Pragmatism – The belief that the only way to determine truth is through practical results. This thought has taken the Christian world by storm. The prescribed way that God has set for things like worship, community, marriage doesn’t seem to matter so much now. Lately I’ve been looking at this issue of pragmatism and even speaking out on it via our radio show: Airing the Addisons. What I’m finding out is that people don’t really like to hear that God has a prescribed way set in His word. We are sometimes labeled with trying to put God in a box. The belief that we as Christians can do things however we like because it “works” is a flawed way to look at things.
A prime example we see in Christianity has to do with our methods in Christian music and Christian ministry. Why would we think it’s alright to collaborate with the unsaved artist or speakers because we feel we will gain a larger audience when the Word of God tells us otherwise. 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 tells us
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,”
It’s called pragmatism. Pragmatism can kill you. While I’m not speaking of a physical death (although it could lead to that) I’m speaking more of a death to your witness. Today when you have Christian artists or ministers doing whatever they like in their methodology not considering the parameters set forth by the Word of God it effectively begins to kill their witness. Artists who deviate from the standard in order to cater to a different/larger audience at the expense of the Christian audience that they already possess, show a lack of true love for the body and reckless behavior.
A clear example of pragmatism found in the Word of God can be seen in the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. God had prescribed a way in which the Ark was to be carried. We can find that spelled out in Exodus 25:12-16 it says:
“You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall MAKE POLES of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”
It is easy to assume after reading that passage that improvements and shortcuts really would not matter that much. With pragmatism we begin either to think we have a better way than the prescribed way of doing things, or we look at the way others are doing it and see their results and reason in our minds that this way is easier or more productive. We can see the latter spelled out in 1 Samuel 6. Here the Philistines are trying to figure out how to get the Ark out of their presence because they have brought curses upon themselves by stealing it. They devise a plan. If we look at 1 Samuel 6:8-9 we see part of their plan which consists of how the Ark was to get back to its rightful owners. The Philistine diviners advise:
“And take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.”
In that passage we see the Philistines totally disregarding the way the Ark was to be carried. But hey, no big deal right because heathens do what they do. This is the first place we see the Ark carried in a non-prescribed way.
Now this is the fascinating part in my opinion. Some more time has passed and the Ark is ready to be transported back to Jerusalem. We have to remember that the Ark implied the very presence of God so handling it in the prescribed way was imperative. It’s imperative today for us as Christians to do ministry as God has prescribed and not lean on our own understandings for what we think will work best. The Gospel is still and will always be the power of God unto salvation, but I digress. So now we have in 2 Samuel 6 the Ark set to be brought back to Jerusalem. This is a great time of joy and celebration. Now God’s people, following after the Philistines (who are not God’s people), decided to carry the Ark like the “world” carried it instead of the way prescribed by God. It says in 2 Samuel 6:1-11
“David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzahto this day. And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.”
What we see here is a moving away from what was prescribed by God and it’s not a light thing. This is a very sad story and what we can gain from it is that if the people of God would have stuck to the pattern that God had given instead of following the world’s way of doing things Uzzah probably would not have died. King David was upset with the Lord because it seemed like Uzzah was doing a great thing by helping the Ark not to fall off of the Cart.
The problem was that the Ark was not supposed to be on the cart in the first place. Great intentions but not what God prescribed. The people of God may have seen the cart that the Philistines made and said in themselves, “hey that’s a good idea. You know that Ark is pretty heavy and it would be easier if we drove it on a cart.” The people of God even made a NEW CART. The problem is that’s not how God designated His presence to be carried. The newness of the cart does not impress God; obedience does. When we as the people of God decide that we compromise and it may be a slow fade that takes a while to be clearly seen, but it will happen. Our safest bet is to stay true to God’s Word and the way that he says to do ministry. It’s not worth the fame, or the connections that we may think we are getting to compromise the very principles of God and lose the influence that He has given us. Guard against pragmatism because it could kill you and/or your witness.