Rev. Duncan Bryant
Rev. Duncan Bryant
“When evangelicals embrace an America-first nationalism, the gospel is co-opted and betrayed.”
“… Nationalism gives pride of place to ourselves, to regional or national assertions of primacy and the quest for power and success, control and dominance, legitimizing violence and pressing for victory. Nationalism reveals that we have mis-ordered worship. Religiously motivated nationalism simply turns God into our “godling,” a deity subject to our bidding.”
President of Fuller Seminary
Naturally enough, there can be no “Nationalism” without the idea of “Nation.” So, just to make sure we are all working with the same definitions I offer some textbook definitions of “Nation” to begin.
Original Word: ἔθνος, ους, τό
Part of Speech: Noun, Neuter
Phonetic Spelling: (eth’-nos)
Short Definition: a race, people, the Gentiles
Definition: a race, people, nation; the nations, heathen world, Gentiles.
KJV Dictionary Definition: nation
NATION, n. to be born
1. A body of people inhabiting the same country, or united under the same sovereign or government; as the English nation; the French nation. It often happens that many nations are subject to one government; in which case, the word nation usually denotes a body of people speaking the same language or a body that has formerly been under a distinct government but has been conquered, or incorporated with a larger nation. Thus the empire of Russia comprehends many nations, as did formerly the Roman and Persian empires. Nation, as its etymology imports, originally denoted a family or race of men descended from a common progenitor, like tribe…
Having established what “nation” means, I offer here a definition of “Nationalism.” Nationalism is a proper love for one’s own people and for one’s own place.
In this article, I intend to take issue with President Labberton’s conclusions regarding Nationalism. I am convinced this needs to be done so because the love of people and place (i.e. — Nationalism) has taken it on the chin lately as seen in the recent MLK-50 conference as well as sermons and postings by various putative leading light evangelicals. “Nationalism,” like “racism” is become a pejorative to sling at people in order to shame them, fill them with guilt, and ultimately shut them up.
To my knowledge, no Evangelical has ever used the word “Nationalism” to describe their beliefs as President Labbereton has used the word “Nationalism” here to describe the beliefs of Evangelicals who self-identify as “Nationalists,” and who thus embrace “Nationalism.” As such, Labberton’s description above of “Nationalism” to define Evangelical Nationalists has no objective meaning apart from its intended work as a polemical sobriquet. If no Evangelical Nationalists embraces for himself the definition of Nationalism given by President Labberton and if further President Labberton’s definition is only attached to a construct (Nationalism) that is inherently wicked per Labberton, then the word and definition is only intended to be a kind of verbal biological weapon that is intended to poison the well before a conversation on Nationalism can begin.
Having noted the above it can be conceded that there have been many rancid and un-Christian examples of Nationalism, particularly in the 20th century. One only needs to consider the Nationalisms which combined with Marxist social theory to give us Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany, and Allende’s Chile. However, all, because Nationalism has been abused in practice, doesn’t mean that a proper Nationalism is inherently wicked everywhere and at all times. There are numerous examples of bad marriages but that does not prove that we need to denounce marriage as an institution. Similarly, all because Nationalism has been perverted that doesn’t mean we need to rid ourselves of a proper Nationalism where there is a proper love of our people and a love of our place.
Vis-a-vis President Labberton and his assault on Nationalism we agree with an older Christianity as expressed by Rev. Hugh M’Neile, in his 1839 sermon “Nationalism in Religion,’
“We cannot agree in that cosmopolitan view of Christianity which undermines the particularities of our National Establishment, any more than we could agree in such a cosmopolitan view of philanthropy as would extinguish domestic affections, in all their vivid and constraining peculiarity of influence.”
Christianity without Nationalism cannot be Christianity if only because the only other option left is Christianity as Internationalism or Cosmopolitanism. Such a creature is nowhere envisioned in the Scriptures, though to listen to many prominent clerical voices of “Christian” modernity the only option possible for Christianity in terms of social ordering is an Internationalism that finds all nations, and all colors, in the words of that famous theologian, Bono, “bleeding into one.”
Christian Nationalism is everywhere seen in the NT. Indeed, there is no evidence anywhere of any such thing as Christian Cosmopolitanism or Christian Internationalism. Christ teaches Nationalism when He teaches, “other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring.” Christ teaches Nationalism when He said that he originally was going only to the lost tribes of Israel. Christ teaches Nationalism when He calls a foreigner a “dog” and says that “it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Jesus teaches Nationalism when He says “before Him shall be gathered all nations.” In a less than flattering fashion, the New Testament teaches Nationalism when the inspired Apostle says, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons,” and then more positively when he laments, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Paul supports Nationalism in the Galatians controversy when he resists Peter’s Christian Internationalism which required the Gentiles to become cultural Jews before they could be considered Christian. Nationalism is given Christ’s imprimatur when, in the great commission, He commands His men to go forth and disciple the nations. And the success of that work of the Church is testified to in the book of Revelation when we read that the nations in the new Jerusalem will walk by the light of the glory of God and when John the Revelator writes, “and the leaves of the trees will be for the healing of the nations.” So central are Nations to the Biblical mindset that the inspired St. Paul could write, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth.” The importance of Nationalism is testified to by the genealogical lines in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Jesus had to be a blood son of David from the tribe of Judah.
