Monday, August 29, 2005

What Works vs. What's Right has a great post today entitled, "Challenges to the Church - Pragmatism." As the title implies, the post is part of an ongoing series on the different challenges faced by 21st Century Christians. Personally, I think pragmatism -- the view that consequences are the most vital criteria for evaluating whether an action is "good" or "bad" -- is one of the greatest issues facing Western Christians today. While the other two challenges about which Challies has posted (relativism and open theism) are certainly troublesome, they do not appear to be as prevalent in churches that still affirm the authority of the Scriptures. However, pragmatism rears its ugly ahead even within churches that proclaim the supremacy and infallibility of God's Word. Says Challies:
Pragmatism and Sola Scriptura must stand in opposition as each claims to be the key to determining truth. As Christians we need to decide if we are going to depend upon Scripture as the absolute standard of truth or if we will determine truth by consequences. Though we would be hard pressed to find a Christian who says "I believe in pragmatism," the philosophy manifests itself in the Christian world in many different ways. Though people affirm Sola Scriptura with their mouths (or doctrinal statements) they often deny it with their actions.
Challies gives a case study of two hypothetical churches faced with the option of violating their own Scripturally-informed convictions in order to pursue an action that will grow the church and outreach to the lost. The first church opts for a short-time suspension of conviction in favor of growth, while the second decides to stand firm even if it means foregoing potential growth (at least, in this instance). Which church is right?

Challies correctly notes that this is another examples of pragmatism versus sola Scriptura. Many would favorably view the "step of faith" taken by the first church as being vindicated by the results. However, the second church is actually the faithful one, because they have remained obedient to God's commands. By ignoring Scriptural conviction, the first church has sinned. As Challies states, "Results simply cannot excuse disobedience. God may choose to use our disobedience to further his purposes, but this does not give us license to ignore the clear teaching of the Word."

One of the most clear examples of God using man's disobedience for His greater purposes is in the death of Jesus, whose sacrifice ultimately redeems His people from their sins. However, Acts makes it clear that the men who conspired to murder Jesus were not excused from their disobedience, despite the greater good that came out of it. God may choose to use the disobedience of His people to further the expansion of His kingdom; however, He also chastises His people for their failure to obey His commands. My fear is that the pragmatic practice of 21st century Christians is resulting in the storing-up of a great measure of chastisement that will inevitably fall upon us (and already is).

(P.S. Derek Webb's "ballad in plain red" came to mind as I was reading the Challies post.)

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