This morning while driving to work I was listening to “Joni and Friends” on a local Christian radio station. Joni Eareckson Tada provides a five-minute daily message aimed at encouraging Christians who face disabilities and other challenges. Over a year ago, I posted a message about how I was surprised that Joni had recommended “First Things,” an ecumenical journal published by Catholics, to her audience. See here.
In today’s message, Joni invited her audience to celebrate Billy Graham’s 98th birthday. Graham is widely esteemed by evangelicals as the most important and influential Christian of the last 100 years. There’s no doubt multitudes accepted Jesus Christ as Savior through the evangelistic ministry of Billy Graham and yet perhaps no one individual is more responsible for blurring the Gospel of grace in our times.
Many readers at this point might respond with, “Sheesh! Who would criticize such a beloved and respected figure as Billy Graham?” Most evangelical Christians don’t realize that as far back as fifty years ago, Graham and his organization invited local Roman Catholic bishops and clergy to participate in his crusades. When Catholics came forward at his crusades’ closing “altar calls,” they were referred to Catholic workers and counseled that their decision to accept Christ was only a recommitment to their sacramental baptism and confirmation. Catholics who had attended Graham crusades were returned back to their churches on Sunday to hear that salvation was by sacramental grace and merit rather than by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Many would be shocked to learn that Graham also espoused religious universalism. See my earlier posts on Graham here and here for more details.
Continuing with her message, Joni repeated a regrettable myth I’ve heard many times over the years, that Graham was being kept alive by the Lord at his advanced age as a witness to the world and was a part of the Holy Spirit’s restraining of evil in these last days. Joni speculated, like many others have also done, that Graham’s death might actually trigger the moment when the Holy Spirit no longer restrains evil in the world.
We Christians are given to venerating our leaders rather than Jesus Christ. Billy Graham had his faults. Some of his faults were tragically significant in regards to the Gospel witness. Much of today’s spirit of ecumenism with religious unbelievers can be traced back to the influence of Billy Graham. I don’t idolize the man. I’m sorry his cooperation with unbelievers helped to foster today’s compromising, laissez-faire approach to the pure Gospel of grace. Rather than being a restraint against evil, I contend that the betrayal of the Gospel by Graham and other celebrated evangelical leaders was/is part of the rising tide of evil encompassing the world in these last days.
The Lord used Graham in a great way initially, but the temptations of success and popularity diverted him from the Narrow Way, which has influenced many others.
“And you know what is restraining (the man of lawlessness) now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.” 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7