def. the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value
Sounds good, doesn’t it? I mean, we all want to be practical, don’t we? What could be wrong with that? At least, that is increasingly what our entire society is built upon, blatantly in some areas, more subtly in others. And, if we are not careful, that is what our own lives can be based upon.
Pragmatism is deeply rooted in the human soul. It was in Eden that the first “pragmatic” decision was made. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”(Genesis 3:6 ESV) Adam and Eve were very practical, but very wrong.
The Bible is filled with misguided pragmatism. Here are just four examples from the dozens that are in the Scriptures, four different types for us to be on our guard against:
1. To Abandon God When He Delays His Action—Misguided Impatience
In Exodus 32 it had been forty days since Moses had went up to the mountain of God, and the children of Israel called out for leadership. This God is taking too long, we don’t know what has become of Moses, let’s do something. And so they abandoned God, and 4000 men died that day. How many times do we try to force God’s hand, when a job isn’t going as planned, when we are still single after so many years, when a wayward child still has not come back home? Whenever we take a step beyond God’s will in the conviction that we must solve the problem, we will be judged by God.
2. To Use Satan’s Devices When the Going Gets Tough—Misguided Fear
In 1 Samuel 27 King Saul was surrounded by his enemies and didn’t know what to do. Terrified, he consults with a medium, which was against both the laws of the land and God’s law. From the dead Samuel judged him, and told him that he had sealed his greatest fear by his disobedience—he would die the next day. Struggling through tough times, fearful of the future, how many Christians have turned to addictions, to lying or cheating, to violations of either man’s law or God’s law, and then saw the consequences of their worst fears coming true? And how many babies are being aborted each day by pragmatic people who know that their choice is the most “practical”?
3. To Try to Do God’s Work Through Man’s Wisdom—Misguided Concern
In 2 Samuel 6 we come to a passage that many people are uncomfortable with. The Ark of the Covenant is being transported to Jerusalem. However, it is being transported on a cart, against the written law of God. The cart shakes, the ark is about to tumble off, and a priest named Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark and touches it. He is instantly struck dead. All us pragmatists shout, “He was only trying to help! He had a good heart! He wanted to do what was right!” And God’s reply to the argument of pragmatism was swift and obvious. God’s work can only be done in God’s way. Unfortunately, this brand of pragmatism is rampant within the church today. If it increases attendance, if it “brings people to Christ”, if it allows us to reach this worthy goal or that worthy goal—all done in the name of pragmatism, often without asking whether or not the book or program or campaign or philosophy is Biblical or not.
4. To Try & Serve Both God & Money—Misguided Greed
In Acts 5 we come to a very pragmatic couple. They want to give some money to the church and be justly recognized for it, but surely it isn’t a big deal if they keep a little for a rainy day. As we all know, it was a big deal to God. Lying to the Holy Spirit, motivated by their desire to try and serve both God & money, was not a little matter.
God doesn’t think much of pragmatism. If you noticed, in each of the examples the pragmatic people turned out to be dead people. In whatever form it takes it comes down to rebellion against God. How can we guard against it? By realizing how pervasive it is, by saturating ourselves with Scripture, by taking wise counsel, and by continually bathing ourselves in prayer that we might humbly walk with God and commit to following His will no matter how “practical” or “impractical” it first appears.