At Pentecost, those who were in Jerusalem heard the Apostles speaking in their own National tongue, not in a Gnostic Esperanto. The Church always took shape in particular cities (Colosse, Ephesus, Phillip) particular nations and among particular peoples. So nation minded is the New Testament that Paul in Acts 16 receives a call not from an Internationalist man but from a Macedonian man. From this plea of the Macedonian man, the most momentous event in the history of the nations of Europe and the West came to pass, to wit, the coming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the sons of Japheth and the eventual creation of Christendom. Nationalism is God’s gift to mankind and apart from a Biblical Nationalism, there can be no Christianity.
Indeed, historically, the enemies of Christ have understood this very point even if modern putative Evangelicals do not. The enemies of Christ have written that their intent is to destroy the whole concept of nations. I offer just a few, mindful that the careless attacks by President Labberton and many other putative Evangelicals are really doing the devil’s work,
1.) ”What will be the attitude of communism to existing nationalities?
The nationalities of the peoples associating themselves in accordance with the principle of community will be compelled to mingle with each other as a result of this association and hereby to dissolve themselves, just as the various estate and class distinctions must disappear through the abolition of their basis, private property.”
~ Frederick Engels in “The Principles of Communism”, 1847
2.) “The equality of races and nations is one of the most important elements of the moral strength and might of the Soviet state. Soviet anthropology develops the one correct concept, that all the races of mankind are biologically equal. The genuinely materialist conception of the origin of man and of races serves the struggle against racism, against all idealist, mystic conceptions of man, his past, present and future.”
—Mikhail Nesturkh, Soviet anthropologist, 1959
“The Origin of Man” (Moscow)Mikhail Nesturkh, Soviet anthropologist, 1959:
3.) “The aim of socialism is not only to abolish the present division of mankind into small states and end all national isolation; not only to bring the nations closer together but to merge them….”
The Rights of Nations to Self Determination — pg. 76
4.) “… Just as mankind can achieve the abolition of classes only by passing through the dictatorship of the proletariat, so mankind can achieve the inevitable merging of nations only by passing through the transition period of complete liberation of all oppressed nations, i.e., their right to secede. “
The Rights of Nations to Self Determination
5.) “Even the natural differences within species, like racial differences…, can and must be done away with historically.”
6.) “Full-scale Communist construction constitutes a new stage in the development of national relations in the U.S.S.R., in which the nations will draw still closer together until complete unity is achieved…. However, the obliteration of national distinctions and especially of language distinctions is a considerably longer process than the obliteration of class distinctions.”
It has gotten to the point in the Evangelical and Reformed world that when one listens to lectures and sermons on social ordering one finds themselves wondering if they are listening to the mouthpieces of God or the mouthpieces of Gramsci.
Usually, at this point, the great Galatians 3:26 objection arises in order to authoritatively end any talk of the glories of a Christ-centered Nationalism,
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Briefly, let it be said that there is no fluid nationality suggested in this text any more than there is fluid gender; no more is a trans-nationality or uni-nationality implied by “neither Jew nor Greek” than feminism or sodomy, or transgenderism is implied by “neither male nor female”, nor is a universal declaration of human rights implied by “neither slave nor free.”
Nationalism is the biblical a-priori — the great presupposition of all the New Testament. This is so true that any and every attack on Christian Nationalism is an attack on the very foundations of Biblical Christianity. On this point, we agree with the 2oth century Reformed Christian Theologian, Dr. Francis Nigel Lee,
“One of the very reasons that Paul desired that the Gentiles become Christians was not only so that the Gentiles themselves may be blessed but also so that the Gentiles, then as Christians, may proceed to provoke his own Israelitic nation to jealousy and thereafter to faith in Christ. Accordingly, I think we must judge that every Christian who does not love his own nation is either an ungrateful cosmopolitan rascal and a rebuilder of the tower of Babel or otherwise is woefully ignorant of Scripture. And, I am sorry to say that the world is full of these kinds of people today.”
Eliminate the nations and you will eliminate Christianity because
1.) Nationalism is but the next concentric circle of familialism. One can not destroy nations without also destroying the family. Does anyone really want to argue that God intends families to integrate into oblivion?
2.) Christianity cannot take root in a petri-dish of Internationalism and Cosmopolitanism due to its covenantal nature. Even the promise of the Gospel is predicated upon nationalism as Peter says on the Day of Pentecost, “The promise is for you and for your children, and for as many who are afar off as the Lord our God may call.” But even those afar off who were called were called in their families as seen by the household Baptisms.
3.) You make void one of the earliest Gospel promises,
Genesis 22:18 “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice.”
