How should we live with respect to the entertainment of the world? Separate from sin but not separate from the world itself.
In preparing this speech, I thought it would be helpful to check out in a concordance the words usually associated with our subject of entertainment. What do the Scriptures say? What is the scriptural emphasis? I believe this is the proper and safe way to proceed. And I want to share my findings with you at the outset.
The word entertainment is not found in the Bible at all. Once we read 'entertain,' in the sense of hospitality, but never the word entertainment. The word fun is never used in the Bible. The word games is never to be found. The word play is used a number of times: playing on musical instruments, playing the harlot, Israel sitting down to eat and drink and rising up to play (a reference to their naked dancing and worse), the boys and girls of Israel playing in the streets of Jerusalem after the return from captivity. The words vacation, retirement, and sports are not found in God's Word.
We may notice that there are words often used in the Bible that are practically the antonyms of the words we have just mentioned. We are admonished to work with our hands: 'six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work.' We have been placed on this earth to work! The works sober, sobriety, and being sober minded are often to be found. Watch and be sober. Let us who are of the day be sober. Office-bearers are to be vigilant and sober. Aged men and young women are called to be sober. The words mourning,weeping. and tears are often used. Yes, Scripture also speaks of rejoicing. The child of God is to rejoice always. We are to rejoice in the Lord!
And finally I thought it would be profitable to check out the words glorying and boasting. When we get into the area of games and organized sports, boasting, bragging, and glorying are very much at point. Well, God tells us to glory in nothing, save the cross of Jesus Christ. God tells us that the wise man is not to glory in his wisdom neither the mighty man in his might, nor the rich man in his riches, 'but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me' (Jer. 9:24). He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. The Lord does not take delight in the legs of a man, in physical strength and skills. But the Lord delighteth in lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness. All other glory is vainglory.
Now, what does all this mean? What conclusions can we draw from the fact that such words as sports, vacations, playing, and retirement are not found in the Bible? It would be wrong, of course, to conclude that this means we may not be involved in such things at all. You could just as well say, Because the Bible does not mention pizza, we may not eat pizza. But this brief word study sends us in the right direction. It gives us the proper emphasis. And it shows us that the Christian life must always be a life of balance and moderation. We recognize that many things have changed since biblical days; in fact, life has greatly changed in the last one hundred years. Our society has gone from a rural, agricultural economy to a suburban, industrial one. The result of these many changes is that we have more disposable income (income that is not necessary for the basic needs on life) and more discretionary time (time not spent on the job but used in other ways). But we must also recognize that some things have not, and must not, change since biblical days. There are truths and principles that must still guide us in these last days.
Does Entertainment Have a Place?
Isthere a place for entertainment in the Reformed Christian's life? If not, why not? If so, what is that place, and how large is that place?
We believe that there is a legitimate place for entertainment in the life of the child of God. The Christian may relax, go on a vacation from time to time, have some fun, and enjoy the good gifts that God has bestowed upon him and his family. Paul writes to Timothy, 'Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer' (I Tim. 4:4-5). That passage is important for the understanding of our subject, for it warns against legalism and a too strict view of the Christian life, and it tells us that we can use all things that God has made, keeping two things in mind: first, the Word of God instructs us how to use God's creatures and gifts, and secondly, by prayer in respect to this use, His gifts are sanctified unto us. Then we use this world, and not abuse it.
Another passage that comes to mind in respect to our use of God's gifts is I Corinthians 10:31: 'Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.' This means, of course, that entertainment is not an end in itself. Entertainment may not be divorced from our calling as Christians to serve and glorify God at all times. Entertainment may not, and cannot, stand on its own feet as something good in itself. It is only a means, a means to a higher end and purpose. Recreation and exercise as a means unto better health? Fine. Vacations and sports as a means of relaxation in order to serve God the better? Fine. But as soon as entertainment goes beyond that, as soon as it becomes an end in itself, as soon as our sports and our hobbies consume us, then we abuse God's good gifts and our lives are not lives of balance and moderation but rather of excess and imbalance.
