The nation is mourning the death of renowned evangelist and religious figure Billy Graham who died on February 21st at the age of 99. Graham was in a league all his own...especially in the prime of his life. He possessed an oratorical ability that instantaneously distinguished him as unique among his contemporaries. Yes...there was something about Billy Graham that seemed to generate an aura of power and unassailability. In certain respects, he was like unto a protestant pope...minus the trappings of high church ritualism and the Vatican. His message was consistent, albeit quite superficial in a theological sense.
Billy Graham evangelistic crusades were all about the spectacle of inducing large numbers of attendees to receive the invitation to “accept Christ” and become “born again.” Typically, when the Graham organization came to town there was widespread support and participation on the part of local, “Bible believing” churches. One aspect of such participation was in the form of providing significant volunteers to go forward in the spacious stadiums and arenas at the time of Graham’s issuance of the altar call. To the casual observer it appeared as though these individuals, coming forward from all corners of the building, were mere spontaneous respondents to the soul saving invitation. In truth, however, their mission and assignment was to break the ice and induce rank and file attendees to respond in the affirmative in the hour of decision.
False Conversions Abound
Although there were doubtlessly many genuine responses to the evangelistic messages of Billy Graham, it is also undeniable that vast numbers of false conversions resulted from his crusade activities. Like so many preachers and teachers in the modern professing Christian church, Graham’s overall message was quite watered down and representative of what has been called “easy believism.”
While hastening to affirm the iron clad truth of Ephesians 2:8-9 which reads: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast,” we would be remiss to not draw attention to the vitally important principle that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Nevertheless, it is crucial to understand that salvation and becoming spiritually regenerate are in no way the result of man’s good works. Simply stated, there is no way that fallen man can, of his own devices, overcome the wages of sin which happen to be death in the ultimate and eternal sense.
While it is certainly incumbent upon fallen man to cry out and “call upon the name of the Lord” as a prelude to becoming a genuine son of God and ambassador of Christ...there is also the necessary process whereby he becomes aware of his sin-stained state of being and the corresponding necessity of propitiation and atonement through the sinless blood of the Messiah. Arriving at this plateau of understanding goes hand in hand with repentance and the turning from one’s wicked ways. In this realm of truth and understanding Graham was weak at best in his evangelistic message.
On the positive side of the ledger, Billy Graham paid substantial lip service to the notion that the Bible is, indeed, the infallible word of God. Additionally...with a measure of near consistency, he maintained the stance of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ in reference to matters of salvation and eternal life. Doubtlessly, Billy Graham did much good throughout the nation and world as he outworked his ministerial endeavors. By proclaiming the words of scripture in his gospel presentations Graham invoked the authority of Bible verses such as Isaiah 55:11 which states: “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please.” Yes...God’s word is inherently powerful and Billy Graham’s protracted opportunity to exalt and proclaim portions of holy writ to a hungry audience certainly guaranteed that significantly measurable results would be forthcoming.
And yet...the iconic evangelist was not without his critics and detractors among the more hardline factions of the Christian world. As previously alluded to, he was considered by many to be the presenter of a grossly watered down message. In addition, he was looked upon with jaundiced eye for his ecumenical propensity, particularly in terms of his coddling and accommodating attitude toward the Pope and the Catholic church. Graham also engendered outrage and bitterness when he travelled to the former Soviet Union and seemed to absolve the Communist dictatorship of its crimes of persecution against the suppressed, underground Christian church. On this occasion in 1982, Graham very much soft pedaled abuses by the state against Bible believing Christians, while simultaneously emphasizing the “freedom” he witnessed and experienced to preach an uncensored message.
Another area that earned Graham substantial criticism was his affinity for and close relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr. The civil rights icon happened to be an ardent Communist sympathizer and was in long term close alliance and association with luminaries of the domestic Marxist cause. It was also well known that King was a flagrant and notorious whoremonger while, nevertheless, brandishing the title of “Reverend” and presumed man of God. And then there was Billy Graham’s close relationship with every president from Dwight Eisenhower to Barak Obama...a status that, at one time, inspired a high profile article entitled All The Presidents’ Man in a prominent national publication. Unlike any other religious figure or leader, Billy Graham enjoyed an open door into the Oval Office for a period spanning fifty years, and in the hour of his passing, he is being lauded and praised by Donald Trump, as well as all living former presidents.
