This past Wednesday, Bill Graham passed away. There have been plenty of tributes and articles written in the past few days.
But for Christians my age and younger, we do not quite understand the weight of his ministry and legacy. The global reach of this man in an age before the internet is astounding. And there are certainly personal connections. My father-in-law (who spent 35 years as a missionary in Asia) was saved at a Billy Graham event. And the deeper I dig back into the stories of a generation (or two) ago, everyone’s testimony is only a few degrees separated from Billy Graham. It seems like anyone (and everyone) I talk to from that generation has a story that leads back to him.
1 Timothy 5:17 tells us, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Billy Graham spent his life preaching and teaching. My goal with this is to give him the honor that his legacy is due. From all that I have read, seen, and heard, he shared and lived the Gospel with his whole heart and as best as he could in his broken body. I do want to be careful not to elevate him above what he was: a humble man being used by God. And as a man, there were complaints about the “side effects” of his ministry (mostly the creation and exportation of “American Cultural Christianity”).
But I look to Scripture and see the same side effects of people looking to men rather than to Christ (see 1 Corinthians 1:12) and exporting their own cultural religion (see the entire Letter to the Galatians). These are the side effects resulting from imperfect men, one “spiritual generation” behind the messenger. Even Peter and Barnabas fell into the trap (Galatians 2:11-14). Does that diminish the work of Peter and Barnabas? Does that negate the honor they are due? Of course not. Neither should Billy Graham be deprived of whatever honor I can give him, knowing that he will certainly take that honor and place it before the feet of Jesus where he currently sits.
In all of this, I am thankful that God uses men, imperfect men like Billy Graham, to accomplish His purposes. And I am grateful that my own imperfect attempts to honor God are washed clean and made perfect by the blood of Jesus.