All the emphasis in our society is on having a good time. Everyone has to have fun in some way every day. Forgotten is the truth that God has put man on earth to work. Man works as little as possible in order that he may play. He does not play a little, the better to work. Life is viewed as a playground rather than a workplace or a battlefield. And this holds true today, not only for little children but for the adults as well. This situation is one of the signs that Jesus' second coming is almost here. Paul writes in II Timothy 3, the opening verses, 'This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.' And then he describes the world of unbelief: 'Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters,' and so on. And, 'They shall be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.' The Christian is a lover of God! The unbeliever is a hater of God and a lover of pleasure! And as that love of pleasure develops into pleasure-madness all around us, that constitutes a peril for the church. These are perilous times for you and for me, and for our children. We stand in the midst of peril!
Our society, wealthy beyond compare, with free time almost beyond belief, is thoroughly hedonistic. A lover of pleasure is a hedonist. Hedonism is the moral philosophy that pleasure and happiness are the chief goal of human life. That is the religion according to which most people live to today. The rightness or wrongness of some activity is determined by whether it results in pleasure or in pain. If you get pleasure from something, do it; it's a good thing. If it causes you pain or discomfort, avoid it like the plague; it's bad or evil. Do you see the peril of being surrounded by people of that philosophy and outlook? Of living in the midst of such a perverse generation? I will leave it to you to discover how much of that thinking controls you in your world and life view.
What are the dangers for us and our children'? There are five areas of great concern. The matter of movies and television springs immediately to mind. That movie attendance and television viewing are out of bounds for the Christian, are incompatible with the godly walk of those who are called to be saints, is clear beyond any dispute. Is it not true that movies and television exalt that which is base and depraved, and debase that which is exalted and good? Is it not true that watching the entertainment of the world, its sexual presentations, its violence and bloodshed, its blasphemies against the holy God, makes a person guilty of the sin described in Romans 1:32: 'Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them'? Psalm 101, which I encourage you to read right now, is a psalm of David, the man after God's own heart. He says, 'I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.' And a little later in the psalm, 'I will not know a wicked person.' Although he may be tempted, were he alive today, David would not attend the movies nor watch television!
Secondly, we mention the sports craze, not only the March Madness of basketball tournaments, but the year-round sports activities of the world, the proliferation of professional sports teams. I am afraid that sports have a strangle-grip on many of us. I read in the Grand Rapids Press a few weeks ago a quote from a baseball fan: 'opening day is a holy day for us who worship in baseball parks.' Now we may shake our heads at the audacity of such a statement, but that is literally true for millions of people. Their churches, well attended on the Sabbath, are the stadiums, arenas, and ball parks of the land. Their gods are the ball players. And their offerings to these gods enable the players to have salaries of millions of dollars a year. Life without sports would be inconceivable to them. Life simply would not be worthwhile if they could not fanatically attach themselves to some team, and cheer their hearts out for their idols. Does it make sense that the Christian put his dollars in the pockets of these godless athletes? Does it please God that the Christian yell himself hoarse at home run, a touchdown, or a three-pointer? Does it belong to the Christian witness that he blend his voice with the voices of ten thousand unbelievers, in the praise of man, man's abilities, man at his very worst'?
Professional sports, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, MLB or any other letters you care to mention, all professional sports, are under the curse of God. And 99%, if not 100%, of these athletes are under the curse of God as well. It is sad, then, that our children like to line up to shake hands with these so-called stars and get their autographs. It is sad, then, when our children know the names and statistics of these profane people better than the books of the Bible, and the names of the prophets, the kings, and the apostles. Can we say it with David, 'I will not know a wicked person; him that hath an high look and a proud heart, I will not suffer'?
