Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ashamed of the Gospel
Today I received in the mail John MacArthur's third edition of his 1993 book, Ashamed of the Gospel. Next to his 1988 publication, "The Gospel According to Jesus", Ashamed of the Gospel has been considered by many as perhaps the best book MacArthur has ever penned. The subtitle to the book is "when the church becomes like the world" - and with the straight-forward, plain spoken language which MacArthur is known for, Ashamed of the Gospel is a critical analysis of the seeker-sensitive movement; and a clarion call for the church to return to a firm and humble reliance on the power and sovereignty of God for salvation. In the preface to the original edition, MacArthur raises an important question which all seeker-sensitive churches need to weigh in with grave seriousness: "What's wrong with pragmatism?" MacArthur's answer is both discerning and convicting for any church or pastor either using pragmatism or tempted to be pragmatic as the basis of their ministry. In addition to answering this question, MacArthur also gives helpful examples of what a church does when it is driven by pragmatism rather than God's Word:
"What's wrong with pragmatism? After all, common sense involves a measure of legitimate pragmatism, doesn't it? If a dripping faucet works fine after you replace the washers, it is reasonable to assume that bad washers were the problem...But when pragmatism is used to make judgments about right and wrong, or when it becomes a guiding philosophy of life, theology, or ministry, it inevitably clashes with Scripture. Spiritual and biblical truth is not determined by testing what 'works' and what doesn't. We know from Scripture, for example, that the gospel often does not produce a positive response (I Cor.1:22-23; 2:14). On the other hand, Satanic lies and deception can be quite effective (Matt.24:23-24; 2 Cor.4:3-4). Majority reaction is no test of validity (cf. Matt.7:13-14), and prosperity is no measure of truthfulness (cf. Job 12:6). Pragmatism as a guiding philosophy of ministry is inherently flawed. Pragmatism as a test of truth is nothing short of satanic.
Nevertheless, an overpowering surge of ardent pragmatism is sweeping through evangelicalism. Traditional methodology - most notably preaching - is being discarded or downplayed in favor of newer means, such as drama, music, dance, comedy, variety, side-show histrionics, pop psychology, and other entertainment forms. The new methods supposedly are more 'effective' - that is, they draw a bigger crowd. And since the chief criterion for guaging the success of a church has become attendance figures, whatever pulls in the most people is accepted without further analysis as good. That is pragmatism.
Perhaps the most visible signs of pragmatism are seen in the convulsive changes that have revolutionized the church worship service in the past decade. Some of evangelicalism's largest and most influential churches now boast Sunday services that are deliberately designed to be rollicking rather than reverent.
Even worse, theology now takes a back seat to methodology. One author has written, 'Formerly, a doctrinal statement represented the reason for a denomination's existence. Today, methodology is the glue that holds churches together. A statement of ministry defines them and their denominational existence.' Incredibly, many believe this is a positive trend, a major advance for the contemporary church...We're actually told we can get better results by first amusing people, giving them pop psychology or impressing them with a high-tech, special-effects smoke-and-light show - thus wooing them into the fold. Once they know we are cool and feel they are comfortable, they'll be ready to receive biblical truth in small, diluted doses.
Pastors have drawn their ministry philosophies from books on marketing methods. Many young ministers devour such resources in search of new techniques to help their churches grow. Major 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" [pages 27-28].
Patience in Pastoring
One of my heroes of the faith whom I have gleaned much wisdom from in the work of pastoring is John Newton (1725-1807). Recently I ran across a biographical sketch of Newton by Iain Murray in his book, Heroes. On pages 102-103, Murray unveils some insightful characteristics of Newton's pastoring when it came to the progress of spiritual growth among his congregation. As I read how patient Newton was with God's flock, I was rightly and sorely convicted of how impatient I tend to be with those God has granted me to shepherd. This was a needed word of challenge and wisdom that I must hear as a pastor. Moreover, I was especially taken by Newton's handling of believers who have not yet come to see "the doctrines of grace." May these words be a great encouragement and challenge as well to other fellow-pastors:
"For Newton, God's great patience in his people's slow progress in grace and truth was a lesson that ministers must ever remember. Preachers are to teach, but they do not control the pace at which grace develops in their hearers. They cannot give the experience that prepares a Christian for fuller light. He concluded that it is a dangerous thing to hurry young believers into an acceptance of teaching they are not ready to receive. Our Lord himself taught the people 'as they were able to hear it' (Mark 4:33). Newton regarded this as very relevant to 'the doctrines which are now stigmatized by the name of Calvinism.' On the presentation of those doctrines he writes:
I am an avowed Calvinist: the points that are usually comprised in that term, seem to me so consonant with Scripture, reason (when enlightened), and experience, that I have not the shadow of a doubt about them. But I cannot dispute, I dare not speculate...but...I think these doctrines will do no one any good till he is taught them of God. I believe a too hasty assent to Calvinistic principles, before a person is duly acquainted with the plague of his own heart, is one principle cause of that lightness of profession which so lamentably abounds in this day, a chief reason why many professors are rash, heady, high-minded, contentious about words...I believe that most persons who are truly alive to God, sooner or later meet with some pinches in their experience which constrain them to flee to these doctrines for relief, which perhaps they had formerly dreaded...In this way I was made a Calvinist myself; and I am content to let the Lord take his own way, and his own time, with others."

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