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).
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 prominent and pressing.
The goal might be getting big numbers and building a big church. Years ago I was driving through a city with a pastor friend, and as we passed by a large church facility he expressed a strong desire to have that type of thing. I was amazed and puzzled, because personally I have never thought in those terms, and I didn’t realize that he harbored such aspirations.
For decades, the sin of “big-mindedness” has run rampant among Independent Baptists. It is the motive behind the practice of “Quick Prayerism.” What other motive could there be to adopt a method of soul winning that produces so many empty professions? What else other than “big-mindedness” could motivate a pastor or missionary to report 100 “salvations” when only a few show any evidence of the new birth?
Many Independent Baptist preachers would be more impressed with rich Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-17) than with little Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-10).
Having a big church or ministry should not be a pastor’s objective. Having a church that is pleasing to the Lord and faithful to God’s Word in ALL aspects should be the SOLE objective, and in this day and age it is exceedingly rare that the two objectives will harmonize.
The goal of the pragmatic preacher 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 recently 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 saw some good fruit come from the school.” But when he has Bible conferences, this pastor invites men who are strong supporters of West Coast. The man who had talked to the pastor 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 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 enough to “keep his options open.” 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 and not closing doors of ministry.
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 will give lip service to separatism and to being faithful to the whole counsel of God, and he might speak strongly for it in private.
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 and churches most responsible for inventing and spreading these practices and has never warned of them, to my knowledge.
Then I realized that this man is a pragmatist, and the pragmatist isn’t at liberty to speak out on all matters, because he has a publication and a ministry to think about.
A pragmatist is a religious politician, and I believe this is a stench in God’s nostrils.
God’s Word calls upon preachers to renounce pragmatism and to be faithful in all matters.
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).
Paul 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 or the number of book sales. Every time he spoke or wrote, he did so with complete faithfulness to God’s Word.
Paul even solemnly commissioned Timothy to keep the New Testament commandments “without spot,” which refers to the “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 or what doors it closes, humanly speaking.
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Faithfulness to this divine command is the opposite of religious pragmatism, and may the Lord give every Bible-believing preacher the spiritual conviction and backbone and passionate love for Christ that will drive away every pragmatic concern.
The churches desperately need courageous, faithful preachers, not pragmatic politicians.
If a preacher is not willing to narrow his associations in these days and to walk a more lonely path with Christ in solid truth, he will definitely compromise and the effect of that compromise will be evident in his church in this present generation and even more in the next.
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 an evil age and a compromising hour.”
“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1).
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