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What Luther Says

A Lutheran Response To Billy Graham's 'My Hope America'

In case you missed it, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association aired a national broadcast one week ago on Fox News, which was advertised as his "Last Sermon To The Nation" by unofficial sources. That's because of Mr. Graham's declining health and the fact that he just turned 95-years-old as well.

Obviously, as a Christian, I wanted to watch the program to see what it was all about. Any time there's a national "Christian" anything going on I like to pay close attention to make sure that the masses (mainly my family and friends) are being fed the truth and not some kind of spiritual poison.

Of course, my curiosity was piqued even more when I learned that the broadcast on Fox would not be the only one to the nation. In fact, several more actually aired on various networks over the course of several days, and I see that it's even available online for free too.

Needless to say, millions upon millions have received (and millions more will be receiving) this last message from a man who has been called "America's Most Famous Preacher" for many decades now.

Interestingly enough, this is not the first time I've written something about this man. I wrote about Reverend Billy Graham just one other time way back in November of 2011 when he celebrated his 93rd birthday, right around the time when Apple's Steve Jobs died, and it was a commentary about legacies from a Biblical standpoint.

Here's a brief excerpt:

I recently read that Billy Graham (often referred to as "America's Most Famous Preacher") turned 93 a couple of weeks ago. Warranted apostate criticisms aside, there's no denying the impact that Graham has had (continues to have) around the world in the name of Jesus Christ.

Yes, I know that some of us (myself included at times) have tried to point out the "truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) that perhaps Graham doesn't worship the same Jesus that we read about in the Bible -- at least not on a consistent basis (or not in recent years as evidenced by some of his cringe-worthy remarks on national television on more than one occasion).

At first blush, that might seem incredibly absurd and harsh to some for me to make an accusation like that, but I ask you to prayerfully consider the evidence to the contrary, which is readily available online.

I also learned that Graham has written and published his 30th book. It's titled Nearing Home, and there was something from one article I read that described the book that made me wince a little. Maybe it's just me, but shouldn't "America's Most Famous Preacher" pen a book that exhorts people to repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ? Why must religious leaders CONSTANTLY preach a "Social Gospel" as opposed to the Salvation Gospel that they were called and ordained to preach? I'm only 32-years-old, but call me a conservative and a traditionalist especially when it comes to matters of the faith. To me, that just seems like a no-brainer. For goodness sake, could you image Charles Spurgeon writing and publishing a book at 93 -- as he was "nearing home" himself -- that gave equal time (or any amount of time for that matter!) to things of a cultural/social, or earthly nature? Christians ought to be about the pursuit of eternal spiritual things, not earthly material things.

Sure, some might argue that Graham was just trying to be "candid" and "honest" and "transparent," but at what price? We're talking about legacies in this piece today so I have to wonder what kind of a legacy a book like this could leave especially since it's penned by America's Most Famous Preacher too. I mean, if we're talking Graham's "legacy," then might we say that he single-handedly gave birth to "Poligion" in this country given his close relationships with various US Presidents over the years? If we're talking Graham's "legacy," then might we say that he did more to help apostasy take root in this nation? After all, his responses in his newest book -- although extremely candid -- reflect a man of the world and not a man of the faith as he responds to life's circumstances and life in general the way the world does and not the way a Christian should.

I know that I could die at any moment, but I pray that if I ever live to be 93, and I know that my time here is short, I don't want to be worrying myself with any of the cares of this life that are fleeting -- car payments, mortgage/rent payments, financial savings, politics, etc. No, that is when I want to shine my brightest for Jesus Christ!

2 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV) For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Just my two cents on the matter. Please prayerfully consider it and pray for Mr. Graham while we still can, my friends.

I'm reminded of how the secular and non-saved view death in this life is the "great equalizer," but to us Christians it is tied to a glorious promise (John 3:16; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:47; John 18:36; Galatians 6:8; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23).

I'm also reminded of how it doesn't matter how "successful" or "unsuccessful" you are by the world's standards in this life. Why?

