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Renewing the Battle (6)

Drama, Television, and Movies

Prof. Barry Gritters

Prof. Barry Gritters is Professor at the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Grandville, Michigan.  He wrote these articles while  pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.

 

   When Joshua and the Israelites first came into the land of Canaan, they obeyed God's command to expel the inhabitants of the lands.  Mostly.  When they came to the city of Jerusalem, they faced a problem.  It was inhabited by the Jebusites and strongly fortified, surrounded by walls, on a high, strategically located hill.  After attempting to take it, Joshua and the Israelites were convinced that the city was invincible.  They went on to other battles, leaving the Jebusites in their safe haven.

   When David became king of Israel, many generations later, the city was still not in possession of God's Israel.  Because David saw the importance of the city for the Kingdom of God, he gave command to take the city, and promised leadership in the army to the first man who led his soldiers in accomplishing that conquest.  Ambitious Joab, son of Zeruiah, climbed up through the water shaft (KJV has "gutter"), leading the soldiers into the otherwise impregnable city, and defeated it for the Lord's people.  Jerusalem is now the city of David.

The visible church of Jesus Christ is like that city. Well situated, strongly fortified, she stands by God's grace against the attacks of the wicked world. Her history is a story of warfare. Her biography is a monument to continuous struggle against assaults. Without letup her walls are fired upon. The visible church sometimes lets down her guard, allowing the attackers in the "water shafts." Or she allows the walls to be scaled or breached. Then, instead of church, she becomes the possession of the enemy.

At issue in the church's battle against television, movies, and (as I have contended) also drama is the church's defense against the enemy. The enemy wants to enter the city, to plunder, rape, and overtake her. The church must defend herself. She must be strong. She must be alert. She must not allow the enemy to, find ingenious ways to enter her unexpectedly.

Today, sadly, most of the visible church is wholly overrun by the enemy. And once within the walls, the enemy takes charge.

Now Christian magazines recommend movies to the people, the same movies the secular magazines warn against. Way back when the original M*A*S*H came out, Time magazine of January 26,1970, warned, "An audience should approach this film as it would a field of live mines." The Reformed Journal's May-June, 1970, review praised it, calling it "two of the funniest hours ever put on film."[1]   Already then the church seemed to be falling over herself to make openings in the walls of defense. By now, movies and television shows are watched with regularity by most Christians, so that an article like this one will be met with incredulity by many.

But the church must be undeterred by how far many have departed from holiness. Christ promises to preserve His own. The people of God must never stop calling each other to holiness. To surrender now is unfaithfulness to Jesus, regardless of how hopeless the battle seems. We have the victory in Jesus Christ.

At issue here is not whether Christians ought to have televisions or VCRs. At issue here is not whether Christian families ought to rent a video on Friday night for their children. The heart of the issue is not even ultimately what Christians and Christian families are watching and renting (although it is directly connected to what they watch). At issue here is the holiness of the church.

This is my motive for writing. The church must be alert, active, militant, in her effort to maintain her holiness.

The question is, "Where is your heart?"

THE ANTITHESIS

The enemy has not entered by a Watergate. The enemy has entered over the crumbled walls that the church herself has allowed to fall into disrepair, or herself has willingly broken down.  In this, her renewed battle against the enemy, the church must repair her walls. The church must rebuild the walls. She may never let them fall.

The walls are the antithesis.

An essential part of the church's defense against her enemy is her separation from her enemy. Between His holy church and the wicked world God has built a wall of separation. We call that wall the antithesis.

Antithesis is not a word found in the Bible. But it's a word that has come to stand for a non-negotiable biblical truth found from Genesis to Revelation. The antithesis is the spiritual separation and opposition that God put between His holy church and the ungodly world, between His sanctified children and the children of the devil. God made this separation already in Genesis 3:15 when He put "enmity" between the children of Eve and the children of the devil. That is, God put a positive, active, mutual, hatred between the wicked world and the church.

This explains the separate existence God gave to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 33:28 says that "Israel shall dwell in safety alone." Literally, the passage reads, "Israel shall dwell in safety in separation." All through the old covenant, the people were commanded to be a separate people, remaining unmixed with the heathen peoples that surrounded them.

Israel's enemies knew this well. Where King Balak of the Moabites and his mercenary prophet, Balaam, couldn't succeed in cursing Israel, prophesying against her ( Num. 22 - 24), they did succeed by integrating Israel with the Moabite women ( Num. 25). For this, the anger of God was kindled against Israel, and a plague destroyed twenty-four thousand of them, before righteous Phinehas atoned for the people by spearing a fornicating Israelite and Moabite.

The call to be separate is not only for Old Testament Israel. Strikingly, the same language is used when Paul teaches the New Testament church, "...come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord..." (II Cor. 6:17). Likewise, the church at Ephesus is taught, "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11). And James, with his characteristic bluntness, says, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4).

As circumcision showed the separate character of the old covenant people, baptism is the mark of separation for the new covenant people. The Reformed Belgic Confession teaches that by baptism "we are received into the Church of God, and separated from all other people and strange religions, that we may wholly belong to him, whose ensign and banner we bear" (Art. 34).