Thirdly, the music that is being produced and distributed by the most vile creatures on God's earth belongs to the perils that surround us, and constitute a peril for our young people especially. The night before this lecture was given, a rock group gave a 'concert' in a downtown arena. It was reported the next day that, after ripping pages from the Bible and stomping upon them on the floor, these so-called musicians sang songs which encouraged young people to use dope, engage in promiscuous sex, and even to kill their parents or anyone they felt like killing. And today learned men and women discuss the question whether the entertainment industry in the United States has anything to do with violence in public schools! Parents, do you know what your children are listening to? Children, do you think you can listen to these perversions of God's good gift of music, and not be influenced?
Fourthly, we ought to be aware that the entertainment craze is having its effect in the worship services of many churches. Church members are viewed as consumers, and you have to give the consumer what he wants. What he wants is to be entertained! God must be presented as a consumer-friendly God. Do not talk about His holiness, His wrath and His justice; talk exclusively of His love. Present God as a nice old man, who is always there to help you and make you happy. Much of today's worship is oriented to the idea of entertainment. The people must have a jolly good time or they will leave the church and go to one which has a better band, a funnier preacher, a bigger stage, and more brilliant lighting effects. Edward Farley, writing in Christianity Today, comments that 'contemporary worship creates a tone that is casual, comfortable, chatty, busy, humorous, pleasant, and at times even cute.' He goes on to say that 'If the seraphim would adopt this Sunday morning mood, they would be addressing God not as 'holy, holy, holy' but as 'nice, nice, nice.''
I know this to be true from personal experience. I was sent out to preach to a group that was showing an interest in our churches, and before I went on the pulpit I was told to tell a few jokes, for the people appreciated some humour mixed in with the message. Well, of course, I could only say that if he could show me some jokes in the Bible, I might be able to tell a joke or two. Can you imagine? Can you picture Isaiah telling the people some jokes before he went on to speak of the captivity. Or Jeremiah beginning his message with the words, 'We're going to have a good time tonight'? In many circles, a successful, effective worship service is measured by the extent to which the people have been entertained.
The fifth danger that I want to mention is the peril presented to us in regard to breaking the Sabbath Day with our vacation and travel plans. The desire to be entertained, and to be entertained in new and different ways, can easily lead us to break the Sabbath. We have all this surplus money. We have all this free time. Not just two or three weeks off per year to get away from the pressure of the shop or the office, but six, eight, ten weeks of vacation a year. And then there is retirement, and early retirement. What to do? The Fourth Commandment rings down through the corridors of time: 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.' Commenting on the Fourth Commandment, the prophet Isaiah was inspired to write, 'If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, and holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thy own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, not speaking thine own words ...' and then the prophet speaks God's words of blessing upon those who keep the Sabbath holy (Isa. 58:13-14). He speaks of a great contrast between our pleasure and God's pleasure; our ways and God's ways; our words and God's words. All in regard to the day of rest!
It is a fact of travel today that you get the lowest airfares if you are willing to stay somewhere over Saturday night, it is a fact of tourism that most cabins rent from Saturday noon to Saturday noon. It is a fact that most ship cruises operate from Sunday to Sunday. But it is also a fact, it is an everlasting truth, that we are to keep the Sabbath holy, consecrated to the Lord, by ceasing from our ordinary labours and pleasures, and by entering into the rest that our Lord Jesus Christ has gained for us on the cross! As God rested from His work of creation and enjoyed that perfect work on the seventh day, so we are to rest from our earthly labours and enter into the enjoyment of God's perfect work of redemption. Someone will say, But I go to church on my long, far-off vacations. Yes, the world is full of churches. But the world is not full of churches where you can really rest in the Lord by hearing the truth of the gospel.
