Waking up to the death of Billy Graham was not a shock since the man was 99 years old. It was however the source of all kinds of memories. I remember members of my family who were not too keen on church attendance, but would pay careful attention to Billy Graham Crusades. I remember my parents and my brother and I listening to one in particular that has always stuck with me. Afterwards my mother thought it was fantastic and my father who was never a man of many words said something fascinating. He said, “the sermon was fantastic and it was even a wonderful explanation of Law and Gospel, but the decision theology at the end ruins everything”. My father had a way of piquing my interest by not giving me an answer but giving me a lead in an answer so I had to go do some searching on my own. When I asked him what he meant later he simply said, “John 15:16 and The Small Catechism explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles Creed”. Of course the catechism section I already know by heart. I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit calls me by the Gospel, enlightens me with his gifts and sanctifies and keeps me in the one true faith”.
Those seem to many people to be trivial theological details, kind of like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. People like to joke about how Missouri Synod Lutherans are so demanding of correct doctrine that they miss, Jesus. The fact is that Jesus
is carried to us and born in us by correct doctrine, the faith once and for all handed down to the Saints. Nobody ever makes a big deal out of the fact that Pastor Graham held his doctrine on decision theology and made a big enough deal of it that we missed a joint Missouri Synod and Graham evangelistic effort. I can’t find a lot about that in the historical record but I do remember discussions about it when I was a young man. It was about this time that Dr. Graham was supposed to have said something to the effect that the Missouri Synod was a “sleeping giant”. I’ve come to find out that he called a lot of churches and entities “sleeping giants” so I’m not sure what any of that meant in the context of his ministry.
Theological issues cannot be put aside lightly, but one has to admire the pure body of work and the fact that many people would not have heard about Jesus Christ were it not for him. Walter A. Maier started the Lutheran Hour in 1930 and preached to millions of people over the radio. Billy Graham began his crusades and a radio ministry in the late 40s. When Dr. Maier passed away, Graham said that his Lutheran Hour ministry was “a constant source of benediction and strength.”
I can still hear Dr. Grahams voice and that strange North Carolina drawl . I have three or four sermon illustrations that he used that I fall back on on occasion. There will be time for the examination of Dr. Grahams theology later but for today I just want to remember a man whose ministry brought my Father and I together to examine the nature and causes of faith which I appreciate to this day.