Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 14, 1958
NUMBER 15, PAGE 1,9b-10

Pragmatism, Progressive Education, The Social Gospel, Current Trends (IV.)

Robert Atkinson, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

In the previous articles in this series, the writer has stated the basic tenets and errors of the materialistic philosophy of Pragmatism. Some of these closely related errors are: (1) There are no eternal truths, no a prior knowledge. (2) Morality arises out of trial and error; thus moral values are formed as the result of the consequences of actions. (3) Truth is whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief. (4) Neither idea nor facts are important; their consequences are all that matter. (5) Truths and values are constantly changing (6) Man is fully capable of guiding his own steps provided he recognizes the necessity of a "scientific" approach to everything and accepts nothing as true except what he can demonstrate to be true. The dangers in Progressive Education become apparent at once when it is realized that this philosophy, more than any other, forms its foundation. While the ideas of changing educational aims to meet the needs of the individual in relation to a changing society, and of providing experimental activity in an atmosphere of controlled freedom, may be good in themselves and suited to our democracy, it should be recognized that a God-opposed philosophy which holds to the atheistic concept of change which is inherent in Darwinism is the foundation of it all. And the foremost advocates of Progressive Education are realizing increased success in the instilling of their false, infidel-making, notions into the minds of teachers. Then, extending Pragmatic Philosophy into the realm of all institutions, the writer showed that it insisted that an institution's worth, or right to exist, must be evaluated on the basis of its contribution to society. Going a step further, Pragmatism insists that no institution can possibly contribute to society unless it changes its aims and practices to meet the changing goals and needs of society. It will accept churches as worthwhile institutions, not on the basis of spiritual purpose or preparation-for-eternity value, but strictly on the basis of visible good done for society. Let us remember that social welfare is the infidel's measuring rod.

Then the writer conclusively showed that denominations, through the process of claiming authority to change church laws and practices by means of the papacy, conferences, or conventions, endorse the infidel doctrine of constantly changing truths and values and thereby oppose the Bible doctrine of an " . . . incorruptible . . . word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." (I Pet. 1:23.) Moreover, a bit of reflection concerning the denominational teaching that the church is not a soul-saving institution, that one can be saved out of the church; and further meditation concerning their emphasis on morals (notwithstanding constant changes) to the neglect of doctrinal teaching; and in connection with these things. calling to mind the emphasis on the Social Gospel, as expressed in the infidel writings of the liberals or through the inclusion of social organizations and extensive social programs in the work of the local congregation; all these characteristics of denominationalism prove conclusively that sectarians evaluate the worth, or right to exist, of the church by the Pragmatist's infidel measuring rod! That point needs to be emphasized!

Sectarians contend that one can be saved out of the church. According to them (but not according to the Bible) a good moral life saves if one believes in Christ (and some are content to leave the belief off, too). This is in marked contrast to Bible teaching which asserts that Christ saves those who are in the church. (Eph. 5:23.) So, using the infidel's measuring rod, sectarians strip the church of the distinctive purpose for which it was intended and for which Christ shed his blood (Acts 20:28); and then they proceed to commit it to a program of work which countless institutions of men have been designed to accomplish. This makes a mockery of the Bible as Revelation. I am sure that every Christian will agree to that with respect to denominationalism. Now, by our agreement, do we contend that orphans should not be cared for, that children should not be given recreational activities, that the sick should not be given medical care, or that the hungry should not be fed? Do we not rather agree that denominations have lost sight of the divine nature and purpose of the church, have thereby turned it into a human rather than a divine institution, have committed its resources to a program of work which lacks divine authority and is geared to social need, and have evaluated the worth, or right to exist, of the church strictly on its social contributions?

There is evidence that many Christians have unknowingly adopted some of the basic errors of the materialistic philosophy of Pragmatism as they apply to the individual and his moral values, and as they apply to institutions and their right to exist. This is the result of subtle influences from many materialistic sources. Our government provides for the mass education of its citizens thru laws which fix the responsibility for such on the sovereign states. We have shown that educational thought is dominated by Pragmatic Philosophy. It would be naive to presume that no members of the church have been influenced to accept, to a greater or lesser degree, some of its errors. Preachers and elders are better educated, from a scholastic standpoint, than ever before. Quite often their education has included long exposure to philosophy and theology. Are we to suppose that no one succumbed to a single error? The Ralph Wilburns, Roy Keys, J. P. Sanders and Kenneth Pietys who have recently gone out from us, or demonstrated that they were not of us, clearly testify that many do fall prey to the influence of infidelity in education. Are we now going to be so naive as to suppose that all brethren who are thus influenced are going to be so open and blunt with their modernism as those named above? I do not contend that they announced they were modernists, but certainly their teachings left no doubt of such to right thinking brethren. Could others not be more subtle about it or espouse another "brand" of modernism? Subtly influence their brethren to accept modernistic ideas and practices on false premises and without revealing their faith-shattering implications? Do not most preachers declare the need for more Bible Study among the members of the church while deploring the tendency on the part of a great number of people to depend upon the preacher for Bible knowledge? And are not these members ripe for error? And are they not made easier still to pluck from the tree of faith by the universal personification and deification of "Science?" This writer contends that the forces of modernism are widely active in the church and are slowly and subtly cultivating the attitudes which are necessary to the open espousal of a Social Gospel.