How can it be the case that all the nations of the earth will be blessed if one insists that we “imagine there are no countries?”
All of this is why Dr. Pierre Courthial can say in his book, “A New Day of Small Beginnings,”
“In giving the Church a mission to the nations, Jesus does not diminish the importance of the individual… At stake is the salvation, well-being, and peace of the nations, that is, societies as God would have them. The Son of God must ‘rule all nations’ (Rev. 12:5). The nations must bow down before the Lord and come to walk in His light (Rev. 15:4; 21:24). These nations, with their cultures, traditions, and religions turned away from the God of Holy Scripture, are called to be converted to a sure salvation. This conversion of a nation does not happen apart from the individual lives of faithful Christians, but precisely through the influence of such lives. Moreover, each nation’s conversion is to reflect the uniqueness of that nation.”
Nations, and by extension, Nationalisms are foundational to Christianity. God’s well-known intent to save the whole cosmos (world) happens via the saving of the Nations, which per Courthial, are converted consistent with their uniqueness as nations.
This warfare against nationalism in favor of cosmopolitanism/ Internationalism that we are currently living as witnesses through, such as is being waged by those bearing the ironic names of “The Gospel Coalition” and “American Vision” is giving us nothing but pure Cultural Marxist paganism claptrap wrapped up in Jesus talk. All of it goes quite against what the Dutch-American Reformed Theologian Dr. Geerhardus Vos wrote,
“Nationalism, within proper limits, has the divine sanction; an imperialism that would, in the interest of one people, obliterate all lines of distinction is everywhere condemned as contrary to the divine will. Later prophecy raises its voice against the attempt at world-power, and that not only, as is sometimes assumed, because it threatens Israel, but for the far more principal reason, that the whole idea is pagan and immoral.
Now it is through maintaining the national diversities, as these express themselves in the difference of language, and are in turn upheld by this difference, that God prevents realization of the attempted scheme… [In this] was a positive intent that concerned the natural life of humanity. Under the providence of God, each race or nation has a positive purpose to serve, fulfillment of which depends on relative seclusion from others.”
God still deals with people as being members of nations, peoples, and races. This is a very unsavory truth for the modern Evangelical with their love affair for the erasure of all the creation distinctions God created us with. God has not given up on Nations anymore than He has given up on Families from where nations arise. When St. Paul wrote, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel,” the Spirit of the living God was teaching Nationalism. When Jesus, from the Cross, cared for His own Mother entrusting her to His kinsmen, John, Christ was teaching Nationalism. In Romans 9 where we hear St. Paul weep over his special love for his kinsmen the Holy Spirit is teaching Nationalism.
Nationalism is really a very simple idea. We have been redeemed by Christ with the intent that we should take on the image of Christ just as Adam was made in the image and likeness of God. And, like Adam in the garden, we are now restored to being Priests, and as Adam was a Priest of God tasked with the responsibility to guard and cultivate his family and land, so we now, as restored Priests under sovereign God take up the task of guarding and cultivating our God-given people and our God-given land. This is Nationalism.
If we will not have Nationalism, neither will we have Christianity.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
‘This past not only informs our self-understanding in the present but also carries narrative momentum that creates expectations of future continuity.”
James C. Miller
The reason to continue to be preoccupied with the past is that it hovers over the present and constantly giving birth to the present. This means that if one gets their past wrong, or if one has a wrong understanding of history, or if one misinterprets what has occurred one will perpetuate the error so that the error twists one’s own self-identity in the present and will create a future that is based on a lie thus ensuring the twisting of both future self-identities and collective identities. An accurate and proper history is that important. If I can control individuals or peoples understanding of their past I can control their present and their trajectory into the present.
As such, a proper understanding of whatever history we take up is important. This is even more true of what is called Historical Theology. Historical theology is that theology which asks: how has the church in the past interpreted the Bible? How has the church formulated and expressed its theology? The answers to these questions have monumental implications for if the Church has been wrong in the past the odds are overwhelming that it will be wrong in the present and will continue on the trajectory of error into the future.
This provides the context of why it is so important to critique the errors of Billy Graham now that he has passed. This essay will not labor to argue that Billy Graham did not articulate some very orthodox truths at certain times. There are countless videos, interviews, and articles where one can read or listen to orthodox statements by Rev. Billy Graham. Ironink tips its cap to Graham for those countless times when he was orthodox in speech and writing.
However, it is those times when Rev. Graham was not so orthodox that troubles me. In the old James Kennedy “Evangelism Explosion” program one was taught that the proper response to someone who was offering up a works performance answer to the query as to why God should let them into His heaven our response should reference omelets and rotten eggs. One was taught to gently challenge the listener who was pinning his hopes on heaven on the basis of the good eggs (works) in his life with the reality that his omelet also had some rotten eggs in it as well. Then one was taught to ask if they would accept a prepared omelet made with five good eggs and one stinky rotten egg. Obviously, the answer one is hoping for is “no.” From there one was taught to press on their listener the necessity of trusting in Christ alone and not their performance to have a certain foundation and hope for heaven.
