Billy Graham, often called “America’s preacher,” passed away on February 21. There is no denying his influence on Christianity in North America and around the world. During his lifetime, Graham was respected and loved by millions, and his preaching and ministry transformed lives. Although we published an online article within days of his passing, we should have acknowledged it in print for our print-only readers.
No doubt Graham had flaws in addition to his many laudable qualities and achievements. But one of the things I admired most about Graham was his ability to unite Christians of various stripes around God’s mission. His evangelistic crusades always involved the cooperation of local churches from different theological stripes, from evangelicals to Catholics, including some Christian Reformed folks. Despite differences, Graham was willing to work with any Christian believer to proclaim the gospel. My sense is that for Graham it was never about one’s “tribe,” but always about God’s mission.
That is my dream and hope as well. I dream of a CRC that is united around God’s holistic mission. I have previously written about God’s mission “in 3-D,” including the dimensions of reconciling people to God (communion), reconciling people to each other (community) and reconciling all things in Christ Jesus (commonwealth). Although Billy Graham emphasized the communion dimension of mission, I believe he would not have objected to the other two dimensions. For example, Graham opposed racism in America when it was not yet popular to do so, prohibiting segregated seating at his crusades starting in the mid-1950s. Graham’s example of working across Christian divisions to fulfill God’s mission inspires us to do likewise.
I am heartened to see examples of that happening. In this Banner issue, for instance, you will read about how we are helping to equip the global church for mission, how four people from different backgrounds call the CRC their spiritual home, and how God “lives” in the city yet is with us in our pain and suffering. Being united in God’s holistic mission is already part of who we are.
According to Graham, the key to Christian unity is love, not uniformity:
[Jesus] prayed for unity among believers. God, who wills man’s unity in Christ, is a God of variety. So often we want everyone to be the same—to think and speak and believe as we do. Many Scripture passages could be called to witness that love is the real key to Christian unity. In the spirit of true humility, compassion, consideration, and unselfishness, we are to approach our problems, our work, and even our differences (billygraham.org/devotion/true-unity/).
Another of Billy Graham’s qualities I admire is his humility. Despite his celebrity status, he always emphasized his team and humbly worked with local pastors and lay leaders to organize his crusades. I believe humility is a mark of spiritual maturity. No one who is close to God can have an arrogant spirit. If we truly know the holy and all-loving God, we cannot help but be humbled in awareness of our own sinfulness and shortcomings. And such humility should make us less judgmental of those we disagree with, quick to listen, and slow to speak (James 1:19).
Despite our ideological and political differences, I hope we can unite around God’s holistic mission in humility and love for the sake of both God’s kingdom and the CRC.
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