Biblical Discernment in a World of False Teaching – Part Six

Pragmatism

“How is your church doing?”  It is a common question asked among Christians.  I have found that what people usually want to know when asking this is, “How are the churches ABC’s (attendance, buildings, and cash flow)?”  Unfortunately, too often man will use these measures to gauge success.  But is attendance, or numbers, the most important criterion for success?  What about the building?  Does a beautiful multi-purpose church building have anything to do with success?  What about cash flow?  Is wealth really a factor?

Our answers to these questions need to be rooted in the Scriptures and I have yet to find in the Bible success defined by these factors.  For example, in the Pastoral Epistles, Paul does not instruct the young pastors to be concerned with numbers.  While numbers, in the proper perspective, can shed some light into the amount of lives that are being transformed, they do not on their own measure success.  And since the church is a “people and not a place” the building is irrelevant when measuring success.   And being rich is not always a sign of God’s blessing and approval as in Revelation 3:17.  (But, I have found that the purity of a church in doctrine and practice is vitally important to the Lord.)

Yet still, it seems as though this is what the world is looking for in a church – a large, vibrant, relevant church that appeals to the flesh.  Instead of asking whether or not the church preaches and teaches the truth or even where God wants me to worship and serve, the question more often is asked, “What will this church do for me?” or “Is this church big enough, beautiful enough and rich enough to meet all my needs?”   One pastor said, “Mega-churches are cooler, hipper, usually more exciting than other area churches, therefore they are natural gathering points for already-converted people who are looking for ‘something more’ – namely more program options, better worship, more services with fewer demands…”

And because this is such a common attitude we can quickly become pragmatic when we use man’s standards to define success instead of God’s Word.

What Is Pragmatism?

Prag`mat`ic – more concerned with practical results than with theories and principles

Pragmatism is the belief that worth is determined by practical consequences.  In other words, if a technique has a desired effect, it is good.  If it doesn’t work then it must be wrong.  In the pragmatic church the only question that matters is, “What will work to grow and prosper our church?”  John MacArthur often speaks out against the pragmatic movement so prevalent today.  In one sermon he said,

Some church leaders evidently think the four priorities of the early church—the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42) make a lame agenda for the church in this day and age. Churches are allowing drama, recreation, entertainment, self-help programs, and similar enterprises to eclipse the importance of traditional Sunday worship and fellowship. In fact, everything seems to be in fashion in the church today except biblical preaching. The new pragmatism sees preaching—particularly expository preaching—as pass‚. Plainly declaring the truth of God’s Word is regarded as offensive and utterly ineffective. We’re now told we can get better results by first amusing people or giving them pop-psychology and thus wooing them into the fold. Once they feel comfortable, they’ll be ready to receive biblical truth in small, diluted doses.

Pastors are turning to books on marketing methods in search of new techniques to help churches grow. Many seminaries have shifted their pastoral training emphasis from Bible curriculum and theology to counseling technique and church-growth theory. All these trends reflect the church’s growing commitment to pragmatism.[i]

So, let’s be committed to God’s Word.  Let’s measure success by His definition.  And let’s cast off pragmatic ideas about church growth and look to the truth found in Scripture.  And truth is certainly not tested by what works and what doesn’t work.

“These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”  (1Timothy 4:11-13)

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:2-5)

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