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Pragmatics

April 22, 2016

Pragmatism is a philosophy that decides the morality of a course of action based upon its perceived successfulness. The pragmatist says that if something works it must be right. Pragmatism has long been evident in Christianity. For over a century doctrines and methods have been defended based upon the number of people attending or the number of decisions made. Because of pragmatism large crowds, people flocking down the aisles, massive buildings, and best selling books are imagined to be signs of God’s blessing.

Large churches are not the only ones guilty of pragmatism. Pragmatism shows its vile visage in many small churches. When the primary factors in the decision making process revolve around keeping or attracting members, keeping positions filled or ensuring sufficient giving then the ministry has adopted pragmatism. A pragmatic philosophy reveals itself when a church abandons a Biblical model of leadership to emulate the practices of successful businesses. A pragmatic philosophy reveals itself when a Christian foregos Biblical problem solving and Biblical confrontation because the other person probably won’t respond well. A pragmatic philosophy reveals itself when a pastor allows one who is in clear disagreement with the church’s doctrine to become a teacher in the church. A pragmatic philosophy reveals itself when a church knowingly obscures some of its doctrines to keep or to gain members. A pragmatic philosophy reveals itself anytime the question “how will this affect our attendance?” becomes determinative.

Christian ministry is not measured by the usual standards of success. A large ministry is no sign of God’s blessing, but neither is a small ministry. The measure of Christian service is its faithfulness to the Word of God. One does not decide whether to confront sin in another believer based upon the possible response but upon the Biblical directives. One does not assign teachers based upon the ministries to be filled but upon the doctrine and character of the teacher. One does not measure the success of a pastor based upon the numeric growth of the church but upon his faithfulness with the Word and care for the spiritual needs of the body. Christian ministry is evaluated by a standard of success that is not readily apparent nor measurable by bodies, buildings and budgets.

Those who insist some measure of numeric success is vital to Christian ministry must consider the ministry of men like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Unlike Adoniram Judson, who labored for many years before seeing his first convert, these men never saw fruit for their labors. They were called of God to preach repentance to a people that would not hear or obey. Was their ministry a waste of time? Were they failures because they had no visible success? He who obeys the commands of God is never a failure. A pastor may spend his life in obscurity. A church may never break into triple digits. The community may not ever love the church. Every measure of success may declare the ministry to be a failure. Every person who bypasses the church to attend the mega church down the road will be seen as evidence of the church’s failure. Every one in the community who does not like the church because of its stand on the gospel will be seen as evidence of the church’s failure. Every time the church struggles to make its annual budget will be seen as another evidence of failure. Despite all the statistics to the contrary, no church, no pastor, no Christian who is faithful to obey the Word of God is a failure.

The subtle danger of pragmatism is it only appears to work. The pragmatist that allows one with known doctrinal aberrations to teach in the church sees the short term “success” of the decision. What he does not account for is the long term damage to the doctrinal integrity of the ministry. The pragmatist who discovers that a little manipulation will cause the church vote to go his way does not see the long term division caused by his maneuverings. Pragmatism is inherently short sighted, measuring all things by the immediate results. Such short sightedness inevitably leads to division, immaturity and unrest in the church. The problems may be be glossed over by a steady influx of new people, but when the success begins to wear thin then all that was sacrificed for success will be revealed. Unlike pragmatism Biblical ministry is inherently long term oriented. Biblical ministry measures things by their eternal value, looks for the life long growth of Christians and strives for the sustained spiritual health of the church. Ministry is only successful when it is directed by the teachings of the Word.

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