There is a prevalent and persuasive enemy of the Truth that we need spiritual discernment in this hour to overcome. That enemy is a mindset and philosophy called “pragmatism”. Pragmatism is defined as “a non-speculative system of philosophy which regards the practical consequences and useful results of ideas as a test of their truthfulness, and which considers truth itself as a process.” (The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary) The basic tenet of pragmatism is “If it works, it is true.” The end results of an idea or practice, therefore, determine its ultimate truthfulness and validity. This kind of thinking appeals to our logical and practical approach to life. It permeates our culture and has also found its home in the Church.
On the surface, pragmatism doesn’t appear to be an enemy. So often we embrace it as a friend and counselor. When we take a deeper look, however, we discover its subtle deception. Pragmatism starts at the end of the process of truth, and then works its way backwards. It starts with the results of an idea or practice. If these are desirable, then it validates the truthfulness of the concept that led to that end. Truth, therefore, is subjective and changeable depending on the judgment of the one assessing the outcome. Through this process man ends up “creating truth” as it suits or seems reasonable to him.
Biblical truth, on the other hand, starts at the beginning of the process of Truth, and then works forwards to its outcome. The beginning or source of all Truth is God Himself. Out of His mouth come all wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Because it begins with Him, it is eternal, unchanging and absolute. It does not shift or bend to the approval or disapproval of its recipients. It is not evolving or progressive with time depending on social, cultural, scientific or intellectual advancements. It is true when its outcomes are favorable to man, and it is true when they are not. Its validity is based on its Source, not its ends!
Pragmatism and the Bible
Pragmatic thinking found its introduction into the human race in the Garden of Eden. It was Satan’s master weapon to deceive and bring down mankind. His primary objective was to discredit the validity of God’s word to Adam and Eve so as to take them captive to do his will. His plan was to get them looking at the result of obedience to God’s commandment. If he could cast this in an unfavorable light then he could get them to question the integrity of God and His word. Listen to the wording of Satan’s ploy:
1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
Satan begins to cast doubt on what God has said.
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 “but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”
Eve is still focused on the Source of the word (“God has said…”).
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Satan focuses her on the end-result of the word in order to get her to question the validity of what God has said.
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:1-6 NKJV)
When the woman focused on the beneficial results of partaking of the fruit, pragmatism made its final plea, and she succumbed to the serpent’s lie.
It was a pragmatic approach to truth that caused Adam and Eve to fall. Its seductive seeds were forever sown in the heart of fallen mankind.
A quick view of the Scriptures will reveal other instances where pragmatism was at the root of the sinful failings of God’s people. It was pragmatism that prompted Sarai to urge Abram to sleep with Hagar in order to fulfill God’s promise of a son. Pragmatism was at the root of Rebekah’s urging of Jacob to deceive Isaac in order to get Esau’s blessing. It was what lay behind Israel’s rout at Ai, as the outcome of Jericho made them approach Ai in their own understanding and strength. It was at work in the people of God as they failed to completely drive out the inhabitants of the land, but put them to forced labor for their own gain. Pragmatism was at work in Israel as they clamored for a king to lead them into battle like all the nations around them. Pragmatism controlled the heart of Saul when he failed to wait for Samuel, but offered up burnt offerings himself, against the command of God. It is what motivated David to number his fighting men, leaning upon the arm of the flesh as it considered past victories. It clouded David’s judgment as he built a new cart for the ark in order to bring it up to Jerusalem. It drew the returned remnant away from completing the rebuilding of the temple in order to build their own houses. Pragmatism is what motivated many of the Pharisaic laws and traditions of the Elders that became the source of much of Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders in His day. Pragmatism was working throughout the last hours of Jesus’ life. From the Pharisees murderous hatred of Jesus, to Judas’s betrayal for thirty pieces of silver, to the illegal trials, to Pilate’s final condemnation of Him, pragmatism was Satan’s fatal poison working in the minds of men to have Jesus crucified.
Even these examples should cause us to realize just how much of an enemy this subtle seduction of pragmatism can be.
Pragmatism and the Church
So how has pragmatism infected and affected the Church?
Very often pragmatism creeps in through some of the seemingly “less spiritual aspects” of church life. Once it is in, however, it begins to work like leaven through the whole batch of dough. It is often in administrative and financial aspects of ministry, for instance, that “good business sense” is employed and decisions are made with the practical wisdom of this world. Because these decisions affect the “less spiritual aspects” of the church, no danger is seen in employing common sense methods. In the long run, however, many of these practices work to affect the structure, policies, and protocol of an assembly so that eventually even the “most spiritual aspects” of church life are affected. It is especially important in these more practical matters that the wisdom that comes down from above is sought and genuine faith is exercised.
