PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The Stump That Changed the Course of History”.
By: Ron Woodrum
This past Wednesday morning one of God’s most distinguished servants went home to be with his Lord. The Evangelist William Franklin, (Billy) Graham passed away at the age of 99 years old, at his mountain home in Montreat, N.C. He finally lost his battle to Prostate Cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and like the Apostle Paul he “finished his fight, run his race, and was ready to depart”. He had come to Christ at a tent revival at the age of 16. From an early age he answered God’s call to the ministry in the 1940’s and took his Lord and His Bible to the ends of the Earth for six decades! Susan Harding, anthropologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz gave the best concise biographical summary of Billy’s life and ministry I have ever heard. She said, “He was homespun, historical, and newsworthy all at once. He could span the times from Christ to today, from the globe to you, all in one sentence…He was so real, he made Christianity come true for our generation”. Billy Graham was America’s Pastor. He was a friend to 12 Presidents, from both parties, and offered love, support, guidance, and counsel in a non-partisan way. He was the first one that President Bill Clinton called on to be there after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Wednesday Karl Rove talked about how the only plane allowed into America’s air space after 9/11 was the plane that brought Billy Graham to the Washington D.C. National Cathedral to speak at the Memorial Service there on the morning of September 14th. Rove said, “It was my job to meet Graham in his room and convey him through the back halls of the back elevators of the hotel to this ballroom so we got to spend a few moments together…I have only twice in my life felt I was in the presence of the eternal. Billy Graham was the first time and there was something about the man. He was gentle, he was kind, but there was something serious about this man that gave off the sense of godliness and service. The other person to have such an impact? Pope John Paul…They both were deeply filled with the Spirit of our Lord”.
We have all lived with the Presence of our Lord, incarnated in the person and ministry of His true and faithful servant Billy Graham. But we may not be aware of the fact that there was a cross road to this ministry right at its inception. It could have gone an entirely different way, with historically different results. In 1945 Billy Graham and a friend Charles Templeton were answering the call to help with evangelism for Youth for Christ. They both were room mates on an evangelistic tour in Europe. After the tour Charles decided to go to Princeton Theological Seminary to prepare for further ministry. Billy accepted the Office of President for Northwestern College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This institution was not accredited yet, and for it to be taken seriously their President would have to earn an advanced degree that would require him to take a few years off evangelistic preaching. He was going to have to make a decision which direction he would take. In the summer of 1949 his friend Charles Templeton came to visit him. Charles had changed! In the course of their conversation Charles said, “But, Billy, it’s not possible for to believe any longer in the Bible…for instance, in the Biblical account of creation. The world was not created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s a demonstrable fact”. “I don’t accept that” Billy said, “And there are reputable scholars who don’t” “Who are these scholars? Men in conservative Christian colleges?” asked Charles. “Most of them, yes. But that is not the point. I believe the Genesis account of creation because it’s in the Bible. I’ve discovered something in my ministry. When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the Word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says’ or ‘The Bible says’, the Holy Spirit uses me. There are results. Wiser men than you or I have been arguing questions like this for centuries. I don’t have the time or the intellect to examine all sides of the theological dispute, so I’ve decided once for all to stop questioning and accept the Bible as God’s Word”. Charles went on to forsake the faith he once preached, even writing a book describing his apostasy in 1996 titled Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. Before he left Billy, his dear friend warned him, “Billy you cannot do that. You dare not stop thinking! It’s intellectual suicide!” Billy responded, “I don’t know about anyone else, but I have decided that that is the path for me”.