In the same way, Rev. Billy Graham’s life and ministry had many many fine and wholesome eggs in it. However, Rev. Billy Graham’s own words also demonstrate there were many filthy eggs in his life and ministry as well. Unless we identify those rotten eggs the danger is to continue to repeat the lousy methodology and message that those sulfur smelling eggs represent. If all we do with the history of Billy Graham’s work and message is look at the teeming denizens of people shoehorned into his venues as combined with the countless numbers of people who “went forward” or the millions of dollars spent in his organization we will walk away repeating the very practices that Graham repeated as inheriting them from those who went before him (Finney, Sunday, Rodeheaver, Moody, etc.). It is these practices that were packaged, marketed, and decentralized so as to now represent many modern local churches in the West today. The local Church as it gathers for worship every week, notable exceptions notwithstanding, has become an up-to-date version both in its theology and in its worship what a week-long Billy Graham Crusade was for an urban setting. Unless this theology and worship are challenged, as it comes to us in its historical sitz-em-Leben garb the Church will continue to suffer the insufferable malaise that this theology can only produce.
Rev. Graham started off well enough. His parents were reputed to be Calvinists and he was educated by what then would have been considered “Fundamentalist” schools. In 1939 Graham was ordained by the Southern Baptists. Not long after graduating from Wheaton Graham Pastored and then worked with the “Youth For Christ” organization and then it the sawdust trail as a Tent Revival minister. Graham was aided along the way by, of all people, William Randolph Hearst, who legend has it sent a missive out to his reporters to “Puff Graham,” in their articles. Truly, God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.
In 1948, at the tender age of 30, Rev. Graham said that ‘the three greatest menaces faced by orthodox Christianity are Communism, Roman Catholicism, and Muhammadism.’ This would have been a pretty standard position for a young conservative Protestant in 1948. Also, there can be little doubt that at this age Graham’s message included the foundational ideas of Christianity that included man’s sin, man’s fall, and man’s restoration by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though Graham always gave an Arminian flavor to these ideas the ideas remain present in his preaching as any cursory examination of his sermons reveals.
So, we have four points that we credit Rev. Graham with.
1.) His opposition to Communism
An opposition that is necessary to Christianity since it is perhaps the best heretical and anti-Christ imitation of Christianity. Graham said as much in a 1954 interview Graham stating, “Either communism must die, or Christianity must die because it is actually a battle between Christ and anti-Christ.”
2.) His opposition to Roman Catholicism
An opposition that is required since Roman Catholicism anathematized biblical Christianity at the Council of Trent and has never repudiated that anathematization.
3.) His opposition to Islam
An opposition that someone conversant with Church history would realize is necessary since Islam has always seen Christianity as a weed that must be pulled up by its roots.
4.) His preaching of Christ crucified.
The Christian message has always placed Christ at the center and in reading Graham’s sermons there is no doubt that Graham attempted to do this in his own Arminian Baptist way.
We might say this is the positive take away from Graham. These are matters we can agree with him on and salute him for articulating during his career. However, having said that we must see that Graham spoke as a trumpet giving an uncertain call. What Graham gave with his right hand he often took away with his left hand. So, at best what we end up having is a man who leaves the thoughtful Christian scratching their head in bewilderment.
That there was confusion in Graham is seen as early as 1957 when he offered,
“The one badge of Christian discipleship is not orthodoxy but love.”
This is the kind of false dichotomy which we will see more than once in Graham quotes. First, Christian discipleship has several badges, one of which is orthodoxy,
“Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and obstacles that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Turn away from them.” (Romans 16:17)
A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject… (Titus 3:10)
Second, there is also the fact that love apart from orthodoxy is undeterminable and unknowable. How can one know what love is or looks like apart from God’s Word (orthodoxy)?
King: Does God love Satan?
Graham: … he must love him, but the end of Satan is hell. Hell was created for the devil and his angels, or his demons, not for men.
God loves Satan? Someone better tell God,
“You are not a God who delights in wickedness; . . . You hate all evildoers.” “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked.”
“He who sits in the heavens laughs. The Lord holds them in derision.”
Psalm 5:4–5, Psalm 11:5, Psalm 2:4
And if God did not create hell for men, how is it that men end up in hell?
But beyond what looks to be a studied confusion on the subject of love Graham would end up contradicting his early quote about the menaces to Christianity.
On communism, Graham seemingly had concluded that Communism was far less a problem when he visited the USSR in 1982. During that visit, Graham responded to a question from a reporter on religious persecution in the USSR by saying, “I have not personally seen persecution.” Graham sought to walk that comment back later but the comment was taken so seriously that even in light of Graham’s attempts to walk the comment back Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, referring to Graham, in his reception comments upon being awarded the 1983 Templeton Award,
“It is with profound regret that I must note here something which I cannot pass over in silence. My predecessor in receipt of this prize last year – in the very months that the award was made – lent public support to communist lies by his deplorable statement that he had not noticed the persecution of religion in the U.S.S.R. Before the multitude of those who have perished and who are oppressed today, may God be his judge.”
