Thursday, March 22, 2012

Will American Pragmatism Poison The Global Church? (With Warnings From Oswald Chambers)

“Whenever success is made the motive of service infidelity to our Lord is the inevitable result.” Oswald Chambers, from Disciples Indeed (DI).

It has been nearly a century since Oswald Chambers left this earth. Yet his words need to be heeded by the practitioners of American pragmatism within the Church today. Pragmatism, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means, “a method or tendency…characterized by the rejection of theory and precedent, and by the use of practical means and expedients.” This secular practice has it’s adherents within the American Church. In the name of reaching more people for Jesus Christ, modern Christian pragmatists deemphasize orthodox doctrine so as not to scare the unsaved from becoming Christ’s disciples. They try to attract people through messages dealing with “felt needs.” They claim that this was the evangelistic method followed by Jesus Himself. He healed the sick and fed the crowds before he preached to them. Pragmatists cite James 2:15- 16 for scriptural support: “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?” It is often true that people need their physical needs dealt with before they are ready to hear the Gospel. Yet this fact does not justify the de-emphasis of doctrine in the name of reaching people for Christ. Christ did meet felt needs. He also began his ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:17). When He sent His disciples out in twos, He gave them power to heal and to cast out demons. He also commanded them to preach the Kingdom of God (Mt. 10:1, 7). In giving the Great Commission, Jesus told the disciples to make disciples of all the nations, teaching all the things He commanded (Mt. 28: 18-20). In the early days of the Salvation Army, those who needed a meal received a meal, along with a sermon. Pragmatists would say that times have changed. They have. But the Gospel hasn’t. Neither has the need for sinners to hear the whole Gospel before they can be saved. Oswald Chambers warns us against the spirit of pragmatism: “Beware of the temptation to compromise with the world, to put their interests, their needs, first—‘They have kindly become interested in our Christian work, given so much time to it, now let us winsomely draw them in’—they will winsomely draw you away from God” (Chambers, DI).

The temptation to compromise doesn’t just affect Christians who witness in safe environments. Even those who labor in areas where it is dangerous to do so can give in to compromise. My home church focused much of its support on missionaries living in Muslim countries. One of the Mission agencies we had extended contacts with was Frontiers, which focuses exclusively on reaching Muslims overseas. I have met many missionaries who risked their lives and their families to witness to Muslims in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet even Frontiers has been infected with the virus of American pragmatism. Frontiers has participated in producing Bibles which sacrifice correct doctrine so as to avoid offending Muslim sensitivities. (See here, from Gene Veith’s blog.) Muslims reject the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. They believe Jesus was a prophet, but think that to call Jesus God’s Son is blasphemy. When we say Christians worship one God in three persons, Muslims interpret this to mean we worship three gods. To avoid offending Muslim sensitivities, Frontiers and associates have produced a translation of scripture which avoids Trinitarian language. Jesus’ title, “The Son of God,” has been changed to “representitive of God.” “God the Father” is translated “great protector.” U.S. director of Frontiers, Bob Blincoe, justifies this change in wording as necessary to win more Muslims to Christ: “The big problem is that church planting among the tens of millions of religious Muslims in Turkey has not been successful; it has not even begun…One significant barrier may be the existing translation of the Bible…These are paraphrases that help a Conservative Sunni audience know what the Bible really says.” Actually, these are paraphrases that distort the Biblical witness of who Jesus really is. And this is done in the name of evangelism. “Christian service is not our work; loyalty to Jesus is our work” (Chambers, DI).

I once asked two Muslims what assurance they had that they were going to Heaven. They said they had none. They said that even if a Muslim followed the Koran perfectly, if God wanted to send them to hell, that is God’s business. They ended their answer with “Praise be to Allah.” Muslims, like Christians, believe in one God. But see how different is the Triune God revealed in the Bible. Christians worship one God in three persons. There is the Father and the Son. The Son intercedes to the Father on our behalf when we sin (1Jn. 2:1, Heb. 7:25). The Holy Spirit abides with us (Jn. 14:16) and teaches us all things (Jn. 14: 26). It is through the Spirit that Christ lives in us and empowers us to live as the Father would have us live (Gal. 2: 20). Among the three persons of the Triune God, there is mutual submission and accountability. (See here.) And the Triune God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Because our God never changes, when He promises eternal life to those who follow Him (Jn. 3: 15-16), we can be assured He won’t change His mind. A mature understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is not necessary for salvation. I certainly did not have such an understanding when I was saved. (See here.) But to remove Trinitarian language from scripture is a failure to witness to who Jesus truly is. If Muslims who come to Christ do not come to a full understanding of the Triune nature of God, they will eventually fall back into their earlier view of God as an imperious monarch.

It appears that Christians in Muslim lands are rejecting these new Bible versions and severing their ties with those agencies which translated them. One Christian in Pakistan said, “I want to die for the Bible,” not for mistranslation of it. One Middle Eastern Bible translator commented: “Should the trend continue, who knows where it will lead the coming generation. If Athenasius of old would have encountered such departure from Biblical Christology he would have placed these redactors far below the Arians.” This is not hyperbole. The so called modern scholarship which denies the divinity of Jesus has proven an obstacle in reaching Muslims for the Gospel. Muslim religious leaders quote such “scholarship” to debunk not only the Christology of the New Testament but its historicity as well. This new translation would play into their hands. A Christian working on another translation commented on the effect Frontiers’ translation has had on Christians in Islamic countries: “It has eroded their faith in the authority of the Word of God and in us as foreigners who are supposed to be teachers but can’t seem to agree on some basic truths of who Christ said he was…” Let us pray that Biblical orthodoxy among Christian converts in Islamic nations prevails over American pragmatism.

Scripture Quotations From The NKJV

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