In August of 1949 Billy was invited to come and teach Bible Study and preach at a California Christian Retreat called Forest Home. Henrietta Mears, famous Christian author and educator had invited him. While there Billy was still struggling with the words of his dear friend Charles Templeton. While at Forest Home he did a lot of Bible Study. He kept seeing words “Thus sayeth the Lord”, “Thus sayeth the Lord” and “Thus sayeth the Lord”. He was at a cross road. One night he walked out into the woods. He set his open Bible upon a stump-more an altar than a pulpit-and he cried out, “Oh God! There are many things in this book that I do not understand. There are some problems for which I have no solutions. There are some seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I cannot answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising”. Then he fell on his knees and being moved by the Holy Spirit he said, “Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word-by faith! I am going to allow faith to go beyond by intellectual questions and doubts, and I believe this to be your Inspired Word!” He later wrote in his autobiography, Just As I Am, “as he stood up his eyes stung with tears, but he felt the power and presence of God in a way he had not felt in months…a major bridge had been crossed”. The next day he spoke at Forest Home Retreat and over 400 people made a commitment to Christ. Henrietta Mears remarked that “he preached with authority she had never seen in him before!” A few months later he would hold his Greater Los Angeles Crusade of 1949. The crusade was scheduled to go for three weeks but ended up going eight weeks, with many celebrities finding Christ, and they packed out that “Canvas Cathedral” at the corner of Washington and Hill streets in Los Angeles. That was the beginning of six decades of Crusades that would span the globe, and finally conclude in New York in 2005.
In 1955 John R.W. Stott invited Billy to come to Cambridge University in England. He accepted the invitation, but soon regretted that. He told Stott, “I am deeply concerned and in much thought about this mission. I have never felt more inadequate and totally unprepared. As I think over the possibility for messages, I realize how shallow and weak my presentations are. I shall be relying heavily on you…” Stott countered by inviting Billy to come and meet the great intellectual Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. Billy arrived in Cambridge. John arranged for him to have a private talk with Lewis at Magdalene College. The three of them spent an hour together. Billy later said, “I was afraid that I would be intimidated by Lewis. But I was relieved that he immediately put me at ease. I found him to be not only intelligent and witty but also gentle and gracious. He was genuinely interested in our meetings”. As the meeting ended, Lewis told Billy, “You know you have many critics, but I have never met one of your critics who knows you personally”. In the last interview before his death in 1963, (Lewis died the same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated), Lewis told Sherwood Wirt, the editor of Billy Graham’s Decision magazine-“I found him to be modest and sensible. I liked him very much indeed!” He later contrasted his apologetic ministry with the evangelistic ministry of Graham. He wrote, “My work has suffered very much from the incurable intellectualism of my approach. The simple emotional appeal, (of Graham), is successful. But those who lack that gift had better not attempt it”-(God In The Dock). Billy indeed had the gift! Still others tried to dissuade him. One influential Churchman told Graham that he would go far if he would quit preaching all that blood stuff! Billy said, “I determined to preach on the cross and the blood of Christ more than ever!” Not a bad choice. He had preached to over 215 million people in more than 185 countries. Only eternity will reveal the number of converts that he was instrumental in bringing to the Savior.
In his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer wrote these words, “Paul, in his own estimation, was not a philosopher, not a moralist, not one of the world’s wise men, but simply Christ’s herald. His Royal Master had given him a message to proclaim; his whole business, therefore, was to deliver that message with exact and studious faithfulness, adding nothing, altering nothing, and omitting nothing”. He could well have been describing Billy Graham. And what about Charles Templeton? In 1995 Lee Strobel, in doing research for his book The Case For Faith, interviewed Billy’s friend Charles, just before his death. Charles was in his 80’s. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but was still clear in his conversation. Strobel asked him what he thought about Jesus Christ. Charles told him-“He was the greatest human being who ever lived. A moral genius…the wisest person that ever lived…His commitment was total and that led to his death. What can anyone talk about except his greatness”? Strobel said, “You sound like you really care about him”. Charles continued, “Well yes, He is the most important thing in my life…I…I…I…adore Him…I miss Him.” Strobel asked about Billy Graham. Charles replied, “There is no feigning in him, (hypocrisy). He believes what he believes with an invincible innocence. He is the only mass evangelist I would trust!” What an endorsement. “Invincible Innocence!” An evangelist worthy of trust. And we have. Because of WHO He trusted! Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of our Lord. We can only hope to follow your example. Thank you for the right turn at that Stump that Changed the Course of History!