There are many "straws in the wind" to indicate an acceptance of the "changing values" of Pragmatism which, you will recall, makes society the source of authority rather than God. The evil of dancing, once almost universally discredited and rebuked by Christians, is now gaining wide acceptance among members of the church. If God's moral truths taught that it was wrong a generation ago, they teach the same now. The nature and purpose of dancing have not changed; Bible truths have not changed; only society has changed. Whereas society in general formerly frowned on dancing, it now generally accepts it. So on the basis of what man, through his experiences in organized society, has pronounced "good" and therefore "right," many members of the church now engage in that evil. They acknowledge man as their authority for their moral convictions; but in keeping pace with society, they forsake God. Again, whereas Christians once shunned immodest apparel on the authority of God's Word (I Tim. 2:9), many Christians (?) now dress in the briefest of shorts and skimpiest of bathing suits. The writer has heard of an eldership, located on a coast, who will not consider hiring a preacher unless he agrees not to preach on "modest apparel." The temptations posed by the beauty of flesh, the lust it can kindle, have not changed. Fleshly desires have not abdicated. God has not scratched out I Tim. 2:9 and other similar passages. Only society has changed. And many members of the church have rejected God's Word, denied its eternal truth and application to our generation, and have accepted the authority of man. Whereas society once considered adequate dress necessary to modesty, and imposed swim-suits which covered most of the body of swimmers, it now accepts next to nothing. Actually society's values here have become shrunken and degraded. But since the skimpy bathing suit has persisted instead of passing out of the picture, and since only the fit survive (according to the evolutionary Pragmatist), the skimpy bathing suit has proved by staying around that it is fit and right for society. And so many members accept society's authority on this matter, and the preachers who will rebuke them for doing so are becoming fewer and fewer. The same application, indicating wholesale rebellion against the authority of God by the people of God, could be made with respect to alcoholic beverages, gambling, motion pictures based on worldly evils, etc., but the two given definitely establish the proposition that many church members have been influenced to accept infidel ideas concerning truth and morals. Doubtless, very few recognize the pernicious implications and damning consequences of their beliefs and actions, but they are there all the same, and are the more dangerous because they are hidden.

Now we advance the proposition that many members of the Church of Christ, including elders, deacons, and preachers, have accepted the pragmatist's measuring rod and are proceeding to evaluate the worth of the church, as an institution, by it. The writer has before him several announcements, from all sections of the country, concerning places and programs of recreation, built, sponsored and supported by various churches of Christ. Now it must be admitted that this matter of providing a place and program for recreational activity, making it a part of the program of work of the church and financing it from the treasury of the church, is a fairly recent practice among churches of Christ. Although I have read volumes of arguments in support of other matters now troubling churches, I have had little opportunity to read much in support of "the work of recreation." This is not because I am in seclusion, but because little has been offered in support of it. There is no example in the New Testament of a church supporting a work of recreation. There is no command or inference for such. Why, then, do we have "our" hobby shops, gymnasiums, fellowship. What authority is offered for using the Lord's money for such? To date, the best that has been offered is, "It's a good work." But who says it's good? Society! Now such may be good for the institutions of men to do, the schools, the fraternities, and suchlike; but it should ever be remembered that the church is a divine institution, subject to divine authority, and God has revealed all that is "good" for it to do. When we cannot give Bible authority for any work to which we commit the church, we have necessarily accepted another source of authority. The fact is that brethren have initiated works of recreation on no better authority than the mark of "good" placed on such by society. And they are committed to measuring the worth of the church on the basis of its contribution to society and to continually change the aims and work of the church to meet the changing needs of society. They hold to the false idea of changing values and aims in common with the infidel philosophers and sectarian churches. There is absolutely no difference among them in principle, but only in the degree or extent of practice.

Educators themselves regard the move of churches into the field of recreation as a concession to Pragmatism and the fact of constantly changing values (which is not actually a fact.) A few months ago, the writer enrolled in a graduate class at Mississippi Southern College that was concerned with philosophic backgrounds of American Education and was taught by the Head of the Department of Education. As the class discussed Kilpatrick's views of changing values, I was impressed with the fact that the professor attempted to prove his views by using the recent inclusion of a program of recreation in the work of churches as an example.

Addressing himself to a Baptist Preacher, he asked, "What would your church have done if you had initiated a recreational program in the church twenty years ago?"

"They would have called me a modernist and fired me," the Baptist preacher replied.

"And now?" the professor inquired.

The preacher responded, "Now, the people insist on such a program."

The professor then concluded, "Therefore, people's values, or ideas of what things are right, are changing."

I then posed the question, "Does an admitted social need, coupled with popular social approval and demand, make a thing right for the church to do when the church is regarded as a divine institution with a divine purpose existing under a perfect law?"

The professor readily agreed that, with such a concept of the church, the church would not be free to meet any or all social needs in any way it saw fit, but it would be limited to work outlined in its law. Of course he went on to say that he did not think the church was so restricted, and in a later discussion, he denied that the New Testament presented a pattern for the church to follow. This is the heart of the issue and always has been in every controversy!

Many brethren would be forced to add a qualified or limited "amen" to the professor's "no pattern" views. Here again, there is no difference in principle, but only in the extent or degree of action and consequences.

(To be concluded)