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Billy Graham's Death

Commentary; #1420c; 13 minutes
Given 24-Feb-18

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John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the death of Billy Graham and his impact on American religious culture, comments that some have dubbed Billy Graham as "America's pastor." Four traits that endeared him to people were his 1.) persuasive oratory, 2.) courage, 3.) morality and 4.) humility in the face of immense influence. Some commentators have suggested that he preached to more people than any other evangelist. However, when assessing this claim against the impact of Herbert Armstrong, its veracity is doubtful. Herbert Armstrong began preaching long before Billy Graham came on the scene, using the medium of radio before it was forced to compete with television as a tool of mass communication. His current-event driven message was a blend of news and doctrinal truths. People had never heard anything like this before. As God began providing funds, Herbert Armstrong began to utilize multiple powerful, clear-channel stations in North America, thereby blanketing the entire continent with God's truth every night. God subsequently opened doors in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Africa, facilitating a virtually world-wide effort. Looked at in terms of numbers, the impact of Herbert Armstrong was far greater than that of Billy Graham.


Well, Billy Graham died at his home just outside of Asheville, North Carolina on the 22nd at the age of 99. He was born just south of Charlotte and actually just a few miles from this building. Evelyn and I lived between this building and where Billy Graham was born, just north of our home by a couple of miles.

Partly as a result of the geography that I just gave you, Charlotte has been inundated—almost overwhelmed—by reports of his life. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters are here in Charlotte, and so also is a museum of artifacts relating to him, and a fairly large library devoted to his life and his works. He has been given the title by many as "America's pastor." Not merely an evangelical pastor, but his impact on religious life in America has been such that in the minds of many influential personages, he transcended any one denomination—especially in Protestantism—to influence all groups to some positive degree. Thus, the title: He is not just an evangelical pastor, he is "America's pastor" (or was).

There are three character traits that I personally noted that most of the praise given him was not necessarily his most important contributions as I am going to give him, but they were things that impacted upon me and I carried them with me and tried the best I could to emulate what I was able to see in this man.

One was that he was a dynamic and persuasive speaker of Protestant evangelical doctrine. He was not a man to put you to sleep. Hardly anybody went to sleep during his sermons, and it is not that he shouted and yelled so much. That was not the issue. The issue was the logic tha people recognized, and the orderliness off the message that he had to give.

The second was that he was a courageous man who was not afraid to step out and support things that he believed were right, regardless of other people's opinions. For example, many do not know this but he was solidly against segregation of blacks when being so was downright dangerous. I am talking about back in the early '50s and in the late '40s. All the way back in the '40s, he went to those areas and preached against it in the South. He went despite the fact that others, who were prominent in evangelical circles, were very strong in their support of segregation when racial segregation was really a hot button issue. He took this stand, though very many conservative evangelicals were from the South, and Billy Graham himself was a Southerner.

In addition, many, many of the comments in praise of him was that he was also a truly moral evangelical preacher.

Finally—this is a forth thing—people highly appreciated his humility, despite the fact that he had influence with the high and the powerful and the political, and in the political and economic realms of the American culture. He was approachable and he really gave his attention when listening to others, whomever they happen to be.

The one thing that did upset me is that they praised him so highly because he preached to so many people. Did he compare to the apostle Paul? How many people did Paul preach to? Probably hardly any, by comparison, to what Billy Graham did. People said he preached to billions. The commentator said over and over. However, I personally believe that in a person-to-person count, he did not preach anywhere near to as many people as Herbert W. Armstrong.

Let's do a little survey. First, Herbert Armstrong began preaching long before Billy Graham did—in fact, in 1927. Second, Billy Graham preached a very popular, well-known message by comparison Herbert Armstrong preached a very unpopular, virtually unknown message that people by nature hated. He had things going against him. Herbert Armstrong went on the radio as the major instrument, carrying the message before World War II—before it began—and he preached for thirty minutes a day, beginning in a small city: Eugene, Oregon. But he did this in radio's glory days, when there was no competition whatever from television. Even though there were movies, they were not as well attended as radio—you did not have to leave your house to do that.

Everybody listened to radio. So, he focused on news, blended with doctrinal truths that people were heretically against, and he kept expanding from station to station as God made money available. He riveted people's attention because he, too, was a dynamic speaker, and people had never heard anything like this before. The messages were so vital because World War II was in progress and he was giving the events a biblical slant the listeners had never heard of in their local churches.

As God supplied the money, Herbert Armstrong kept expanding. Many, many of those stations were 50,000 watt Clear Channel stations. We still have 50,000 watt stations, but they are no longer Clear Channel, which meant that they were able to broadcast at that rate anytime, anywhere, until the regulations were made.

Well, God kept the money coming. Let me give you an idea how effectively powerful those 50,000 watt Clear Channel stations were. Station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa allowed him to broadcast from there. Des Moines is close to being in the middle of the nation. WHO's signal could be heard anywhere in the United States of America. I experienced something similar to this personally. In 1968, we moved to Pasadena, California. When the atmospheric conditions were just right, I could listen to radio station KDKA Pittsburgh, a 50,000 watt Clear Channel station, all the way in Los Angeles, California. How far apart are those two cities? It is over 1500 miles. KDKA would come in clear as a bell.

By the time Evelyn and I first heard him, on the first Sunday in January, 1959, he was on many, many scores of radio stations virtually every day. In Pittsburgh where we lived, I could get the World Tomorrow program at least five times a day. We first heard him on WWVA, Wheeling, West Virginia, another 50,000 watt Clear Channel station, and the first thing you know, as the '70s approached, he was broadcasting also in Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and of course, Mexico. In Mexico, with a Tijuana radio station which broadcast over 100,000 watts, and he was on it. You could hear it all the way up in Canada.

When we would be traveling home by automobile at night, after the Feast of Tabernacles was ended from either Big Sandy or Jekyll Island, he was on so many radio stations that every half hour we could get the World Tomorrow program, one right after the other until we shut the radio off. How many people were listening every time he was on? Many of his programs were like serials. They went from one, flowed right into the next one.

The World Tomorrow program was blanketing many of the population centers of the United States, and we had adequate coverage to some degree in other areas of the world. How is it, if those people in those other nations never heard the message, became established as churches in their area? Well, it was God, through HWA, that prepared the world through allowing them to hear the true message, through Herbert Armstrong, largely by means of radio.

To me, the comparison really is not close when you add all these things together, because even though Billy Graham preached to many thousands at one time in stadiums, Herbert Armstrong was preaching to thousands upon thousands of people scattered all over the creation on earth, every single day, and in many cases, several times a day. Of course, while he was doing this, God was controlling the growth.



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