North America has been remembering the blessing of God upon the work of Billy Graham. We see an example of the power of the gospel, and a pointed message that calls men and women to repentance and faith. We all have our theological quibbles, and there were some with Rev. Graham. But whatever could be said for those quibbles, his essential message was one of good news. It was a message that focused on the work of Jesus in changing hearts that was concise, to the point, and that hit right between the eyes. Any such message is relevant, no matter how many people mock.
But as I consider his legacy, I am also forced to consider the force of the gospel as it has been preached from the pulpits I looked up to every since I can remember. I was born into a Christian community, and the light never came upon me in the same way as it came upon many of Billy Graham’s listeners, because the light was always there through faithful teaching, parenting, rebuke, and a call to look to Christ who takes away the sins of the world. I was always reminded of my baptism which was intended to direct me to Christ. I grew, I faced trouble, I had to be rebuked, but I can’t remember not knowing Christ personally.
It was emphasized on me while growing up that I should listen to and honor the Preacher in the pulpit in front of me, rather than glorifying a pastor I don’t even know. That didn’t mean I had to accept everything he said mindlessly, but to have a soft heart towards those words spoken from Scripture. I have done a bit of traveling and listened to quite a number of preachers. I don’t want to name names because then I would be missing the point. But I have heard many clear explanations, pointed rebukes, and a call to faith from men who were not particularly well known, but were no less lacking in passion and faith and clarity.
If God has blessed you with a preacher who opens the Word of God on the pulpit in front of you, then you are called to listen and learn. Sure, you might disagree with him on a couple doctrines. His personality might irk you. But your call is to hear the Word of God, and his call is to speak it.
We shouldn’t idolize men like Billy Graham and R.C. Sproul (I John 5:21). We shouldn’t idolize anyone anyways. That doesn’t mean you have to ignore them either. It means that we have to have soft hearts when we are listening to the Word of God being preached wherever we are at. That is the aim of preaching: by the power of the Spirit a heart of stone will be replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Yes, we need to search the Word of God like the Bereans in Acts 17 and always test the spirits (I John 4:1). Preachers are also under authority. The aim is never to glorify the preacher, but to be transformed from glory to glory, as we gaze upon the face of Christ, revealed in His Word. This is where the preaching of Billy Graham received its strength.
May God raise up more men of conviction, men who are under the authority of the Word, men who won’t back down from their calling to be courageous for God both in word and deed.