Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Can pragmatism coexist with sound doctrine?

Can pragmatism and sound doctrine coexist? Today's culture is highly pragmatic. Most of what I've written about here reflects a tension with "what works" and "what's right." I know that sentence sounds like something is wrong just because it works." I don't mean that at all! The problem, as I see it, is that there are those who think that "if it works it must be right." That's not true! At the same time, there are those who think that the reason their church isn't growing is because they "are right" and what they're doing "is right" and "narrow is the way." That's not true either.

I think Thomas Campbell -- yes the one from the early 1800s -- had it right in his Thirteen Propositions published in The Declaration and Address." Campbell strongly believed in teaching the Bible but he recognized that in the life of the church there are those practices that are helpful but not described in Scripture. In the last of the propositions Campbell maintained that "expedients" (things that work) not found in Scripture may be helpful and they are permissible, but -- and this is a big but -- they should never be retained longer than they are helpful.

I do evangelism differently than I did it in the 1960 and 70s when I was first in ministry. I use a modified "101" approach. We invited 53 people to come to our home for a conversation about the church and about what Christ teaches about membership. Fourteen showed up and it was, to the say least, an interesting afternoon. Last Sunday seven responded to the invitation. In prior years I've used the Jule Miller filmstrips, Bible studies in the home, evangelistic calling, evangelistic meetings (for those I couldn't get down the aisle a super-salesman often could). When the "101" approach no longer works, I'll dispense with it. I will do so not because it is wrong, but because it is no longer effective. The Great Commission tells us to go preach the Gospel but it doesn't not specificially tell us what methodology to use.

My quarrel with things as they are is not that we alter methodology in order to become effective. It is that we all too often think that because we do what works we don't need to teach content after folks walk the aisle. There just has to be a balance.

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