A critique of drama, acting and movies.
'Drama is evil.' Who would ever dare to say that today? Who would dare to say that when drama is so widely accepted and enjoyed by many Christians?
The drama of radio, television, movie, video, and film is widely welcomed and enjoyed by many Christians who have failed to examine critically what they are actually doing. Today, we have become so accustomed to drama that it has become an acceptable part of our daily life. Many children have grown up with it in the home and continue entertaining themselves as they have learned. Keeping in step with those homes, many Christian school boards have integrated drama into the curriculum as a tool to instruct their elementary and secondary school students in Bible classes or church history classes, for example. Many churches promote drama for Sunday school programs, Christmas programs, or even for 'special' services. The result of having accepted the form of drama is that the people of God have opened the gates, and allowed this sinful practice of the world to invade and firmly to occupy their homes.
Against this evil practice, which is well-rooted in many Christian homes today, the Reformed believer must take up the sword of the Word of God to examine himself, reform himself, and to protect himself from the fascinating and riveting allurements of drama.
Make no mistake, the root issue that the believer faces is not the evil of the sinful content of drama, but the form of drama itself. In opposition to that evil the believer must look to the Word of God for direction and protection. By evaluating the form of drama in the light of Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity the believer discovers that drama is an evil which must be forsaken.
Voices in History Concerning Drama
The early Church did speak out against drama. In that day, the church fought against the evil of drama in the form of stage plays. We learn from church historians that the early church not only condemned drama, but also would not baptize those who would participate in those stage plays.
Even new converts, who continued watching them for pleasure despite rebukes, were also excluded from baptism. Those confessing members who resumed either acting or watching drama were disciplined and, if necessary, were even excommunicated.
In harmony with that view of drama, the church father Tertullian also condemned plays. When instructing his catechumens, he reminded them that plays were inconsistent with the Christian life of meekness, peace, and purity. He condemned drama as a means to encourage immorality.
Such condemnation resumed during the Reformation age. For example, William Farel wrote to John Calvin once expressing his desire that these men ought never to conform their character to the sins of others, but conform their own to Christ in every kind of duty. Farel concluded that acting caused great spiritual harm to one's own spiritual character. Without a doubt, John Calvin, who despised worldliness and all worldly amusements, agreed.
In Reformed churches, recent voices have been heard against drama. One Reformed minister wrote that drama by its very nature hampers the molding of one's own spiritual character and the putting on of the new man of Christ. Dr. Leonard Greenway, a minister from the Christian Reformed Church in North America, spoke out against drama: 'We believe that God has given every individual his own unique creatural distinctions in life, and that it is sinful for anyone habitually to reshape his individuality and to twist his personality for dramatic purposes. To display anger, sorrow, fear, or elation under artificial stimulation is a profaning of gifts and powers God intends shall be used only in sincerity and truth' (Standard Bearer,Volume 69, September 1, 1993, p. 467).
A Misleading Voice
In 1928, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church officially decided to warn her congregations against the evil of drama at theatres. In 1966, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church encouraged the churches to reject and condemn all drama which promotes sin and attacks the holy, antithetical life of the Christian. What is of particular interest in this last synod's decision, is that by condemning only the evil content of drama, the synod yet set its seal of approval upon the form of drama. In fact, the synod officially approved of drama when used by and produced by the regenerated heart and mind. That official synodical declaration reflects much of the understanding of many in Reformed churches today. Many regard drama as a legitimate art when it serves a good purpose and is produced by the Christian.
That recent voice has sounded something new and strange. How does this popular understanding of drama stand in light of the Scriptures and the Reformed faith?
Some Important Distinctions
Before we move on to discuss drama itself and in order to aid our evaluation of drama, we must first distinguish drama from two other things: imagination and imitation.
Imagination is the ability to think of situations which may not be real. That power can be abused for evil purposes to fulfil the lusts of the flesh. Such use of the power of imagination is forbidden by God Who commands us to think only upon holy and just things (Philippians 4:8-9). However, there is a good use of that power of imagination. One may imagine the consequences of a sin so that he flees from that sin. One may use imagination to somewhat understand the sufferings of a friend in order to console that friend. We use imagination when we read good fiction books or even read Bible history. For example, we imagine the events of Israel when the nation was wondrously delivered from Egypt through the dry path in the Red Sea. We imagine some of the details which Jesus sets forth in His parables. In this instance, the purpose of this use of imagination is to learn the mysteries of the Kingdom. However, imagination is not the same as drama.
