December 18, 2017

Ahaz – A Wicked King and Religious Pragmatism

Bruce Oyen

One of Judah’s wicked kings was Ahaz. His notorious history is found in 2 Chronicles 28 and in 2 Kings 16. We can learn how religious pragmatism works by a consideration of Ahaz’s use of it. And we should do so, for such pragmatism is alive and well, even among those who call themselves evangelicals and Fundamentalists.

“And in the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the lord: this is that king Ahaz. For he sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus, which smote him: and he said, Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore I will sacrifice to them, that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel” (2 Chron 28:22–23).

While it is true that evangelicals and Fundamentalists have not stooped as low as Ahaz, we must admit that the pragmatic spirit has about overcome evangelicalism. And Fundamentalists are not immune to this disease of the soul. Consider Ahaz’s statement, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me.” Many in our day have said to themselves, “Because the principles of religious pragmatism help some grow larger ministries, I will follow those principles, that they may help me.”

Religious pragmatism has brought the use of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) instead of traditional, reverent, doctrinally sound music because it appeals to the younger generation. Pragmatists don’t really care if CCM is good music or not, so long as it helps them reach their goals.

Pragmatism has caused many churches to turn away from doctrinal preaching and teaching. We live in a society infected with relativism; therefore, doctrine does not appeal to many. They want to make up their own beliefs, rather than be told what Scripture has to say on a topic. Pragmatists are quite willing to accommodate these relativists in order to get them to attend their services. Therefore, such churches are filled with those who are ignorant of the fundamental truths of Christianity. They are Biblically illiterate. Sound doctrine is foreign to them.

Pragmatists also accommodate moral relativism. They do not clearly present the moral absolutes of Holy Scripture, except perhaps on those points that are absolutely fundamental to Christianity. And the reason is the same: telling people how they should live does not produce big churches. Just as doctrinally weak preaching results in ignorance of sound doctrine, so morally weak preaching has its effect: it produces church-goers whose lives are not noticeably different from their secular neighbors.

For example, the Bible very plainly teaches that homosexuality is a sin. That is the only honest interpretation of the relevant verses in Romans 1. They give no hint that homosexuality might be acceptable or something a person is legitimately predisposed to do. Perverse behavior is a sinful choice. Since we live in a society that has rejected the Scriptural view of homosexuality, pragmatists accommodate these individuals in order to keep them attending their church services.

The Bible is equally clear and dogmatic that premarital and extramarital sex is always wrong. But religious pragmatists do not preach this because they do not want to drive away the guilty who might be in attendance. They often shy away from the Biblical view of divorce and remarriage for the same reason. They know that to do so will involve them in a controversy that would almost certainly hinder them from reaching their attendance and offering goals or just because they want to avoid the unpleasantness of the controversy.

Religious pragmatists will not tell their congregations that Catholicism and the Masonic Lodge are anti-Christian organizations. This is too narrowminded for this enlightened age, they reason, and it only turns people away from the church. Thus, silence and tolerance are the norm. Pragmatists might condemn drunkenness, but they most likely will not oppose social drinking or gambling, for to do so is to appear out-of-date and to offend some they are trying to attract.

Pragmatists sometimes don’t insist on church membership, for we live in a time when many simply do not want to be formally committed to the church. Pragmatists do not object to ecumenicalism. Or, if they do, they are careful not to name those who advocate it, such as Billy Graham. To point out that he has caused great harm to Christianity is too costly. Pragmatists will not be dogmatic about baptism and the Lord’s supper. They give the impression that immersion, sprinkling, or pouring are equally valid “baptisms.” They won’t insist on baptizing only those old enough to understand the meaning of baptism. Nor does it make much difference to them if baptism and the Lord’s supper are considered to be sacraments or symbols. What counts is what is acceptable to the crowd. Pragmatists will not teach their congregations that applause is not appropriate for church services, nor will they say that one should not wear immodest clothing to church.

Today’s religious pragmatism is based on the same principle that guided wicked king Ahaz, who said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me.” Many say to themselves, “Pragmatism has helped others grow larger ministries. Therefore, I will sacrifice the doctrinal and moral absolutes of the Bible on the altar of expediency. Pragmatism works for others; it will work for me.”

Unfortunately, pragmatists have not considered the outcome of Ahaz’s actions. 2 Chronicles 28:23 says, “But they (the Syrian gods) were the ruin of him, and of all Israel.” They do not realize that the pragmatic spirit blurs the distinction between Christianity and the world, robbing professing Christians of a clear-cut testimony for Christ. They do not understand that it has prevented the clear presentation of Bible doctrine, something vital to evangelism. Nor do they know that pragmatism is a trap from which it is difficult to escape. The price of renouncing pragmatism is great, but it is cheaper than the ruin to which such a course is sure to lead.

In his book God Tells the Man Who Cares, A. W. Tozer wrote of pragmatism that the “weakness of all this is its tragic short-sightedness. It never takes a long view of religious activity, indeed it dare not do so, but goes fully on believing that because it works it is both good and true. It is satisfied with present success and shakes off any suggestion that it may go up in smoke in the day of Christ.”

As one fairly familiar with the contemporary religious scene, I say without hesitation that a part, a very large part, of the activities carried on today in evangelical circles are not only influenced by pragmatism but almost completely controlled by it. Religious methodology is geared to it; youth meetings constantly glorify it; conventions are dominated by and alive with it.

We too, must beware. What shall we do to break its power over us? The answer is simple. We must acknowledge the right of Jesus Christ to control the activities of His church. The New Testament contains full instructions, not only about what we are to believe but what we are to do and how we are to go about doing it. Any deviation from those instructions is a denial of the Lordship of Christ. The answer is simple, but it is not easy, for it requires that we obey God rather than man, and that always brings down the wrath of the religious majority. It is not a question of knowing what to do; we can easily learn that from the Scriptures. It is a question of whether or not we have the courage to do it.

Bruce Oyen is pastor of First Baptist Church in Spearfish, South Dakota.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2002. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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