“The declining churches generally rejected the Pentecostal emphasis, driving out and persecuting its advocates.”
With the release last week of a Christianity Today interview, in which two authors disparage charismatic leaders and theology, one could easily think a contemporary minister uttered the lead quote. But it was revival historian Dr. Edwin Orr who made this observation, in his 1951 book Full Surrender.
Orr, founder of the Revival Fellowship Team which led revival meetings globally, had a long friendship with Reverend Billy Graham. Though the two ministered with different emphases, their shared love of Jesus, the Word of God, and lost souls helped bridge the divide between evangelicals and charismatics. In that spirit of unity, a biblical scholar recently responded to the claims against today’s charismatics.
Graham, today age 98 and living at his family home in Montreat, N.C., has preached to live audiences numbering more than 215 million people during his ministry and remains the only Christian minister consistently ranked on Gallup’s annual “most admired people” list. He founded Christianity Today in 1956.
In his foreword to Full Surrender (available free online), Graham recounted traveling with Orr in England to visit “…where John Wesley and his young friends started the ‘Holy Club’ with its later development into the evangelical revival in the eighteenth century. Edwin and I felt constrained to pray there for a repetition of the movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
This wasn’t the only time Graham addressed revival or the movement of the Holy Spirit. Though not a major focus of his teaching, clearly his theology recognizes the freedom for believers to operate in the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
1. Billy Graham on the Charismatic Movement
On September 16, 1983, near the end of a weeklong crusade at Cal Expo in Sacramento, Ca., Billy Graham preached a message titled “The Contemporary Christ”—also known as “The Holy Spirit and You.” Currently available on YouTube, with his original notes online via the Billy Graham Center archives in Wheaton, Il., the sermon opens with these words.
“In the last few years, we’ve had something called the charismatic movement. It hasn’t been limited just to certain denominations—it’s been in all denominations, whether it’s Episcopal or Roman Catholic or wherever,” Graham preached.
“For example, down in Poland where the Pope [John Paul II] comes from, we held a crusade down there in a great cathedral and there was a great charismatic movement in southern Poland and across the border into Germany. We sensed that God was working in those people in a new way.
Now, some people interpret it in one way, and some interpret in another way. Some people mean that we’re having a renewal or revival in our churches or among our people and they call that ‘charismatic.’ Others may have certain gifts that they call evidences of the charismatic movement…
But it’s impossible to understand the Bible, Christian living, or the structure of the Christian church without understanding something of the Person of the Holy Spirit.”
2. Billy Graham on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
First published in 1978, his book The Holy Spirit is an evangelical classic on the third Person of the Trinity.
“We must make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit so that when He fills us we will become vessels of blessing to the world, whether large and beautiful in great service, or small and unnoticed by men…
To say that having the gift of evangelism, or the gift of a pastor, or of a teacher, or the gift of tongues, or the gift of healing (or any other gift) is proof that we have the fullness of the Spirit is misleading.
Furthermore, any gift we may have will never be used to its fullest potential for God unless it is brought under the control of, and empowered by, the Holy Spirit. There is nothing more tragic than a gift of God that is misused for selfish or unspiritual purposes. So it is critical that we be filled with the Spirit.”
3. Billy Graham on Baptism, Power, and Glorifying Jesus
During the Sacramento crusade in 1983, Graham turned to the subject of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
“The Holy Spirit also baptizes—He baptizes us into the Body of Christ. Now, there are different interpretations among honest theologians about when that takes places, how it takes place, and how many times it takes place. I believe the Scriptures teach that, at least one time, we’re baptized. We’re baptized when we receive Christ, we’re baptized into the Body of Christ.”
Graham quotes from Acts 1:8 as he continues: “‘But after that the Holy Ghost has come unto you and you shall be witnesses unto Me’—power, supernatural power! I believe that God has given me power in preaching, the power of the Holy Spirit.”
“When you lift up Jesus Christ, and when you present Him, there’s a power in the Cross. There’s a built-in power in the gospel… the Holy Spirit exalts Christ! He exalts the Lord Jesus Christ; He did not come to speak of Himself.”
4. Billy Graham on the Gift of Speaking in Tongues
In his book The Holy Spirit, Rev. Graham also affirms that the gift of speaking in other tongues may be for some believers.
“In my judgment the Bible says that any believer can enjoy the filling of the Holy Spirit and know His power even though he or she has not had any sign such as speaking in tongues.
On the occasion of a particular infilling, tongues may be a sign God gives some, but I do not find that it is a sign for all. I do think it is important, though, for each of us to hold our opinion without rancor and without breaking our bonds of fellowship in Jesus Christ.
We worship the same Lord, and for this we are grateful.”
5. Billy Graham on Listening to God for Direction
Near the closing of his message in Sacramento, Graham shared about another role of the Holy Spirit.
“The Bible also teaches that the Holy Spirit opens and shuts doors. I’ve found that true in our ministry, that He opens some doors and closes others. The greatest task that we have is deciding where to go, what city to go to next, because we have invitations from many parts of the world.
Where should we go next? Where should we put our emphasis? We see all these computers coming and new channels opening up on television, we see new mediums of communication opening up, we ask ourselves: can we use this effectively for spreading the gospel of Christ?
This is where the Holy Spirit comes in to help us, to guide us, and to direct us. We constantly are concerned about it and on our knees about it. ‘For the Holy Spirit will teach you in this same hour what you ought to say,’ [Luke 12:12]. He comes to teach us and to guide us.”
A freelance writer and editor,Josh M. Shepherd has served on staff at Focus on the Family, The Heritage Foundation, Bound4LIFE International, and two Congressional offices. His articles have appeared in media outlets including The Federalist, The Daily Signal, Charisma News, The Stream, and Christian Headlines, where he serves as a contributor. He earned a degree in Business Marketing from the University of Colorado. Josh and his wife live in the Washington D.C. area.
Photo: Reverend Billy Graham / Public Domain / YouTube