And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. — 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Someone who emphasizes doing what ‘works’ is described as being practical or pragmatic, simply providing a solution by implementing the most effective method in order to get the desired results. Clearly, being pragmatic is good and even necessary for much of our natural lives. However, when being pragmatic becomes the guiding philosophy for truth in our spiritual life and ministry, it sharply conflicts with Scripture. This dangerous philosophy is known as Pragmatism. Therefore, to say doctrine matters more than results is to say that whenever Biblical instruction departs from what is otherwise accepted as practical and logical methods, we must remain committed to the authority of Scripture, trusting in God’s wisdom above our own. It means our methods and means of identifying truth are not determined by a philosophy of man but by the Word of God.
Pragmatism says, “If it delivers the right result, then it is good and true.” But who gets to decide what those results should be and then how they are measured? Here-in lies the danger of pragmatism. It shows a subjective commitment to results for which we are often not responsible,and spiritually speaking, incapable of producing. Pragmatism causes us to take matters into our own hands in order to get the results we think are important.
In much of the visible church, these results generally have a lot to do with an increase in attendance, participation, and revenue. Numbers and money. And the primary focus has been on God's design for preaching, which has been high-jacked and, in many cases, diminished to pop-psychology and life-success-tips. It is not only the content and quality of the sermon that is diminished, but so is the length of these "talks." An inspirational, interesting, and abbreviated message keeps more people happy and helps ensure a better response. In any case, the methodology seems to be increasingly determined by how it will be received by the masses rather than what biblical Christians need or if Christ is honored.
Many are obsessed with the results that new and improved methods are capable of producing. For example, when an influential Christian writes about how they have achieved a "successful" prayer time with God, these resources are typically devoured for their helpful, user-friendly methodologies. When a popular Christian leader releases a new book on a new style of leadership or radical church growth strategy, it sells as if it actually contained new and necessary info. Practically, these pastors and Christians consider Biblical methods insufficient and even irrelevant, but who gets to decide whether something is “working,” man or God? We must decide if we will trust more in the seen or the unseen. The popular or the uncommon. The wisdom of this world or the apparent foolishness of God, which is wiser still.
Those who subscribe to results over doctrine would say that the message never changes, but the methods are always needing to change. While this has a kernel of truth in it, Scripture gives us more than just the message. God’s word provides methods. And many would be surprised to know just how forthcoming Scripture is regarding how naturally “ineffective” its own methods are. In fact, that is why God sovereignly redeems His people by human means. Consider the following biblical truths...
The right thing done the wrong way is the wrong thing. Moses was punished by not being allowed into the promised land for doing the right thing in a way that dishonored God. Uzzah was killed by God for trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from hitting the ground. This was, practically speaking, the obvious and right thing to do. The only problem was that God had told them to never touch the Ark or they would die. Saul took it upon himself to make an offering to God, even though it wasn't his place to make, but the job of Samuel the Prophet. It was the right thing to do, but because it was done by the wrong person, king Saul suffered dyer consequences. Many mega-church, vision-casting leaders behave as leadership gurus, offering their "gift" to even the private sector in the context of leadership conferences and resources. And while many things they say are very effective"organizational truisms," their lessons typically lack the all-important spiritual authority of Scripture. And so, their influence causes pastors and church leaders to continually search outside of Scripture to discover how church can be done "better." Even when something appears completely logical and appropriate, it is wrong as long as it is contrary to what God has spoken.
God measures our success by faithful obedience not immediate results. The prophet Jeremiah was faithful to proclaim what God told him and yet was despised and ridiculed by even his closest friends. The Prophet Ezekiel was warned by God that the House of Israel would not listen, but he was to go and preach anyway. Paul tells Timothy that many people will not be interested in sound teaching of the Word, but to simply preach the Word anyway and fulfill his ministry. Clearly, the emphasis was on honoring God and not working harder to attract lost people by worldly means. Paul explains the message of the Gospel is considered foolish by lost people and that this is precisely how God designed it in order for Him to gain the most glory, but humbling those whose eyes have been darkened. We who evangelize a lost world and disciple believers are called God's fellow-workers and also described as "nothing" in terms of who it is that actually does the work of salvation and growth. God does it all, and he graciously includes us. We are wise to remember that.
Sometimes trusting God appears irresponsible and impractical. This fact is seen most clearly in Paul's charge to walk by faith in what is to come, and not by sight. We are not to depend on our own ability to provide for future needs such as food or clothes. God will provide for us with more care than the flowers of the field. We should not take our future plans for travel and commerce too seriously or significantly depend on them, or we risk having the sinful attitude of self-sufficiency and pride. God will provide for our today and our tomorrow. Following and trusting Jesus isn’t only impractical, at times, it even appears unwise and imprudent. The disciples left perfectly good jobs, careers even, in order to follow after Jesus. Matthew, in particular, as a former tax-collector, would never have been able to return to his Roman post after abandoning his duties to join Jesus, the insurrectionist. The rich young ruler's love for the practical solutions his money afforded him kept him from following Jesus. Many believe that to hold to a Biblical complimentarian view that prohibits women from exercising authority in the church, means the church will miss out on the gifts of many gifted women teachers and leaders. As difficult as it may be for us to understand and agree, it is not our place to do what we think is most effective. It is our responsibility to simply trust and obey. We must resist the urge to believe we can help God do what only He can do. Only almighty God can draw sinners, convict sinners, save sinners, and sanctify sinners. Our job is to simply be found faithful to what His Word instructs us to do.
Popularity is not a good barometer for truth. Once His miracles stopped and He described what it meant to follow Him in graphic, even violent, language, most of Jesus disciples left Him. He once drew crowds upwards of 10,000 people, but He would end up with only about 500 at His ascension. Jesus made it clear that there will be far fewer in God's Kingdom, than there will be in hell. This alone ought to make us think twice before automatically assuming that if something is popular and well-attended, then it must be God-honoring. To say that Scripture is filled with examples of God using nothing or close to nothing in order to accomplish His purposes, would be a drastic understatement. We hear how Jesus trained only 11 disciples and they "turned the world upside-down" within only a few years after Christ's commission of, "Go into all the world." And even before that, God chose one very old man, promising to make him a great nation, which He has done and is doing today! When most of God's people rejected Him, He maintained a small remnant for Himself. God cut armies down by two-thirds in order to prove His power. God is neither discouraged by a small group of people, nor impressed by lots of people. If anything, Scripture repeatedly makes the point that God values quality over quantity. Historically, God has even ordained something so devastating as the loss of believers by martyrdom to cause the church to not only be refined, but to grow in number.
Christians who believe doctrine matters more than the results actually believe that all God says to do does "work." We are to trust and obey Him while being fully convinced even when it doesn't make practical sense according to human wisdom, that He is "working" all things together for our good and toward His glorious ends. Pragmatism only focuses on short range solutions for this life, not accounting for long term consequences of the next. Only God can do that. But our obedience to the Truth of Scripture offers ultimate and eternal results. The Church ought to have no interest in the bait-and-switch method of first attracting the world by offering what they want thinking they will then, more effectively, be able to give them what they need. let us trust God's Word truly is powerful to save, believing that truth is indeed that which produces eternal results. Meanwhile in this life, those results must be measured by the wisdom of God and not of man.
The Great Commission is not a marketing manifesto. Evangelism does not require salesmen, but prophets. It is the Word of God, not any earthly enticement, that plants the seed for the new birth. — John MacArthur