Apparently, Solzhenitsyn was not satisfied with Graham’s attempts to walk back his comments. One is left asking who should be given the benefit of the doubt, Graham or Solzhenitsyn.
On the menace of Roman Catholicism, it is clear that Graham’s ecumenicalism eventually did not see Rome as a menace.
That Rev. Graham had warmed towards Roman Catholicism is seen in a McCall’s magazine interview from 1978,
“I found that my beliefs are essentially the same as those of orthodox Catholics we only differ on some matters of later church tradition. I find that my beliefs are essentially the same as those of orthodox Roman Catholics.”
This is beyond confusion. Confusion is something like this,
“I fully adhere to the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith for myself and my ministry, but as an American, I respect other paths to God.”
Parade Magazine Interview
One might as well say,
I fully adhere to the fundamental tenets of Christian Marriage for myself and my ministry, but as an American, I respect other venues that married men choose for satisfying their sexual needs.
We might be able to overlook Graham’s false dichotomies and oxymorons but the quote where Graham says that “I found that my beliefs are essentially the same as those of orthodox Catholics,” is deeply troubling because if he really believed that then Graham’s earlier preaching of the Cross is emptied because Rome does not believe that the Christ alone by His work on the cross saves.
Dr. Gordon Clark caught Graham in an emptying of the sufficiency of the Cross upon attending one of Grahams Crusades. Clark wrote in his book “Predestination,”
“Toward the end of the service (there in Indianapolis), Billy Graham asked people to come forward and a crowd came. With them, before him, evangelist Graham addressed the large audience still in their seats and delivered a five or ten-minute diatribe against Presbyterianism. “Don’t pray for these people who have come forward,” he said. ‘You may have prayed for them before, and that is good. You can pray for them later on, and that will be good too. But right now prayer is useless, for not even God can help them. They must accept Christ of their own free will, all by themselves, and God has no power over the will of man.”
If Graham really believed that God has no power over the will of man than it is not God through His provision of Christ and Christ’s Cross work that saves but man saves himself as he engages the power of his will to activate a merely tendered salvation. Maybe Graham really was a Brother with Rome?
1989: Graham spoke about a meeting with Pope John Paul II-“There was a pause in the conversation; suddenly the Pope’s arm shot out and he grabbed the lapels of my coat, he pulled me forward within inches of his own face. He fixed his eyes on me and said, ‘Listen, Graham, we are brothers‘” (6/8/89 Today).
Graham said that that was a great happening in his life.
That Graham became squishy on the centrality of the Cross and the importance of a unique and known Jesus was articulated in an interview with at least twice. Once with McCall’s magazine,
“I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost–were going to hell–if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that. I believe that there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God–through nature, for instance–and plenty of other opportunities, therefore, of saying ‘yes’ to God”
(“I Cant’ Play God Any More,” McCall’s, Jan. 1978)
And again in an interview with Robert Schuller, Graham speaks:
“I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ…. He’s [God] 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. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts 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.”
Schuller: “What, 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?”
Graham: “Yes, it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or 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..”
Schuller: “I’m so thrilled to hear you say this. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.”
Graham: “There is. There is”
(“Graham Believes Men Can Be Saved Apart from Name of Christ,” Christian News, Oct. 20, 1997, p. 15).
Now, what Graham is advocating here is called “soft inclusivism.” There are those who would say that Graham is not denying Christ or the Cross but merely believed people can be saved by Christ and the Cross without being explicitly knowing Christ and the Cross. However, should one really believe this one wonders how it is the urgency of Missions or preaching could be maintained? If soft exclusivism is true why would St. Paul, as inspired by God say,
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 and how shall they preach, except they be sent?
Well, returning to Graham’s three menaces, we still have Islam to consider. In 1948 Graham listed it as a menace but later in life comments by Graham suggest that Billy also became weak on this menace as seen in a David Frost interview,
“I think Islam is misunderstood, too, because Muhammad had a great respect for Jesus, and he called Jesus the greatest of the prophets except for himself. And I think that we’re closer to Islam than we really think we are.”
Closer to Islam than we really think we are? Muhammad had a great respect for Jesus? No one who refuses to embrace Jesus as the Christ has a great respect for Jesus. This is just claptrap that helps nobody.
So, Graham at worst reversed himself on the menaces he cited when he was 30. At best Graham muddied the waters. Graham also either reversed himself or muddied the waters on the uniqueness of and necessity for the finished work of Jesus Christ. This kind of doubletalk is a positive impediment to the cause of Jesus Christ. Yes, Graham said many many good things regarding Christianity. Alas, Graham also said many many other things that contradicted directly the good things he had to say regarding Christianity.
