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Renewing the Battle (4)

Drama, Television, and Movies

 

"Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, of figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." Matthew 7:16,17

Prof. Barry Gritters

Prof. B. Gritters is professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Grandville, Michigan.  When he wrote these articles, he was pastor in the Byron Center (MI) Protestant Reformed Church.


   In Greek Mythology, Augeas, King of Elis, owned a gigantic herd of 3,000 oxen.  But for 30 years no one had cleaned out the stalls of these oxen: A mammoth, almost impossible task faced any who would put forth the effort.

   Then Hercules, Greek hero, had to redeem himself for the murder of his children in one of his episodes of divine madness.  To expiate his crime, he was assigned twelve monumental (thus, “Herculean”) tasks.  One of them was to clean out Augeas’ stalls.  By a superhuman effort, Hercules diverted the waters of the Alpheus and Peneus rivers through the stalls, and accomplished the work.

   Since then, tasks of ridding of corruption and filth that seem hopelessly difficult, as well as distasteful, are referred to as “cleaning the Augean stable.”

Movies, drama, and television are, by any estimation, an Augean stable. Even worldly, unbelieving critics agree that 95% of movies are devoid of any social value (notwithstanding the claim of some reformed Christians that even the worst of them have redeeming value). Most television programs and movies are thoroughly antichristian in content. This has been the burden of the first three articles on "Renewing the Battle."

The logical question is, Can the Augean stable of dramatic presentations be cleaned? Is there a new Hercules that can divert some river of God's grace to flush this medium of its foul-smelling filth?

The answer is "No."

And if some superhuman work could or would do it, the oxen of drama will only produce more filth.

There is a reason why, down through history, this art-form has been the source of such vile things. Drama itself is not a legitimate art-form. Drama itself is not pleasing to God.

This article is a "Herculean” effort to demonstrate that this is so.


Please be reminded that we are not questioning pictures that move, as though documentaries, home videos, and travelogues are improper. Please be reminded that a great objection to movies and drama is their awful content, and that some programs with drama are not explicitly evil. In addition, please be aware that a criticism of drama is not an indictment of fiction, as though novels in themselves are to be rejected because of their fiction. Although a novel may be read in an unchristian way, or may be unchristian in its content, no person is acting the part of another person.

This is a questioning of drama.

By drama is meant an actor's or an actress' playing the part of another person's life or part of his life. Movies and most television are drama.

And because drama is not a pursuit for a Christian to be engaged in personally, it is not something by which he may be entertained, instructed, or edified.

I am well aware that this is a challenge to a multi-billion dollar institution and industry. I am also aware that it is a challenge to a way of life for some of God's people. Some of us were members of the college thespians, maybe youthful "Governor Bradfords" in the grade-school presentation of the Pilgrim landing. Many of our readers were probably reared on "Lassie," "The Lone Ranger," or more recently, "Little House on the Prairie."

I am aware that this is not a popular theme.

Why, then, this questioning of drama?

Because I love the church. And I see what happens to the church which recommends drama as a legitimate pursuit.

And I am aware of Ezekiel 33:1-11. "If...he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.... But if the watch man see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand." I pray God will use this warning.


Our objections are biblical and appeal to the spiritual senses, the renewed heart, of God's people. With your God-given, sanctified conscience, consider with me the following.

 

IMPERSONATION. To some, impersonation is objectionable. Because God has made each of us a distinct person and personality, and called him to develop that person and personality that he is, acting out the life of another seems inconsistent with that calling. Is the child of God to try to take on the personality of another? He should not pretend that he is some one else. He is to be an imitator of God (Ephesians 5:1) and of the apostles (Philippians 3:17). He is not called to pretend to be them, but to model his life after theirs.

 

NINTH COMMANDMENT.

Some also find that acting something or someone that you are not is objectionable. Is acting lying? Oprah Winfry[1] recognized this, until she silenced the voice of her conscience. At the beginning of her career in acting, thinking of her Christian upbringing, she said, "How can I act and be truthful at the same time? Isn't that a contradiction?"[2]  Oprah is not our authority. But does not her witness show that "the works of the law (are) written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another" (Romans 2:15)?

Is acting violation of the ninth commandment? "Thou shalt not bear false witness" is explained by the Heidelberg Catechism, "...that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit, as the proper works of the devil...." The intent may not be deceit; what of the action?

THE ROOT. But there can be no question marks behind what is most objectionable. Acting out either the holy life or the sinful deeds of others is sinful and must violate the sanctified conscience of every Christian. Whether the persons whose lives are acted out were real or fictitious, whether it is done for entertainment or education, acting out either holiness or sin is not proper.

There is no action that is not one or the other.

To act out the sinful deeds of another is sin itself. As Nineveh will rise up in judgment against Israel, unbelieving Muslims (who also have the works of the law written on their hearts) will judge the foolishness of our "Christian" society and of the churches that promote acting sinful deeds. In an article in the Straits Times, Singapore's Islamic leader responded to a staged play in which Muslim actresses played Catholic nuns and made the sign of the cross. "Theatre practitioners must remember that what the Quran (i.e., "Koran" BLG) deems sinful in daily life, is still a sin committed by the actor if performed on stage."[3]

We Christians should know that better than an unbeliever.

