Wicked, Stinking Pastoral Pragmatism
January 10, 2018
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
Pragmatism on the part of pastors is a wicked, stinking thing, because it is so destructive to the work of God.

God’s Word says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Co. 5:17), but the pragmatist says, “I can’t possibly require such evidence of those who profess Christ and pray a sinner’s prayer.”

God’s Word says the members of the apostolic churches “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42), but the pragmatist says, “I can’t possibly require that of my members.”

God’s Word says, “Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Co. 4:2), but the pragmatist says, “How could I require such a standard of our church workers?”

God’s Word says, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Ti. 4:10), but the pragmatist says, “If we were to get rid of worldly workers, who would do the work?”

God’s Word says, “A bishop then must be found blameless” (1 Ti. 3:2), but the pragmatist says, “Who am I to require such a standard?”

Pragmatism has resulted in haste in evangelism, carelessness in receiving church members, the lowering of the biblical standards for ministers and workers, carelessness about important spiritual issues such as music, and a multitude of other evils.

Pragmatism has caused pastors to soften the preaching of God’s Word and cut corners in a myriad of ways.

Pragmatism has produced weak things that are called churches but don’t qualify as such when measured biblically.

The pragmatist says, “I can’t be too strict about looking for clear evidence of salvation; you don’t know how difficult it is around here just to get someone to pray a sinner’s prayer and show half an interest in Christ. And I can’t be too strict about church membership; you don’t know how desperately we need people to fill the pews and pay the bills. And I can’t be too ‘hard-nosed’ about having high spiritual standards for workers. Maybe you can afford to do that, but you don’t know how few we have to choose from. The work of God has to go on, doesn’t it?”

The pragmatist convinces himself that he is saving the church, whereas in reality he is killing it.

The pragmatist has a very short view. He is like Hezekiah who was a good king but didn’t seem to care much about the next generation. When told that his sons would be taken captive to Babylon, his strange reply was, “Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken ... For there shall be peace and truth in my days” (Isaiah 39:8).


Pragmatism is to focus on the practicality of a decision rather than a principle.

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 defined pragmatism as follows: “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 to get
big numbers and build a big church.

The goal might be to get
some numbers and build some kind of a church.

The goal might be just to keep the church doors open.

The goal might be to keep his salary coming.

The goal might be not to offend his deacons.

The goal might be not to offend some prominent people in his church.

The goal might be not to offend some of 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. A pragmatist Bible conference speaker or evangelist will weigh his preaching and the stance he takes by whether or not it would close doors. He learns how to preach 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. Then I realized what was happening. I was taking with a pragmatist, and a pragmatist cannot be consistent in carrying out his convictions. His pragmatism always gets in the way, so that he can’t “pull the trigger.”


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).

Paul said that it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful (1 Co. 4:2), and we never see him appointing unfaithful men in positions of ministry.

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.

We need preachers who will conduct their ministries with their eyes on the judgment seat of Christ.

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, to be stronger, and we need to encourage the next generation of preachers to be better and stronger.

“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1).

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