The gospel of pragmatism has caused the fall of many Bible teachers, from television evangelists to pastors, even seminary and denominational leaders. The continual focus on the call, the goal, causes a blindness to foolish decisions, to deceptive marketing, even to sinful behavior. Churches and ministries overlook immorality or try to deal with it inside the organization. They fear that the negative publicity would “hurt the ministry.” Mishandled funds, mistreated people, misled followers—all must be kept “off the record.”
So what is really wrong with this? It sounds right to be dedicated to a call. God gives a special call to a person and that person should bind himself to it, right? Wrong! No disciple of Jesus is bound to a call. We are bound to our Lord. He is the focus of our hearts, not the call He has given us. In fact, a case could easily be made from Scripture that the call of God would happen almost naturally for the person who follows the Lord. The call is never the important part; the relationship is what is important.
When God told Moses that he would lead the people out of Egypt, Moses only had to do the next thing God told him. Moses was not responsible for the success of the mission. Moses does not get scolded for the people’s unbelief. God was going to do this and He was going to use Moses. When God sent Abraham to settle the new land, it was the same thing. When David conquered the Philistines, Solomon built the Temple, and Nehemiah led the people back to the land—God made sure of the success. It was God’s project.
We are often puzzled by the call of God to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. But think about that in the context of this gospel of pragmatism. Abraham had already shown himself to be the pragmatist, trying to accomplish the call of God in his flesh, by the birth of Ishmael. But Isaac was the child that would begin a special people who would number more than the stars. Isaac was the call, the goal. Yet, Abraham had learned to look to God first. He had made mistakes. When God told him to sacrifice Isaac, it was the end of the call. But Abraham had his eyes on the Lord, not the call.
Ask the leader of the movement what he would do if God told him to stop. Ask the pastor what he would do if God told him not to build the new building. And when an obstacle is discovered, immorality in leadership or embezzlement or something like that, and the leadership of the organization wants to cover it up to protect the ministry, ask why the ministry must keep going. If they answer that God would never end the ministry or change the goal, they probably are no longer looking to Him.
Too often we have heard of church and ministry leaders who overlooked too much, who compromised too much, in serving their goal. The precious ministry they protected with lies and cheating and stealing and covering up still died. By taking their eyes off the One who called them, they opened themselves to error and sin and destroyed the very thing they believed they must protect.
When a believer receives a call and focuses on the goal, rather than the Lord, the implementation of the call is left to the flesh. The person’s background and values interpret the call. All kinds of personal preferences can become “principles” when the flesh interprets the call.
And the more the flesh is involved in the call, the more the person’s own sense of value will be tied to it. Because the call is seen as his own and the interpretation of it is his and the energy in it is his, he cannot see a difference between the goal and himself. No one else will be good enough to lead it. Those who challenge the goal, challenge the man.
Finally, when the goal becomes a monument or affirmation of the man, he will protect it at great cost. It must not die or even suffer loss. He may do things for the sake of the ministry that are against his own principles and hurt people he truly cares about. But he will see no choice. And when it collapses, so will he.
The goal for any believer is to walk with the Lord. When the Lord places a particular call on the heart of a person, the Lord Himself will accomplish it. The person who is called is, in a sense, along for the ride. The call is not the Lord. The Lord is the master of the call.