Monday, February 9, 2009

The Bane of Religious Pragmatism

If I hear one more time, "That church must be doing something right, because it is growing in number", or an advertisement to pastors stating, "Come to our preacher conference where you will learn how to grow your puny, small church to a mega, bodacious size in no time at all", then I just think I will spit in the wind and enjoy the shower!  It is getting crazy out there in evangelical land, and true Christians are experiencing an ever shrinking island of good, biblical preaching and ministry. And pastors who go to preacher meetings and even imply to other pastors that good, solid biblical preaching will do the work of the ministry are looked at by contemporary, hip, and "with it" preachers with the same disdain as might have been given to a leper in the first century.  What is happening to us?

Well, what is happening to us is not something that just started ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. The encroaching crud has been slowly eating away at the lively marrow in the church for over a century.  The twentieth century demonstrated the dangerous and destructive components that is killing the church (Although in truth nothing can kill the true church; perhaps it is best for the institutional church to experience the dead wood gathering of the Father which Jesus spoke of in John 15).  At the heart of all the disconcerting factors creating this deadening effect is the problem of RELIGIOUS PRAGMATISM.  Religious pragmatism is comprised of the following elements:  Disbelief in the power of the Word to change lives and accomplish the work of the kingdom, the mistaken idea that God is passive expecting His covenant people to "get the job done" in ministry, the disengagement of theology from practical ministry, and the greatest and deadliest factor of all - numerical growth equals eternal success.

These deadly factors began at the end of the 19th century in evangelical America, and in the early 20th century they picked up speed with the growth of religious institutionalization.  The church was augmented (now in the 21st century is being supplanted) by para-church organizations, and church identity became equal to institutional denominationalism (Denominationalism is the unique contribution of American evangelicalism to the worldwide church of Jesus Christ, and we ought to consider repenting.), and religious programs and plans substituted for Bible preaching and teaching.  Everything in the church increasingly became subservient to the question of "What works?", rather than "What is true?".  The underlying concern for this question ("What works?") was and remains "What works to get people in the pew, on the membership roll, and start tithing and serving in the church?"  Evangelism became salesmanship, and worship became a meeting to "reach the lost" (whatever "reach" means?). This was the passionate quest of church ministry as a result of religious pragmatism. From this moment on the game was lost for the American evangelical church.  Its destiny was linked with numbers and numbers are linked with attractive appeal, and this is linked to cultural acceptance.  It would only be a matter of time till the culture, like some dark monster, would swallow the church and its identity and message.  It has happened!  It is not "going" to happen; it has happened!  And the deception is so complete that many Christians do not even know it has happened, except for the nagging feeling inside of true Christians telling them that something is fundamentally wrong in their church, and they are starving for some good Bible preaching!

Now we come to the twentieth century where in most evangelical churches (Hark!  I paint with a broad brush for emphasis!) where the biblical vision of the declaration aspect of the gospel is completely lost (The gospel declares the unsaved to be lost and under the condemnation of the just and holy God, and declares Christ's atonement and resurrection to be the only solution to this problem.  The gospel does not survey lost people to see how the gospel can address their symptoms of lostness so that people do not feel so lonely and rejected.).  It is not only a reasonable suggestion, but a high percentage probability that we have a substantial number of lost people in our churches.  Good Bible preaching is now opposed on the grounds that "Well, we just don't believe that."  One person recently told me that in this person's home church the idea of Jesus being the only way to God has become strongly opposed as unreasonable (This is a Southern Baptist church!).

So, what is the answer?  The answer today is the answer that has always been - faithfully preach the truth of the Scriptures with accuracy, fervor, humility, consistency, love, and prayer.  The Bible and its doctrines must be preached no matter what the people in the churches say about it.  The truth will stand for all time; the truth will endure the scorn and the criticism of well-meaning, but misled people in the churches.  It may be that one of the only answers to the present state and dilemma is for new churches to be formed; churches rooted and centered on Christ and the teaching of the Scriptures.  If this is the case, then so be it.  Eschatological writing in the Scriptures refers to a religious ("church"?) institution in the end of of time, but all true Christians have always known that there is a difference between Church History and Christian History.  Just because a religious group has a "church" sign in the front yard doesn't mean it is a true biblical church. But the true church will prevail because it is the church of Jesus which He is building by His sovereign grace.  Amen!


  1. And Amen! Thank you for your faithfulness to the Word, Dr. Greever!

  2. Home Run Dr. G!!!

    I needed this after reading the recent BP News article praising the "3 minute message" campaign that gave away a Chrysler 300 to wishful listeners of a 3 minute message about Jesus.

    My soul weeps for ministers who feel their calling is to convert the goats instead of feeding the sheep.


  3. You know, here in Taiwan, we count the number of people Baptized into Christ, not the buts in the seats. You see, here where Christ is not known, Baptism really is a separation from your old life, and for most people a sharp separation from their families. It's interesting because when I got here I heard the church always talking about getting people baptized. Now, having my impressive theological degrees taught me how deceptive that language is because baptism doesn't save you. Then God showed me what he intended baptism to actually mean, being buried with him and raising into a new life. So that's why they referred to people being baptized and not 'saved', because for them, talk is cheap. If you want Christ here, you've got to walk the walk, but then, isn't that how's it's always supposed to have been?

    I hear what you're saying. I worry worry about my own generation and the antics we put up to get people in the church. Like RevKev said, I've seen some pretty terrible things done in the name of, "Well, they at least they got to hear the Gospel." But, I'm not really even sure they heard the gospel. But then, I also worry about the young theologians who are running away from the 'numbers pragmatism' and turning to the 'cool pragmatism'. It's all about how different they are than your mom's church.

    I remember reading Rob Bell's book "Velvet Elvis". It seemed liked a book written by a young man with a chip on his shoulder concerning the church he grew up in. So he offered ideas about how to repaint the Christian faith. He made people afraid of 'Doctrine' because that divides. And what frustrates me is that I feel his concern and his frustrations, but his ideas are weak and full of holes. It is as my favorite songwriter once sung, "He was awful good at triage that's for sure, but he's long on diagnosis and short on cures".

    Anyway, those are just some thoughts.

    Good post Dr. G

  4. Brother John-Amen and Amen!
    Thank you for your constant rejection of the world's "wisdom" and your embracing of the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth.
    BTW- The Romans series is wonderful!