Romans 14:11 (KJV) For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

It's that truth that has been burdening my heart as of late. Lately, I've noticed the Lord changing my heart and giving me a deeper sense of empathy for my fellow man. No longer do I read stories like these two and initially scoff (which used to be my knee-jerk reaction to them), but instead I feel a weight, or a sadness out of concern for their spiritual health, and perhaps even their eternal fate.

That was what i wrote two years ago about the good Reverend.

So what are we to make of this latest prime time special? Is it an extension of what was written a couple of years ago?

For starters, knowing what I already know about Graham's compromise with Biblical truth in recent years, I have to say that I was initially disturbed and skeptical going into the program just based on its title alone.

My Hope America

Notice the absence of a key word?

As a Reverend ("America's Most Famous Preacher" no less), I would've expected something more along the lines of "My Hope FOR America" followed by an urgent plea for people in this nation to repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ.

After all, wouldn't that be consistent with what you'd expect to hear from any preacher -- especially one as popular as him and with his kind of exposure and reach -- who was, for all intents and purposes, likely giving his final "sermon" to the masses?

I'm sure some might argue that I'm getting too caught up in the semantics as if I were the kind of person being described in 1 Timothy 6:4 who has "an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words" (I know, not quite the same context), but is that really the case here?

I mean, doesn't the title (as is) subtly imply that his own personal hope is...America itself? As if any politician, political party, and/or form of government can save the souls of mankind! Maybe that's not fair of me, but is it really that far out of bounds either though?

I'm sorry, but things weren't starting off on the right foot for me personally as this reeked of "Poligion" to me (Poligion: The Unholy Marriage of Politics and Religion). In fairness to Graham, he did issue this statement in an interview a couple of years ago:

"I also would have steered clear of politics. I'm grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back, I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn't do that now."

*- Evangelist Billy Graham, responding to questions from Christianity Today magazine about whether he would do anything differently if he could change past actions.

Maybe it's just me though. Maybe I was being "hyper-critical" and "unfair" before watching a single second of his presentation to the nation, and so I pressed on and continued to watch the show while deciding I would give it (and the revered Mr. Graham) a chance to prove me wrong.

Below is a minute-by-minute log of my observations and thoughts that I recorded about what I was hearing and seeing as I actually heard it and saw it for the first time.

(0:02) I must say that the old videos of Graham preaching are a bit stirring to my soul. I didn't expect that, because I've only come to know him for his appearances over the past 10-15 years or so, from second hand sources who would watch him preach live on TV, and from infamous YouTube videos that showed how he's softened his message as he's gotten older. So, the opening to this program was quite surprising.

(0:04) Only 4 minutes in and I'm worried that we might already start to go down the slippery slope of the "Social Gospel" even after the bold proclamation of the one, true Gospel of Salvation through Jesus Christ.

(0:05) Good choice by the Producers to have Christian Hip-Hop Artist Lecrae be a part of this. He has that "mass appeal" that Graham and his people are probably looking for. More importantly, as an ex-Evangelical myself, I can tell you that Lecrae does preach a bold, unadulterated Gospel through his lyrics (at least the songs of his that I know of) so that's more than half the battle right there. Still, the tightrope that this show will be walking from this point forward is to keep it about Christ and Christ crucified and not about Billy Graham or any of these so-called Christian "celebrities" either! Can they do it? My experience as an Evangelical is that they won't be able to. I pray that I'm wrong though.

(0:06) Lecrae, I'm sorry, but you were not "chasing," "hungering," or "thirsting" after "this thing" that you later discovered was the Lord. Romans 3:10-11 says clearly "as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.'"

