The mission of the church is to fulfill the Great Commission; to preach the Gospel and to make disciples. The church is here for one purpose, to bring the gospel to those whom the Father has chosen, so that they can hear it and believe and be saved. God has already chosen His children even before the foundation of the world and Christ has finished His saving work. Our mandate is to call to salvation those whom God will call according to His sovereign will. The church is here for the purpose of evangelism. I believe, the church understand it mission, and it understand the message to be delivered, but their problem seems to be the method.
For many bible-believing churches have been inflicted with severe pragmatism they sort out to fast, result-driven methods ignoring the clear teaching of the Word. Pragmatism is the notion that success is determined by practical consequences. It is the philosophy that the church should do “whatever works” to grow. Many churches are tempted to devise their ministry methods for the sake of reaching a bigger crowd.
Pastors are turning to books on marketing methods in search of new techniques to help churches grow. Many seminaries have shifted their pastoral training emphasis from Bible curriculum and theology to counseling technique and church-growth theory. All these trends reflect the church’s growing commitment to pragmatism. – John MacArthur
The common perspective of evangelical pragmatism is, in order to reach the world the church has to become like the world. In order to attract people, the church has to give what they want; the church has to act the way the people like to act. Where there is more common ground that the church can find with the world, the more effective in reaching out to them. Church needs to adopt their cultural values, their needs, their music, and their expectations. The church must become much like the world as possible. That’s what builds the bridge.
What’s wrong with pragmatism?
Well, the question to ask is, ‘Is that the right method?’ If we were to examine the scripture it is absolutely the opposite what God has called the church to do by way of methodology. Christ in His earthly ministry had never accommodated the world. There was no pragmatism in His ministry or that of the apostles. The biblical strategy is just the opposite of what is popular today. In other words, in order to reach to the world the church must separate from the world. “What agreement does God’s sanctuary have with idols? For we are the sanctuary of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). Church exists to fulfill the will of God. It shouldn’t blend in to the patterns of the world, but should stand stark contrast to the world in order to reach the world.
What method should the church follow?
The greatest evangelist ever lived on this earth is Christ Jesus. He came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). He is the model for the church strategy. He came to the world to preach the gospel, and the world hated Him, and finally they killed Him. He didn’t use some marketing strategy to mitigate the hostility towards Him. He never employed a strategy to win people using worldly tricks. “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18). The church shouldn’t expect friendship with the world. “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy” (James 4:4). The bottom line is, the method you find that makes unbelievers happy with you is folly. If the church tries to mitigate suffering, tries to mitigate hostility, tries to find worldly ways for nonbelievers to like it, they miss the point of getting the truth to them. What pragmatism does is making the gospel harder to communicate because it’s all mixed up with worldly things.
Scriptural elements of the Church growth
The story of the church begins in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts not only gives the historical record of the Life and the growth of the church, but also loaded with sound doctrine and theology that is essential for the life and growth of the church today. It is both descriptive and prescriptive. Over a period of 3 decades, from one congregation that started by 120 people on the Day of Pentecost, to the time of Paul’s imprisonment, the church has expanded beyond Jerusalem and gone in to the other parts the world as The Great Commission begins to be fulfilled. God continued His redemptive saga through the preaching of the Gospel by the apostles. It was an unparalleled explosive growth of the church. What were the elements that produced this kind of growth?
- They had a transcendent message
Throughout the history of the church one thing is very clear, that is they delivered a transcendent, unadulterated gospel message. Whether the apostles were in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria or in Gentile territories, the message never changed. The message was never altered according to the culture, to the traditions, to the customs of the city or country. The message Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost is the same message that Paul preached wherever he went. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). “Repent” (v38), “Be saved from this corrupt generation “(v40). People were outright offended by their message. A very strong, confronting, condemning, judgmental message. They all had one problem -sin. They all had one need -deliverance from the wrath of God. And there was only one Savior -Christ. The church grew through the preaching of the pure gospel.
- They were a regenerated congregation
They were all true believers. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42). They were not spectators on the Sunday. They came to listen to sound doctrine. They engaged in spiritual fellowship and communion, and they were committed to prayer and worship. That’s the mark of the true believer. The church was designed for the edification of believers and not for the entertainment of the unbelievers. The early church understood what a church is. It is a gathering of redeemed people. Unbelievers are welcome to come and listen to the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14 – “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”), but they can’t be a part of it. Even a sinning believer needs to be put out of the church if he refuses to repent (Matthew 18:15–17, 1 Cor. 5:13). Did it destroy the growth? “And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). The Lord adds people to church, that’s how the church grows.
