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Franklin Graham: Our Churches Are Dead

Paul Proctor

 

I read an interesting article/interview with Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist, Billy Graham, in a publication called The Gathering where he not only expressed the importance of sharing the gospel, but also some less than flattering comments about today’s churches and pastors “going directions Jesus never told us to go into,” referencing the new “liberal” evangelical emphasis on “social justice” and “Christianizing” the culture.

Of course, I can’t speak for Franklin Graham, but it sure sounded like a slap in the face of Rick Warren with his Global Peace Plan. Certainly, there are many who have made the social gospel job one, but none more notable than the Purpose Driven pastor from Saddleback Church.

Unfortunately, Graham didn’t name names, an all too common practice among clergy today, which leaves many vulnerable to “Christian” celebrities who put people-pleasing programs and global agendas over and above the Word of God and the call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. If Mr. Graham believes certain pastors are out there leading others astray with a false gospel, he has a duty to warn them, not just make vague references that will go in one ear and out the other as if who’s doing it doesn’t really matter. Souls are at stake here.

But, in spite of this, he made some important points in the Q&A session that need to be mentioned:

TG: The next generation of believers seems to be making social justice issues such as poverty, disease, orphans, clean water, etc. a real priority. What do you think about that?

Graham: None of that is our mandate. Jesus never said, "I want you to go out and alleviate the poor in the world." ...So many churches and so many pastors today are going directions Jesus never told us to go into. He said, "you'll always have the poor with you."

TG: Do you see those works as a door to sharing the gospel and making disciples?

Graham: That's the if. If they do it, sure. My grandparents were missionaries to China. They took modern medicine to China. Why? Because the Chinese people had no medicine. My grandfather, a surgeon, saved people's lives so that he could preach the gospel. If the social program comes first and then if you can, you try to work the gospel wedge into it, that won't work. It has to be the gospel first. You go, why? Because Christ died on the cross. He shed His blood on the cross, and that's why I'm going. And by the way, if I see somebody hungry, I'm going to try to feed them. If I see somebody that needs some medicine, I'm going to give them that. If I meet somebody who just needs an arm around them, I'll hug them and tell them God loves them. But I'm going because Christ told me to go into the world and make disciples. He never told me to go feed people. He never told me to go try to make people feel better. He told me to preach the gospel.

TG: To what extent do you think Christians should be involved in helping to usher in the kingdom of Heaven now, on Earth? Should we be trying to redeem our culture?

Graham: First of all, the Bible didn't tell me to do that. I can't Christianize this culture. The god of this world is Satan - this is his culture. He is the god of this age. I'm to preach the gospel. .... God is calling a people for Himself. I don't know whom He's calling, I just have to be faithful and preach.

Later in the article, Graham stated, point blank: “We need revival. Our churches are dead.” I think most Christians who regularly read this column already know that, but it was important to hear him say it.

After having visited many such churches in and around the very home of the Southern Baptist Convention here in Nashville, Tennessee over the last ten years, I couldn’t agree more. And, I don’t say that with any presumed piety, personal innocence or lofty, Mr. Know-it-all kind of attitude. I say it with a deep sadness, frustration and desire to wake up sleepy, jaded and distracted Christians and their pastors who apparently don’t recognize the seriousness of the situation or the urgency of the hour.

One evangelical tactic addressed in the article that I vigorously disagree with concerning both the Billy Graham Association and Franklin Graham, is the blatant use of popular music styles (and celebrities, I might add) in their crusades to help draw crowds. Samaritan’s Purse also hands out church-donated toys at Christmas to appeal to children and their parents on the mission field as a way to gain their favor and make them more receptive to the gospel.

Jesus never did either of these things and neither should we. Although He fed the masses on more than one occasion to demonstrate God’s love and power, there’s no biblical record of the Lord using food or anything else of a carnal nature to lure people in to hear Him preach. In my view, these pragmatic and people-pleasing practices are just another form of religious bribery that has now become the modus operandi of most churches today, which I believe, in no small part, set the stage for the whole seeker-sensitive church growth movement that has successfully undermined the gospel and steered the Church at large toward evangetainment as its thrust instead of God’s Word and, in the process, shipwrecked the fragile, unfed and undisciplined faith of many by teaching them to do the same.

My wife and I visited a typical SBC church not long ago where the orchestra kicked off the Sunday morning service with something that sounded more like a television talk show theme than a call to worship. I’m sorry – I don’t care what your tastes in music are – that can’t be justified. Whether Christians realize it or not, synthesizing the sacred with the secular promotes confusion and a compromised worship atmosphere.

In all fairness though, the music minister is a very nice young man with a wonderful voice who usually leads a blended mix of traditional and contemporary selections in an attempt to offer a little something for everyone in attendance – a common practice among Southern Baptists and others which, in my view, only leaves the congregation divided, with everyone impatiently waiting for their music to be played so they can get in their three minutes of worship and praise before the next genre is covered that appeals to someone else’s palate and turns our stomach.

How anyone stays focused on God and His Word jumping from traditional hymns to funky blues tunes to rock guitar solos to jazzy Jesus numbers is beyond me. But, this is the kind of conflict being created by well-meaning church leaders today acting on group consensus rather than godly conviction. If we don’t do that with our theology, why are we doing it with our music?

We then went to an adult Sunday school class where the Word of God was set aside for the entire hour in order to fill out a lengthy church survey on personal preferences followed by a touchy discussion on the same – this after a half-hour or more of pre-class chitchat, pastries and coffee which concluded with an array of suggested entertainment-oriented social activities and restaurants to meet at for informal class get-togethers and what-evers during the week, which was apparently difficult for many due to all of the other regularly scheduled activities already committed to with family.

Friends, this is what the Church in America has become in the 21st century: Christians trying to figure out where to go and what to do with themselves in this great big amusement park we call America!

But, all of this, I sincerely believe is going to change dramatically – and very soon. And, though there will be a lot of suffering and hardship in the coming years, and especially in the Church, I am convinced that when people eventually lose everything worldly and superficial that has, up to now, seemed so important to them, the faith of some will come alive as never before while others will continue to seek the flesh in one form or another, following whoever offers the most gratification for the least amount of suffering and sacrifice.

If you want to properly prepare for dire days ahead, prepare for this. When fear, violence, suffering and uncertainty become the order of the day, there may be no better time in our nation’s history to share the good news of Jesus Christ and be the kind of witness for Him that we should have been all along.

“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” – Mark 16:15

 

Paul Proctor is a veteran of the country music industry. He retired in the late 1990's to dedicate himself to addressing important social issues from a distinctly biblical perspective. As a freelance writer, he extols the wisdom and truths of scripture through commentary and insight on cultural trends and current events.

 

Volume 14, 2009