In the remote flatlands of western Hungary, names like Johnny Cash and Charles Colson spill from a church pulpit like Martians out of a spaceship.

Who among the few thousand farmers, school-children and elderly peasant women jammed into the tiny Baptist Church in this remote corner of Communist Eastern Europe has ever heard those names? What could they possibly mean to these people?

What they mean, evangelist preacher Billy Graham tells them, is that "Jesus Christ is alive today; he is a living Christ, a modern Christ; He is up-to-date."

The preaching links the old, traditional Gospel tht these people want to hear and have heard all their lives with the idea that their religion still works.

So they learn that Johnny Cash turned his drug-ridden life over to Christ and is now an American superstar singer.

They hear that Charles Colson "was one of the worst men of all - the hatchet man - in the American political scandal known as Watergate," but now has been converted to belief in Christ and goes all over the world telling about it.

The Rev. Billy Graham's travels in Hungary this week and his first sermons in a Communist country of the Soviet bloc also represent something of a conversion for both Graham and his hosts.

"Times are changing," says Graham, who spent many years warning about the evils of atheistic communism. Now, the 58-year-old churchman says he wants to spend the rest of his years "building bridges" between peoples as well as preaching to as many people as he can.

His government-approved trip at the invitation of the Hungarian Council of Free Churches has attracted attention in a White House occupied by a Baptist President and in Moscow, where Graham would like to go.

It is being viewed as a signal that Hungary wants better relations with the United States, or that Eastern Europe wants to polish its image before next month's Belgrade meeting to review compliance with the 1975 Helsinki agreements.

The political overtones of the visit seem to override its religious significance, and Graham himself may have inadvertently contributed to that. Or perhaps he believed that his performance here would be a big factor in determining whether he gets an invitation to Moscow.

In the Central Baptist Church in Budapest Sunday, Graham gave his most important talk. His audience of 3,000 included the leading clergymen of Hungary and the top Soviet Baptist leader.

Graham described how his attitude toward preaching in a Communist country had changed and said he had learned that Hungarian Christians help solve the problems of their society.

"You have much to teach us about Christian responsibility and obedience in society," he said.

The clergymen who invited him loved it. Indeed, Graham's aides suggested that such remarks were to be expected as a courtesy to those who arranged the extraordinary invitation.

But to a young Pentecostal minister in the audience, the mixture of introductory remarks and sermon was disappointing.

"He is a first-rate evangelist and that is what the people - not the politicians - wanted to hear," the young man said. "There was not enough pure Gospel, not enough of the revelations of God through him that people want. There was too much politics. These people aren't used to hearing that in a church. It confuses them. They can read politics in the newspaper."

The minister added that among some clergymen there was also a feeling that in "lying down with the Communists," Graham had somehow compromised his beliefs. "Nobody expected him to chide the Communists, but maybe there was too much about how to get along with the state," he said.

Outside Budapest, however, such criticism did not seem to apply. Graham was the preacher of extraordinary skill and eloquence here in Debrecin, in Pecs far to the south, and at the Tahi youth camp in the woods outside the capital, where he drew nearly 10,000 people.

The Hungarian press gave little publicity to the visit. The crowds came largely because of word passed through the grapevine and over great distrnces.

Graham's appearances were largely at out-of-the-way places. Even in Budapest, the church is on a back street.

This is the land of "goulash communism," a popular label describing the most liberal and Western-orientated Communist system in the Soviet bloc. But when Graham stopped at nearby Hortobagy to eat some "real goulash made by the shepherds," to don a cowboy hat and to pose on a horse for pictures, there was no one there to watch except a few Western newsmen and the rest of Graham's "team," as he called it.

Graham's travels through the countryside wrere a mixture of Bible Belt preaching, politicking and unabashed corn.

He warned his audiences up by telling them he had come to Hungary to see if the Danube River is really blue and if the goulash tastes as good as it does in America. He said his home in North Carolina has two items from Hungary - a light bulb and the paprika in the kitchen.

His audiences seemed to respond to anything he said

Graham wove the cause of ecumenism into the fabric of his sermons, and in so doing calmed the fears of other churches about the presence of such a powerful speaker.

He as raised a Presbyterian, the Baptist preacher said, and his wife remains Presbyterian. Five of his 12 grandchildren are Lutherans, he said.

He talked of Pope John XXIII and of the jews, saying "tears came to my eyes" when he met with Jewish leaders in Budapest. "God has given me a great love for the Jewish people," he said.

Archie Dennis, a black singer of spirituals, accompanies Graham and stirs these audiences with a music sharply different from the choir singing they are used to.

Graham's humor has served him well. When a collective farm owner gave him a beautiful leather-covered wine flask, he said he would fill it "with American Baptist wine, which is water."

When the proprietor of a restaurant kept bringing more courses to the table. Graham said he had to go but offered to leave two of his team behind to keep eating.

His wife, Ruth, never lost her smile.

But the star of the Graham entourage, aside from Graham himself, has probably been Dr. Alexander Haraszti, a gynecologist from Atlanta, Ga., who left Hungry many years ago and who served as Graham's translator.

Vital as Graham's style is to his effectiveness. Haraszti displayed an enthusiasm in translation that seemed to propel him even further into the heavens than Graham.

His translation was instant. His hands flew about in the same gestures as Graham's and the words poured out in comparable numbers so as to match Graham's staccato style.

Graham talked frequently about America's problems and how hard it is to be a Christian in America today.

Perhaps some of this was designed to soothe his hosts. Yet is was clear to many people that this was an impressive man, and an American, and on balance it was the impression of him that dominated.

He admits that some of what he preaches is illogical. But I believe it," he says. "I accept it. On faith.

He tells the story of an English biochemist who said Graham's sermons were illogical but then, said Graham, "couldn't sleep at night because something was talking to his heart."

Graham, tall suntanned ad handsome, leans over the pulpit and asks, "How many of you are not sure that Christ really lives in your heart? Raise your hands."

Several people slowly raise their hands. An old peasant woman with a classic, pinched, toothless face wrapped in a black shawl raises her hand. In it, there is a tape recorder microphone.

If she doesn't understand everything that she has heard on this unusual day in Decbrecen, she can listen again at home.