Generations past, my mother’s side of the family was Protestant. I don’t know what denomination. I don’t think it matters. According to family lore, Great-Grandpa Luigi was the lone Protestant in his neighborhood of Italian Catholics, and the Catholic kids used to throw rocks at him. (Way to show God’s love, kids.)
Maybe it’s no surprise that the family ultimately moved away from that. Maybe there was something about the church that his son, my grandfather, never quite agreed with, and he searched for something more. But one day in the 50s, or 60s, or whenever it was, Grandpa was watching television, and he turned the channel to a charming, Bible-thumping televangelist—Billy Graham. Suddenly, we were nondenominational. We were Evangelists, independent, not following any evil church’s rules. We attended the Baptist church, because it was the closest church to the truth of the Bible, the only thing we needed.
Billy Graham popularized the sinner’s prayer—asking Jesus into your heart, a one-way ticket to Heaven that requires nothing further on your part. It had been around before, but no one had the reach he did. He spoke to millions upon millions on television, across decades, spreading this false doctrine.
But I have the same attitude about it that I do about the Baptist church as a whole: It’s a good start. It’s not the best start, but it’s good if that’s all you know. I listened to many sermons about the “real way” to Heaven, and we’re the ones with the real truth. But don’t be afraid for your friends, because there’s still hope for them. And it’s not like Baptists are the only people in Heaven. I’m sure there will be some Catholics there, too!
So let’s turn it around: I’m sure there will be some Evangelists in Heaven. I’m not saying what Billy Graham preached is entirely wrong—yes, you should love Jesus. Yes, you need to trust Him with your whole life. But I fear for those who don’t commit past the “sinner’s prayer,” and who honestly believe that one thing is all they need for eternal salvation.
I pray Billy Graham does rest in peace. But I also believe he has a lot of explaining to do.
“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” —James 3:1