Charles Spurgeon said a century ago, “Everywhere is apathy. Nobody cares whether that which is preached is true or false. A sermon is a sermon whatever the subject; only, the shorter it is the better.” That is the theme in a two-dvd set by John MacArthur entitled Does the Truth Matter Anymore? I am very grateful to the friend that loaned it to me. I also have been challenged by MacArthur’s emphasis on doctrine and his stressing that the Word of God be preached as it is. The results are in God’s hands. In the dvds, MacArthur parallels the influence of modernism in the church in Spurgeon’s day to the emphasis today on pragmatism.
Spurgeon saw the slippery slope of modernism eroding away the integrity of the church from the inside out. But what is modernism? Simply put, modernism was the ideal at the end of the 19th century that the church not stress doctrine so much, but just try to love each other more. It sounds great. Yet it created a breeding ground where its leaven went into the church and worked its way through so that tenets central to the faith like the Sovereignty of God, the virgin birth of Christ, original sin, etc. came under fire. Whole denominations were wiped out by the modernist epidemic. Much of Europe stands as spiritual wasteland because of modernism and many churches have become museums- crypts where spiritual corpses handle the Word of the Living God. In the dearth of conviction of sin and the teaching and living out of objective truth, morality has spiraled downwards in those places as well.
In modern times, MacArthur warns us about the rising tide of pragmatism in the church. And what is pragmatism? Pragmatism is being user-friendly. It means putting more emphasis on marketing than faithfully preaching the Word of God. It means catering to the carnal interests of church members; if the people aren’t coming to church, the church should just have more activities, open a cappuccino bar, and not try to worry about doctrine, but keep the messages short so people can get out and have a nice Sunday lunch.
The prevelance of pragmatic thought has shaped how we view the success of a mission or a church. Now, the success of a mission is deemed effective based on the number of people who simply “make a decision for Christ.” The Puritans, by contrast, simply considered their mission successful if they were faithful to the Word of God.
I am sad. It seems pragmatism and modernism have so pervaded much of the church that many are afraid to call heretical teaching’s into question. “Well, you may not like his views… But to call him a heretic?” I talk to brothers and sisters who like to read popular “Christian” books, with little depth. One conceded, “yeah, a lot of the stuff that guy says is way out there, but I like some of his thoughts”. “Well even if this and that are wrong, God can still use it.” God spoke through an ass to Balaam, so obviously he can use teachings stricken with spiritual cyanide, but does that give us an excuse to ignore doctrine and embrace every movement that comes along?
I close with some of the words that have especially convicted me on how to approach my time and selection of what I read, “Before picking up a book, ask yourself: Would Christ approve of this book? Will it increase my love for the Word of God, help me to conquer sin, offer abiding wisdom, and help me to prepare for the life to come? Or could I better spend time reading another book?” -Joel R. Beeke
Bury yourself in the wisdom and love of God of the saints: Augustine, Cavlin, Luther, Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan, John MacArthur, John Owen, Elisabeth Elliot, and many others.