When Billy Graham was yet an unknown and obscure country evangelist, he suddenly found himself on the receiving end of remarkable and inexplicable favor. The year was 1949 and the place was Los Angeles, California...and for some unknown reason, publishing magnate William Randolph Hurst issued the directive to his editors and subordinates nationwide to “puff Graham.” The result of this favorable gesture was to catapult Billy Graham, in overnight fashion, to virtual celebrity status. The Los Angeles crusade was extended from three to eight weeks in duration with aggregate attendance reaching 350,000. Most significantly, however, were the 3,000 professed conversions to the Christian faith, a number that compelled commentators to herald the effort as the most significant instance of revival since the era of Billy Sunday.
The Story Behind the Story
In the late 1980’s I was closely associated with an individual who approximately 25 years earlier had been a teacher at a Biblical institute in Colorado that was founded and operated by a man named Kenneth Goff. Mr. Goff had an amazing testimony of having been a former “card carrying” member and operative within the American Communist movement who had subsequently become a born again believer and devoted servant of the cause of Christ. He was of gifted intellect and possessed notable skills of communication in both the written and spoken format. Goff was a fiery evangelist who had cut an impressive swath preaching his fascinating message in conservative protestant churches throughout the land. His ministry originally coincided with the post World War II red scare and the era of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy. He was an author whose published titles included “Still 'Tis Our Ancient Foe,” a book that addressed subject content tying into the matter of international Zionism and theological questions concerning the proposition of a counterfeit Israel in the world.
Interestingly, my former associate was told by Kenneth Goff about an extraordinary event that transpired in the late 1940’s wherein he was approached and propositioned by a group of powerful men in the offices of the then conservative-leaning Chicago Tribune newspaper. Mr. Goff was on the eve of an event in Chicago at which he would be giving his energizing presentation to a gathering of local supporters and advocates. The offer made to him was as follows. After informing him that they had been closely following the growth and progress of his ministry, these men proceeded to dangle a tantalizing proposition in front of the young evangelist. Upon his acceptance of their offer...instead of preaching to hundreds...he would be addressing thousands everywhere he went. he would quickly become a household name, would have best selling books ghost written for him on a regular basis, and in a material/financial sense would want for nothing. This rapid rise to acclaim, wealth, and stardom however, would require that he pledge cooperation on two important fronts. First...it would be mandatory that he completely refrain from addressing the increasingly controversial subjects of maintaining racial segregation as well as international Zionism and the inordinate degree of Jewish power and influence throughout America and the Western world. The second stipulation would have required Mr. Goff to denounce a list of individuals who were or had been prominent and influential in the anti-Communist America First movement. Among these names were persons such as Gerald L.K. Smith, Elizabeth Dilling, and the firebrand radio priest Father Charles Coughlin. Upon hearing the specifics of the offer being presented, Mr. Goff quickly informed his suitors that they had the wrong man and that he was in no way tempted by their overture. He politely bid farewell and never looked back.
Enter Billy Graham
In relatively short order after Mr. Goff’s incredible experience at the Chicago Tribune he couldn’t help but notice, with great interest, the sudden dramatic appearance of the heretofore unknown Billy Graham on the national stage. Was it mere coincidence that Graham’s instantaneous celebrity status so closely dovetailed with the proposition that had been spurned by Kenneth Goff? Did William Randolph Hurst issue the order to “puff Graham” on a mere whim of magnanimity and kindness? And...did Billy Graham proceed to become the towering, iconic religious figure without equal in American history on the sole basis of his noteworthy talents and abilities? Or...is it possible that he was simply the next prospect on the list? According to my close former associate, Mr. Goff was very much persuaded that Graham had, indeed, made his own version of the legendary Faustian pact.