Recently some of our churches had people missing to the extent of a quarter or a third of their memberships. Do you know what is going to happen? I predict that, in just a generation or two, so many people will be absent from special service, and perhaps even from some Sunday services, that several congregations will come together in one building to have a joint worship service. That has already happened in some denominations. The people simply do not come! Unless this trend is reversed, unless we change our attitudes and practices regarding vacations and entertainment on the Sabbath, the same thing is going to happen to us. Do not forget that old saying, 'Where we walk, our children will run.' When our children inherit our wealth, and add to that wealth themselves, when our children notice our example and must live in a generation more pleasure-crazed than our own, what do you expect they will do?
It is time to ask the question, Does the antithesis enter in here? What does the truth of the antithesis say to you and to me about entertainment and its proper place in our lives?
The antithesis is a truth that is dear to the Reformed believer because the antithesis spells his spiritual safety. That God's grace is particular, always saving, for the elect alone and never for the reprobate, is of extreme importance for the living out of this vital doctrine.
The antithesis is the absolute spiritual separation that God has established between the church and the world, between those who are in Christ and those who are outside of Christ, between the believer and the unbeliever. God has called us out of the darkness of unbelief, misery, and death, into His marvellous light. God has made between the church and the world a cleavage of such a nature that it can be bridged by nothing! Having made righteous discrimination between men in eternal predestination, God establishes this cleavage by the power of His grace down through the history of the human race. What a power that is, that God sets vast elements of the children of Adam at enmity with one another! This is not a physical separation, but a spiritual one - though, to be sure, it implies a certain measure of physical separation as well, in that the child of God is not found in all the places where the child of darkness is found.
The life of the antithesis does not call us to world flight. We are called to be in this world, but not of this world. As children of light we are called to be God's party in the midst of a dark, perishing world. The only fleeing we engage in is the fleeing from sin and the very appearance of sin.
In Psalm 16:5-6 we read, 'The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: Thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.' The child of God has a wonderful inheritance, and that inheritance is God Himself. God gives Himself to us in Jesus Christ, in all His majesty, power, riches, and splendour. And God has drawn lines for us in our lives. Those lines in the Old Testament were the property lines that defined the exact piece of ground that each Israelite inherited in Canaan. God forbade that those lines be changed or that property be sold. For us, those lines which have fallen to us in pleasant places are our children, our doctrines, our practices drawn out of those doctrines, our place in the church of Christ and in the congregations, and ultimately our place in the heavenly Canaan. God has drawn lines for us. They have been measured out unto us with gracious care! And this means that we must always be busy drawing lines in our lives and in the lives or our children, lines of very definite demarcation.
The question is, Where do we draw the lines? The question is not, Where does my church draw the lines? We know the answer to that question. The preaching we hear every Sabbath Day draws the lines of doctrine and life biblically and sharply. Besides, you can read all about these things in our magazines and pamphlets. But where do you, and where do I, draw the lines personally and daily in our lives and the lives of our families?
It goes almost without saying that we must draw the lines of demarcation sharply, indelibly, and without compromise exactly where God draws the lines in His revelation to us. And then we must stick to those lines, and make them stick, without removing the ancient landmarks. James writes (4:4) that the friendship of the world is enmity with God, and whosoever is the friend of the world is the enemy of God. Paul writes in II Corinthians 6:14-18 (the classic text for the antithesis) that we are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, that we are to come out from among them and be separate, that we are not to touch the unclean thing. There you have it. God, Christ, the elect angels, and elect believers—all these stand on one side of the line of the antithesis as covenant friends! On the other side is the devil, fallen angels, unbelievers, all that love and make the lie.
Now, whom are you going to invite to cross over and stand with you? Who will be your friend? With whom will you have fellowship, communion, concord, part—to use the words of the apostle. That is the great issue in dating, courtship, and marriage, is it not? But that is also the issue in this whole area of entertainment. Whom do you invite into your home to entertain you and your children electronically? 'I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes,' says David. Whom are you always going to be talking about and admiring' 'Him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land,' says the man after God's own heart.
