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The Tragedy of Compromise

by Ernest Pickering

Broadening the Sawdust Trail .

Tainting the Waters

The compromises of Billy Graham have had a widespread and devastating impact. His fingerprints are very evident upon the New Evangelical movement. The principles he has espoused throughout most of his ministry are now accepted by large numbers of evangelicals.

The Broad Way

The spirit of openness and broadness now seen in so much of evangelicalism was initially fostered by Graham. It was he who began reaching out to the liberals years ago when many Bible-believers opposed it. In explaining his broader position, he seems to suggest that he is exempt from the biblical standards which others follow. "My position as a 'proclaimer of the gospel' is entirely different than if I were the president of a Bible school or the pastor of a church or a professor of theology. While holding a firm theological position, yet in the proclamation of the gospel there is flexibility of fellowship."32 But does God allow a wider scope of fellowship for an evangelist than he does for other believers? Where is this principle found in Scripture? Can he fellowship with the National Council of Churches crowd while faithful pastors, seeking to maintain the purity of their churches, refuse to do so? Does God have a double standard?

Already we have seen that this evangelist is loathe to condemn false religious systems and their teachers. Never does he expose the apostasy of such groups as the National and World Council of Churches. Scripture, however, exhorts faithful ministers of God to openly combat teachers of error, and to "rebuke them sharply" (Titus 1:13). Paul was bold to identify by name Hymenaeus and Alexander, who had made shipwreck of the faith (I Tim. 1:20). Even the "apostle of love," John, identified the proud braggart, Diotrophes, and condemned his actions (III John 9). There is no special virtue in just being "positive." There are negative aspects of truth as well, and these must also be presented.

Through the efforts of Billy Graham, many feel that religious liberalism is no longer the monstrous foe that our forefathers thought it to be. The early fundamentalists waged battle against modernism (liberalism) and gave no quarter. Today we are told that these liberals really are not so bad. From where did this idea arise among those who claim to follow the Bible? It arose from Billy Graham's crusades, where liberals and fundamentalists mixed readily. "The professing Church can no longer be divided into two camps: modernism . . . and fundamentalism . . . . For the gigantic evangelistic impact spearheaded by Billy Graham has broken this division down, and has engendered new reactions."33 Younger pastors and Christian leaders, holding Graham up as a model, have little fear to broaden their fellowship. David Fisher, pastor of the Crystal Free Church in a suburb of Minneapolis, said, "We’re living out the dream of Billy Graham, and others who modeled the kind of thing we do. They lowered the barriers and reached out."34 The same article declares, "In many ways the changing mood is a tribute to the ecumenical efforts of evangelist Billy Graham, who decided more than 30 years ago never to do a crusade in a city without agreement of the local clergy."35

Without a doubt Graham has done much to build the ecumenical church and to give it prestige.

One often-cited example of effective "local ecumenism" is the crusade-style ministry of Billy Graham. Since the 1950s, the Baptist evangelist's frequent crusades have brought together local clergy from various denominations—some with little experience or interest in traditional ecumenism—who begin working weeks in advance to promote the event. Though Graham may not intend to be, observes Richard Mouw, provost at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, he is "probably the most important ecumenical figure alive."36

William Ward Ayer, famous radio preacher and longtime pastor of the large Calvary Baptist Church of New York City, long ago observed that Graham's ecumenical evangelism was aiding the ecumenical movement.

It is sad to see many of our brilliant minds so deeply deceived by the enemy. Liberalism has changed its nomenclature but not its nature, and some of our enthusiastic and blithesome theologians feel they can bridge the chasm between redemptive Christianity and non-redemptive religion by friendly and amiable cooperation. But the chasm is unbridgeable—it is a "great gulf fixed." The flimsy structure this group is building will prove a trap for millions who attempt the crossing; for on one side is the Church, the Bride of Christ, and on the other, the "Coming Great Church" of your editorial, which . . . in reality is the harlot church, and these two can never be joined.37

Bravo for William Ward Ayer! Would there were more courageous servants like him today.

Put aside "peripheral" doctrinal differences—this is the message sent by Graham to impressionable young leaders of the church. For this reason he tries to walk the middle line on difficult and disputed doctrines. Even his friend, Carl Henry, observed, "His books tend to gloss over doctrinal divisions within evangelical circles."38 The truth is, Billy Graham wants everyone for his friend. He does not wish to offend the liberal, the charismatic, or the Catholic. He wants to be on all sides of a question at the same time. But the prophet of God cannot take such a stance. When God gave Jeremiah his commission, He told him he was to "root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant" (Jer. 1:10). Here were four negatives and two positives. Error must be demolished and thorn-covered ground cleared before progress can be made on a building of truth. Destruction of the wrong must precede the erection of the right. One cannot say, as Graham did, when asked for his appraisal of the charismatic movement, "I think the charismatic movement has been used of God in many areas of the world, for example, Sweden.39 How can one say that a movement which is theologically in error is being greatly used of God? Does God employ erroneous theology to achieve His purposes?

The Tradedy of Compromise. ByErnest Pickering. ©1994. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address:

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