Society’s Philosophies and The Pragmatic Church

Six Main Controlling Philosophies

1.) Postmodern – No absolute truth

What that means is the commitment to the fact that there is no such thing as absolute truth.  Modernism was basically defined as the search for truth.  The scientific world, the pursuit of natural law, to try to understand the truth, the discerned truth, the discovered truth, the fine truth.  The postmodern society says, well, we’ve been looking a long time; we haven’t found it, so it isn’t there.  There’s no such thing as absolute truth.  Everything is relative and everything that we can seek for in life is little more than an existential experience of one’s own determination and definition.  So, Postmodernism says there’s no truth.  So, we’re dealing with a society that is being sold the philosophy that there is no absolute truth.

2.) Moral Relativism – No authority

That is to say, there is no standard.  There is no inviolable law.  There is no one against whom we are being measured.  There is no one who has dropped the plumb line and established the authority to which we must all answer.  There is no standard.  There is no authority.  Every individual is his own personal authority and determiner of what is right or wrong for him.

3.) Personal Freedom – No rules

Personal Freedom says there are no rules; it doesn’t matter.  Nothing really mattes.  There are no guidelines except those which you yourself choose to adopt for your own life.

4.) Humanistic Atheism – No judge

Bottom line: you have nothing to which you are accountable.  There are no consequences for your behavior except those that are built into it, and you can choose to do whatever you want.  You’re in charge.

5.) Narcissism – No humility

Having an over positive and inflated view of the self. This is the “Generation Me” – “I like to be the center of attention” – “I am special” – “Look at me” Narcissistic Society. This is the “not me” generation where someone else is responsible for everything.

6.) Pragmatism – No Bible

Basically it is a philosophy that says that results determine meaning, truth, and value—what will work becomes a more important question than what is true. As Christians, we are called to trust what the Lord says, preach that message to others, and leave the results to Him. But many have set that aside. Seeking relevancy and success, they have welcomed the pragmatic approach and have received the proverbial Trojan horse.

Let me take a few minutes to explain a little of the history leading up to the current entrenchment of the pragmatic approach in the evangelical church and to show you why it isn’t as innocent as it looks.

Pragmatism Recent History

The 1970s, for the most part, were years of spiritual revival in America. The spread of the gospel through the campuses of many colleges and universities marked a fresh, energetic movement of the Holy Spirit to draw people to salvation in Christ. Mass baptisms were conducted in rivers, lakes, and the ocean, several new versions of the English Bible were released, and Christian publishing and broadcasting experienced remarkable growth.

Sadly, the fervent evangelical revival slowed and was overshadowed by the greed and debauchery of the eighties and nineties. The surrounding culture rejected biblical standards of morality, and the church, rather than assert its distinctiveness and call the world to repentance, softened its stance on holiness. The failure to maintain a distinctively biblical identity was profound—it led to general spiritual apathy and a marked decline in church attendance.

Church leaders reacted to the world’s indifference, not by a return to strong biblical preaching that emphasized sin and repentance, but by a pragmatic approach to “doing” church—an approach driven more by marketing, methodology, and perceived results than by biblical doctrine. The new model of ministry revolved around making sinners feel comfortable and at ease in the church, then selling them on the benefits of becoming a Christian. Earlier silence has given way to cultural appeasement and conformity.

Even the church’s ministry to its own has changed. Entertainment has hijacked many pulpits across the country; contemporary approaches cater to the ever-changing whims of professing believers; and many local churches have become little more than social clubs and community centers where the focus is on the individual’s felt needs. Even on Christian radio, phone-in talk shows, music, and live psychotherapy are starting to replace Bible teaching as the staple. “Whatever works,” the mantra of pragmatism, has become the new banner of evangelicalism.

The Down-Grade Controversy

You may be surprised to learn that what we are now seeing is not new. England’s most famous preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, dealt with a similar situation more than 100 years ago. Among churches that were once solid, Spurgeon and other faithful pastors noticed a conciliatory attitude toward and overt cooperation with the modernist movement. And what motivated the compromise? They sought to find acceptance by adopting the “sophisticated” trends of the culture. Does that sound familiar to you?

One article, published anonymously in Spurgeon’s monthly magazine The Sword and the Trowel, noted that every revival of true evangelical faith had been followed within a generation or two by a drift away from sound doctrine, ultimately leading to wholesale apostasy. The author likened this drifting from truth to a downhill slope, and thus labeled it “the down grade.” The inroads of modernism into the church killed ninety percent of the mainline denominations within a generation of Spurgeon’s death. Spurgeon himself, once the celebrated and adored herald of the Baptist Union, was marginalized by the society and he eventually withdrew his membership.