Imitation is the other activity familiar to us. It involves copying the habits or actions of another. This activity must be carefully guarded against evil abuse. For example, a child's imitation under the power of a sinful nature results in that child walking in the sins of his parents or a famous sports figure. Even imitation of the actions of another can often be done maliciously and with the intent to humiliate.
In contrast to the evil abuse of imitation, there is the proper spiritual imitation. In Ephesians 5:1 we read that we are commanded unto a life of proper, spiritual imitation. We are called to be 'followers of God', or, literally, 'imitators of God.' That does not mean we are called to take on the Persons of God as drama would require, but we, as God's children, are called to live out of that image of God given to us in Christ through His regenerating Spirit Just as we see a son imitate and then actually follow in the occupation of his father, so the child of God must imitate His heavenly Father, and grow up in the life of righteousness, holiness, and truth. Therefore, we conclude that imitation must be distinguished from drama.
A Description of Drama
What then is drama? Drama is commonly defined as that activity of taking upon oneself the nature and person of another. We see that drama goes far beyond imagination and imitation. Drama is the activity of attempting to becomeanother person. The actor seeks to become the subject of another man's actions, and he even attempts to acquire the traits and personality of that other person. That is drama. That activity is more accurately stated by the word impersonation. That is the better word because 'impersonation' actually gets at the essence of drama: to take on another person than one's own.
Three Kinds of Impersonation
Three are three kinds of impersonation which are common today. First, three is the outright 'evil drama.' Its content is totally immoral and godless over against the righteousness and holiness of God. The sole purpose of 'evil drama' is to promote unprecedented godlessness even greater than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Secondly, there is today a kind of drama popularly regarded by many Christians as 'good drama.' The content of this drama is not overtly ungodly, but for entertainment portrays the lives of outwardly moral people. Instead of reading a novel, many turn on the television set and watch some 'good drama.' Into this category would be listed such drama as 'Little House on the Prairie' and 'The Sound of Music.' One also finds in this category the drama which portrays important historical individuals or historical events.
Finally, there is 'religious drama.' This is the kind of drama which dramatizes the lives of the reformers, or even the lives of individuals who are recorded in Scripture. Today, it is common to find drama on television, video, and radio containing the impersonation of the lives of Noah, Abraham, David, Peter, Paul, Martin Luther, or even the birth of Jesus, although some plays have sought a semblance of decency by omitting the manger scene.
One Basic Form
Whatever the content may be, it is indisputably true that the basic form is still the same. In each case, a man or woman impersonates another individual, whether fiction or real. An actor seeks to become that other person. Even worldly actors openly attest to this definition in their newspaper or magazine interviews. They say that to be the best impersonator (actor) one must seek to become that other person. Only that kind of commitment and zeal to impersonate as closely as possible can produce a true to life portrayal. Thus, in order to properly impersonate Martin Luther, Noah, Judas Iscariot, or Jesus Himself, one must seek to become those persons.
Many today in the name of religion and of the edification of God's saints foolishly attempt to become the subject of the actions of Christ, other biblical characters, saints, or the fictitious people of their imaginations. Just as guilty are the willing watchers and listeners of the evil of drama.
Evaluating Drama in the Light of Scripture
That brings to the mind and heart of the believer a host of questions. May one claim innocence for the sin and sinful nature of the individual he impersonates? Is God well-pleased with His people who either participate in or approvingly watch impersonations? May one act out the holy activity of prayer? Is the form of drama approved by the ninth commandment which forbids hypocrisy and lying? Is the form of drama in harmony with the doctrines of the Reformed faith?
The answers to these questions have consequences for us. If the answers to these questions were 'Yes,' then we may continue watching all forms of good and religious drama on television, on videos, on the stage, and in school or Sunday school programs. If the answer were yes, then those who have a play about Christ's birth ought to include the manger scene without shame.
However, if the answer to these questions is 'No,' then we must examine ourselves, repent, and amend our ways and our doings concerning the evil practice and doctrine of drama.
What is the answer of Scripture?
The answer of Scripture is 'No.'
God is not well-pleased with impersonation because it is hypocrisy and lying. Impersonation requires that a man not be true to what God has made him, but to set aside his person and identity and become someone else. Understand, that the actor is not only taking upon himself the person of another, but also necessarily the sinful nature of that other individual To do that is to indulge in the life of the lie and evil.