Now comes the answer to the objection that says, “Well, so many people got saved under Graham’s ministry so I should keep my mouth shut.” Allow me to say that I believe that many people were genuinely converted to Christ via Billy Graham’s ministry. What does that prove? It does not that Billy Graham understanding of Christianity was Christian but rather that God can use crooked sticks to draw straight lines.
Remember, all because Balaam’s Donkey properly warned Balaam that doesn’t mean we conclude that Balaam’s donkey was a Christian. Praise God for the message that converts even when it falls from the lips from someone who sends a double message.
Secondly, on this score of we should be uncritical of Billy Graham because so many people were saved under his ministry we should respectfully inquire about the effect of the Billy Graham crusades.
Billy Graham’s ministry began just after WW II’s end. Let’s concede just for a moment that scads and scads of people were saved via that ministry. Now let’s take a step back and look at the culture. What kind of impact did those scads and scads of people being saved have? During the years of BG’s ministry,
1.) Birth control was made legal (Griswold vs. Connecticut)
2.) Abortion was made legal (Roe vs. Wade)
3.) Sodomy was made legal (Lawerence vs. Texas)
4.) Criminal Rights were expanded (Miranda vs. Arizona)
5.) Obscenity laws were rolled back (Miller vs. California)
6.) Freedom of Association laws were negated (Brown vs. Board of Education)
7.) No fault divorce was implemented
I could go on but one sees the point I’m sure. All those scads and scads of Billy Graham converts didn’t seem to make much of a dent in the sanctification of our social order.
Maybe someone would argue that all those converts may have not made a dent in the decline of the broader culture but they certainly made an impact locally. Really? What counties? What states? What cities had their social order impacted for Christ by the transformation of Billy Graham converts?
A cynic could easily conclude that all the money spent on those crusades was more about profit for individuals than it was about the Kingdom of God being advanced.
And just so people understand this isn’t personal I’d say much the same about Wesley, Finney, Rodeheaver, Moody, Sunday, etc. Revivalism has been a scourge and if there is any lesson to be learned from it, it is that people enjoy being conned more than people have an interest in Christ.
Many more quotes could be adduced. I have just offered a Whitman’s sampler of suspicious Graham quotes that testify that Graham’s ministry was at the very least a mixed bag. My contention is that as long as Graham’s ministry and methodology are unquestionably praised then we are just going to continue to repeat his egregious errors and the Church will continue in the malaise in which it has been now for decades. Our narrative momentum needs desperately to be changed.
May the Lord Christ give us the wisdom to repent of our own sins and errors and to love His Church enough to want to defend her even against her putative friends.
“There is quite a postmillennial flavor that comes through in Mary’s Magnificat. The Eschatological “NOW” age is dawning and with that “NOW” age comes the King and the Kingdom and the consequence of the arrival of the King will be the real end of the wicked who are characterized as proud, rich, and mighty oppressors of God’s lowly people. There is then a corresponding lifting up of God’s people who have been oppressed and are lowly and hungry.
The age to come in Christ has come and is now rolling back this present wicked age. The expectation is that this rolling back, while Spiritual in its most fundamental Kingdom expression, is a rolling back that is corporeal and tangible and so postmillennial at the same time. Real wicked men who are of their Father the devil and who are chiefs in synagogues of Satan are brought down and God’s persecuted oppressed righteous are raised up.
To deny postmillennial eschatology is to deny the heart of Mary’s expectations in her Magnificat.”
The celebration of Christmas means the King has come and with the coming of the King there is the Kingdom He brings. When Christmas rolls around each year it is a celebration not only of Salvation won but also of Triumph guaranteed. The King has come and now all lesser Kings must make obeisance. With the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ the age to come has come face to face with this present evil age and is rolling the present evil age back as the epochs of time pass by.
Christmas is a time to renew our confidence that though the wrong seems yet so strong God is the ruler yet and has set His resurrected Regent on Mt. Zion to rule over the affairs of men.
Merry Christmas and let’s do Battle for the already victorious King of Kings.
It’s Christmas Eve day!
Mary is 9 Months pregnant and w/ Joseph is looking for quarters.
The Shepherds are getting ready for “just another day at the office.”
The Kings of the East are plodding along day after day
Herod is a minor league Middle East Despot not a great deal different from your current average, Barack, Hussein or Mohammed.
And yet despite all this “normalcy,” it is just hours until the birth of he who taketh away the sins of the world.
