Pragmatism is “a reasonable and logical way of doing things or of thinking about problems that is based on dealing with specific situations instead of on ideas and theories” (Merriam-Webster).
Pragmatism is “the quality of dealing with a problem in a sensible way that suits the conditions that really exist, rather than following fixed theories, ideas, or rules” (Cambridge Dictionary).
A preacher friend commented about church pragmatism along this line: “It is to do something on a practical level without diligently considering the theological implication. It is when the practice overtakes the theological principle. It is to do whatever it takes to get a good result even if it violates biblical principles or undermines divine power.”
The pragmatic preacher makes decisions about the church and ministry based on what “works” to produce a desired goal as opposed to making decisions based strictly on Bible truth, though he will give lip service to the latter.
The pragmatic preacher will not be faithful to the whole counsel of God because he has other objectives that are more pressing.
The goal might be getting big numbers and building a big church.
The goal might be not to offend prominent people in his church or even not to offend the women in his church.
The goal might be not to offend some prominent preacher or his own circle of preacher friends. A brother wrote to me about a pastor he had talked to regarding the danger of being a soft separatist and not drawing the lines against West Coast Baptist College (in particular) and its influence. This pastor told him that “he didn’t agree with the music at West Coast and wouldn’t attend their pastors conference as a result, but he saw some good fruit come from the school.” Yet when this preacher has Bible conferences, he invites speakers who are strong supporters of West Coast. The man who talked to the pastor to express his concern made this observation: “I can see that the implications to this pastor, of taking a Biblical stand, are great. To take a stand against West Coast/Lancaster would send waves through the network of Pastors/Churches in our area and bring isolation.” The pragmatist cannot bear isolation.
The goal of the pragmatic preacher might be to keep his preaching engagements open. For example, a Bible conference speaker or evangelist who is a pragmatist will weigh his preaching and the stance he takes by whether or not it would close doors. He learns how to preach in generalities so as to “keep his options open.” He can even become an expert in sounding strong when in reality he is very soft. Recently an evangelist published his stand on separation, but though he made some good biblical points, the position was so vague and shallow (being based on only one Scripture passage as opposed to the whole counsel of God and not being practically applied in a clear manner) that it was almost useless. It appears that his objective was to be thought of as a separatist while not really separating in a practical sense.
The goal of the pragmatist might be to get students for a school or to get subscriptions for a paper or orders for his books.
The pragmatic preacher might give lip service to separatism and to being faithful to the whole counsel of God, and he might talk strongly for it in private, but his practice speaks louder than his words.
A few years ago I met the editor of a prominent Independent Baptist publication for a lunch that was arranged by a pastor friend. As soon as we met at the restaurant, this editor asked me to keep the discussion “off the record.” He then proceeded to agree with me about many issues, including my concerns about Quick Prayerism. I was greatly puzzled, because his publication has long promoted the men most responsible for teaching these practices and has never warned of them, to my knowledge.
The apostle Paul was not a pragmatist. He had only one objective, and that was to be faithful to Christ his Master. He called himself a “doulos” or bondservant. He had been purchased by Christ from the slave market of sin and did not own himself. His objective was to be faithful to God’s truth. Period. He had no other objective. He would not have dreamed of having another objective. The non-pragmatist Paul testified,
“For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
He didn’t weigh his message by practical considerations, as to whether it would offend someone he wanted to impress or close doors of ministry or reduce the size of his crowd.
Paul even solemnly commissioned Timothy to keep the New Testament commandments “without spot,” which refers to “small” things (1 Timothy 6:13-14).
Every preacher is commanded to preach the Word, all of the Word, in season and out of season, no matter what happens, no matter how popular or unpopular it is, no matter who is offended, no matter what doors it closes.
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).
The churches desperately need courageous, faithful preachers, not pragmatic politicians.
May each preacher pray, “Lord God, help me not be a pragmatist or a politician. Help me be faithful to you and to your holy Word. While multitudes have been willing to rot in prison cells, to be torn asunder, and to be burned, woe unto me if I am not willing to bear whatever offense or cost comes for being faithful to the truth in a compromising hour.”
We preachers need to aim to be better, and we need to encourage the next generation of preachers to be better.
“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1).
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