This morning, as I proceeded through my daily Bible reading, I noticed how the opening nine verses of Matthew 15 apply to many 21st Century churches.
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (ESV)
How many man-made traditions supplant, or cause us to reinterpret, God’s Word in our present day churches? When I read this passage today, my mind immediately went to the pragmatic seeker-sensitive movement, which uses the Bible as a springboard to address “felt needs” or to further the leadership’s agenda rather than to simply preach the Word in accordance with the command in 2 Timothy 4:1-4.
Indeed, pragmatic churches often host “non-threatening” activities such as game nights or movie nights, always in the name of “friendship evangelism. They operate on the premise that we attract people to the Gospel by demonstrating that we are “just like them.” But, although I agree that Christians must show genuine love to unbelievers rather than treating them as mere “prospects,” evangelism mandates that we expose people to the Gospel. That exposure necessitates the use of Scripture (Romans 10:17). Certainly, our behavior must back up what we say about the Gospel, but let’s never confuse Christian conduct with the Gospel itself.
Additionally, pragmatic churches love devising “strategies” (better termed as gimmicks, in my opinion) for attracting their desired demographic group. Specifically, they want young people with good earning potential. Again, attracting such people, as they see it, requires minimizing doctrinal instruction in favor of shorter, more practical and entertaining motivational speeches. Theologically rich hymns are eclipsed by either hypnotic songs emphasizing emotions or rock music that showcases the Praise Group. But all this clever methodology ignores the simple ministry of God’s Word (see 2 Corinthians 4:2).
I write from personal experience, and therefore I’ve seen many instances of Scripture taking a back seat to pragmatism. Sadly, the churches that succumb to such marketing techniques miss the joy of simply preaching God’s Word and watching the Holy Spirit draw people through it. By replacing Christ’s command to teach His doctrine (Matthew 28:19-20) with the methods of the world, they only prove how far their hearts stray from Him.