Somewhere in seminary I was introduced to The Gospel Blimp (1967), a made-for-television adaptation of Joseph Bayly’s book by the same name (circa 1950s). For those who do not know Joseph Bayly, he was a Christian editor, author, and satirist that would make the brothers at the Babylon Bee proud. And I lead with his classic film, not because it possessed the best acting or cinematography, but because of its important warning: The works man cannot accomplish the works of God.
More specifically, the book lampoons the way Christians, especially evangelicals, employ all kinds of gimmicks in order to preach the gospel. Yet, such gimmicks, Jesus junk, and revivalist tactics actual deny the power of the gospel and the wisdom of God that they claim to believe.
What is the wisdom of God? What is a demonstration of God’s power? How should we herald God’s truth?
According to Paul the wisdom of God is found in the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1-2) and the gathering of the church (Ephesians 3). In other words, the most effective ways for evangelism are not the schemes and strategies of men, nor are they the “God showed me” ideas of eager Christians. Instead, God’s strategy is laid down in Scripture. God’s plan is simple: disciples making disciples, by means of the regular preaching of the Word, the sharing of the gospel, prayer, and suffering.
Historically, this approach to limiting ministry to the regular means of grace has been referred to as the regulative principle. The regulative principle of worship affirms the all-sufficient wisdom of God’s Word and seeks to practice only what is commanded in Scripture. By contrast, the normative principle of worship has granted more freedom of expression, whatever Scripture does not forbid is thereby permitted.
Obviously, these are principles for church worship are derived from Scripture; they are not absolute mandates found in Scripture. That said, they provide a helpful rubric for thinking about what we do in church and what we don’t. So to help understand these principles, let me offer a few definitions and then return to the main point—that we should avoid gospel gimmicks and stick to the simple wisdom proclaiming the Word and gathering the people. Continue reading