Hence, we must honestly consider what God says from His judgment throne. Does God in judgment, acquit a man for acting out the sin and sinful nature of another man? Will God applaud the performance of the intimate covenantal activity of prayer? Will God delight in hypocrisy? Will God command His people for being worthy impersonators?
Scripture's answer is God's answer: 'No!' Here follow five main reasons.
An Attack on the Sovereignty of God
The form of drama attacks the sovereignty of God. It attacks the right of God to rule His creation as He pleases. It attacks the sovereign right of God to require of man obedience to Him.
The sovereign God upholds and governs by His sovereign Word of power the person and nature of an individual. God according to His sovereign wisdom determines a man's nature, person, and circumstances of life. It is God's prerogative and right to do whatsoever He has pleased with our life. It is also God's right to require of us to live as those whom He has made us. However, for one to become the subject of another man's nature and to attempt to bear the sinful nature of another, is an attempt to oppose God's sovereign right not to make us that other individual. Therefore, an actor sins against God's sovereignty in two ways. First, he regards God's sovereignty as foolish to restrict man from becoming another individual. Secondly, man in defiance of the truth that God is sovereign attempts to become another individual anyway.
For the believer, therefore, participation in or the enjoyment of impersonation is also inexcusable disobedience and rebellion. The child of God, in whom God establishes that new nature and the image of Christ, has no right to desire to become someone else. That is disobedience. It is that because God has created us in Christ Jesus unto good works. That is God's sovereign right and eternal good pleasure to do so. Since that is the truth, the believer then may not deny that truth and impersonate another man's evil works and sinful nature. That's contrary to the sovereign purpose of our sanctification which is holiness.
An Attack on the Doctrine of Sin
The form of drama attacks the doctrines of sin and total depravity. Drama permits a man to play with sin. Subtly, drama would have us believe that sin is only in the deed. However, sin is not just sin in the deed, but sin is always in the nature as well. Quite deceptively drama requires that a man not only commit the sins, but in essence also become guilty of that man's sin. Thus, it is impossible for a man to act out the lives of even Noah or David without becoming guilty of their notable sins.
In light of that, is good to be found in impersonating the total depravity of another man's nature? Who in their right mind would want to become the subject of the idolatry, fornication, theft, murder, blasphemy, or the covetousness of another? The Word of God says that 'they who commit such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.' (Galatians 5:21b) Would you deliberately put yourself under the judgment of that Word of God?
Nevertheless, some might still say that there is good in such things. We can learn from the sinful mistakes of others when graphically and dramatically displayed before us. However, God will not be mocked by that reasoning. God is righteous to cause us to reap the bitter fruits of such foolishness. Those who give themselves over to drama, God will make them reap the bitter fruit of having that other man's guilt and corruption embedded in their nature also. Even the world attests to that reality of the just judgment of God against the sin of drama. Even worldly actors admit their personalities become irrevocably changed for the worse after impersonating the sinful natures of others.
Hence, rather than humbly bow before the knowledge of our total depravity and confess that there is nothing good in man, the evil of drama in reality promotes wallowing in sin to the supposed goal of our spiritual good. It promotes that vain goal in those who perform and in those who watch.
Over against that judgment of drama, the proponents of drama persist to tell us that there is something worthwhile and good in the sinful deeds of another man. Good in impersonating the sinner? Foolishly the church promoting impersonation principally commits the very same sins. How? The church has in her own wisdom sought to impersonate God in determining what is good and what is evil for her life and prosperity. So subtly the devil attacks the church. Let us beware!
A Multiple Attack on the Doctrine of Grace
The form of drama attacks the doctrine of the sovereign grace of God. This attack comes against grace on three fronts. In the first place, it attacks the revelation of God's grace in Scripture. If drama were good in itself as a form, we have already seen that then the Scriptures are something which cannot consistently be left untouched.
However, when a man acts out the good works of a saint, for example, he pollutes the truth of God's grace set forth in the Scripture, such as in Ephesians 2:8-10. There we learn that we are saved by grace alone through faith which is the gift of God. We learn that by grace we perform eternally foreordained good works. We understand that this grace is sovereign, glorious, and wonderful. Now for one to impersonate a good work is to seek to impersonate God and His grace which irresistibly fashions and causes us to perform that good work. May we make the grace of God in sanctification a plaything?
