man has the glory of Christ, then he will be in unity with all other disciples who have received the same glory. It is also obvious that if a man seeks his own glory, his message cannot reveal the glory of Christ because he desires it only for himself.
Since Christ did not speak on His own initiative, but sought to glorify His Father, He therefore had the power to bring His followers into unity. On the other hand, if a person is not sent by God, but only seeks to glorify himself, then the people he converts cannot possibly be in unity. And as Paul the Apostle said, “How shall they preach unless they are sent?”9
If a man preaches without being sent by God, he is at best only a Christian star, having a glory of his own. There are many Christian stars today with many different glories who preach many different gospels. There are also many, many sincere ones in the congregations who have only wished upon a star. But their belief in the Son of God has been watered down to wishful thinking, instead of being able to come to terms with what the Master said.
So according to Christ, if a person is not sent, he cannot speak God’s heart, but only his own mind. He therefore seeks his own glory. Each star has its own glory.10 So if a Christian star preaches a gospel that secretly glorifies him and you receive it, you have received his glory. When you wish upon a star you have expectations of being forgiven of your sins, being reconciled to God, and being made one with Him and all other believers as well. But after a while you end up realizing that you are still hopelessly divided from other believers, confused by conflicting doctrines, lonely, and not knowing which Bible teachers to believe or which churches are really Bible-believing at all.
Even Billy Graham, perhaps the most powerful and respected star of all, can do nothing about the disunity that plagues the consciences of true believers everywhere. His tremendous appeal across denominational lines and even into Roman Catholicism has not been able to make Christians one, as the Master said believers would be. He has been very careful throughout his career not to confront liberals with their liberalism nor protest Roman Catholic distinctions. Having departed from fundamentalism early in his career, he has consistently avoided majoring on doctrines that have divided Christians for centuries; he still has not been able to make his converts one. There remains a haunting question: If the Son of God has given His glory to Billy Graham, why are his converts not demonstrating the fruit of that glory, a life of unity that is visible to the unbelieving world?
Some of the great thinkers and philosophers of Christianity have tried to answer this imposing question for centuries. One of the more recent ones, Francis Schaefer, said, “We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of oneness of true Christians. Now that is frightening.” But he couldn’t provide the answer either. Most Christian stars avoid the question altogether and prefer to treat division as a minor issue.
Yet it is far from a minor issue. When the unbelieving world views the Christian church today, what does it see? Paul wrote of certain deeds which are of the flesh: immorality, impurity, strife, envy, factions and divisions, and more.11 These are not evidence of God’s glory, and Paul warned that those who practice such things will never inherit the kingdom of God. So to anyone concerned about entering that kingdom, the division in Christianity is not a small matter, but rather a central and crucial one, one that ought to cause every Christian who respects the word of God to take a long hard look.
Where is the glory that our Master promised to all believers? Where is the glory of God which Christian leaders must be seeking if God has truly sent them. Sadly disunity is not only a minor issue but an accepted fact among church leaders. Not finding any power in the gospel to do anything about it, they instead resort to persuasive slogans like, “unity in diversity,” or “agreeing to disagree,” which really only means “unity in division.” Some even glory in accepting the divided state of Christianity and consider “agreeing to disagree” a great accomplishment!
If the glory of Billy Graham’s gospel is evident in the realm of possessions, it becomes even clearer on the subject of war. Mr. Graham has long been a supporter of national security, and of the duty of Christians to support their country. He has made morale-boosting trips to encourage American troops in various war zones and was, at one time, quite positive about the need for U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He has viewed all this as quite normal.
The sad fact is that Christianity is so involved in the affairs of the nations that she has sent her people off to war for centuries. Yet how is it possible that someone can say, “I’m saved by Christ; I’m a citizen of His Kingdom”, and then pick up a gun and shoot someone? Just what does Christ command about your enemies?12 How do you love your enemy — by putting a bullet through him?
When Christ was about to be sentenced to death, He told the Roman governor, Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews.”13 It should cause every sincere Christian to wonder what kingdom Billy Graham is a part of since he advocates taking up arms against other human beings. Although there are times when the nations of this present world must wage war, how is it possible to obey Christ’s words and take part in such affairs? Where are a person’s loyalties in these matters — to the Savior or to Caesar?
When the call to defend their nation goes out, Christians respond as those who have an unpleasant but necessary duty before them. The confusion can become truly astonishing when two Christian nations go at it. The Christian pastors from both lands rally the boys and send them off for God and country; they hunker down in their foxholes as a hell of bullets whiz overhead, praying that those bullets shot by the Christians on the other side won’t find their targets, but that their own bullets will! So each Christian warrior, assured by his belief in Jesus Christ that he has passed out of death and into life,14 tries his best to make sure that the Christian soldier on the other side passes out of life and into death. This is no exaggeration. A good example of this was when Christians of the same denomination — German and American Lutherans — battled one another in World War II. Compared to such confusion, perhaps “agreeing to disagree” over mere doctrine is a great accomplishment!
Can such behavior ever be justified in the light of the Master’s words, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another?”15 Can it be that we who have terminated our own lives through baptism16 seek to terminate the lives of others? Is this Christian unity — or insanity? How could such things be?
It is evident that the gospel preached by men like Billy Graham is powerless to make Christians into disciples of a different kingdom. It can only make them “believers” in a gospel that keeps them integrated, enslaved into the world’s society, with its demands upon their loyalty.
Although disciples are obligated to obey the Son of God, “believers” in the gospel according to Billy Graham don’t have to do anything, because this would be “works salvation.” No, they are “free from all things”, but does this mean free from putting Christ’s words into practice? Apparently so, since such “believers” are free to ignore the desperate needs of their poor brothers; and if called upon by the world, they are also free to shoot them. Living for God has never been so confusing as it is today.
Before the Son of God was born, an angel prophesied that He would save His people from their sins.17 When He came He preached the gospel of the kingdom which would do just that.18 He raised up men who would faithfully proclaim that same gospel, and those who responded were given a life free from greed, violence, and division: they were indeed saved from their sins.19
So we must ask you, Mr. Graham: Where is the life of love and peaceful unity that results from the gospel which you preach? Where is the glory of the Father and the Son in His people? Or have we only wished upon a star?