Billy Graham, who was one of the most influential Christians in the 20th century, died recently, aged 99. As a school-boy I heard him on his first visits to England in 1954 and 1955. In 1959 Billy Graham gave an address on Christian Separation after (or during) a visit to West Point military academy (the US equivalent of our Sandhurst). Graham had been challenged by the discipline and commitment of the cadets, compared to the discipline and commitment of so many of us in the Church of Jesus Christ. He said of the visit: "As I looked out upon that sea of determined, dedicated young faces – some of the cream of American youth – I could not help but think of the weak, emaciated, milquetoast Christians in the average church who claim to be following Jesus Christ." As a tribute to the man and a challenge also to ourselves, the following is that 1959 address (used with permission). How we should thank God for Billy Graham!
While the nation sees an increase of crime, immorality, adultery, drunkenness, irreverence, infidelity and open apostasy, millions of professing Christians have forgotten the word of Scripture that says, "If anyone would come after me, let him … take up his cross daily" (Luke 9.23 ESV). Our Lord regarded his followers as a select company that belonged to a different world from other people. He warned the disciples to be loyal to his teachings and principles. He told them that they were to set their affection on things above. He also warned that they would find circumstances exceedingly difficult. Refusing to conform to worldly principles, and living under the lordship of Christ, they would soon become marked men. He told them that the world would hate them.
They could not make their light shine by sinking to the world's low level. It was only by abiding in Christ and living under the ruling power of his Holy Spirit that they could elevate the world. The power and progress of the Christian Church would depend on its unlikeness to the world and its likeness to Jesus Christ. The distinction between the lives of those who lived for this world and those who lived for Christ's world was so clear that it made a deep impression on the pagan world of the first century. The early Christians influenced thousands to embrace the Christian faith because they were more loving and more considerate than their neighbours. Christ meant for his followers to be different. But being merely different was not enough. They were to be the cleanest, kindest, most industrious, most thoughtful, truest and most loving people on Earth.
The world of today is just as pagan in spirit as it was 2000 years ago. In recent years, the most cultured nations in the world have been guilty of acts of barbarianism that would have shocked even pagan Rome. Millions no longer worship stone idols, but they do worship fleshly idols. They worship film and TV stars, sex, success, wealth and money, but they have little place for God. The TV set has become the sanctuary of millions in an atmosphere that is hostile to spiritual growth.
To a large extent, the American church has become merged with the world. It has adopted so many of the world's ideals and standards that it has lost its ability to stem the tide of crime, deception and immorality that is sweeping the nation. For millions of Church members there is no deep commitment to the cause of Christ, no regularity of attendance at public worship, no sacrificial giving, no personal religious discipline. The aim of many churches today seems to be to get names on a list, and the deeper meaning of Christ's call for discipleship is neglected. Therefore, the world has moved into the Church. There is apparent success, but in reality there is tragic failure. Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood once said, "Our main mission field today, so far as America is concerned, is within the Church membership itself."
Ezekiel's parable of the valley of dry bones pictures Israel as dried up and nearly lost, with no evidence of life. All that remain are the bones, dry and dead. This is true of hundreds of churches today. The organization is going smoothly, but there is little life. The thrilling thing about Ezekiel's story, however, is that new life is possible. The miracle of regeneration can occur: "Breathe on these slain, that they may live" (Ezekiel 37.9). Though Ezekiel was talking about Israel, his parable applies equally well to the Church of Christ. The Church can be revived. God's interest is not merely in reaching outsiders, important as they are; he is concerned equally with changing the insiders. The call of Christ is for rededication to him – a call to follow him, to pattern our lives after his.
As Christians, of course, we must live in the world. We must infiltrate the world with a purpose to help win the world. But we are not to participate in the evils of the world. There are certain things that a Christian must say "No" to – in politics, in the shop, in the office. We must show that we are citizens of another world, and many times we may suffer misunderstanding and persecution because of it. We should refuse to support anything that does not meet with the approval of our Christian conscience. Thousands of professing Christians are betraying their Christian principles because they are more concerned for the world's smile than the commendation of Jesus Christ.
I have found that the casual Christian has little influence upon others. It is only the Christian who refuses to compromise in matters of honesty, integrity and morality that is bearing an effective witness for Christ. Worldly Christians are prepared to do as the world does. They will condone dishonest and unethical practices because they are afraid of the world's displeasure. Only by a life of obedience to the voice of the Spirit, by a daily dying of self, by a full dedication to Christ and constant fellowship with him, are we enabled to live a godly and influential life in this ungodly world.
Many Christians, however, have misunderstood worldliness. Certain elements of daily life are not sinful in themselves but have a tendency to lead to sin if they are abused. Abuse literally means 'overuse' or 'extreme use' of lawful things which then becomes a sin. Pleasure is lawful in its use, but unlawful in its overuse. Ambition is an essential part of true character, but it must be fixed on lawful objects and exercised in proper proportion. Our occupation, reading, dress, friendships and other aspects of life are legitimate and necessary but they can easily become illegitimate, unnecessary and harmful.
Thousands of people engaged in various business enterprises have sold their souls to the devil for an extra dollar. They are willing to cheat, lie and steal in order to make more money. Worldliness is a spirit, an atmosphere, an influence permeating human society, and we need to guard against it constantly and strenuously. The Bible says, "Do not love the world or the things in the world" (1 John 2.15). The Bible also warns that the world and the desires for it shall pass away, but he who does the will of God abides forever (cf 1 John 2.17). To the Romans, Paul wrote, "Do not be conformed to this world" (Rom 12.2). To the Corinthians, he wrote, "Go out … and be separate" (2 Corinthians 6.17). James says, "Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4.4).
These Scriptures clearly teach that the Christian is to be in the world, but not of it; separated from it, yet a witness to it; not molded by it, but exerting an influence for good over it; not compromising with it, but challenging it; not coming down to its level, but seeking to lift souls up to a higher level.
There must be an out-and-out stand for Christ. It does not mean that in society we are snobs or have a superiority complex. But the Christian should stand out like a sparkling diamond against a rough background. He (or she) should be more wholesome than anyone else. He should be poised, cultured, courteous, gracious, but firm in the things he does or does not do. He should laugh and be radiant; but he should refuse to allow the world to pull him down to its level.
The greatest need today in Christendom is a revival within the church of dedicated, separated, disciplined Christians, living for the Lord Jesus. The Bible says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12.1-2).