Gimmicks, Games, Or The Gospel
by Jerry Vinson
May 01, 2001
A Gallup Poll taken a few years ago and mentioned on Paul Harvey's radio program surveyed so-called "Church goers" and "Non-Church goers" to see if there was a significant difference between the two groups in morality, behavior, thinking, etc. The final result revealed that there was no significant difference. The conclusion was, "As the world gets churchier, the church gets worldlier." Is it really any wonder?
Did you hear about the "Church of Christ" in the Houston, TX area that promoted their "World's Largest Hot Dog," and then they invited the public to come and take a bite out of it? Did you see the news report that mentioned that a few Catholic churches are offering "Theology On Tap," free beer and Bible study, to attract the interest of college students? Do you know of the Baptist church that is operating a full service McDonald's on their premises? What about the so-called "Non-Denominational" church that has opened a Starbuck's Coffee House in their building? Then there is the church in the Texas Panhandle that advertises its "X-treme Ministry," a play on the "X-treme Sports" craze in America. A young, energetic voice offers this sales pitch: "Do you want to get crazy? Do you want to have fun? X-trEEEeeeEEEME Ministry!" Lot's of gimmicks, lot's of games! But, what have these to do with the Gospel?
What do all of these gimmicks have in common? First, they are all attempts by a religious world to try to hold their own members, to attract more non-religious people, and to recruit the semi-religious. Second, these are marketing strategies that work in the secular business realm. Third, they are all appeals that use the philosophy of the world, the language of the world, and the desires of the world to attract people of the world. John described this mentality and those who hold to it this way: "They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them" - 1 John 4:5. John was referring to religious worldly men who used worldly means and a worldly message that would appeal to worldly people. We may be living in a different time than John, but we surely see this same mentality today in the religious world - just look around!
From hotdogs, pizza parties, free beer, fun, games and getting crazy, the religious world caters and panders to the non-religious world by offering them one big party with a dash of religion. A friend of mine recently said, "For many people today, it's all about the party - religion is only the decoration." And to that I must sadly and heartily say, "Amen!" "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" - Romans 14:17. The religious world would do well to learn this.
Whether it is the promotion of "The World's Largest Hot Dog," "Theology On Tap" "Fast Food Franchises," "X-treme Ministies," or the next "new" worldly game or gimmick labeled as "Outreach," these are simply worldly methods promoted by worldly messengers to attract worldly people. The end result is a worldly church, no matter whether it is a denominational or a non-denominational church.
Neither Jesus, nor His apostles, nor His disciples in the first century, used these or any other worldly means and methods to try and bring sinners to Jesus. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" never encompassed the gimmicks and games that typify much of the religious world of our day. Oddly enough, without the benefit of our expertise in marketing, promotions, games and gimmicks, the early Christians were able to "turn the world upside down" - Acts 17:6. In just over thirty years, the gospel reached into "all the world" and was "preached to every creature under heaven" - Colossians 1:5-6, 23. What a pity that our modern day marketers and promoters weren't there to share all of their knowledge and expertise. The early Christians might have accomplished such a noble task in at least half the time!
No, my friend, Jesus never put on a clown suit or passed out balloons in an attempt to get people to hear Him as He walked the dusty roads of Palestine. Even so, parents and children came to hear Him. Jesus never used food (no, not even in John 6) as an enticement to get people to hear His teaching - yet the common people heard Him gladly and multitudes followed Him. And what of the apostles? They promoted no "Camel Runs," or "Javelin Tournaments," or free tickets to the "Chariot Races" for all who would come to hear them preach the gospel. Their ministry, far from being "X-treme," was rather simple - "But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word" - Acts 6:5. What was the result? "Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem..." - Acts 6:7. Christians in Jerusalem fled the persecution that arose in that city. What could they do? How would they convert sinners to Jesus? Without the use of pizza, stew, and barbeque, or any other carnal, worldly attractions, "those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" - Acts 8:4. The results of enthusiastic Christians committing themselves to the preaching of the gospel speaks for itself:
"And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken..." - Acts 8:6.
As you read the book of Acts for yourself, you will see that the Christians had no games or gimmicks - just a plain and simple message, the precious gospel of Jesus Christ. This is as it should be today.
"What's The Big Deal?" Some Will Ask
When the religious world uses gimmicks and games to attract the non-religious world, they violate numerous Scriptural principles. All of these Scriptural violations are related to one fundamental issue - the issue of Scriptural authority. Believe it or not, like it or not, there is no Scriptural authority for churches to utilize gimmicks, games, or worldly promotions to attract people of the religious or non-religious world.
There are three attitudes that people (and churches) today have regarding the necessity for Scriptural authority: 1.) We do not need Scriptural authority for anything that we do, 2.) We need Scriptural authority for some things that we do, and 3.) We need Scriptural authority for everything that we do. Friend, which alternative best describes your attitude towards Scriptural authority? Furthermore, which one best describes the attitude of the church of which you are a member? It is our attitude towards Scriptural authority, I believe, that distinguishes me and the members of the local church of Christ of which I am a member from most religious people and churches today, including many which claim to be churches of Christ.