Further, to act out the wonder of grace in the Incarnation or the crucifixion is highly blasphemous of that unspeakable and matchless wonder. The wonder of grace did not come by the will nor work of man. That wonder was absolutely impossible for man to perform. Why then does the church today persist to re-enact such things as the wonder of grace in the incarnation or crucifixion? Why does the church seek to re-enact the wonder of sanctification in a saint's life? Negatively, such is impossible to do. Positively, let the church merely witness to and testify by speech the wonderful works of our God. Then let the church pray in thanksgiving!
Thus, we condemn all impersonation of Christ including His suffering and death. Can a mere man take upon Himself the Person of the Son of God? It is the height of man's pride to think that he can impersonate God Himself in our flesh. In fact, that this what the antichrist will do. When he is revealed, he is the Impersonator of Christ and God (II Thessalonians 2:4). The church may never tolerate such blasphemy of the wonder of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.
In the second place, drama today also attacks the means of grace. Because of its entertaining lure and power to seize and hold the attention of the watchers, drama is serious threat to replacing the God-ordained chief means of grace: the preaching of the Word. Scripture also has something to say about this threat to the preaching. In I Corinthians 2:1-2 the Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians that he did not preach the Word to them in the wisdom of men. That means that the apostle did not bring the philosophy of the Greeks to the saints, nor did he use the popular methods of transmitting knowledge: oratory and drama. He did not impersonate, but he spoke in plain and unadorned speech. As the apostle, so the church and her people must not impersonate, but with all boldness and plainness speak the Word of God. The church must chase actors and plays off the pulpit by the keys of the Kingdom, and must maintain at front and centre the preaching of the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.
Finally, we must consider that the evil of drama attacks the grace of God in another way. Earlier we wrote of an official synodical declaration which approved of the form of drama. That justification of impersonation as a legitimate art and activity for the Christian was based upon the theory of common grace as taught by Dutch preacher and later Dutch Prime Minister, Dr. Abraham Kuyper. According to his theory, God preserves society by His common grace ('gemeene gratie') so that there are things in the world which are in themselves good things. One of those things is the form of drama. On this supposed doctrinal basis, drama is judged as a legitimate activity of the Christian. On this doctrinal basis, drama is viewed as a product of God's common grace. God has preserved through the ages by His common grace, the form of drama for the church's use today. This view basically makes God ethically and morally responsible for the form of drama.
However, that justification of the form of drama is a denial of the grace of God. God's grace is not responsible for the evil of impersonation because you will never find God's grace among the unregenerate. Why not? The authoritative voice of God's Word tells us that His electing grace is found only in Christ Jesus and is sovereignly given only to those who are in Christ Jesus (II Timothy 1:9-10). Therefore, these not chosen in and not united into Christ by sovereign grace have no grace. Because there is no grace in the wicked, unregenerate world, God can never be ethically and morally responsible for drama. It is the rotten fruit of man's sin.
This conclusion implies that the theory of common grace justifies the evil of impersonation of fictitious or real people as good, justifies the sacrilege of impersonating biblical saints and Christ Himself as profitable, and at bottom makes God and His holy grace the author of the evil of impersonation. The heresy of common grace justifies an evil practice which is antithetical to the Reformed faith and practice. Common grace is anti-Reformed.
An Attack on the Antithesis
The form of drama is a tool of the devil to attack subtly the antithesis. Although drama is regarded as good by many, in reality it draws the church over the line of separation between the church and the world. The only fruit that the church reaps from this is her own ruin. Rather than learning to live godly, the church learns to love the world, the things that are in the world, and the lie. The little children learn to play with sin before the cartoon and the cartoon movie. The teenager learns from the screen to play with sin or learns to laugh at the lives of the saints. The church learns to forsake the regulative principle of worship, learns to call good what God condemns as evil, and learns to love what is of and in the world. Hence, drama is a spiritual poison designed to smother and kill the holy, covenant life of God's people.
A Violation of the Ninth Commandment
God demands of us obedience to all that He has said in His Word which includes obedience to the ninth commandment. According to His holiness and righteousness, God requires of us in the ninth commandment to be truthful. With respect to our person and natures, we are to be true to what God has made us in Christ Jesus. However, for the believer to impersonate is a sinful attempt to be what God has not made him. Thus, drama falls under the condemnation of the ninth commandment as a form of lying.