(0:07) Ok, so I hate to be so cynical here less than 10 minutes in, but I'm sensing a definite "Tim Tebow Effect" on full display. Following Lecrae's brief testimony, now we are introduced to Lacey Sturm, or the lead singer of a popular Christian Rock Band called Flyleaf. Why are Evangelicals always so eager to want to please people or to show non-believers that there are "cool" Christians in this world ("See, we're cool just like you! That Rapper, that Singer -- they're both Christians!")? This isn't about Lecrae or Lacey Sturm. It's about Christianity. It's about God. It's about the one, true God. It's about the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(0:12) One thing is apparent in both testimonies -- God's Word is efficacious just like we Lutherans believe and teach that it is, and according to the Holy Bible! If only these Evangelical types would come all the way over to our side instead of stopping short just before the finish line so-to-speak. It's also worth noting that both individuals were either invited or taken to a church service (or church event) by a family member or friend where the Word of God was going to be preached, and both testimonies credit that moment in their life as being essential to their own salvation (John 6:44). The point? Invite people to church with you (and to church functions), because you never know what God is already doing in their lives behind-the-scenes, and you never know when and where the Holy Spirit will speak to them through the Word of God (John 3:34; 1 Corinthians 3:6-9; Acts 2:37-47).

(0:20) I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised by the direction this is going! The testimonies of both "celebrities" are powerful, and the producers seem to have succeeded in walking that fine line in keeping the focus on Christ rather than on these two sinners who were redeemed by Him. Most importantly, there is definitely pure Law and Gospel being preached here, which is music to my ears since I was expecting "hyper-grace" and "love wins!" type of preaching without any trace of the Law or any mention of sin.

(0:23) I absolutely love how the program is interspersed with sound bytes and video clips of Billy Graham's preaching from earlier days in his ministry for the Lord! Yes, he's a Baptist, but his preaching in the clips aired so far is Biblically sound. Again, that's refreshing (and quite surprising) to me.

(0:30) Ok, so we're 30 minutes in and the program has been unashamedly Christian -- preaching Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind, preaching repentance and faith, and mentioning Jesus Christ by name as the one, true Son of God and the only means of salvation unto eternal life. That is a very good thing indeed.

(0:31) Of course, I'm not a fan of "Decision Theology" and praying "The Sinner's Prayer," but it wasn't as long and drawn out as you typically tend to hear it and see it. Better yet, John 3:16 just flashed on the screen immediately afterward. Even so, people need to know why Lutherans preach against a Decision Theology mindset.

(0:32) Oh, ok. So, apparently, the message from Billy Graham is only 30 minutes long as the rest of the 90-minute "special" program was devoted to discussing Billy Graham's life and legacy by a panel of guests on Sean Hannity's show. I think I'll be turning it off now since James Dobson, the first guest who was asked to comment on Graham, had this to say: "I don't know that I can explain it, Sean, except the fact that this is a great man, and I think he's one of the finest men that America ever produced." Really? So now America gets credit for producing preachers? What happened to giving God the credit, Mr. Dobson?

I'll start my critique with the most glaring concern, which is the climax that included Decision Theology in the form of the usual Sinner's Prayer.

Modern American Evangelicals always do this and then they always ask, "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Do you want to have a personal relationship with Jesus?"

What absurd and un-Biblical questions to ask! Besides, how can you have a personal relationship with Jesus after one sermon like this followed by a 30-second prayer?

Here's a good response to this subject from Lutheran Pastor Martin R. Noalnd:

The “sinner’s prayers” is as essential to the theology and practice of revivalism, which is the root and core of most of Baptist, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches, as the “propitiatory eucharistic prayer” is essential to the theology and practice of the Mass in the Roman Catholic church.

All LCMS pastors should know this. They have been taught at the seminary what is wrong, at least in the basics, with the theology and practice of Baptist, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches. As a practice, the “sinner’s prayer” is about as basic as you can get, besides the practice of “believer’s baptism.”

Personal relationships for me don’t happen immediately. It takes awhile to get to know someone and to trust them enough to talk about things personal. Lutheran catechesis (and education in parochial school and Sunday school for kids) assumes it takes awhile for people to get to know Jesus and to trust him enough to “talk about things personal.” There is always a moment of decision for Lutherans; it is called confirmation.

Revivalism and the sinner’s prayer assumes that you can push people to “buy Jesus.” Well, they can say the sinner’s prayer, but that is it. They don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, they just were cowed into saying something they didn’t really understand.