The Effects of Pragmatism

Many of today’s church leaders have bought into the subtlety of pragmatism without recognizing the dangers it poses. Instead of attacking orthodoxy head on, evangelical pragmatism gives lip service to the truth while quietly undermining the foundations of doctrine. Instead of exalting God, it effectively denigrates the things that are precious to Him.

First, there is in vogue today a trend to make the basis of faith something other than God’s Word. Experience, emotion, fashion, and popular opinion are often more authoritative than the Bible in determining what many Christians believe. From private, individual revelation to the blending of secular psychology with biblical “principles,” Christians are listening to the voice of the serpent that once told Eve, “God’s Word doesn’t have all the answers.” Christian counseling reflects that drift, frequently offering no more than experimental and unscriptural self-help therapy instead of solid answers from the Bible.

Christian missionary work is often riddled with pragmatism and compromise, because too many in missions have evidently concluded that what gets results is more important than what God says. That’s true among local churches as well. It has become fashionable to forgo the proclamation and teaching of God’s Word in worship services. Instead, churches serve up a paltry diet of drama, music, and other forms of entertainment.

Second, evangelical pragmatism tends to move the focus of faith away from God’s Son. You’ve seen that repeatedly if you watch much religious television. The health-wealth-and-prosperity gospel advocated by so many televangelists is the ultimate example of this kind of fantasy faith. This false gospel appeals unabashedly to the flesh, corrupting all the promises of Scripture and encouraging greed. It makes material blessing, not Jesus Christ, the object of the Christian’s desires.

Easy-believism handles the message differently, but the effect is the same. It is the promise of forgiveness minus the gospel’s hard demands, the perfect message for pragmatists. It has done much to popularize “believing” but little to provoke sincere faith.

Christ is no longer the focus of the message. While His name is mentioned from time to time, the real focus is inward, not upward. People are urged to look within; to try to understand themselves; to come to grips with their problems, their hurts, their disappointments; to have their needs met, their desires granted, their wants fulfilled. Nearly all the popular versions of the message encourage and legitimize a self-centered perspective.

Third, today’s Christianity is infected with a tendency to view the result of faith as something less than God’s standard of holy living. By downplaying the importance of holy living-both by precept and by example-the biblical doctrine of conversion is undermined. Think about it: What more could Satan do to try to destroy the church than undermining God’s Word, shifting the focus off Christ, and minimizing holy living?

All those things are happening slowly, steadily within the church right now. Tragically, most Christians seem oblivious to the problems, satisfied with a Christianity that is fashionable and highly visible. But the true church must not ignore those threats. If we fight to maintain doctrinal purity with an emphasis on biblical preaching and biblical ministry, we can conquer external attacks. But if error is allowed into the church, many more churches will slide down the grade to suffer the same fate as the denominations that listened to, yet ignored, Spurgeon’s impassioned appeal.

Make it your habitual prayer request that the Lord would elevate the authority of His Word, the glory of His Son, and the purity of His people in the evangelical church. May the Lord revive us and keep us far from the slippery slope of pragmatism.

We need to tell this society this: there is truth, there is an authority, there are rules, there is a judge, and every single one of you will answer to him.  That’s reality.  And the Christian message is directly in contradiction to the reigning philosophy of today.  Now, as we approach this world in which we live that is caught in this postmodern morally relativistic pursuit of freedom with a concurrent Atheism that dismisses the idea of God and, therefore, the idea of accountability or judgment, how are we to address them?  How are we to approach them?  The church today, the contemporary church, is convinced that we need to tell them that Jesus will fix their life and fix their marriage and make them successful and make them feel better, and we need to kind of warm up to them and bump up their self esteem and elevate their comfort and make them like us and talk about nice things.

That’s not what the Scripture advocates.  The Scripture advocates that we must convince men and women, in every culture, in every society, that there is truth, there is authority, there are rules and there is a judge.  And they must understand, to put it this way simply, law before they’ll ever understand what?  Grace.  If ever there was a time for the proclamation of law and sin and the need for repentance and forgiveness, it is in this society.  Sadly, it is at this very juncture in society when the church is largely abandoning that emphasis.

Christian discipleship … strikes a death blow to the self-centered false gospels that are so popular in contemporary Christianity. It leaves no room for the gospel of getting, in which God is considered a type of utilitarian genie who jumps to provide a believer’s every whim. It closes the door to the gospel of health and wealth, which asserts that if a believer is not healthy and prosperous he has simply not exercised his divine rights or else does not have enough faith to claim his blessings. It undermines the gospel of self-esteem, self-love, and high self-image, which appeals to man’s natural narcissism and prostitutes the spirit of humble brokenness and repentance that marks the gospel of the cross.

