The ABC ‘flagship’ religious program Compasslast Sunday marked the day as a religious milestone for Australia. Fifty (50) years ago American evangelist Billy Graham began his four month nationwide crusade down under, and took Australia by storm. The press called him God’s super-salesman. On just one occasion 143,000 people turned up at the MCG to hear him preach. In all, well over three million Australians made the journey. His visit triggered mass conversions. Tens of thousands came forward to ‘give their lives to Christ.’ His crusade reached many public leaders, both present and future. Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen was just one of them.
Why was Billy Graham’s message so well received? The historian Judith Smart said, “I was at the MCG - his speech was quite astonishing.” He spoke about the sinfulness of man that was threatening to engulf civilisation.
What was the secret of his success in preaching?
Was the secret of his success his clever use of advertising and publicity? No! Said Billy: “You don’t fill Madison Square Garden for four months with publicity. You might get them there the first week but that doesn’t keep them there. It must be something else.”
Was it the personal 1-1 appeal? “Dianne Boyd said: “He just had this way of putting things that you thought he was speaking to you alone. . . I forgot all the thousands of people that were there, and I just felt that he was speaking to me alone. Archbishop Peter Jensen said: “I think what Billy Graham exposed with his great Spirit-blessed preaching that day was, that I was not actually in a personal relationship with God, and I needed to do something about it. . . . And so, as I saw others go forward, with a step of courage which I didn’t think I had, I too stood and went forward. It was as clear-headed a decision as I ever made in my whole life. Roseanne Roelink said, “I didn’t hesitate when he asked us to step forward and to take Christ as our personal saviour. I just got up and remember I walked up the aisle, and, yeah, I just didn’t hesitate. I felt pretty special.”
Was it the clear way he expressed the Gospel? Dianne Boyd said: I felt like a light bulb had gone on in my head. I suddenly saw how it was. I suddenly saw, I suppose, redemption. I really did. I saw God’s grace. And it was a magic moment in my life. It was like this great wave. And I just felt like I was drawn on strings. I just had to go.”
But, there’s something more. You only have to listen to a video clip of those early preaching years of Billy to understand the true secret explanation – there was a unique ring of authority in his speech! Ten years or so before Melbourne, Billy faced a crisis in his life in conflict with a colleague, over the authority of the Bible. Could he use the words “The Bible says” to prove every point he made in the pulpit? Could he trust his Bible by quoting, for example a disputed text, like Luke 9:56: For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them? The colleague, Chuck Templeton, became an agnostic. Billy went from strength to strength. For him it was “theAV4ever.”
There’s a bronze tablet among a forest of trees, which marks the spot where Billy in 1948 wrestled with God, and guess who won? It reads: “To the praise of God for the life and ministry of Dr. Billy Graham, who had a life-changing encounter with God here at Forest Home when, as a young preacher, he knelt with the Bible in his hands and promised God he would “take the Bible by faith and preach it without reservation.” From that time his preaching was marked by a new and God-given authority. Preaching the scriptures in the power of the Holy Spirit, he has seen multiplied thousands turn to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith (Heb. 4:12). This tablet was placed here on April 9, 1967, when Dr Graham preached by this lakeside.”
So, here is the 20th century preacher striding the modern world with an ‘out-of-date’ translation, the AV – complete with its ‘archaisms’ – declaring through the decades to 2.2 billion people an authoritative word. But, tell me, in all seriousness, would he have authoritatively asserted, “the Bible says,” if he had chosen instead to use the ERV (1885), or the ASV (1901), or the RSV (1952), or the NIV (1984). After all, he had those choices - all of them! But, he chose to continue with the AV, still believing, despite the ‘assured results’ of modern scholarship, it is the most accurate and dependable translation of them all. God honoured that trust!
Graham has preached in person to more people around the world than any Protestant who has ever lived. According to his staff, as of 1993, more than 2.5 million people had "stepped forward at his crusades to accept Jesus Christ as their personal saviour". As of 2008, Graham's lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion. As far as he was concerned it was theAV4ever.