May a Christian young lady play the treacherous, ruthless, murdering, Lady Macbeth, who urges her irresolute husband to murder King Duncan? Or the suicide Juliet? What plays, other than Shakespeare, will schools teach the children to act? And if there are others, what can be acted without acting sin?

May a young Christian man play one of the drunken, naked, Israelites dancing around the golden calf while Moses sits atop the mount, or even the angry Moses casting down the tablets of stone? May a Christian play Judas, the betrayer of the Lord? Or Peter in his denial of Christ? He may not. Which means, does it not, that biblical plays cannot be something a child of God wants to engage in?

Just a few months ago our church received an invitation from a local Christian High School to announce in our church bulletin that the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, would relate "the familiar story of Joseph in a refreshing way with humorous scenes and contemporary music." Altogether aside from the unbelievable attempt to inject humor into this biblical story, may a Christian young woman play the temptress of Joseph when he gets to Egypt, asking him to lie with her? To play the story, someone must. For education. Christians may not; nor may they be "taught" by someone who does.

And if one argues that he can play something more innocent, probably "neutral," he understands neither the gravity nor the subtlety of sin (to say nothing of original sin). "All that is not of faith is sin."

The other alternative is to act out holy lives of God's people. But for a person to act out the holy life of another is dreadful. To pray, repent of sin, love your wife, or any other calling of God, is too serious to pretend, aside from any good motive.

For entertainment, it is blasphemous.

Usually, if parents wanted to let their children watch a "good" program on television that included acting, "Little House on the Prairie" was the one. You may have seen Michael Landon on that program leading his family in prayer to our God. Michael Landon. The same Michael Landon who, on the next channel, was "playing" an angel on "Highway to Heaven." Michael Landon, praying with our children. For entertainment.

May you? I cannot answer in the affirmative.

To act someone else's holy life for education is no different. A Christian may not pretend he is praying, may not pretend he is loving a wife (probably it's not even his wife), may not pretend sorrow for sin, joy in Christ, all the while thinking not about prayer but about how the audience receives his performance. Holiness is too serious to be acted.  For edification in spiritual things? Calvin College recently invited our church to observe their Sacred Dance Class present a sacred dance of "The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids." I am glad it was not my daughter playing the foolish virgins ... or the wise.

This spring, a local Reformed church invited us to witness their Easter presentation of Leonardo da Vinci's "Living Dramatization of the Last Supper." In that play (I saw a videotape of it), members of the church played the disciples of Christ. One at a time, they rose and said, "I am Peter...," "I am Philip...," each time relating their feelings about Jesus. Yes, one said, "I am Judas...." Another played Christ. Although "Jesus" said not a word, the pastor gestured towards him as "Our Master." As I watched, I could not help but think that the children would refer to the "one" in the middle as "Jesus."[4]

This was a "moving" presentation, appealing to the flesh. We are tempted to say that it was done reverently. But they acted the parts. Pretended they were disciples of Jesus. Pretended grief in Christ's death. Pretended anger that someone would betray Christ. And pretended to look like ("be") Jesus Christ, God the Son in the flesh. It is no more possible to do this reverently than it would have been possible reverently to show a pornographic film. God is offended, highly, by such behavior.

When I met the pastor of the church at the Post Office a few days after the presentation, I asked him if someone really "played" Jesus. Knowing my thoughts, he said something like, "Well, Barry, I guess we have a little different theology and philosophy, don't we?" "Indeed," I thought, "your theology, which is no longer Reformed, allows you to make an image of God." After explaining how "uplifted" he was, he pleaded, "But does not the end justify the means?" ~"No, Pastor,it does not." As I walked home with the mail, I thought I recognized that thinking from something recent. "Yes, I've got it. Doctor Kevorkian. The suicide doctor. Of course, 'The end justifies the means.' " The end does not justify the means. Not for education; not for edification.

If this is drama at its "best," and acting sin is drama at its worst, what other kind of drama is there?

Brother Christian, Sister Christian, you have prayed for sanctification. You have prayed to be kept from sin, led away from temptation. Your desire is to stay as far away from sin as possible. But when you know that drama brings you into direct association with it, why will you practice it?

And if it is illegitimate to engage in sinful drama yourself, why will you be entertained by it on television, at the movies, or on the stage? "He that worketh deceit shall not dwell in my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight" (Psalm 101:7).

Fellow Christian, you have prayed for a heart warm with affection toward Him. You have promised to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Let us repent of our foolishness, "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness," and "abstain from all appearance of evil."

Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things. "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."


Next chapter: What has the church in the past thought about drama and acting?


 1. Oprah is a nationally famous actress and talk show host.

 

2. Reader's Digest, February, 1989, page 104.

 

3. February 19, 1993.

 

4. In addition to our warning about the drama of it, this was an official worship service in which communion was served. The play took the place of the preaching. And the Reformed confession in the back of the songbook of that church says, "We must not pretend to be wiser than God, who will have his people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of his word."


 Standard Bearer/August, 1993

Last modified: 28-apr-2004