In the Genesis record, God said, “Let their be light” (Gen 1:3) and that light appears overcoming the darkness, saturating the creation realm with God’s authority. In Isaiah the Servant of the Lord was promised to be a light both to Israel and to the Nations who were not yet covenanted with God as Israel was,
“I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness,
I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the nations.” Isaiah 42:6
He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6
In the Gospel accounts, that Servant of the Lord promised … the Lord Christ is the Redemptive light come to inaugurate a new age, a new realm, and a glorious new day as from the Father of lights (James 1:17). He is the light who enlightens every man (John 1:19) Christ is the new covenant age light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5). The Apostles saw He who was the radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:1) as the glory of the One and only who came from the Father (John 1:1-4). As the age to come Light, the followers of the Lord Christ never walk in darkness (John 8:12). Christ as the Redemptive light of the age to come demonstrated and revealed itself with a white-hot intensity at the transfiguration wherein even His clothing became dazzling white (Mark 9:1-4). In the crucifixion He who is “the Light of the World” is snuffed out and as on cue, the light goes out for three hours Christ (Matthew 27:45). Light is picked up again in John’s Revelation wherein John the Revelator falls as dead as before a supernova God-man (Rev. 1:14-17). Finally, as the Scripture started with light, it forms an inclusio by ending with He who is the light, as it closes with the motif of Christ as the light which illuminates the new Jerusalem. He who ever was very light of very light remains the light of the world (Rev. 22:4).
It is the assumption of Scripture that infants are genuine members of the covenant. That is the reason why in the text before us this morning parents are commanded to nurture their children in terms of Christian covenantal thinking.
There is no debate on that point when we consider the Old Testament. All concede that Circumcision was the sign and seal that indicated membership in the Covenant. It is only in the New Testament where we begin to find widespread and sometimes heated disagreement that NT infants, just as their OT counterparts, are to be branded with a brand that indicates that they are genuine members of the covenant. In the NT, so the reasoning goes of those who go their own way on this matter, infants are not members upon birth, of the covenant.
Of course, if those who demur with us on this point are correct this means that one of the purposes of Jesus death and resurrection was to the end that infants of covenant parents would be expelled from a covenant in which they had previously been a party too before the death and resurrection of our Lord Christ. This is an odd way to think about a “New and Better” covenant.
Covenant succession merely holds that God’s general way of collecting the Church is via His gathering into the Church the children of His children.
Causes of the decline of Covenant succession
1.) Social Contract theory as applied to the Church
According to this understanding of social order theory long established in the Enlightenment West, each person is by nature an independent locale of sovereign self-authority, having full legal capacity to act on their own behalf and so not subject to the authority of another. In this theory, each atomized individual is absolutely equal to every other atomized individual and so by sovereign “right” authorized to act upon his own determination.
With this theory, man’s natural liberty was held as being the privilege to do whatever he wanted to do. In this theory man himself determines what shall be given up in order to live in civil society. Man, as the individual sovereign is everywhere supreme.
Well, you can see how this social contract theory, when adopted by the Church would lead to the idea that it is the individual man himself who does or does not consent to belong to this community of faith.
Whether as pertaining to a broader social order or as pertaining to the Church an objection must be raised to this theory that we believe has had such a baleful influence upon both the social orders of men and upon the Church of Jesus Christ. Men have never existed as sovereign atomized individuals using their own sovereign free will to determine whether they will or will not be a party to a social contract or to being claimed by God in Baptism. Instead, men are born as members of peoples, as well as Churches as ordained by Him. So, just as men do not choose their own civic obligation but are born to it so men who are born to believing parents do not choose their belonging to the Church but are ordained by God to that end.
2.) Revivalistic Assumptions vs. Scriptural Assumptions
With the first great awakening as followed by the 2nd great awakening, the emphasis as it relates to speaking about conversion moved from the covenantal nurture of children in the covenant to having a dramatic personal emotional experiential encounter with Jesus.
Louis Bevins Schenk in his book on “The Presbyterian Doctrine of Covenant Succession writes,
“The presumption of regeneration in the case of children of the covenant, based upon the covenant promises, was largely displaced by the Church’s practice of recognizing as Christians only those who gave ‘credible evidence,” satisfactory to themselves of regeneration.”
This is the conversion mindset in which most of our churches think today. From evangelism programs like “Romans Road,” “Evangelism Explosion,” or the “Four Spiritual laws,” this is the contemporary Church’s understanding of how conversion occurs. Before this time the whole idea of “altar calls” that have become famous with Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham would have been a curious phenomenon.
However, while never denying that God deals with some people like this — particularly those who come to Christ as adults — this isn’t the model that we find emphasized in Scripture as it pertains to covenant children. In Scripture, the parents are to lay hold of God’s promises that God will be God to us and to our children for a thousand generations and then are to train their children up in the faith in light of God’s promises. In this model, the whole idea of a dramatic conversion experience slips away in favor of covenantal nurture.
3.) Datable Conversionism vs. Covenant Succession Conversionism
Consistent with what was just mentioned the whole ascendancy of a datable conversion became the be all end all for much of the Church. The idea is that “every Christian knows the day they were ‘born again.'” This stands in contrast to the idea of covenantal succession where God
4.) The failure of Covenantal Nurture
6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
Too often the cash value of baptism to many who are party to the contemporary Church is that they have kept their religious responsibility to their children. They have had them Baptized.
This is why the form distinctly says, in the charge we just read that parents
“must, therefore, use the sacrament for the purpose that God intended and not out of custom or superstition.”
While we are of the persuasion that in Baptism God has placed His claim upon us we are not of the persuasion that Baptism entered into apart from covenantal nurturing laid upon us as parents guarantee our child is right with God.
