Billy Graham—dubbed by the press as “America’s Pastor”—is dead! He passed away on Wednesday, February 21, at the age of 99. He was an American icon and the friend and counselor of Presidents. America and the world are extending their love and sympathy to the Graham family—as well they should be doing. Unlike that of so many others, Billy Graham’s ministry was untarnished by either sex or financial scandals. His message of morality and upright living which he passionately proclaimed for almost six decades should be embraced by all who seek a better life for themselves, their families, our country, and the world. Any truth he set forth from scripture should be believed and embraced.
While I had great respect for Mr. Graham, there is much about his teaching and practice with which I disagree because I find it contrary to the Scriptures. While Mr. Graham preferred to be addressed simply as “Billy,” the media insisted on referring to him as “Reverend,” and he accepted that title. Yet, I find this specific word only once in our English Bible, and there it is used to refer to God, not man (Psalm 111:9, KJV). More determinative, however, is the fact that Jesus spoke against the wearing of religious titles. He emphatically stated, “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father in heaven” (Matthew 23:8-9). Furthermore, the distinction between “clergy” and “laity” is of man and not of God. The apostle Peter explained that all Christians constitute “a royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9).
The term “pastor” is greatly abused in religious circles today as it is made to apply to all preachers in general. Yet in scripture it is never applied to a preacher, but to those who serve as elders/bishops of a single congregation. All three words (elders/bishops/pastors) apply to the same office (Acts 14:23; 20:17,18; Ephesians 4:11-12; Philippians 1:1; I Timothy 3:1; 5:17; Titus 1:5-9). A little more careful reading of the Bible and a proper application of what is read would be beneficial to many people! Too, one should learn to “speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11), and call Bible things by Bible names, instead of applying Bible names to things to which the names do not apply. Certainly a preacher may serve as one of the elders of a local church, but in New Testament times congregations always had a plurality of elders/bishops/pastors (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1). Never in the New Testament do we read of one person being the pastor of a church, much less the “pastor” of an entire country!
Billy Graham preached to untold millions, and the headlines of the local newspaper the day after his death hailed him as the “most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul.” Yet, in fact, for all the moral truth that he taught and for all the good that he did to raise the moral consciousness of America and the world (and for that I GREATLY rejoice), Mr. Graham did not and would not preach what the apostle Paul and the other inspired apostles of Christ preached concerning what one must do to be saved from sin.
Jesus commissioned His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). In the book of Acts we see the apostles doing what Christ charged them to do. On the day of Pentecost when the church was established, the apostle Peter told inquiring sinners, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Cornelius and his family were commanded to be baptized (Acts 10:48). Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul, was instructed, “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27) and saves us (I Peter 3:21). But Mr. Graham would not instruct people to be baptized in order to be saved. He instructed them to “accept Christ as their personal Savior” and say the so-called “sinner’s prayer,” something that no apostle ever told anyone to do and something concerning which one cannot read a single syllable in all the New Testament! Graham believed that baptism came after one is saved, but the biblical texts cited above clearly show that such is not the case.
Graham’s counselors would encourage those who responded at his Crusades to “find a church” and “join” the one of their “choice.” Yet the entire system of denominationalism with its many churches is contrary to New Testament teaching. Neither the Baptist Church (of which Mr. Graham was a member), the Presbyterian Church (of which his wife was a member), nor any other denomination can be found named on the pages of the New Testament. Christ established His one church (Matthew 16:18). All those who are saved from their sins by obedience to the gospel are added to that church (Acts 2:47). The church is His body (Ephesians 1:22-23) and there is but one body (Ephesians 4:4). But when people miss it so badly on such simple things as the use of the terms “reverend” and “pastor,” it is not surprising that they miss it on bigger matters that involve salvation from sin and the undenominational nature of the church!
Most telling as to what Billy Graham actually believed is revealed in a May 31, 1997 interview with Robert Schuller on Schuller’s “Hour of Power” television program. Mr. Graham said: “I think there’s the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, [and] outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ…. [God’s] calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ, because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.”
These unbelievable statements are an affront to the words of Christ in John 14:6 and the words of the inspired apostle Peter in Acts 4:11-12. They are a contradiction of what the apostle Paul wrote concerning how God calls people by the gospel and that people must hear, believe, and obey the gospel in order to be saved (II Thessalonians 2:14; Romans 1:16-17; 10:13-17; II Thessalonians 1:6-10). If Mr. Graham is correct in his statements then God is a liar, but the Bible affirms that it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18)! One had better believe God rather than “Charming Billy,” as I referred to him in a sermon many years ago. “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).
I am not the judge of Billy Graham, or of any other man. No man is my judge. We all must stand before the judgment bar of God to receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad (II Corinthians 5:10). The standard by which we all will be judged is the word of God (John 12:48)—not the word of preachers who refused to faithfully preach the word of God in its wholeness, not what the local parish priest said, not the creeds and catechisms of men, not what our parents and grandparents believed, not what we always “thought” or “felt” or “believed” about a matter!
No one will be saved except by the grace and mercy of God. But all who would be saved must obey the gospel of Christ as set forth in the New Testament and live a faithful Christian life (II Thessalonians 1:6-10; Hebrews 5:8-9; Revelation 2:10).
(Note: The series on “Radio And TV Preaching In The Restoration Movement” will resume next week, D.V.).
February 27, 2018