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Remembering Billy Graham, the Modesto Manifesto 70 Years Later

As an aspiring scholar at Taylor Seminary (Canada) more than a decade ago, I vividly remember my enthusiasm in writing a biographical-paper assignment on Billy Graham—I greatly admired Billy, and it was an opportunity for me to know more about him. I ended up handing in 18 pages, instead of the required 8 pages! We will remember Billy as the great crusader, the national pastor, the evangelical world statesman, the fiery evangelist, and a social justice apologist. But most of all, we will remember Billy as a man of prayer who faithfully followed God and served his mission till the end (Watch: “Billy Graham’s Last Message to America and the World”).

As a missionary of God, Billy aspired to uphold a high moral standard, and the Modesto Manifesto became his (and his evangelistic team’s) guiding principles for serving God and the church. The Manifesto was a set of four biblical principles Billy and his team crafted during their series of evangelistic meetings in Modesto, California in 1948, and it charted the triumphs of his ministry for the next half century. His friend, Cliff Barrows, later notes that the Manifesto symbolizes the hallmark of both their lives and their ministry.

There is still much to learn in this Manifesto, especially for us Christians living in this post-postmodern, trans-postmodern, post-millennial, digi-modern, meta-modern world. Some will say that the tide has turned, that Billy’s moment has passed, and that we must learn to ride with the new, ever-turning tide in the name of pragmatism and realism. Maybe. But maybe not. Billy’s Bible still is our Bible. The God Billy served still is the God we serve today. Pastors, ministries, parachurches, Christian institutions, and Christians will do well to remember and abide by his Manifesto principles.

  • Money. Billy avoided financial abuses in his campaigns and depended on the money raised by their local church committees (YFC). He resisted the temptations to wring money from his audience using emotional appeals in his sermons. He stuck with his trademark refrain, “the Bible says…” “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10).
  • Sexual Immorality. Billy avoided situations that would create suspicion and jeopardize his marriage and family, especially while he was away travelling. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins people commit are outside their bodies, but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:18-20).
  • Church Unity. Billy avoided antichurch and anti-clergy attitude. He believed that both evangelists and pastors belong to God’s church, and so with the academy and the church. He said that criticizing local pastors and churches openly is not only counterproductive, but also contrary to the teaching of the Bible. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).
  • Publicity. Billy avoided exaggerating successes and reporting inaccurate attendance numbers in his ministry. He did not want the public and the press to have any suspicion of falsehood on his gospel ministry. “All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes,’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt 5:37).

We will never forget Billy, but perhaps some of his moral and ministry principles that he taught and lived by have been neglected over the years. America owes much of its existence as a Christian nation today to Billy. The many weekends he spent advising former presidents (eleven of them) concerning spiritual-moral matters that affect the nation and the countless sermons he preached to millions of Americans demonstrated his value and influence on the core foundations of American-Christian society. But can this religious situation in America and the rest of the western world survive for another century, or even half a century? This is a question we should reflect upon as we
celebrate the Christian legacy Billy had left us.

Sources: Hughson Ong, The Modesto Manifesto: A Declaration of Biblical Integrity; Unpublished Biographical Paper on Billy Graham (CH422 Church History since 1500; Taylor Seminary, Canada, 23 April 2008)

Dr. Hughson T. Ong is Professor of New Testament Mission and Chair of the Biblical Studies Department in the School of Theological Studies at Missional University.

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