Why do revivalists do this? Because they personally get a “charge” from seeing people come forward to the “anxious bench.” It proves to them, and the crowd, that their preaching “works.” What is a sales pitch if there are no sales on the spot? They don’t really care about souls, they just care about appearances and numbers. This attitude, which just cares about appearances and numbers, is the root of the “church-growth movement,” which has been a plague on the house of the LCMS since the 1980s.

One of our founding fathers, Friedrich Wyneken, was an arch-enemy of Methodists and revivalists. He even used a simulated speech in his German tour to show the Lutherans there what their countrymen were experiencing in America with the sinner’s prayer (e.g., see Walter Baepler, “A Century of Grace,” p. 60). The LCMS came out early and strong against such revivalist “new measures.”

In the final analysis, I thought this special message to America focused more on the individual Christian than it did on Christ Himself. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that it fed into this "Narcisegis" movement (a term coined by Fighting For The Faith's Chris Rosebrough) popularized by False Teachers like Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and now Steven Furtick.

You know, it's the idea that the Bible's all about YOU, and that this life is all about YOU, and that Jesus Christ is only ever and always about YOU and what YOU want out of life from Him.

Why all the focus on the "Christian Celebrity" in this film? Those who love people like Lecrae and Lacey Sturm generally cite that it's because of the fact that they are both self-professing Christians who wear their beliefs on their sleeves unashamedly and due to the "cool factor" too.

If I may, however, I think that far too many of those same people are kidding themselves. What do I mean? Well, I think they just like the fact that they have found someone who's "cool" by the world's definition (by virtue of the simple fact that they are rising stars in the Pop Music world), and they desperately want to prove to the lost, non-believers out thee that Christians can be "cool" too.

Why do we do that? Be honest. Who among us (myself included) hasn't at one time or another made it a point to let lost family members and friends know that "So-And-So is a Christian!" as if that somehow validates our cherished faith more than a died and risen Savior does let's say? It's ridiculous, isn't it? You bet it is.

Yet, this is what a majority of Christians in America do because a majority of Christians in America today are "Christians-In-Name-Only" I'm afraid, and theirs is a shallow faith, or a faith that knows how to act, look, and sound "Christian" without having to count the cost (Luke 14:28).

Look, I know we should be examining ourselves on a daily basis already, but even if we are doing what we're supposed to be doing in that regard (2 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:12), even if we're already doing that, can we honestly say that our support for the "Christian Celebrity" is solely because they're a fellow brother or sister in Christ Jesus who faithfully confesses Christ crucified and promotes pure doctrinal truths?

I personally believe that God is using these Christian Celebrities to expose us; to expose our hearts. I believe things like this only help to force us to think about the things (or the Lord and Savior) that we have been ignoring and neglecting for so long. I just pray we recognize when we have been exposed and laid bare before the Lord so that we can humbly repent and confess our sins (1 John 1:9).

Billy Graham allegedly once called Lutherans "the sleeping giant" in this country, and whether that's true or not, I think it's quite clear that the giant is wide awake and aware of the dangers of his preaching an un-Biblical doctrine called Decision Theology.

Ironically, the sad thing about the "sleeping giant" quote is that there are still people in the LCMS who crave approval from someone of Rev. Billy Graham's stature even though he is not with us in theology or practice. Unfortunately, even the LCMS is not immune to the "Tim Tebow Effect" either.

That being said, I pray that this is not a tacit approval of the Rev. Billy Graham and his ministry that is directly at odds with Lutheran doctrine and practice.

However, if my own local church is any barometer of the reality of the situation within our own Synod, then I fear that we may be becoming more "Decisional," "Emergent," and "Missional" just like a preacher like Billy Graham would want us to become. God help us!

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, we must be ready to bear witness to the truth when called upon to do so in our lives (2 Timothy 4:2; Galatians 1:10; Galatians 2:5; Jude 1:3).

Please join me in praying that we give the proper Lutheran response (a.k.a. Christian response) to Billy Graham's My Hope America should it come up in discussion with our family members and friends.

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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