To come to Jesus Christ is to receive and to keep on receiving forever. But Jesus, through His direct instruction during His earthly ministry and through His apostles in the rest of the New Testament, repeatedly makes clear that there must be a cross before the crown, suffering before glory, sacrifice before reward. The heart of Christian discipleship is giving before gaining, losing before winning.

Much of contemporary Christianity and church life is bent on self-centered, self-circumferenced consumption.  There are many people who wish to identify themselves with Jesus Christ.  They wish to call themselves Christians and they’re whole perspective toward it is that they are in it for what they can get out of it.  Christianity has somehow been redefined as “get.”  And Jesus has been turned into a utilitarian genie, who must jump at our ever whim when we rub the magic lamp.

There are some among the charismatics, for example, who say that Jesus is here to make you healthy, wealthy and happy.  And they tell us Jesus wants you well.  Or, Jesus wants you rich.  And if you aren’t all those things, then you’re not demanding your rights or you don’t have enough faith to appropriate what’s yours because Christianity is designed for you to get everything you need and want.

And even the fundamentalists and evangelicals through the years have been guilty of propagating a Jesus who is offered to men as a panacea for everything.  Wouldn’t you like to be happy?  Wouldn’t you like to have abundant life?  Wouldn’t you like to know peace?  Wouldn’t you like all your problems solved?  It will make you a better salesman and a better athlete, etc., etc.  And we advertise the “get” without the “give,” the “gain” without the “pain.”

And then there are the self-esteem cultists and the self- image cultists who tell us that Jesus came to boost our self- esteem and our self-image.  They have fallen victim to the Narcissism, the self-love of our contemporary society.

But I submit to you that to view coming to Jesus Christ as simply to get is to prostitute the divine intention.  To come to Jesus Christ, yes, is to receive and keep on receiving forever and ever.  But there’s pain before the gain and there is a cross before the crown and there is suffering before the glory.

We are called to win by losing.  That’s the heart of discipleship.  We are called to give up before we gain. 

Now, how do you come to Christ?  How is a person…what is a person’s attitude to be?  In the saving transaction as a person comes to Christ, with what attitude must they come?  Here it is, three things: Matthew 16:24

1.) Self-denial (“Let him deny himself…let him deny himself.”)

2.) Cross bearing – Crucifixion is a shocking metaphor for discipleship. A disciple must deny himself (die to self-will), take up his cross (embrace God’s will, no matter the cost), and follow Christ

3.) Loyal obedience – “Follow Me”

It all starts with self- denial. Now the word “deny” means to disown, let him disown himself.  It could be translated, “Let him refuse any association or companionship with himself.”  Now you say, “That’s hard, it’s hard to refuse companionship with me because I’m always around when I’m around.”  And I understand that.  Now He’s not just talking about your self-conscious self.  What He’s talking about is self as equal to the flesh. 

In other words, you have to come to the point where you deny that you have the capacity to save yourself, or you as on your own have the capacity to be what God wants you to be.  Or, frankly, you have in yourself the ability to be anything good at all.  You’ve got to deny that.  In order to come to Jesus Christ, you must affirm that there is in your flesh, Romans 7:18, dwelling no good thing.  You can’t please God in the flesh.  You can’t redeem yourself in the flesh.  You can’t be anything to speak of before God in the flesh.  It is a selfless perspective that says I am nothing, I can contribute nothing to my worth.  I can continue nothing to my redemption.  And the self-esteem cult that goes around saying we’ve got to build up people’s self- esteem is taking them the opposite way that the message of the Bible does because the more you love yourself, the less likely you are to need a Savior.

As Peter, who denied Jesus Christ, said, “I know not the man,” so must you say regarding yourself.  I disown myself completely.  That’s the first essential in the Christian life.  That’s the way you come to Christ and that’s the way we live.  We go on denying our humanness, denying the expression of the flesh.  You see, the heart must see itself in sin.  The heart must see itself in damnation.  The heart must see itself judged and condemned to hell and knowing that in itself it can do nothing to change that.  In desperation, it reaches out and seeks a rescuer outside itself.  And that rescuer is Jesus Christ.  Self is cast away and Christ enters.  “And so I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but…what?…Christ lives in me.”  It is subjecting oneself to the resources, subjecting oneself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in an utter rejection of self- sufficiency.

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