Our conclusion is that the enmity that God has placed between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent at the very beginning, the antithesis that God maintains between the church and the world down through the ages, must be applied by the Christian in every area of life, and in these last days increasingly to the area of entertainment. The place of entertainment in the Christian life is really very small in that we are placed on earth to work. The problems that entertainment present us are really not so difficult if we remember that we are not citizens of this world, with worldly expectations, goals, and values; we are pilgrims and strangers on the earth as our fathers were. Our citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. We declare plainly that we seek a better country, that is, a heavenly, and do not even expect to find any satisfaction in these desert wastes. And because God is not ashamed to be called our God (Heb. 11:16), we confess, 'Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee!'
As for biblical direction in the matter of entertainment, we offer for your consideration three broad guidelines. First of all, everyone recognizes that in regard to some of the things that have been mentioned (but not all of them) there is room for the exercise of Christian liberty. Members of the body of Christ differ as to wealth, abilities, and callings in life. With these differences come varying opportunities, and no one may make rules to force everyone into the same mould. The people of God are alike in two respects: everyone must confess the same truth and everyone must walk according to God's commandments. For the rest, there is abundant room for variation and liberty.
Two passages come to mind in this regard. Paul writes to the Galatians (5:1), 'Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.' He is combating the legalism of some in the churches whereby they were trying to establish part of their righteousness before God by the works of the law, especially circumcision. But Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; He has fulfilled all righteousness, and therefore we are called to walk in the glorious liberty of the children of God. On the other hand, there is the warning of Galatians 5:13, 'For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another,' and the warning of I Peter 2:16, 'As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
In other words, Holy Scripture warns us against two great errors, legalism and antinomianism. Legalism is the scrupulous keeping of law and precept with the idea of establishing one's own righteousness before God. And antinomianism is total disregard for the law of God. The law of God must not be read in church or preached on according to the Catechism because Christ has fulfilled the law, and I am completely free from the law! Both positions are wrong, and both are wrong as guidelines in the areas of entertainment. But the great danger for the church and for the believer in this present time is not legalism. Do not ever think it. The great danger is antinomianism. No law for the Christian! Lawlessness is the spirit of these last times, and that spirit must not infect the churches. We are not free from the law, but we are free under the law! That truth is so beautifully expressed in Psalm 119:45, 'And I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy precepts.' That is the first guideline. Walking at liberty with the law of God in our hearts as our faithful guide.
Secondly, because of the emphasis that Psalm 101 places upon the home and the sanctified character of the Christian home, somehow we must reclaim our homes and bring them more in line with the biblical example. Many of our homes have entertainment centres, a big cabinet or set of shelves, on which are placed a television set, a VCR, a tape deck, a CD player, and perhaps a computer with a pile of electronic games. Two things stand out here: first, the very presence of these centres suggests way too much emphasis on entertainment; and secondly, they encourage the wrong kind of entertainment. Also, the use of these things draws us away from each other and from having fellowship with each other. Television viewing and endless computer games are very individualistic. Interaction of parents with children, and children with the other children can be very severely damaged.
The table with the family gathered around it talking—that used to be the centre of the home. The bookcase with good books and religious magazines—that used to be the place to which we turned when we had a few extra minutes. But more and more our children and young people are not reading and are not studying. They tend to view the home merely as the place to be if you do not have any place else to go. Home is the place of last resort. Being home is bad; being on the go, that is really living. Oh, no! God puts you in a home with your family. There He will give you joy and pleasure. So the second guideline in the matter of entertainment is having a strong Christian home and family where God is known, feared, and served.
Thirdly, something ought to be said about role models, since that is a word that keeps coming up in the media. Who will be the models after which we and our children pattern ourselves? To whom do we look up, and to whom do we point our children? God does not allow a professional athlete to be a role model for the Christian of any age. God does not allow an actor, actress, or worldly musician to fill this function for us either. We do need worthy examples to follow. We are to be followers (imitators) of God as dear children (Eph. 5:1). Christ has left us an example that we should follow His steps (I Peter 2:21). We are to follow the apostle Paul and those who are like him (Phil. 3:17). Clearly, the role models we must follow are found in the church, not in the world. The elders, the deacons, the pastors, the saints! Closer to home, godly fathers by word and example show the boys and young men what the Christian life is all about. Mothers of meek and quiet spirit reveal to the girls and young women how they are to conduct themselves. 'Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land,' says David. 'They shall dwell with me.'
