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RENEWING THE BATTLE (1)

Drama, Television, and Movies

Prof. Barry Gritters


Prof. Barry. Gritters is professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.   The article was written while he was pastor of the Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church


I heard recently about a small group of Vietnamese families who were hiding out in the jungles of South Vietnam, thinking the war against the Viet Cong was still on. United States soldiers had promised almost 20 years ago to return to help these men fight against the Viet Cong. They were still waiting.

A few retired U.S. soldiers accompanied a team from the United Nations and the Red Cross to retrieve these families and bring them to the U.S. When the Vietnamese were told to lay down their arms, they were shocked that the battle was over, dismayed that the North had won, and unbelieving when told that the United States had given up the fight, admitting that victory was impossible. These families still believed that the war could be won, if only they had the right weapons and commitment from the USA.


 


 

With a real pity for these backward men and women, the U.S. soldiers told them something like, "You may as well forget your dream and come with us. It's no use entertaining any hope for victory anymore. Let's go to the United States, and fight a different war."

Scooped up in to the belly of the giant helicopters, the group was brought to the US where they were informed where the world really was, and what battles were important in the 1990s.


AN OLD BATTLE? When an attempt is made today to engage in battle against drama, television, and movies, I am afraid that images of people like these poor, backward, Vietnamese come into mind. "What, someone is still trying to fight that battle?"

But there is a difference between the attitude towards the Vietnamese and one who battles drama and movies. There is sympathy for the Vietnamese who wanted to fight against the north. But there is little, if any, sympathy for those who would engage the enemy of drama and television.

My purpose in these articles is to renew the battle, promise aid to the bedraggled souls who still believe that the battle is worth fighting but think they are alone, and instill confidence that the fight is a worthy one, the foe a dangerous enemy of the Christian faith and family.

My confidence is that the church in the past was not wrong in its warnings sounded against drama, television, and movies.

My hope is that young and old will give ear to why the battle ought to be fought.

My prayer is that there will be progress in our life of sanctification, our maintenance of the antithesis, our call to be separate.

THE BATTLE LINES. The battle lines today are similar to what they were 20, 30, or 40 years ago. The battle was against drama.

The lines have adjusted slightly in the hundred years since drama in the motion picture was introduced in the U.S. In 1947 the television was first sold commercially. Drama had found its way into the home. Advertising has since changed drastically, following suit with most programs, by selling through sex. Now, video recorders and players make it possible to play almost any movie at home, regardless of rating. Plus, cable allows a home to receive any kind of programming almost 24 hours per day, sports included.

But essentially the issues are the same. First, drama is an illegitimate art-form, not approved by God, one which Christians should not engage in or be entertained by. Second, the content of most broadcasts and tapes are essentially anti-Christian. But at bottom the issue is this: "Does the Reformed Christian still believe the antithesis to be an essential part of the Christian life?"

MAKE NO MISTAKE. We have no battle with the television, VCR, or moving picture itself. The Reformed believer knows that there is not evil in things themselves, even as there is not blessing in things as such. No consistory may make a law against television, refusing to baptize children of couples who have a television in their home. Not only does this tempt families to move the television to the garage while the interview with the elders is conducted so that they can claim, "we have no television in our house." A rule such as "no television" finds no support in the Scripture.

Nevertheless, for some, having a television and VCR is not unlike a repentant drunkard buying a bottle of whiskey while his family is gone for a week, thinking he can keep it in the cupboard; or a penitent adulterer who moves his family next door to his former girlfriend.

Even so, our battle is not against the television itself, but against what comes into the home through the television — drama. Our controversy is not with a VCR, but with the movies that are played on the VCR.

ARE WE ALONE? The Protestant Reformed Churches — elders, pastors, parents, and others — are not the only ones in the world calling to arms against, this enemy we identify as "Drama, Television, and Movies." Those who are familiar with the campaigns of "Focus on the Family" in recent years know that bombs of criticism have been dropped on the television and movie industry, as well as on the major sponsors of immoral programs. The cover story of "Citizen" magazine, February, 1989, was devoted to the thesis that most of television programming is "R"-rated.

Professors in Christian colleges have written books about the evils of television, calling the attention of Christians to the evil in this medium. John Ferre, of the University of Louisville, says that Redeeming Television (InterVarsity Press, 1992), by Professor Quentin J. Schultze of Calvin College, is "the strongest Christian critique of television on the market."

In Christ and the Media (Eerdmans, 1977) Malcolm Muggeridge, former TV personality for the BBC, speaks of television's inherent evils.

Even unbelievers are fearful of the devastating effects movies and television are having on modern culture and morals. Citizens' groups lobby to "clean up the air-waves."

So the Protestant Reformed voice is not alone in the call to engage this enemy.

But our voice almost echoes in silence when it identifies one aspect of the enemy as drama itself. Aside from Muggeridge, who claims the medium of the television itself is evil, most of the critics, like Schultze, want to "redeem" drama from the corrupting effects of the fall. They believe that if the content of the programs would be changed to something healthful and moral, drama and movies would be profitable for the Christian. For this reason, some Christian magazines run, for their readers, reviews of newly-released movies (even "R"-rated ones!).

My thesis is that the assault must not only be on the corrupt content of the movies and television. Drama itself must be identified as an enemy. With a few exceptions, this has historically been the stance of the churches.

 

This is a strange sound in the world today. Even among the readership of the Standard Bearer, there may be some who, with condescending but real pity, say, "That battle has long been lost. The man must come to terms with reality. He's living in the 50s and 60s. There are new wars to be fought." Or they may say, as did some in the 60s, "That was never a justifiable war."

 

My request, nevertheless, is that you hear the issues and arguments. For the sake of faithfulness to Christ and holiness, let's be willing to give anew hearing to the case. If the enemy is what we identify him to be, then the church is warned by the blowing of this trumpet call, and the watchman is freed from the blood of those who perish. If he is not, I welcome your response showing the error of that identification.

WHAT IS AT STAKE? At stake in the battle is the life and existence of the Christian family and church themselves. At stake is holiness, without which "no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).

In the next few months, God willing, I hope to begin by showing that drama itself is not legitimate entertainment for Christians. Then, I want to point out the corruptions that this illegitimate art-form inevitably leads to. Third, I will show from history that there has been no truce with or surrender to this enemy. Finally, I want to go to the root, and plead for a renewed commitment to the antithetical calling that every believer has, whether he claims to be Reformed and Presbyterian or not. The will of the Lord who redeemed us is, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Ephesians 5:11).

A CALL TO ARMS. I call Christian parents, Reformed young people, and all who love the Lord, to join the battle, renew the conflict, be confident that this is a current conflict, and that effective, powerful weapons are ours in God's Word and Spirit.

The enemy makes large advances. He mocks daily. He cries out, "I will prevail against you, and ye shall be our servants." Will the church engage him? She must. Or be overcome.


April 1, 1993/ Standard Bearer

Last modified: 29-apr-2004