According to the Scriptures, the proper attitude that we must have if we are interested in serving and pleasing the Lord is that we must have Scriptural authority for all that we do. Paul warned Christians "not to think beyond what is written" - 1 Corinthians 4:6. Men who think beyond what is written will ultimately practice things that go beyond what is written - things like gimmicks and games to attract the non-religious world. Our thinking must governed and guided by the Holy Scriptures "given by inspiration of God" - 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
The Scriptures teach, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" - Colossians 3:17. What does this mean? Many today seem to think that this means that we pronounce the name of Jesus, or attach the name of Jesus to the things that we say or do. Thus, whatever a person or church considers to be a good work is acceptable, as long as there is some connection with the name of Jesus. This is incorrect! Jesus spoke of many who claimed that they prophesied, cast out demons, and did many wonderful works "in His name." Jesus denounced their activities as "iniquity," or "lawlessness" - Matthew 7:21-23. They acted without Law, without His authority.
To do anything "in the name of Jesus" is to do it by His authority. His authority is expressed and contained in the Scriptures of the New Testament. Friend, regardless of our good intentions, to practice things that do not have Scriptural authority - things like using gimmicks and games to attract the non-religious - is to violate the authority of Jesus Christ and to practice spiritual lawlessness. What is your attitude, and what is the attitude of the church of which you are a member, towards Scriptural authority? Having Scriptural authority, the authority of Jesus Christ, is really "the big deal."
Since the authority of Jesus Christ is expressed and contained in the New Testament, it is no wonder that Paul claimed that "the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" - 1 Corinthians 14:37. We know we are on safe and solid ground when we can turn to the Holy Scriptures and show that our practices are in agreement with the word of the Lord. When people turn to their own ingenuity for their practices, rather than appeal to the authority of Jesus Christ as contained in the Scriptures, they board spiritual ships that sail in the dangerous sea of spiritual lawlessness.
Many today sail on the spiritual ship called Delusion, believing that the end result justifies the method of accomplishing a goal. Applying this thinking to the practices of many churches today, it is believed and argued by many that the use of gimmicks and games is justified and acceptable on the basis that these are methods used to draw people to Jesus.
There are numerous Scriptural objections that can be raised against this human philosophy that says, "The end justifies the means." The Scriptures often warn against the philosophy. For example, read 1 Chronicles 13. It records the occasion when David and the leaders of Israel wanted to bring the ark of the covenant back among the people of God. No doubt, this was a noble goal. But, we learn that "they carried the ark of God on a new cart" that was pulled by oxen. This was a different method of transporting the ark than God originally revealed. The ark of the covenant was to be transported by poles (Exodus 25:14) and carried on the shoulders of the sons of Kohath (Numbers 4:4-15; 7:9). When the oxen stumbled, "Uzza put out his hand to hold the ark" and he was immediately struck dead. God warned that no one was to touch the ark of the covenant or they would surely die. Certainly, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" - Proverbs 14:12. David later learned the lesson that the end, or goal to be obtained, does not justify the method used to obtain it. David said, "...the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order" - 1 Chronicles 15:13. Churches today would do well to start consulting the Lord "about the proper order" when it comes to the method used for drawing sinners to Jesus.
We learn from this and other examples that in order for a goal and a method to be acceptable in the sight of the Lord, both must be in agreement with the revealed teaching of the Holy Scriptures. If either one lacks Scriptural authority, it is sinful. While drawing and converting sinners to Jesus is a noble goal that has Scriptural authority, the use of gimmicks and games to accomplish this goal lacks Scriptural authority. Consequently, it is wrong and sinful for churches to use them.
A problem with the use of gimmicks and games to draw sinners to Jesus is that sinners are to be drawn to Jesus through teaching, not through the use of gimmicks and games. Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me" - John 6:44:45.
God does not draw crowds or individuals with gimmicks and games. God never attempts to arouse the spiritual interest of sinners by appealing to their carnal desires. The method used by the Father for drawing men to Jesus is the teaching of the gospel. As has been shown previously, this was the method used by the apostles and early Christians, and it is the method that is to be used today.
Teaching sinners of the Christ and the gospel was accomplished orally and by writing. Thus, when Paul entered into Corinth without any gimmicks or games and preached the gospel of Christ, "many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized" - Acts 18:8. John's purpose in writing his account of the life and miracles of Jesus was so "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" - John 20:31. Even though both men used different forms of teaching the gospel (oral and written), they both had the same goal and they used the same method for drawing sinners to Jesus - they taught the gospel of Christ.
We know that there is Scriptural authority for us to preach the gospel of Christ, both orally and in written form. We also know that we have the Lord's approval and blessing, regardless of which form is used for teaching, when the goal and the method of drawing sinners to Jesus has the Lord's approval. The use of radio, television, newspaper, letters, tracts, videos, internet websites, etc., are different forms of making oral or written presentations of the gospel of Christ. When these are utilized by churches today, if the method used to draw sinners to Jesus is the teaching of the gospel of Christ, and if the salvation of mankind is the goal intended, then there is no violation of the authority of Jesus Christ. We have the Lord's approval when using these things in these ways.
This cannot be said of those churches that use gimmicks and games! The gimmicks and games are the drawing power that is used to try and reach people. Gimmicks and games are not different forms of oral or written teaching, and they cannot be justified on any Scriptural basis. Consequently, those churches that use gimmicks and games do not have the Lord's approval, no matter how well intentioned they may be, and no matter how large a crowd they draw.
Gimmicks and games have no place among churches that want to please the Lord. Churches that use them violate the authority of Jesus Christ, and they walk in the spiritual realm of lawlessness. Additionally, they are guilty of mingling the common with the holy, the worldly with the spiritual, and the unclean with the clean because they fail to distinguish between things that differ and keep them separate.
Gimmicks and games are often promoted by churches that lack complete faith in the drawing power of the gospel. Let us have the courage and conviction to go into the world and preach the transforming power of the gospel without the use of gimmicks and games. This is what the non-religious world desperately needs.
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