For Christians today, although the separation has a physical aspect to it, the separation is spiritual. God's people may not try to escape the wicked world, physically. Paul warns against that in I Corinthians 5, pointing out that if you were to try to do that, you would have to live on another planet ("for then ye must needs go out of the world"). But Christians must avoid all evil associations with unbelieving persons, and avoid all fellowship with "unfruitful works of darkness."

I called the truth of the antithesis non-negotiable. There may be no compromises here. As soon as the church believes she can give and take with regard to her spiritual separation, she not only disobeys God, she is threatened with a loss of her very identity. In the way of her separation, she is safe. In that way, God says to her, "I will be your God; you will be my people" (II Cor. 6: l7ff.).

OUR HOLINESS

Our call to be separated from unholiness is the real reason for concern with regard to drama, television, and movies. From the outset I have made that clear.  In the first article I said, "What is at stake...At stake is holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." Regarding the content, I urged: "Every Christian who loves holiness ought to be horrified at what jumps out at him...." Regarding the effects: "To sum up, the effect of most television programs is simply a loss of holiness. Spurgeon was right. If theatre-going (read: 'movie watching') becomes general among professing Christians, it will soon prove the death of piety (read: 'holiness')." As to drama itself, I began, "Acting out either the holy life or sinful deeds of others is sinful and must violate the sanctified conscience of every Christian."  But this was not only my concern. We saw that holiness, sanctification, antithetical living was the concern of every church father whose judgment was against drama and theater.

 

HOLINESS MUST BE UNDERSTOOD

There are two errors that we can make when we speak of holiness. One is that we think holiness is simply outward, putting away things.

The story is told (apocryphal?) of one man who became so disgusted with what was on television that, in a fit of anger, he put the butt of a gun through the picture tube. We're tempted to be impressed by that. But what of the righteous anger that we should have with ourselves? The problem is not the television. The problem is our own heart. Our own desire for holiness. Our own love for God. Our own hatred of the sin that we find in ourselves. Holiness is mortification. Holiness is controlling our own spirits. Living the antithesis begins in our own hearts. Paul teaches the Galatian church, "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." And if that doesn't sound painful enough, he says to the Romans, "If ye through the Spirit do mortify (put to death) the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (8:13). And to the Colossians, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon earth..." (3:5). The Heidelberg Catechism says that true conversion is “mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man" (Q.83).

So, first of all, holiness with respect to drama and television begins in the heart.

Second, holiness is not just a response to evil. Living the antithesis is not just saying "No" to worldly living. On the contrary, holiness is consecration to God, and the antithesis is saying "Yes" to godliness. In fact, rejecting the evil is done in order that we may embrace the good; saying "no" to worldliness opens the way to saying "yes" to godliness. The negative is meaningless without the positive.

It's even safe to say that an attempt at holiness without the positive so smacks of legalism as to make it detestable. To be legalists with regard to holiness is as deadly as being lawless. "Don't do this and don't do that; and if you comply with our list of don'ts, you must be a Christian, you are living a holy life." To put it in terms of the parable we've been using, the church's defense against the enemy and her maintenance of her walls is meaningless if she has no thoughts for her life within the walls. The church separates herself from the wicked world in order that she may dedicate herself wholly to Jehovah God. She is an enemy of the world so that she may be a "friend of God."

Consecration to our good God, our Savior, who has given us all things in Jesus Christ. That's holiness. Love for God with all our being.

Is this where we fail? We love God. We love God's people. We love God's Word. We love the life of purity, for the honor of God. Is this where we fail? Is this why there is not the desire for separation from the world as there ought to be?

Here is the last line of defense. Let the enemy come all the way to the city. But let him not breach the wall. The call of God to give ourselves to Him body and soul is too important, the witness to the world of holy people is too significant, the life we live with God is too precious, to allow unholiness in. We love God.

 

CONCLUSION

We may be tempted at this point again to instruct all of God's people, "throw out your televisions." Again, that maybe necessary for some, maybe many. But that would be treating God's people as children, instead of as the mature, Spirit-possessed people of God that they are.

Instead, the call we give, the challenge we issue, is this: Let us examine our lives in the light of God's Word. Let us not say, "I think my television and video watching is no problem." What we have problems with is not the issue. Truth is, we often deceive ourselves. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). "Who can understand his errors?" (Ps. 19:12 a). Let's let God be the judge. Christians are concerned with what their gracious God thinks.

So let the Christian pray, with regard to television, movies, and drama, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer (Ps. 19: 12 b-14).

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Ps. 139:23, 24).

Lord, let my love for Thee be without hypocrisy; work in me abhorrence of that which is evil, and a cleaving to that which is good (see Rom. 12:9).

Doing this, the people of God are safe.

 

The safety is in the way of battle. All our lives. In our own hearts.


1 See Rev. Gise VanBaren's important and controversial speech entitled "Ted and Alice and Groppi ... and Grace, or, Common Grace — an Encouragement to Worldliness" in The Standard Bearer, May 15, 1971, 47:363.


Standard Bearer/December 15, 1993

Last modified: 28-apr-2004