Can the Christian have fun? Yes. Really, he is the only one who can enjoy life and see good days. God has put him on the right side of the antithesis, and God keeps him there. He has a good conscience as he experiences the liberty that is in Christ Jesus. He is a member of the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
It was suggested that the questions submitted in writing after the speech and the answers given to them, be included in this pamphlet. The dozen or so questions fall into four distinct categories.
A. What about vacations where we cannot worship in our Protestant Reformed Churches?
Can we observe the Sabbath while on vacation?
What are your thoughts concerning vacationing over Sunday away from our Protestant Reformed Churches?
What type of discipline should be taken in the Protestant Reformed Churches for members who are absent for months at a time?
These questions show that there is a real problem in the churches in regard to keeping the Sabbath holy and vacationing. We confess that we do not know the answers to all the questions that come up in this regard. We are aware that at least two consistories have addressed pastoral letters to their members, warning them against this trend and pointing out the dangers that are involved. These issues are also addressed regularly in the preaching of the gospel: the delight of the Sabbath properly kept is set forth, and the evil of Sabbath-breaking is warned against. By some these warnings are being ignored.
This situation presents great difficulties for the elders. The first difficulty concerns consistency. How can the elders call upon those whose church attendance is spotty when everyone knows there are others who are elsewhere for two, four, or six months a year? The second difficulty concerns office-bearer nominations. How can men be nominated for the offices if they are not present in the congregation to do the work required, and to be good examples to the flock? Anything that strikes at the well-being of the congregation and interferes with the marks of the true church (faithful preaching, proper partaking of sacraments, and Christian discipline) is clearly wrong. The problem of poor church attendance must be addressed, the evil must be rooted out, and this can best be accomplished on the individual, personal level. Perhaps the following will be helpful:
1. Long absences from the congregation remove one from the supervision or oversight of the elders. Although the promise is made at confession of faith that one will submit himself to the government of the church, some willingly place themselves in a position where this becomes impossible. The elders are caretakers of our souls. Through them Christ works our spiritual welfare and safety.
2. Long absences from the congregation deprive one of the pure preaching of the Word of God. We find it ironic that when some return home from their long vacations they remark how good it is to hear sound, Reformed preaching again. Or we find it discouraging when others talk about the good preaching they have heard in church which differ radically from ours in doctrine, life, and worship. Have they no discernment? Do they not care? Let those who find it easy to worship in any church where they happen to be ask themselves the question, 'Why do I have my membership in the Protestant Reformed Churches?' Doesn't the answer to that question mean that we are in our churches as much as possible?
3. Those long absences prevent the faithful use of the sacraments. The Lord's Supper is celebrated in the congregation. Babies are born and presented for baptism. But these important signs and seals of the righteousness that is by faith are often missed by some. Further, we hear reports that some members take communion in other churches. This is wrong! One implication of our practice of guarding the holy table from being profaned by exercising 'close communion' (allowing non-PRs to partake with us only after an interview with the elders to examine confession and walk) is that we do not partake in other churches either. How can we individualistically partake with others who cannot partake with us at home? How can we partake with those who work on Sunday, or are union members, or are divorced and remarried, or disagree with our doctrinal positions? Is this lack of good order, perhaps a chafing under our practice of 'close communion'?
4. Long absences from the congregation do much damage to the communion of the saints. 'But now God has set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him' (I Cor 12:18). Although the apostle has in view the body as the church of Christ in all ages and places, his teaching also applies to the local congregation as a manifestation of the body of Christ. There God has placed us: there we are to suffer and rejoice with fellow believers. But when we are elsewhere, saints are hospitalised and unvisited by us. Saints die and families are not comforted by us. Babies are born, marriages entered into, confessions of faith made—all of this without the knowledge of those who are who knows where.
