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Billy Graham bows out at 99 -The Nation Editorial

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Without spiritual monarchy, televangelist’s life leaves legacy for Nigerian Christian leaders

In a world where perversion reigns and many who claim to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ are caught in vices, contrary to the word of God, there lived an evangelist who preached for about 80 years without a whiff of scandals. If anyone could be described as faithful to his calling, it was Billy Graham whose lessons are engraved on stone for Christian leaders all over the world.

Early enough, he realised the need to start with principles and values that would drive his ministry. In 1949, his team met at Modesto in California to work out the now famous Modesto Manifesto, a testament of sorts. The Manifesto was anchored on four cardinal values: Honesty in all things, including in reporting attendance at crusades; Humility as the evangelist was not carried away by the fame he garnered over the years; Purity as he and his partners chose to resist the devil by ensuring that none held discussions or counselling with women privately; and Integrity in realisation that money is a great tempter with its love declared as the root of all evil in the Bible, Graham ensured that he lived on a well-advertised, modest salary beyond which all financial matters were handled by the Board of Directors.

The evangelist who obtained the title, the American Pastor as a result of a great influence that saw him pray for 12 presidents of the great country, never sought to appropriate the influence for personal gain. He was not tempted to institute a spiritual monarchy. At all times, he gave all glory to the Lord, asserting that, ‘’I’m not a great preacher…I’ve heard great preaching many times and wished I was one of the great preachers. I am an ordinary preacher just communicating the gospel in the best way I know.’’

Coming from a man who wrote 30 books and is believed to have preached in 185 countries, including Nigeria, his style should be a model to the flamboyant Nigerian pentecostal ministers who have become synonymous with their ministries and tend to compete with the image and power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Graham stayed true to his calling for the 99 years he lived, left the stage for the younger generation when the incapacitating hold of old age sought to knock him out, thereby forestalling the bitter succession struggle that attend the demise of such charismatic leaders. Today, he is gone, but his disciplined lifestyle remains a model to all who claim to have been called to the ministry of proclaiming the gospel.

As a society in dire need of progress and development, and with the hold religion has on the people, Christian leaders should learn from Billy Graham the need for ecumenism. He remained a member of the Southern Baptist Convention all life and would not be tempted to branch out. His Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) reached out to, and collaborated with, many churches and ministries. Nigerian ministers could borrow this virtue, realising that in the face of assaults from the enemy, they are better united. Resources, materials and spiritual, become more formidable when they are pooled together.

His resolve to avoid partisan politics while relating with earthly authorities, only praying for them is another lesson, in view of Nigeria’s recent history that saw Christian leaders chose to swim or sink with political leaders, receiving gratification, compromising values, attempting to serve God and mammon, forgetting that God cannot be mocked.

The attempt last year to introduce Governance Code for the Churches readily comes to mind. The ferocious attacks from modern-day Pentecostal missions are an indication that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) have a lot to do in mobilising their members for internal regulation. Otherwise, external regulation might become inevitable someday.

Billy Graham, soldier of Christ, your light shall continue to shine even as you have inevitably bowed out of the stage here.

The Nation

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