While hundreds of different Christian denominations suggest a profound lack of unity in God’s church, God has always raised up Christian leaders who not only rally God’s people together but also draw unbelievers at the same time. Such was the case with Billy __________. If you guessed Billy Graham, that’s understandable. But this post is about another Billy–a Christian evangelist several generations earlier than Dr. Graham
This evangelist’s very first appearance drew a crowd of 500! However, truth be told, the crowd did not come to hear a sermon. They gathered in Chicago because he was the popular, base stealing, gold glove caliber star center-fielder for the Chicago White Stockings.
No matter why they had come the crowd that evening knew that fans had lost their center-fielder to a new calling. His name was Billy Sunday. And, that night of preaching in Chicago was just the beginning. He would not ever return to baseball. Instead, he would proclaim Christ to many, many millions. According to some estimates 300,000 souls were won for Christ as the Holy Spirit blessed his captivating gatherings and messages.
Billy Sunday was born into adversity. When he was just five weeks old his father, fighting in the Civil War, died of pneumonia. His mother was so impoverished, she sent her children to the Soldier’s Orphan Home. There, Billy Sunday survived with the support of his brother and his love for baseball. Eight years into his major league career he became a Christian. So, he left baseball to pursue his desire to proclaim Christ to all.
Sunday raised some eyebrows by addressing the social issues of the day. Unlike other American evangelists, he called for an end to child labor, said that women should have the right to vote and welcomed blacks to his crusades even when he was in the deep South.
So, his huge gatherings drew people from all walks of life, races and religions. A glimpse at the thousands that gathered when he spoke revealed a diverse group united by the desire to hear his proclamation of the Gospel–perhaps a glimpse of St. John’s vision in Revelation 7:
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. NLT
Billy Sunday’s animated, almost theatrical yet down-to-earth style of preaching captivated people. He said:
“I want to preach the gospel so plainly that men can come from the factories and not have to bring a dictionary.”
People also loved his illustrations and one liners like:
“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”
He boldly preached the need of all people for a Savior because all are sinners. About sin he said:
“I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I have a foot. I’ll fight it as long as I have a fist. I’ll butt it as long as I have a head. I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old and fistless and footless and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to Glory and it goes home to perdition.”
Note: The Billy Sunday quotes and some content ideas come from “131 Christians Everyone Should Know” by Mark Galli.