5. May we never be gone from our congregation? We would never want to make such a rule. Certainly we may visit with relatives from time to time, perhaps worshiping with them on the Sabbath. There may be the need to be elsewhere for medical treatment, or one's health requires a warmer, drier climate for a time. But those who are absent from the congregation month after month, as a matter of choice, must be warned sharply against this practice by the elders. And if the necessary changes are not made, they must be disciplined for neglect of the means of grace. And those who are repeatedly absent for shorter periods—a couple of weeks here and a couple of weeks there—ought to re-examine this practice in the light of Isaiah 58:13-14.
B. Do the Protestant Reformed Churches actually have a stand we must abide by regarding movies or do we consider it up to the Christian himself - the same as with dances?
What you mention about drama is what some simply write off as bad drama. Can good drama (that is to say, school skits and religious movies) be lumped into the same category or not?
Is there any drama that is wholesome or that teaches any moral good?
Is it fair to liken television-viewing (drama) to Baal worship?
Why do we need an official stand by classis or synod to avoid those sins which are so clearly condemned by Scripture? Doesn't a little sanctified wisdom show us that viewing movies and television leads to impure thoughts, improper language, silently partaking in the blasphemy of others, discontented attitudes, and wicked behaviour? No, movie attendance is not a matter of Christian liberty, nor is social dancing, which is mentioned in the same question.
We get off on the wrong foot when we try to judge this issue on the basis of content: good drama or bad drama, moral lessons or immoral teaching, constructive influence or destructive examples. Certainly the content of almost 100% of dramatic productions (movies, television programs, plays, skits, operas) place these things out of bounds for the Christian. Besides, how do you know what the contents and influences are until you have viewed the drama? Too late then! Are we going to look to the world, the world at its most depraved and ungodly state, to teach us moral lessons? Why cannot we take the Heidelberg Catechism to heart when it teaches us that all images are to be condemned, and 'God will have His people taught not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of His Word' (Lord's Day 35)? Scripture is sufficient!
But content is not the root of the issue. The question that must be asked is, 'Is acting right or wrong?' Men more capable than I have shown conclusively that acting itself is sin. The distinction between imitation and impersonation must be appreciated. We may imitate those of pure moral character: God, Christ, the apostles, the saints. But we may never impersonate anyone! To impersonate is to pretend you are someone else, good or evil, and to induce those who watch you to believe that you are someone else, good or evil. That's playing around with personality, which is a distinct and unique creation of God; and that's playing around with corruption or holiness, both for which are terribly serious before God. Acting is simply hypocrisy. By the way, the Greek word for actor is hypocrite.
We recall two interesting remarks made on family visitation some years ago. A man said, 'If I watch television for a couple of hours, I can't pray at night.' Another man said, 'Watching television causes me to lose my judgment of things.' How true. Let us be warned. For further reading on this matter, we recommend the pamphlet 'The Christian and the Film Arts,' by Prof. H. Hanko, available from all our evangelism societies. We recommend also a series of articles in volumes 69 and 70 of the Standard Bearer by Rev. Barry Gritters, entitled 'Renewing the Battle: Drama, Television, Movies.'
C. Could you clarify what you mean by saying that professional athletes are cursed. What Scriptures help us here?
I was wondering if passages such as Philippians 3:13-14, Hebrews 12:1 and II Timothy 4:7 might also inform your position on sports? It seems to me that the apostle Paul may have been a bit of a sports fan.