Pragmatism is also found at work when it comes to the implementation of vision and goals. Because end-results are in view, often pragmatic solutions and methods are adopted as the right means to those ends. These make sense to the natural man as the most appropriate and reasonable way to reach the desired goals. The ways of man, however, invariably circumvent the cross and avoid the need for overcoming faith. They also, knowingly or unknowingly, involve some form of compromise with the world or with the flesh. Pragmatism, however, justifies the means as long as the desired ends are reached. Even if worldly or carnal practices appear to bring about a desired result “for God”, those methods will be embraced. Pragmatism in this arena often seeks to gain further validation by turning to others who have successfully employed similar means to obtain their objectives.
Pragmatic reasoning can be especially deceptive when the Lord is apparently blessing or working in the midst of a particular endeavor. This is often taken as concrete evidence of the Lord’s endorsement of its ends and/or means. The Lord, however, blesses many things that He does not endorse! That may be hard to comprehend, but we need to understand that God’s blessings are given on the basis of His mercy and kindness towards people. His endorsement, however, is based solely on righteousness and truth.
Scripture gives us a number of examples of this. For instance, God promised to bless Ishmael, although he was conceived through the compromising wisdom of the flesh. God blessed the children of Israel with water from the rock when, contrary to His word, Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it. A miracle was wrought even though Moses was severely judged for his disobedience. God anointed Saul with His Spirit to lead Israel even though the people had sinned by rejecting God Himself as their King. Jesus said, “God sends His rain on the just and the unjust.” That is not His endorsement, however, of the latter, just His mercy.
If we need further proof, we need only to look at our own lives. Does God bless us and work through us on the basis of our personal righteousness, or on the basis of His mercy and kindness. It is a foolish thing to necessarily construe God’s working as confirmation of His endorsement and approval. In many instances they have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. The validation of any particular means is not whether God is blessing or using it, but is it in accordance with the revealed will of God. It is so often said, however, when methods or objectives are questionable as to their rightness, “But God is blessing it!” That, my friend, is pragmatism.
Pragmatism also comes into play when there is an unhealthy desire to please people, or there is a fear of man. In either case, God is replaced as the Center and Source, and man takes His place. Pragmatic scheming and strategizing is employed to obtain a particular effect or result. Soulish or worldly elements are often incorporated in order to appeal to the desires and inclinations of those less spiritual. This invariably works to shape the very form and focus of a ministry. It determines what is preached, and how. It affects the style and form of the meetings. It determines protocol, expectations, regulations and traditions. All of this serves to drag the Church down out of its heavenly calling to the Truth, to the earthly enslavement of the wisdom of man. This is possibly the most significant way that pragmatism works its leavening influence in the Church.
Pragmatism conversely works in the Church by discrediting what is the mind of the Lord if its outcome is not agreeable or understandable to our minds. The way of the Lord always involves a “cross”, which a pragmatic mind is repulsed by. We do not readily embrace barrenness, delay, sacrifice, the wilderness, loneliness, suffering and the like. A walk of faith, however, requires us to trust and follow the Lord even when the consequences are costly. Likewise, the way of the Lord is so often beyond our understanding. A pragmatic mind, however, needs to have all of its questions answered before it is satisfied and faithfully embraces the truth. If it can’t figure out how it is going to work, it remains in unbelief. Imagine if Abraham had been pragmatic when God asked him to offer his son Isaac on the altar, or if Gideon had not trusted God when He told him to whittle down his army. The Scriptures are filled with examples of God’s people casting off pragmatic reasoning in order to walk in faith and obedience. Pragmatists, however, so often cast off the clear teaching of God’s Word because it doesn’t make sense to them in its outworking.
In all these ways and many more, pragmatism works its way into the fabric of the Church to set aside the Truth of God for human understanding. Because man is fallen and is primarily oriented to his soul-realm, pragmatism is an inherent influence that controls much of his thinking, even in believers.
Pragmatism and the Cross
There is only one solution to pragmatism in the Church…that is the cross. Pragmatism is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It causes man to be a “god” in his own right, motivating him to be the creator of truth for himself. Whatever works for him is believed by him. The cross takes an ax to the root of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It fells the self-exalting nature within us. It applies the Word to our lives as a flaming, flashing sword, dividing asunder soul and spirit, that we might find our way once again to the tree of life. The cross crucifies us to this world, and the world to us, so that we do not embrace its wisdom or its ways. The cross causes us to lean not on our own understanding, in even the most mundane issues of life. The cross causes us to bow the knee before the Word of God as our first and final authority. Only a people who have embraced the cross can know the thoughts and ways of God. Only a people who have embraced the cross can walk in faith and obedience. We must offer ourselves afresh to God as a living sacrifice, and daily be renewed in our minds. Only then can we prove what His good, acceptable and perfect will is. May we be willing to embrace the cross and become those whom God not only blesses, but also endorses, because we have learned to walk in the TRUTH!