- They persevered through hostility
They were faithful and persevering church in the face of hostility. They did not seek to be popular among the people or try to accommodate the culture. Many hated their message. Acts Ch.4 says “they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them because they were provoked”. They arrest them and put them in the jail. Did it stop the church growth? The v4 says, “But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000.” The early church grew under the force and power of the truth. The hostility, persecution is not counterproductive to the church growth, rather it is essential to the growth of the church because it is the natural response to the truth from the unbelieving world.
- They committed to the purity of the church
The early church was a frightening place to be in. Acts records that the apostles were doing many miracles and signs among people. So it was possible that the early church attracted not only true believers, but also the temporary miracle-seekers. We read in Ch.5 how God has dealt with the purity of the church at the very beginning. God slayed Ananias and his wife Sapphira in front of the church congregation for something seems to be a simple lying. After that incident a great fear came on the whole church, and unbelievers dared to join them, but God continued to add believers in increasing numbers (v11-14). The church should be a frightening place, because God desires the holiness of His Church. The church is not a theater for the performing arts for the congregation when they gather to worship God, it’s a place of an Audience of One.
- They had godly leadership
The early church grew under the influence of godly leaders. It is not about personality or business skills, it is about spiritual qualification and sound doctrine. When the church was growing in massive number, “there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1). The apostles choose seven men for the administration of the church. What were their qualifications? “Good character and full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). Was that effective? Yes it was, “The number of the disciples in Jerusalem multiplied greatly” (V7). The church doesn’t need secular wisdom, or corporate strategy. What it needs is the Godly leadership.
God builds the church, It is not in our hands
Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My church.” Christ is the cornerstone of the church, and the apostles provide the foundation stones for the building of God that goes on until the end of the church age (rapture). What many churches have forgotten today is this; who would be saved was already predetermined before the foundation of the world. All what we were asked to do is to preach the truth of the gospel so that those who were chosen by the Father could hear it and believe. The saving work belongs to God, the adding of believers is God’s tasks. We are the human means that God uses in his salvation plan. The church is not being built by men with clever strategies, it is built by God through the truth.
Church’s Success is not in the Numbers
Good results are not necessarily indicative of faithfulness to Scripture. God does not always provide the results we would like to see. That does not necessarily mean that the method is wrong. Producing results is in the hand of God. In His earthly ministry, even Jesus being the supreme evangelist has varied results; not everyone responded to His preaching. Many people believed and many people rejected Him. The danger of the pragmatism in the church is to lose focus on the method that God has prescribed to the church in the scripture and becoming worldly.
Following is an excerpt from the Lord’s Day sermon delivered by C.H. Spurgeon on Oct 7th, 1988.
The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world, and so include a larger area within its bounds. By semi-dramatic performances they make houses of prayer to approximate to the theatre; they turn their services into musical displays, and their sermons into political harangues or philosophical essays – in fact, they exchange the temple for theatre, and turn the ministers of God into actors, whose business it is to amuse men. Is it not so, that the Lord’s day is becoming more and more a day of recreation of idleness, and the Lord’s house either a joss-house full of idols, or a political club, where there is more enthusiasm for a party than zeal for God? Ah me! The hedges are broken down, the walls are leveled, and to many there is, henceforth, no church except as a portion of the world, no God except as an unknowable force by which the laws of nature work. This, then, is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform himself, his people, and his Word to the world. I will not dwell any longer on so loathsome a proposal.
Pragmatism is an enemy of the authentic church. The church must be aware of this threat. It should persevere in maintaining the doctrinal purity with an emphasis on biblical ministry regardless of the number game, because God is the one who elects, He is the one who calls, and He is the one who adds believers to the church. We cannot setup our own strategies to determine how and what God will do in any time or generation or location. Just as the early church, we are called to follow the very same principles, same methods, and same duties that they had under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Tim Challies, Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. John Piper, 9Marks, The Gospel Coalition (TGC)
Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World, By Dr. John MacArthur