The Regulative Principle & Missions


“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”

Though my on-field experience with mission work is rather small at this point in my life, I’ve seen enough to know what not to do. That’s no surprise—all things evangelicalism seem wracked by pragmatism and short-term thinking. The very foundations of what missions is has been influenced by arguments for “let’s just be practical.” This includes everything from evangelism strategies, church-planting philosophies (if one even aims to plant churches), what teaching goes into the gathering or in discipleship groups, and an obsession with social media trends. Modern missions is ruled by man’s fleeting wisdom. 

It is no surprise to see that what America has embraced, it has now exported. That’s how missions works. And that’s why a call to return to the “whys” is far more important than the “whats.” What am I referring to? Well, what the Reformers called the “Regulative Principle.” There is a place to deconstruct modern ideas and strategies for missions, but my goal is to point to “why” I don’t plan to (and will encourage other brothers not to) partake in these strategies.

In short, we find a better, timeless, and Biblical pattern laid out for us in Scripture, which was restored to the wayward church by our Reformed forefathers. This quest is intended for the weak, who should indeed harbor more hope than the strong. There is greater strength in simple obedience to Christ and His commandments than in any worldly strategies devised by human wisdom.

The Regulative Principle and Missions 

Often, discussions of the “Regulative Principle” in Scripture are devoted to the worship of the corporate gathering on the Lord’s Day. This is for good reason, considering how Christ was openly shamed in a false communion multiple times a week in the Catholic church at the time of the Reformation. But the principle behind the regulative principle is this: God has set forth in His Word the acceptable practices of all things pertaining to the worship of the body—thus including missions, evangelism, and church-planting—done both on the Lord’s Day and outside of it. And it is sin to attempt to worship God in any other way. As the LBC 1689 says, “He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men.” How, then, can we reject the modern imaginations and devices of man when it comes to missions and return to obedience to Christ? There are two essentials to begin with. 

A Review of the Great Commission 

Christ is not ambiguous in stating what His missionaries are to proclaim to the nations: Those who go, making disciples, are meant to teach them something. The sinner’s prayer? No―that’s just as absent from Matthew 28:20 as Critical Theory is. Christ is clear: What must be passed on from the missionary to the nations is, “all that I commanded you” (LSB). Let us do away with anything lesser. How do we expect the coming generations of Christ’s church to grow when we’re teaching them to subsist only on the prison rations of modern missions strategies? Let us teach the full counsel of God. Anything less is not God’s best for the nations. 

The Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture 

Modern missions often claims that Scripture simply doesn’t address the problems they face in cross-cultural, Kingdom work. We need to rethink strategies to make the message and ways of Christ compatible with this culture, they say. Of course, there is some truth to this on the surface. Different approaches are needed in engaging each unique culture. But what’s happening today is a far departure from this simple reality. Today, Scripture is the thing we get to “after” our pragmatic approaches have done their work, not the thing itself that gets us to the heart of essential, Gospel conversations with the lost. I’m speaking chiefly of faith and repentance. If His divine power has indeed given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us (2 Peter 1:3), certainly it is sufficient to tell us how to reach the lost. Let us forsake modern strategies that “work” and instead follow in the footsteps of the apostles. 

Final Note

Are certain extra-Biblical strategies for missions outright sinful? Not necessarily. But depending on them certainly is, for so often this leads to putting our energies into non-essentials, which God has never promised to bless, and we forsake the essentials He has explicitly commanded. Missionaries are free in Christ to do both, but only one is indispensable.

For further reading
Missions by the Book by Chad Vegas and Alex Kocman
Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global by Andy Johnson
Worship: The Regulative Principle and the Biblical Practice of Accommodation by Ernest Reisinger
Calvinism Foundational for Evangelism and Missions by Tom Ascol
Joseph Pliska

Joseph Pliska

Joseph Pliska is a church-planting missionary to Tokyo, Japan. He was ordained and sent out of Landmark Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He is a husband to Sierah and father of a beautiful baby girl. He has a masters from Southern Seminary and records and produces Christian audiobooks on the side when not studying Japanese. Joe and his team in Japan have a heart to plant Baptist churches in urban Japan, led by mature and qualified men with the heart and training to evangelize and disciple others.

September 25, 2023

The Art of Worship
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My challenge for interested or aspiring missionaries is to do here and now what you want to do then and there. Missionaries are essentially full-time church members who are given to evangelism, discipleship, and serving the body.

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