We are nearly finished now. I have been discussing the presumption that movies (or drama, by inference) should be used for evangelistic ends. I know I have been testing the patience of my readers with this, but I try not to get caught up in the time-defying fury of blogging. Your patience has been appreciated. Other posts in this series include:
A Response to Jason Janz’s “Why we say ‘Gospel'”
A continued response to the idea of religious movies
An Incitement to Postman (by Joel Zartman)
A continued response to the idea of religious movies: Tozer on acting
and, more incidently:
Speaking of religious movies
Spurgeon’s protege finally speaks out against religious movies
My final plea is an appeal to the Regulative principle. I believe that all the previous reasons I have given thus far are sufficient more or less to cause a man in Christian leadership not to use religious movies (or even drama) in worship. The appeal of this article, I believe, is the strongest reason why we should not use religious movies for worship.
Christian leaders have always been tempted to introduce novel elements to worship. Whenever we decide to branch out from what God has prescribed, we hazard ourselves and our progeny. That the Lord Jesus was zealous for purity in worship is seen in his cleansing the temple. One shudders to think what he would think of our movie house temples today. Would he start with the projectors or the screen?
“Every generation is sure to have its ambitious amateur to come up with some shiny gadget which he proceeds to urge upon the priests before the altar. That the Scriptures do not justify its existence does not seem to bother him at all. . . . Soon it is identified in the minds of the Christian public with all that is good and holy. Then, of course, to attack the gadget is to attack the Truth itself” (“The Menace of the Religious Movie,” in Tozer on Worship and Entertainment [Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1997], 184-85).
Protestants have long been criticizing the extra elements imposed by the Roman Catholic Church, yet our own versions of worship go by unscathed.
The basis for the Regulative Principle stems from sola scriptura. Only the Holy Scriptures may direct the form and content of Christian worship. The Bible is God-breathed, profitable and sufficient for the all of the church’s life, whether teaching or correction (2 Tim 3:16); this must include the corporate worship of the body of Christ. Paul instructed the Colossian church in Colossians 3:16-17 to have the Word of Christ dwelling richly in their midst. If the Bible is our primary source for theology, then it is our primary source for ordering and regulating worship as well. One could also bring up many other theological themes in Scripture, like mankind’s sinful bent toward idolatry, the “truth” side of John 4:24, and the very nature of the Church’s submission to Christ as Lord. I do not have time to give a full-fledged defense of the Regulative Principle here, but the basis stems from certain texts (like Acts 17:24-25, Col 2:16-23), but also from the principle, found in both Old and New Testament, that God does not delight in “humanly devised” worship.
The Second London Confession (1677) says,
“The acceptable way of Worshipping the the [sic] true God, is instituted by himself; and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations, and devices of Men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way, not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures” (XXII.1, in William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith [Valley Forge: Judson, 1959], 280).
The Second London Confession was a Baptist confession; we are talking about a Baptist principle (for example, have you ever wondered why Baptists have only two ordinances or sacraments? You can see the comments of another Baptist, Mark Dever, on this here). Of course, these men realized that certain circumstances of worship were prudential. Earlier the 2nd London Confession says,
“There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church common to humane actions and societies; which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (I.6 in Ibid.)
The important distinction here is between elements of worship and the circumstances of worship. The elements of worship are solely those things Biblically prescribed (prayer, Bible reading, singing, administration of the sacraments, preaching, etc). The circumstances include incidental matters (posture, place of meeting, times of services, etc.). And even though they allowed for some liberty in these matters, the Baptist confession (and the Reformed tradition) still admonished us to monitor these things “ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence according to the general rules of the Word.” Let me say this clearly: Religious movies do not fall under the “circumstances” of worship. You cannot hold to any form of the Regulative Principle and accept movies as a legitimate element of worship. I agree with what Kevin Bauder said (on his sadly now dormant blog), “None of us has been granted the authority to . . . deploy a single new practice that is not revealed in Scripture.” He adds,
“Why are any of [the extra-Scriptural elements] thought to be expedient? Because they are meaningful to God? How would we know that? Only if He tells us. Otherwise, any notion of expedience simply signifies that they are meaningful to us. In other words, we are doing them because they please us, not because they please Him. And that is simply another way of saying idolatry.”
J. Ligon Duncan III echoes similar sentiments when he says,
“The key benefit of the regulative principle is that it helps to assure that God–not man–is the supreme authority for how corporate worship is to be conducted, by assuring that the Bible, God’s own special revelation (and not our own opinions, tastes, likes, and theories), is the prime factor in our conduct of and approach to corporate worship” (“Does God Care How We Worship?” in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship: Celebrating the Legacy of James Montgomery Boice [ed., P. G. Ryken, D. W. H. Thomas, and J. L. Duncan III; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003], 24).
Again, to reiterate my point, the Bible must be our sole authority, and this includes the elements with which the Church worships. Religious movies and drama receive absolutely no warrant from Scripture. We have just as much warrant to introduce “Christian cooking seminars” as part of the corporate worship of the Church. Some may give examples of the number of souls won through the use of movies in evangelism. I am sure that Christian cooking seminars, if they only had the chance, would produce similar effects. Neither have the privilege of a Biblical warrant.
One wonders how many of those advocating the religious movie would react if I proposed that we start housing religious operas on Sunday morning or for our casual entertainment.
A. W. Tozer asks,
“For the religious movie where is the authority? For such a serious departure from the ancient pattern, where is the authority? For introducing into the Church the pagan art of acting, where is the authority? Let the movie advocates quote just one verse, from any book of the Bible, in any translation, to justify its use. This they cannot do. The best they can do is to appeal to the world’s psychology or repeat brightly that ‘modern times call for modern methods.’ But the Scriptures–quote from them one verse to authorize movie acting as an instrument of the Holy Ghost. This they cannot do. (“Menace,” 199).
Tozer, in saying this, knew that some would believe that movies are simply a new medium to communicate the gospel–an improvement on writing and speech. To this he responded: “The movie is not the modernization or improvement of any scriptural method; rather it is a medium in itself wholly foreign to the Bible and altogether unauthorized therein” (Ibid., 199). He adds, “Arguments for the religious movie are sometimes clever and always shallow, but there is never any real attempt to cite scriptural authority” (Ibid., 200).
It simply will not do to say to all of this, “I am not a Regulative Principle purist.” Those who embrace the Regulative Principle do so with a profound concern for its purity. A great number of contemporary evangelicals and fundamentalists, of course, today reject the Regulative Principle. But those who embrace it do so with its purity in the forefront of their mind. Moreover, what right have you or anybody else to inflict your whims of religious experience and preference on other believers? How do you know that God is pleased with your little “Christian” movie? You have absolutely no warrant or mandate from Scripture. We should mourn the state of the church we have now stooped to the point where in so many corners the Bible no longer holds a firm sway over the Church’s worship. Is Christianity a mere man-made religion that one feels the liberty to trifle in this way with great and holy God Jehovah? Where is Jesus Christ in all of this? Where is his Lordship? It would be an extremely good thing in American Christianity for pastors everywhere to remember the examples of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 or Paul’s sober words in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 before they ever acted so carelessly with the Church’s holy worship.