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More thoughts the use of movie clips in services (and the RPW)

A few days ago, Pastor Aaron Menikoff had a piece posted from the most recent 9Marks eJournal on the 9Marks blog.1 In this piece, entitled “What About Movie Clips? Applying the Regulative Principle,” Menikoff advocates the regulative principle and gives a couple brief reasons (in application) to avoid movie clips in sermons. The piece is not so much about movie clips as it is about applying general Scriptural principles about corporate worship to contemporary churches and their decisions concerning corporate worship.

For Menikoff, his argument against movie clips is that such media serve to distract Christians from the Word in preaching, singing, and praying. Menikoff says, “I really want our focus to be on the power of God’s Word to engage and excite us.” Yet he remains open theoretically to dramatically portraying Scripture passages, though he argues against this practice as well:

The danger is that dramatizing a passage pulls the rug out from under the plain power of the spoken Word. Ravi Zacharias made a statement I’ll never forget: “In the beginning was the Word, not the video.” Congregations should rely upon the spoken Word because God has always used his Word to build his people and grow his church—this is obvious from Genesis to Revelation.

I want quickly to note just a couple things. First, I genuinely appreciate Menikoff’s conservative-leaning disposition to such questions. There are not many young pastors who are going so far as to argue that it is prudent for churches to avoid Bible dramas, let alone the liturgical use of movie clips. In this respect he has found a ready ally in us. Moreover, he has some sound advice on other matters of corporate worship.

But his article somewhat diverges from a discussion of the regulative principle per se. He acknowledges as much when he shifts the matter of discussion from “What does God allow?” to “What does God prefer?” For Menikoff (it seems to me, on my reading of him), these questions of dramatic scripture readings and movie clips are more about “What does God prefer?” than about “What does God allow?”

I acknowledge that Menikoff’s article was, by necessity, painfully brief and deliberately designed so as to avoid detailed discussions. Yet, I still think that burden of proof for the liturgical use of both dramatic portrayals of Scripture and movie clips is on the first question, “What does God allow?”. In other words, I appreciate Menikoff’s words concerning the prudence of using dramatic arts, but this is beside the point. The New Testament does not authorize its use. We know that the Apostle Paul was acquainted with drama as a form (see 1 Cor 15:33), yet it is striking that he never prescribed it for a vehicle of Christian worship. Similarly, it would be hard to believe that Jesus and the other apostles were ignorant of the existence of drama, and they did not command churches to use it.2 This is an important point. If Christ and his apostles did not authorize us to worship with drama or movie clips, we have no authority to introduce it ourselves into corporate worship. This is what it means to adhere to the regulative principle.

Having said that, Menikoff’s larger point is a good one. There are times where the regulative principle (“What did Christ and his apostles prescribe for corporate worship?”) is the germane question, but, at other times, prudence must rule. The regulative principle does not go so far as to help us ascertain which music we should sing, how we should collect the offering, or our use non-congregational ministries of music.

Without conceding the point that the liturgical use of movie clips is unauthorized by the apostles of Christ (and therefore not permissible in corporate worship), I’d also like to add to Menikoff’s arguments concerning the prudence of using them (especially for those who do not embrace the regulative principle). When it comes especially to the liturgical use of movie clips, they are not only unauthorized by the apostles of Christ (and therefore a very dubious practice), but they should be avoided for a whole host of other reasons, including:

  1. the liturgical use of movie clips in most cases requires pastors to spend inordinate amounts of time watching movies for especially illustrative clips;
  2. the liturgical use of movie clips gives the world the impression that we Christians actually care about banal entertainment and Hollywood culture;
  3. the liturgical use of movie clips says to our congregants that we are enamored and swept away with the vain glitz and empty glamour of the entertainment industry;
  4. the liturgical use of movie clips feeds the natural, physical appetite for entertainment;
  5. the liturgical use of movie clips cripples Christians’ ability to hear and remember the preached and taught Word of God, saddling them with a short attention span;
  6. the liturgical use of movie clips encourages a spirit of “sitting back and being entertained” in worship;
  7. the liturgical use of movie clips could easily communicate that the overindulgence of movies and entertainment is a healthy thing for Christians spiritually;
  8. the liturgical use of movie clips requires electricity;
  9. the liturgical use of movie clips often glorifies debauch and scandalous actors;
  10. the liturgical use of movie clips gives the impression that Christianity is obsessed with the fleeting fads and trends of our age; and
  11. the liturgical use of movie clips sends the wrong message to our persecuted brothers and sisters in underground churches. 

There are undoubtedly other reasons outside the regulative principle to avoid such forms, and I would love to hear you to provide some others. I’d also love to hear our readers’ reasons (again, outside the point that the regulative principle does not authorize its use) that it is prudent not to use a dramatic portrayal of Scripture in public worship.

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).

  1. Some of our readers may be interested to know that a separate article by Jamie Dunlop in the eJournal references Mark Dever’s interview with Mark Minnick from a couple years ago. It’d be interesting to hear Dunlop expand on the reasons he was not “convinced by [Minnick’s] argument” for separatism. []
  2. We are aware that some scholars argue that the Song of Solomon might have been a drama, but this question does not pertain to our subject here. First, the evidence on this matter is not clear; and, second, the question before us is the manner of the worship of New Testament churches. []