May we, for example, act out prayer before our heavenly Father? May we pray to our Father as someone we are not? Is God delighted in 'fake' prayer for daily bread which we in a play certainly do not need ourselves or for sustaining grace for a trial in which as we act we are not? Is God delighted in His children who, rather than flee to the cross of Christ for refuge from sin and guilt, willingly engage in the sin of others and expose themselves to the bondage of the sin and guilt of another? Such is foolishness. Such is only abominable hypocrisy. Participation actively or passively in drama is disobedience to the Divine demand of truthfulness and integrity in our whole life.
The Reward for Drama
The Heavy Wrath of God
In Lord's Day 43 of the Heidelberg Catechism,all lying is judged on the basis of the Word of God as the proper works of the devil. He was the liar from the beginning. Since the form of drama is a type of lying which is condemned by the ninth commandment, drama is one of the proper works of the devil. Since that is true, the Heidelberg Catechismteaches that it brings down upon itself the heavy wrath of God. Make no mistake about what this creed means: the form of the evil of drama and the unrighteous impersonators will forever burn in the fire of God's eternal wrath in hell. Impersonators shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).
Lest we think too highly of ourselves, we must very carefully understand that this sin is also rooted in our total depravity by nature. We would be as God knowing good and evil. We in our sin attempt in principle to become the Sovereign One and determine what will be good and evil for us. This was the devil's sin from the beginning. It will be the great sin of the antichrist in the end times who will attempt to sit as God in the temple of God. Of this sin we are guilty by nature and stand exposed to the everlasting wrath of God. Is there any hope?
Our Only Hope
Our only hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ died on the cross for impersonators. He died on the cross as one condemned by the religious and political world as THE Impersonator. Caiaphas condemned Christ for attempting to be the Person of the Son of God. But, Christ Himself is no impersonator. He is the Truth. Yet, He was condemned to death by God as one for impersonators; i.e., in the place of His eternally and particularly chosen people who in their sin and pride attempt to be as God. In His death, He endured the just reward of our sin of impersonation. Christ endured the heavy wrath of God under which we should have perished everlastingly. By His death, He has atoned for all our sin. On the basis of His shed blood, we are declared innocent of the sin of impersonation. Having been forgiven, may we walk in that sin any longer?
We must go and sin no more because we are children of God to be imitators of Him, our Holy Father. The Spirit of Christ by sovereign grace works in us as His dear children to walk as children of the Father in the image of Christ. He works in our hearts the confession: 'I am what I am in Christ by the grace of God!' Since we are the children of God by grace alone, we learn not to seek to be another, nor to be entertained by those who sinfully do. Rather, let us seek to fulfil our proper calling.
The Calling of the Believer
A Two-Fold Calling
First, the believer must repent and flee the sin of impersonation. He must refuse to participate in drama and refuse to be entertained thereby. That may mean voluntary dismissal from the Bible class, the history class, or the chapel exercise in which this drama is used. Undoubtedly such refusal will result in ridicule. Nevertheless, the Scriptures demand of us the kind of intolerance for the sin drama that the early Church also maintained. It demands of the church and the believer a holy intolerance and hatred for even the form of drama.
Secondly, the believer finds his positive calling in the words of Philippians 4:8-9. Christ calls us to think upon those things which are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Christ calls us to learn, receive, hear, and do those things. These things receive the praise and approval of the Holy Scripture and God Himself.
What are those things? Those are the deeds which flow out of that principle of life in the new man of Christ. We must put off the old man of sin and his evil deeds. We are called to put on only that new man of Christ. That is the man of Christ whose deeds are only holiness, righteousness, and truth. By faith, we must live in that truthfulness, holiness, and obedience before our God.
Blessedness in Truthfulness
In that way of obedience to God and His Word, there is great blessedness for the believer. God promises us that we shall have peace in this way of truthfulness. That peace is the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins and the enjoyment of covenant life with God by the grace which has created us in Christ Jesus. That undeserved peace is also the peace of safety and protection from the evil works of the devil and the wickedness of the world. That's the peace which faithful saints and covenant homes enjoy, not in living as children of the actor, the devil, but only as children of our heavenly Father in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Rev. Richard J. Smit (Wife: Tricia)
Ordained: September 1996
Pastorates: Doon, IA - 1996; Immanuel, Lacombe, AB - 2004; Missionary to the Philippines (Doon PRC) - 2009; First PRC, Grand Rapids - April, 2015Website: smitnews2.blogspot.com/?zx=c898900422a2dad3
Address2751 Littlefield Dr. NE
State or ProvinceMI