I would love to say that this was my post, but it is not. A wonderful pastor and friend wrote this article that is so appropriate for our day. He put it much more eloquently than I ever could so below you will find a post from his blog. Thank you Bro. Mike for this post!
Pragmatism in its Finest Hour
Pragmatism is absolutely invading the churches of our Southern Baptist Convention. For those unfamiliar with the term, pragmatism is simply the belief that if it works it must be right and if it doesn’t work it must be wrong. Let me share a few brief thoughts on the rising tide of this dangerous philosophical ideology.
The fundamental danger in pragatism is that it determines "truth" on the basis of experience, emotion, and effects. If it works it is true, or worse yet, if it works it is TRUTH. If it does not produce results it should be discarded as flawed, failed, and foolish.
Of course what "works" in one location may not "work" in another. Truth itself, therefore becomes relative and ends up looking more like situational ethics and moral relativism than an adherence to the sufficiency of Jesus Christ and the Word of God.
There is nothing wrong with pragmatism as long as you have the right definition of success. For example, if you have a bad experience with Brand A of dish detergent, pragmatism says, “Stop buying that brand. It’s not working for you.” If your car battery will not crank your car, pragmatism says, “Get a new battery. Your current one isn’t working so discard it.”
But when it comes to the issue of the Great Commission and Scriptural fidelity, there is much more at stake than dish-pan hands and dead batteries. What is at stake is nothing short of the eternal plan of God redemption, the salvation of the lost, and the glory of our God. To that end it appears to me that many of our SBC pastors and leaders have seemingly lost a Biblical definition of success.
Success for the believer is measured by one standard and one standard alone; Obedience to Christ and His Word.
When obedience to Christ becomes our standard of success then we will realize we have been "successful" even if our message sends more people away than it draws so long as the message has been consistent with the character and Word of God. Of course in our flesh we would rather people be drawn than be deterred. But we must realize that our ultimate goal is the pleasure of Christ not the growth of the church.
Christ knew how to divide and disperse a crowd. Considering His hard words in Luke 14it seems the Savior would not be invited to many of our evangelism training events. He obviously was not a very successful evangelist.
In our prideful and egocentric world, we have essentially equated success with numerical growth. We applaud and award high baptism numbers. The pastors of these burgeoning churches are paraded across our state and national conferences. Our churches are challenged to emulate and duplicate these fast-growing congregations, often without ever stopping to ask, “Is their growth Biblically-based or is it being generated by the power of the flesh?”
Here are a few examples:
1. A website touts an opportunity to win a car if you will watch a 3-minute video presentation of the gospel. Over 10,000 watched and over 3,000 click the “right” box. When hundreds are “saved” through this method, it makes the religious press as some well-intentioned writer popishly declares over 3,000 people have made “professions of faith.” After all, it got numerical results so it must be right.
2. A motorcyclist event gives bikers a chance to register to win a new Harley. Out of 4,200 who registered to win the Harley (of course they are obligated to watch another 3-minute video presentation of the gospel) over 800 are “saved.” Once again, it makes the headlines of the denominational press. It must have been a Biblically-successful event because it got numerical results.
NOTE: Do we really believe that about 20%-30% of people who are not being drawn by the Spirit of God but by a chance to win a car or a motorcycle genuinely received Christ as Lord? I have no doubt they may have “prayed a prayer” or “checked a box.”
3. The new church plant utilizes secular music, crude humor, and sensual ads touting the new teaching series on sex. It draws a crowd so it must be OK. Not only is it OK, it is the new standard…and nobody should say anything about it or we will lose this next generation of “young leaders.” Besides, they baptized more people last Sunday than your church did all year.
So what their “worship service” used the latest country song that touts beer-drinking, casual sex, and prostitutes. So what that the video clips were from filthy R-rated movies. How can you criticize that? They are reaching people! They are growing! They are getting results!
OK, so the pastor “mooned” the congregation Sunday and on Monday blogged about drinking beer and smoking cigars in order to reach people. They are about to open a 2nd campus. How dare you question their methodology?!?!
(For the record: This scenario is a composite of multiple and actual events in Georgia).
4. The bodybuilders’ ministry packs a bunch of teenagers into the local high school gym. Grown men in spandex and ponytails rip phone books, break concrete blocks, and burst hot water bottles. The music is deafening, the lights entrancing, and the gospel is LITE. But after a 4-minute testimony, every head is bowed and every eye is closed. No one is looking around because we would not dare want to embarrass anyone as hundreds of “decisions for Christ” are made.
By the way, 12 months later the youth pastor is fired because he can’t “close the back door” of the youth ministry. The Jujitsu for Jesus team handed him 185 card-checking hand-raising converts from the let’s-break-a-cinderblock-for-Jesus rally. But the poor guy couldn’t hang onto them. We need a youth pastor who can get results!
5. Evangelist Jones is brought in to do the big evangelistic event. He is a “gifted harvester.” Why every pastor around knows this brother has the ability to “draw the net.” Never mind the fact that neither “evangelism” nor “drawing the net” is listed as a spiritual gift in the Holy Scripture. What we really mean is…and let’s be honest enough to admit it…this guy can get people to make public decisions. I mean he can get people down the aisle and through the baptistery.
That old boy you’ve been preaching to for months won’t respond to your invitation. But if you’ll invite Brother Jones to preach he can get him down the aisle. Brother Jones’ preaching and techniques must be pleasing to God because they get results. And that gets you in the state paper.
I mentioned this 5th scenario in a recent evangelism training session I was leading. An attendee said, “Now Pastor Mike, I know 'drawing the net' isn’t in the Bible but you know what we mean when we use that phrase.” And the truth is, I do know what we mean. And therein is the problem.
Simply put, if Brother Smith preaches the gospel and no one is saved…then Brother Jones preaches the same gospel and half the crowd responds, something is desperately wrong. In our church culture we would say “Brother Jones is an evangelist and Brother Smith needs to learn how to give an invitation.” And that assessment may be as far from the truth as it could possibly be.
By that standard some of the great evangelistic failures in history include Noah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos.
I recently preached a strong evangelistic sermon in the pulpit at the church God lets me pastor. Discerning believers understood there was a strong move of the Holy Spirit in that service. At the public invitation, no one responded for salvation. I closed the invitation with this prayer, “Lord, I have done Your work. But I cannot get anyone to respond that You cannot get to respond. So I close this invitation with a broken heart…”
Later it hit me. The intent of my prayer was correct but the content of my prayer was as wrong as wrong could be. What I meant to say was this:
“Lord, I have done Your work. And I’ve been at this long enough that I can get people down the aisle. But if simple gospel preaching and a passionate call to salvation will not get the job done then it will go undone. I can get people to respond that You, Lord cannot get to respond. I just do not want to.”
No doubt, some wondered if that sermon and that service were “successful.” How could it be successful? There were no results! Numerical results = God is honored. No numerical results = God is displeased.
That mindset is pragmatism at its finest hour. And that, my friends, is running rampant in our convention.