The Rev’d Dr Billy Graham is dead. The evangelist to the world is now more alive to God then he has ever been, and tributes are pouring forth from the great and the good – presidents, bishops, princes and kings have mourned the passing of one of the greatest preachers the world has ever seen. And they bear witness to his love of God, his passion for Christ, his uncompromising thirst for the salvation of all mankind, and his spirit of love, peace and reconciliation.
“We do not know Christ through the five physical senses,” he said, “but we know him through the sixth sense that God has given to every man – which is the ability to believe.” And it was the urgency, the imperative of this belief which he hammered into the ears of the hordes who attended his crusades: “Don’t let distance keep you from Christ. Christ went to the Cross because he loved you. Certainly you can come these few steps. Come right now.” This was his customary altar call, and they flocked in their hundreds of thousands to repent of their sin, weeping and wailing as the Holy Spirit circulated the stadium and they opened their hearts to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour.
There was certainty and assurance; truth and importance. Bill Graham was as clear about the gospel as he was about the need to breathe; hellfire was as real as the sky; the timing of the rapture was as crucial to faith as substitutionary atonement.
And the decades passed.
“I used to believe that pagans in far countries were lost if they did not have the gospel of Christ preached to them,” he said in a 1978 interview with McCall’s magazine. “I no longer believe that,” he added, calmly and assuredly.
He went further in a 1997 television interview with Dr Robert Schuller, when he explained that the body of Christ would be made up:
..from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ. And I don’t think that we are going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that – the Apostle James in the first Council of Jerusalem – when he said that God’s purpose for this age is to call out a people for his name. And that is what he is doing today. He is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy; His reconciling love knows no bounds. The Bible is not wholly necessary for salvation, and Christ is optional, for his light shines in every sincere spirituality. Why contend for an unpopular evangelical doctrinal truth when God is so accommodating and universally accepting?
RIP Billy Graham. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.