Listen to the 19th century Southern Theologian R. L. Dabney on this point,
The instrumentalities of the family are chosen and ordained of God as the most efficient of all means of grace—more truly and efficaciously means of saving grace than all the other ordinances of the church. To family piety are given the best promises of the gospel,.. How, then, should a wise God do otherwise than consecrate the Christian family, and ordain that the believing parents shall sanctify the children? Hence, the very foundation of all parental fidelity to children’s souls is to be laid in the conscientious, solemn, and hearty adoption of the very duties and promises which God seals in the covenant of infant baptism. It is pleasing to think that many Christians who refuse the sacrament do, with a happy inconsistency, embrace the duties and seek the blessing. But God gives all his people the truths and promises, along with the edifying seal. Let us hold fast to both.
~ R.L. Dabney
So, if we are to return to a time where covenantal succession is again the norm in our families and in our churches and among our people we must once again practice covenantal nurture. We must teach our children the Scriptures. We must catechize our children. We must anticipate and answer their objections before they have those objections that we know will arise. As we are teaching our children God’s judgments, statutes, and laws we must point out to them how the culture and too often the visible Church wars against those judgments, statutes, and laws. We must introduce our children to systematic thinking because there is nothing non-systemic and non-systematic in the thinking of God. We must dip and saturate our children in a Christian Worldview that they will see non-Christian worldviews as strange, exotic and ugly. As parents, we must love them, and not provoke them. We must live out before them the majesty of God’s grace that has redeemed us for the sake of the finished work of Christ alone.
Some areas to keep an eye on in order to practice covenantal nurture,
a.) Protect your children from the culture,
The media is a messaging machine and that messaging is seldom based on a Christian world and life view. As such children need not be exposed to Media until they are far far older and have the ability, as coming from covenantal nurturing, to identify and sniff out the false theology behind the false messaging.
Neil Postman in his now classic work warning against the danger of modern Media wrote,
“But it is much later in the game now, and ignorance of the score is inexcusable. To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple.”
If we are going to practice covenantal nurture in hope of covenantal succession we must understand that technology is, as a rule, no friend of Covenantal succession.
“I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.” ― Martin Luther
I am as sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social, nihilistic 4. ethics, individual, social, and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.
Dr. A.A. Hodge
b.) Protect your children from unexamined friendships
From the youngest of ages, it is your role to be the portal that all must pass through in order to get to your children. You must be aware that other children of other families may not share the same Christian confession that you own. This means you must be sharp to watch out that friendships are not cemented with those who will, perhaps quite apart from malicious intent, challenge the truths that you are seeking to instill within your children from Scripture. You are seeking to nurture and disciple your children in the Christian faith. If you allow your children large swaths of “playtime” with other children — even other children from Christian homes of a different confessional stripe — you are courting a bad result in your efforts of covenantal nurture.
The Message of Covenantal nurturing
The message to our children that we must start with in terms of covenantal nurturing is that God provided Christ as the one who would fulfill all the law’s obligations as laid upon the sinful children of Adam and who would give to those same children the righteousness of Jesus Christ to those who would in faith rest in Christ’s righteousness alone as their acceptability to God.
The covenantal nurturing message to our children is that God is at war with unbelieving man and has reconciled Himself to unbelieving man by the finished work of Jesus Christ. It is only by the reconciling work of Jesus Christ in His work on the Cross whereby we and they can have peace and blessing with and from God.
We must nurture our children in the way of a faith that rests in Christ’s work alone in Justification but then also teaches them that in Sanctification their faith is to work as they turn to the law and to the testimonies for God’s word on how they shall live as Christians.
We must remind our baptized children that God’s claim is upon them and so they are to grow in the Christian faith. Our challenge is not that they might decide to become Christian but that they would know God’s eternal claim upon them and become what they have already been freely declared to be in Baptism.
We must nurture them to learning of God’s character. His Sovereignty, His Justice, His Wisdom, His Holiness, His Goodness, His Mercy, and His Grace.
We must nurture them to trust in God’s Word and God’s promises as opposed to their experiences, emotions, and mystical revelations. We must nurture them what it means to be a kind and caring people while at the same time warning them against the dangers of a suicidal altruism.
We must nurture them in the ways of taking godly dominion to every area the sovereign God calls them and of the great truth of our postmillennial hope.
We must nurture them in the truth that repentance is a life long project. But then that even our repentance needs repenting over. We must model before them a humility that seeks to shed every ounce of that ugly sin of self-righteousness. We must demonstrate to them what it means to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought and to consider not only our needs but the needs of others. We must pray that they will see us on our knees praying for Wisdom and that they will hear us honestly attest ourselves to as being not yet wise.
God grants us His grace for what parent could possibly think themselves sufficient unto such a calling?
But God is Faithful and being faithful we anticipate that even in all our failures with our children He will be to our seed and their seed the God who calls them to Himself.