Billy Graham, who became well-known for his various crusades across the U.S. and around the world, and who served as a counselor to numerous presidents, including Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, has died at age 99.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association announced on Wednesday that Graham died at 7:46 a.m. this morning at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.
Graham, who had led hundreds of crusades since 1947, held his last event in 2005 at Flushing Meadows Park in New York, and delivered his final recorded message via television and the Internet five years ago. Graham practiced what is known as decisional evangelism through his altars calls, a method that some churches have discontinued out of the belief that man cannot make a mere decision for Christ, but must be truly regenerated.
“After two years of traveling as a speaker for the Youth for Christ organization, Billy Graham held his first official evangelistic Crusade in 1947; but it was his 1949 Los Angeles Crusade that captured the nation’s attention,” the Association wrote in a post on the organization’s website. “On the heels of this campaign, Graham started the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which was incorporated in 1950.”
“During the week of his 95th birthday in 2013, Graham delivered his final message via more than 480 television stations across the U.S. and Canada,” it outlined. “More than 26,000 churches participated in this ‘My Hope’ project, making it the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s largest evangelistic outreach ever in North America.”
Since 1955, Graham has regularly made Gallup’s poll of the “10 Most Admired Men in the World,” being listed 61 times.
Graham, reported to be a registered Democrat, is stated to have prayed with every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, the latter of whom traveled to Graham’s cabin in 2010. In 1983, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.
In his best-selling autobiography “Just As I Am,” Graham wrote about a meeting with then-President Bill Clinton, “It was a time of warm fellowship with a man who has not always won the approval of his fellow Christians, but who has in his heart a desire to serve God and do His will.”
The popular preacher was known to be ecumenical in nature, as USA Today reported in 2012, “Graham forged relationships with Catholics up to and including Pope John Paul II, whom he met in Rome in 1981.”
“I almost feel as though one of my family members has gone. I loved him very much and had the opportunity of discussing so many things with him. And we wrote each other several times during the years,” Graham told talk show host Larry King following the Roman Catholic leader’s passing. “… He traveled throughout the world to bring his Christian message to the world.”
“Graham worked with local churches; in fact, he wouldn’t hold a crusade in a given area unless he was invited by a majority of area churches, including, eventually, Catholic churches,” also wrote Steven Greydanus for the National Catholic Register in a tribute to Graham on Wednesday. “Those who responded to his altar calls he put in touch with local pastors, including Catholic priests, to continue their discipleship. His mission was to promote Jesus Christ, not a particular Christian sect or even Protestantism over Catholicism.”
Some expressed concern over Graham’s practices and affiliations for this reason.
Statements made during a 1997 appearance on Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power” also drew questions from Christians, even to the time of his death. During the broadcast, Graham suggested that Muslims and those of other religions may be saved without hearing of Christ or reading the Scriptures—just by realizing that they “need something,” although not pinpointing what it is.
“I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ—whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ,” Billy Graham said. “And that’s what God is doing today. He’s calling people out of the world for His name.”
“Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God,” Graham continued. “They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their heart that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have.”
“And I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in Heaven,” he declared.
Schuller then sought clarification on Graham’s remarks.
“What I hear you saying that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?” he asked.
“Yes, it is, because I believe that,” Graham replied. “I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.”
In 2005, when asked by talk show host Larry King if Muslims and others will go to Heaven even though they don’t believe in Christ, Graham replied, “That’s in God’s hands. I can’t be the judge.”
“How do you feel when you see a lot of these strong Christian leaders go on television and say, ‘You are condemned. You will live in Hell if you do not accept Jesus Christ,’ and they are forceful and judgmental?” King asked.
“Well, they have a right to say that, and they are true to a certain extent, but I don’t—that’s not my calling,” Graham replied. “My calling is to preach the love of God and the forgiveness of God and the fact that He does forgive us. … [Y]ou can get off on all kinds of different side trends, and in my earlier ministry, I did the same, but as I got older, I guess I became more mellow and more forgiving and more loving.”
Christian News Network had previously tried to obtain clarification on Graham’s “Hour of Power” remarks, including whether or not he still held to the belief, but efforts to receive a clear answer were unsuccessful.
Acts 4:12 states, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Jesus also declared in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”