BILLY GRAHAM, one of the most influential religious figures of the 20th century, died at home in Montreat, North Carolina, on Wednesday. He was 99.
Dr Graham became a Christian at the age of 16 and was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939. He became a full-time evangelist when he joined the new movement Youth for Christ in 1945, but did not come to prominence until four years later, during seven weeks of revival meetings in Los Angeles.
Dr Graham hit the world stage during the Greater London Crusade at Harringay in 1954, during which time he met the Queen, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and Sir Winston Churchill, who was Prime Minister at the time. Many British Christians have dated their conversion to that campaign.
In his own country, Dr Graham was said to be an unofficial spiritual adviser to Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, and preached at the latter’s funeral. He was close to many US Presidents, and was visited by them all, including Barack Obama. In his early days, he was also outspoken against Communism, but latterly sought to avoid being pigeonholed. He was a supporter of the civil-rights movement in the United States, and insisted that any rally he led must be racially integrated.
In his lifetime, Dr Graham conducted more than 400 evangelistic campaigns in 185 countries. His writings sold well, particularly his first book, Peace with God.
The Archbishop of Canterbury paid tribute to his life and work: “Dr Billy Graham stood as an exemplar to generation upon generation of modern Christians. When it comes to a living and lasting influence upon the worldwide Church, he can have few equals: for he introduced person after person to Jesus Christ. There are countless numbers who began their journey of faith because of Dr Graham.
“The debt owed by the global Church to him is immeasurable and inexpressible. Personally I am profoundly grateful to God for the life and ministry of this good and faithful servant of the gospel. By his example he challenged all Christians to imitate how he lived and what he did.
“He was one who met presidents and preachers, monarchs and musicians, the poor and the rich, the young and the old, face to face. Yet now he is face to face with Jesus Christ, his saviour and ours. It is the meeting he has been looking forward to for the whole of his life.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said: “So often throughout my life I have worked alongside those who have shared with me that their journey of faith in Christ began after hearing Billy Graham preach of the love of God for us sinners, and of Jesus’ power to change lives and lead us out of darkness into his marvellous light. In this country many will recall the new life that came to the churches through his missions, especially Mission England in 1984. . .
“Though initially ambivalent about the Civil Rights Movement in America, Graham came to understand through his reading of the Bible that the Gospel embraced all people without distinction. . . A good friend of Dr Martin Luther King Junior, Billy Graham preached: ‘Jesus was not a white man; He was not a black man. He came from that part of the world that touches Africa and Asia and Europe. Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black. Christ belongs to all people; He belongs to the whole world.’”
The Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said that Dr Graham was “truly a man of God” and a witness for a “more excellent way for the human family”.
“Before it was popular or widely accepted, Billy Graham required that his crusades must be interracial without a hint of segregation in the body of Christ at worship,” Bishop Curry said on Wednesday. “Before the ecumenical movement had really taken hold in the culture, Billy Graham’s crusades were intentionally ecumenical. . .
“As a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, he related to people of many faiths with genuine respect and a manner of love, reflecting the very spirit and teaching of Jesus.”
The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, said that many Christians in Wales had found faith thanks to Dr Graham and his visits to Wales and the rest of the UK. “He was a gifted, energetic and inspirational speaker who spoke with clarity and conviction, reminiscent of many of the great Welsh Revival preachers. He was a true evangelist of Christ.”
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness, said: “Within the Scottish Episcopal Church I am aware of a number of people who first acknowledged their faith whilst at some of the rallies held by Dr Billy Graham and how that affected their lives. We hold in our prayers all those are mourning his passing.”
The general director of the Evangelical Alliance, Steve Clifford, said that the ministry of Dr Graham in the UK would live on. “Beside a lake, in large auditoriums, and through broadcasts . . . one could not help but be impacted by his passion for God, his commitment to the truth of the gospel, and his life of integrity lived under intense media scrutiny.”
The President and Vice-Presidents of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Loraine N Mellor and Jill Baker, offered their condolences to his family. “We send our thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of Billy Graham, without doubt one of the greatest evangelists of the last century. He shared the love of Jesus Christ to millions around the world.”~
You can read our full obituary of Billy Graham.
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