Pragmatism is a dangerous thing because it makes justifications for wrongdoing.
Yet I hear pragmatist excuses all the time, mostly from Christians of my generation. I hear people say that God can work through sinful means to accomplish a good purpose. Now that statement is obviously true, but here’s where the pragmatism comes in. I’m hearing from so many that because God can work through sinful means, it’s okay that we pursue those sinful means, support those sinful means, and defend them. The excuse is this: “What I’m doing may not be completely okay in God’s eyes, but I’m going to do it because the result will be good, beneficial, and right.”
Perhaps the clearest example of Christian pragmatism comes from Christians who pursue romantic relationships with unbelievers. Certainly the Christian realizes what God says about matter:
2 Corinthians 6:14
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
So long as you pursue a relationship with an unbeliever, you are pursuing yoking yourself with someone who is a child of darkness, a slave to Satan, and lawless. Here’s where theology meets real life. Will you take God at his word and desire to please him more than yourself? Or will you make all the excuses in the world for why this is okay? Scripture is clear. It is you who are blurring the lines. You are justifying wrong doing for the sake of a “good” result. But can that ever be good, especially in God’s eyes?
Another example I’ve heard is this: “Even though this church is spotty when it comes to preaching, the community is good and they have good outreach.”
This is shocking, because Reformed people should know better. What builds community? What gives people the desire for outreach? The answer is the Word of God preached! The fellowship between believers is built by the Spirit, and the Spirit works in the hearts of his people through the preaching of the Word. A love and desire to reach people in the community will only come if we are overtaken with Christ’s love for us. And where do we hear about that? Through the preached Word.
The Reformation was all about getting back to the Bible. Yet we so easily justify going to churches with spotty preaching for the sake of community building. Well I ask you this: Is it more important to have God glorifying gospel preaching in church, or good community? Of course, this is a false choice, for where the gospel is preached and loved the community will follow. But if you were forced a choice between the two, what would you choose? What builds the church? Is it about good community and relationships between believers, or are we united around a message and creed? If preaching is spotty in our churches then we have to ask ourselves a real question. Is the community just a false pretense?
Then there are those with the idea that Christians are called to be “keepers of culture”. They believe that Christians are called to participate in any number of cultural activities so they can “transform” it (though perhaps they would prefer the word “keep” rather than transform). They want Christians to be involved in media, in art, in theater, in most everything in order to have a Christian influence on it. This in itself, of course, is not a bad thing. But this is the problem: in the name of being a keeper of culture, these people will be pragmatists for the greater good.
The most shocking thing I’ve heard someone in this fold of thought say is this: “Christians who are trying to help reach those in the porn industry should watch porn themselves to know what they’re dealing with.”
If you’re me, you couldn’t believe your ears.
After all, I thought the gospel is what changed people. Not how much we know about people’s past sins. The only thing we need to know when evangelizing is that people are sinners in need of a savior. And that’s not a difficult thing to figure out.
This is Christian pragmatism at its worst. It flies in the face of all that we are as Christians, called to be in the world, but not of it. It also contradicts one small passage in Thessalonians, so I’ll end with that.
1 Thessalonians 5:22
Abstain from every form of evil.