I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days pondering the life and story of the great evangelist Billy Graham. Along with many others around the world, I was glued to the televsion for his funeral—it was an incredibly fitting memorial to the man God chose to bring the message of salvation to so many over the last near-century. I have the fortunate privilege of living in the Charlotte area, about 35 minutes away from the Billy Graham Library; I have visited the library on several occasions, and it, too, is an ongoing, powerful testimony of God’s work through this wonderfully available family.
I believe that Billy Graham represented the best that Evangelicalism has to offer—and he lived it to the utmost end of God’s calling for him. If anyone is an example of authentic Christian character, he and his wife Ruth carried that testimony as moderns among the great ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1-2). You can go see it for yourself at 4330 Westmont Dr, Charlotte, NC 28217.
Billy’s daughter Ann Graham Lotz caught my attention during the funeral when she compared her father to Moses, leading many to salvation and to the border of the Promised Land; she inferred that Jesus’ return would be the ‘Joshua’ that would follow Billy’s death. Now, I’m not sure that I would make that analogy fit completely—because I wouldn’t equate the Promised Land with heaven; I also wouldn’t place Billy on quite that big of a pedestal, nor that broad of a role, and further because I don’t think we’re ready just yet for Yeshua to come back. But I, too, believe that Billy’s death has some significance outside of the simple passage of time in this still-fallen world, and particularly for the American, Western Church that Evangelicalism represents.
”Moses, My servant, is dead.” These are the words from God that snapped Joshua son of Nun to attention as he quickly realized that the mantle of God’s leadership had fallen upon him. “Be strong and courageous!” If there is a message here, and if Billy Graham is to be compared to Moses, it is Jesus in His Church who is the ‘Joshua’. Our culture has changed; and while the mission has not, and the truth of God’s Word has not, we can no longer operate under the same mode d’emploi. Gone are the days when we look to an ‘expert’ who hears from God to point us in the right direction (this way of thinking was never God’s plan for the Israelites from the very beginning, by the way—which had disastrous results for the first generation of the Exodus); instead, we must hear Him ourselves. We are no longer standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai in fear and trembling saying “you talk to Him for us and tell us what He says” (Exodus 20:18-21); the veil of the Temple has been torn, and the fire of the Holy Spirit has come down to rest on our heads. (Acts 2) It’s time to take up the mantle. Gone are the days when we can simply say of our lost neighbor, “If I can just get him to church”, or “if I can just get him in to see Billy Graham, he’ll get saved!” No, we are the Church; we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world that God flows through. (Matthew 5:13-16) We are members of a body under His direction as the head. (Ephesians 5:23)
Furthermore, we no longer live in a culture that has even a basic understanding and familiarity with Judeo-Christian history, theology and life. The Bible will always be true, and the phrase ‘if it [the Bible] says it, I believe it’ remains a motto we ourselves can live by; but proclaiming what the Bible says simply from an emotional appeal is no longer good enough to be impacting on the full 75% of the American population that claims to reject its words. (http://news.gallup.com/poll/210704/record-few-americans-believe-bible-literal-word-god.aspx) The words sin, salvation, sacrifice, etc. have no application anymore; they have simply been watered down, at best, to a generic shade of meaning. We have to start from the beginning: we have to provide an understanding of WHY the Bible can be trusted as the only source of truth in a world that insists that all ways of thinking are equally true—we have to distinguish ourselves from those who would claim that all good things come from ‘the universe’ or ‘the human spirit’; we have to be all-inclusive, showing the faithfulness of God to and through the Jewish people—not just in the ‘Old’ Testament, but here—now—today—in order to show HOW God’s love and promises are available to anyone in Jesus Christ; and we have to live the truth of the Gospel in love and holiness the way Billy Graham did—which made an impact more than anything he ever said!
Billy Graham modeled most of these things in his methodology of preaching the Gospel, but it is time for us as the Church to go even further. Bob Dylan’s The Times, They are A-Changin’ is more apropos today than in 1963 when it was written.
Billy Graham’s death marks the end of an Evangelicalism that can simply bank on its hearers generally believing the message is true. It must be backed by answers, action and love as Billy Graham modeled for us in his life. But I pray that it marks the beginning of a Church at large that responds directly to the active, living Word of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit, acting as ‘America’s Pastors’ to our families, friends, co-workers, fellow students, and neighbors. Far more than a call to believe the right doctrine, which is just scratching the surface, we must engage God ourselves and release His life to those around us.
Many are saying that Billy Graham’s passing will spark a new revival, and certainly there is a window in which people will be thinking about the impact of his life; but I would challenge us all to step up. You are part of God’s Plan A, and there is no Plan B. Be strong and courageous!