The remark was made that professional sports of every kind, and 99 if not 100% of professional athletes, are under the curse of God. We could have included much of college sports, the entire movie and television industries, and those who are engaged in popular 'music.' Professional sports are under God's curse because they produce nothing truly worthwhile for God, man or beast. They are merely the opiate of the masses, rather successfully drawing men's attention away from the issues of life, and fleecing them of their money in the process. The athletes, though splendid physical specimens, are actually among the most depraved in our society. They are all Sabbath-breakers. They are heady, high-minded, proud, and boastful. Among them are found adulterers, whoremongers, union members, alcoholics, substance abusers, divorced and remarried individuals, all in higher percentages than in the general populace.
The Heidelberg Catechism asks, in Lord's Day 32, 'Cannot they then be saved, who, continuing their wicked and ungrateful lives, are not converted to God?' And it answers, 'By no means, for the holy Scriptures declare that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or any such like, shall inherit the kingdom of God.' Biblical proof for that answer is I Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5-6 and I John 3:14-15.
Can professional athletes be converted to God? Of course they can, if God wills it and works it. But then they are no longer professional athletes, but ex-athletes who mortify the old man, and with joy of heart live according to the will of God in all good works.
As to Paul being a sports fan, we really have no idea. The Scriptures are silent on this matter. He was a studious and industrious man, filled with zeal for his work, both before and after his conversion. I rather doubt he spent any time watching sporting events. But that's really not the question in regard to those quotations cited. As the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul wrote to those who were acquainted with the Olympic games and other contests. With that familiarity in mind, he used figures from the games such as fighting and running to illustrate the truth of the Christian life. Keep in mind, too, that Paul was inspired by the Spirit of truth to use these figures. And that means that sports, games, and races are not per se wrong.
D. Do you have suggestions as to how I would go about changing my home from the entertainment-centred type to the dining room table type?
We will try. First of all, know that such a change is possible. Your question indicates a desire to have your family life more closely conformed to the biblical model. Sometimes when we look at how it goes in our families, we almost despair of making the necessary changes. But we are assured in Philippians 4:13 that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Secondly, praying about these changes is absolutely essential. Prayers by the father and the mother in the quiet of the night when all alone with God. Prayers about these very things with the children in family devotions. The fervent prayers of the righteous availeth much (James 5:16). As we confess to God our failure as parents, our inconsistencies in instruction and discipline, as we express to Him our longing to have strong, covenant homes, God forgives us for Jesus' sake, and grants us our holy desires. But then pray for wisdom to initiate these changes too. This is possible to accomplish, but not easy.
Thirdly, the difficulty lies in the fact that for a long time we have made television-viewing, bad music, lack of worthwhile family devotions, and failure to communicate a part of our daily lives. We are all but stuck in a deep rut. And the difficulty is especially great when older children and young people are involved. Generally, their concern for holiness and spiritual growth is not very lively. Their abhorrence of the world is not fully developed. Some would rather listen to friends than to their parents. So you may experience sharp opposition from them when steps are taken to root out worldliness, and to make of the home a citadel of holiness and truth. Even so, this can be done. Occasionally we read of families that have succeeded in turning off the TV for a month or a year. Even without a spiritual motive this has been done. And they discovered that more worthwhile activities filled the void. How much more is this possible, permanently, with those who possess the power of the Spirit and grace of God!
Finally, make every effort to have at least the evening meal together. Read and discuss the Word of God. Reflect on the sermons that were preached on the Sabbath. Speak words of encouragement and correction. And make plain as parents what Joshua made plain to Israel: as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!
We speak and write these things in love for the church of Christ, in love for the Protestant Reformed Churches, and in love for the church of the future.
Rev. Dale H. Kuiper (Wife: Velerie nee Miersma)
Ordained: September 1967
Pastorates: Randolph, WI - 1967; Pella, IA - 1970; Home Missionary - 1974; Lynden, WA - 1976; Hope, Isabel, SD - 1985; Immanuel, Lacombe, AB - 1987; Southeast, Grand Rapids, MI - 1992
Taken to glory: Sept.21, 2014 at age 78Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Rev._Dale_Kuiper
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