Someone who successfully emphasizes doing what ‘works’ is described as being practical or pragmatic. They are simply providing a solution by implementing the most effective method in order to get the desired results. 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 are otherwise accepted as practical and effective methods, we must remain committed to the authority of Scripture, trusting in God’s wisdom above our own. It means our methods of identifying truth and getting results are not determined by a philosophy of man but by the Word of God.
Pragmatism says, “If it delivers result, then it is good and true.” Here-in lies the danger of pragmatism. It shows a subjective commitment to results for which we are ultimately 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 believe are important.
In much of the visible church, these results generally have a lot to do with the increase of attendance, participation, and revenue. Simply speaking, numbers and money. The primary area of compromise and corruption is preaching, which, in many cases, is diminished to more of a pop-psychology or motivational speech. It is not only the content and quality of the sermon that is diminished, but also the length of these "talks." For example, when an inspirational (positive) and interesting sermon is also abbreviated, it keeps more people happy and ensure a better response. The methodology seems to be increasingly determined by how it will be received by the masses rather than what Christians need or if Christ is honored.
Pragmatism has also corrupted biblical leadership. Many are obsessed with the results that new and improved methods are capable of producing. For example, 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 information necessary to finally achieve the results Jesus told us to achieve. Or when an influential evangelical leader casts a (supposedly) novel and compelling vision for his church, it simply encourages other church leaders to draft a more engaging, compelling, and effective church mission, vision, and core values, as though what Christ has left us in His Word is not enough. Practically, these pastors and church leaders may publicly profess submission to God and His Word, but practically speaking, they consider biblical methods insufficient or worse, irrelevant. But who gets to decide whether or not 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 the wisdom of God.
Those who subscribe to effective results over biblical doctrine would say that the message never changes, but the methods are always needing to change in order to be relevant or effective. While this contains a kernel of truth, Scripture gives us more than just the message. God’s word does provide methods. And many Christians and church leaders might be surprised to know just how honest Scripture is regarding how naturally “ineffective” its own methods are. In fact, that is why God powerfully redeems His people using 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 sacred Ark of the Covenant from touching the ground. This was a noble thing to do, except 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 masses in the private sector in by way of leadership conferences and resources. And while many things they say are very effective "organizational truisms," their lessons typically lack the 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, even good, it is wrong when it contradicts or if it is considered more relevant or effective than what God has spoken in His Word.
God measures our success by faithful obedience, not worldly 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 regardless and fulfill his ministry. Clearly, the emphasis was on obeying and honoring God and not working harder to attract lost people by worldly means. Paul explains that 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 clearly in Paul's charge to walk by faith and not by sight. We are not to solely depend upon ourselves to provide for future needs such as food or clothes. God will ultimately 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 become overly-dependent on them, less we risk having the sinful attitude of self-sufficiency and pride. God will provide for our today and our tomorrow. Following and trusting Jesus does not only seem impractical, at times it even appears unwise and impractical. The disciples left perfectly good jobs, careers even, in order to follow after Jesus. Matthew, in particular, as a former tax-collector for Rome, would most likely never have been able to return to his 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. By way of a modern example, many believe that to hold to a Biblical view of complimentarianism is harmful to Christ's Church, "oppressing" women and striping the Church of "necessary" gifts. The fact remains that doctrine matters and we must submit to what God has revealed about the unique roles of men and women. As difficult as it may be to understand, especially in the post-modern in which we live today, 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 redeemed sinners. Our job is to simply trust Him, regardless of how it appears.
Popularity is not a good barometer for truth. Once His miracles stopped and He described what it meant to follow Him using 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 a crown of around 500 after his resurrection. 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 by the masses, then it must be God-honoring. To say that Scripture is filled with examples of God using nothing or close to nothing to accomplish His purposes, would be a drastic understatement. We hear how Jesus trained only 11 true disciples and they "turned the (known) world upside-down" within 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 (purity and humility) over quantity. Historically, God has even historically ordained the devastating 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 actually 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. 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 that God's Word truly is powerful to save, believing that truth is indeed that which produces real results. Meanwhile in this life, those results must be measured by the wisdom of God revealed to us in His Word, and not the so-called wisdom of man.