How much of a pragmatist are you? If you do not know that word, to be pragmatic is to be someone who measures the goodness of an activity by whether or not it works. A pragmatist will evaluate what he or she does based on whether or not it gets the results he or she intends.
You might think to yourself that everybody ought to be a pragmatist. We all want to do things that work. But the problem is, there are things that will seem to be working, productive solutions to the problems of life, but those things can often times be wrong choices.
Of course, the place I find this discussed most is when we talk about activities and practices in a local church setting. By what standard do we measure the kinds of songs we sing, the kinds of sermons we preach, the kinds of outreach we do, or even the way we manipulate the setting of the worship service? Is our goal to get the most people in the room? Is our goal to get the biggest number of people regularly in the church building? Or is there another standard, a greater standard?
There have surely been times in my life when I thought like a pragmatist regarding the worship of the Lord. I thought that whatever promoted strong emotion or whatever drew more people to the service must be a good thing so long as I could not point to specific violations of clear commands. But as time has gone by in my life and in my Christian walk, I have discovered that God has not commanded us to measure our services by a pragmatic measure of greater numbers equals greater success or greater emotion equals greater success. Instead, the Lord has shown us that the exaltation of him, his glory, his holiness, his majesty, in accord with his word, by people genuinely committed to him, these are measures of success. Are we being faithful to the word? Are we painting a true picture of the Lord and his ways?
I thought of this topic as I read through the rebellion of the people of Judah who ran to Egypt during the days of the Babylonian captivity. It seems that part of the reason that God had judged Judah was that the people had been worshipping false gods and goddesses. The people had picked up that evil practice while in Egypt. And they were measuring the rightness or wrongness of that activity, not by the word of God, but by the seeming success or failure the practice was bringing to them.
Jeremiah 44:15-19 – 15 Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: 16 “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you. 17 But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. 18 But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.” 19 And the women said, “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands’ approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?”
Imagine, God says to these people that they must stop worshipping this false goddess. They turn to Jeremiah, and with a straight face say that they will not obey. Why? When they worshipped the false goddess, they had more stuff. When they stopped, they went hungry and captive to Egypt. So they will worship her again.
Jeremiah, of course, will follow up this section with the truth of God. They were captive because of the worship of the false goddess. The Lord had been merciful to them for a season, even in their rebellion, but they would not turn from their evil. Their measure was wrong. Their actions were not OK when they had more stuff or wrong when they had less. The proper measure for their actions is the command of God, not the amount of food on the table.
Friends, be very careful measuring your choices or the choices of your church by pragmatism. The only measure of the rightness or wrongness of what you do and the attitude with which you do it is the word of God. What does Scripture tell us worship is about? What does Scripture show us that the church is about? What methods does God prescribe for Christian living, evangelism, social engagement, etc.? Growing in number is no proof of God’s favor. Diminishing in social influence is no sign of God’s disfavor. Faithfulness to Scripture leads to the favor of God. Ignoring the word of God will lead to his disfavor. So be sure you do not use the wrong measure.