Friday, September 14, 2012

The Porno Pragmatism (Missionary Daters, Church Excusers, and Culture Keepers)

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.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Gospel as Foolishness

Paul tells us that he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). For Paul to tell the Roman Christians that he was not ashamed of the gospel means that humanly there is something about the gospel that could make us ashamed.

Really, the gospel is altogether unique and maybe a little strange. This is why Paul calls the word of the cross “folly to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The gospel doesn’t make sense to humans.

So here’s my point: Paul says that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16). I heard a pastor say recently that everyone in Christendom is looking for real, vibrant, meaningful, and powerful Christianity. And isn’t that the Christianity we all crave? But here’s the problem. Instead of retracing steps back to Biblical basics and examining the Bible’s own idea of where the real power is, many church leaders and ministers forge their own ideas. Then we get all sorts of programs and sermons telling us all sorts of things about how to improve ourselves, our lives, and our communities. And we forget the gospel. We forget the source of true power. We forget what God tells us. “Having begun by the Spirit, are [we] now being perfected by the flesh” (Galatians 3:3)?

The Gospel isn’t just for our justification. The gospel is for the whole Christian life of sanctification. This is why I have always held the opinion that if a sermon given by a minister does not contain the good news of what Christ has done for us, it is not a Christian sermon. That is to say, there is nothing about it that is particularly “Christian”. Moralistic sermons are no different than listening to a life coach. Besides that, without the constant reminder of the gospel the Christian is ill-equipped to defend himself through the temptations of life. Unless Christians are constantly driven, turned, and brought back to the gospel in the midst of their failures in the Christian life, they will become depressed rather than joyfully living and pursuing a life of grateful obedience in light of a legal status declared over them when they were justified: “NOT GUILTY: THE PRICE HAS BEEN PAID IN FULL”.  There is nothing left to be accomplished. Failures in the Christian life cannot affect our forgiven status. If they could, then we are without hope. 

This kind of grace should provoke us to obedience. 

So if we want powerful Christianity, the remedy is pretty simple. The gospel is it. Getting back to the gospel will put the feelings of weakness and the lack of sanctification we see in our own lives into their proper place. It will do this because first, when we are the weakest in ourselves, we are the strongest in Christ. Secondly, being constantly driven to take hold of Christ and to look to the cross will help us take our eyes off ourselves and put them where they are supposed to have been all along; on the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ.

There’s no reason to be ashamed of the Gospel, though it seems as though many church leaders are. After all, if they really believed that the power for salvation was in the gospel, why wouldn’t we hear it preached more? The gospel is God’s chosen means of saving his chosen people. We don’t get to choose where the power is. God does. And we should glory in that. Paul didn’t put another program in place. So powerful was the gospel in Paul’s mind that he said to the church in Corinth, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Testimonials may be strong evidence for the grace of God in people’s lives, but they aren’t where the power is. The power is in a message and the Spirit who works that message into our hearts. It is a message of good news to all nations of the earth. That God came in the flesh, as the man Jesus Christ. That he lived a perfect life, was dead and buried, and descended into hell. He rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven. He paid for sins with his precious blood. We who have faith in him have union with him through the Spirit of God. We have the hope of eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth. Our inheritance is in heaven.

It’s true that the message of the gospel is strange. Some think it is irrelevant, some think it is lunacy. Don’t Paul’s words ring true that the message of the gospel is foolishness to the world? But all true Christians can say with Paul: “…I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). If we believe this, we should go to churches that preach it.