QUESTION: “What should the Christian think about movies in the theater or on television?”
“I realize that long ago most conservative Christians frowned upon Hollywood movies, then many spoke against movies on television when it was introduced in the early 1950s. Even before any of this, for centuries many opposed plays in the theater. Is there really an issue here? Should Christians oppose movies?”
We realize that many readers have simply accepted movies as a part of life and they may be somewhat shocked that someone would even raise the issue of the propriety of viewing them. They just accept them as part of modern life and have never considered whether any Biblical principles have a bearing on viewing a movie. Let us discuss this issue briefly.
First, even though many professing “Christians” may have opposed movies, particularly Hollywood movies, at one time, this does not necessarily say that such movies would be wrong. However, this objection should at least make us think. I have a large book by Robert L. Sumner entitled Hollywood Cesspool (Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1955). In this 284-page volume, Sumner details the corruption of the Hollywood starsincluding their immorality, divorces, drinking, smoking, and general lawlessness. He goes on to show that movies portray a life that is perverted, immoral, lawlessness, and blasphemous. If this was true a half century ago, it definitely would be truer today! (The one swear or curse word in the movie “Gone with the Wind” in the latter 1930s has evolved into thousands of outrageously wicked words in this century!) Sumner then shows how viewing these movies perverts the viewer. The influence of watching the typical Hollywood movie is definitely degrading and corrupting. We speak here of the typical movie. The pornographic and semi-pornographic movies that abound today would obviously be perverse and damning.
Second, another issue involved in movies would be the matter of hypocrisy. A. W. Tozer, in The Menace of the Religious Movie, points out that the actor or actress plays the part of another person. The word for “hypocrisy” in the Greek is hupokrisis, which means “play-acting.” In New Testament terms, a hypocrite is one who presents himself as devout and righteous but inwardly he is full of evil and lawlessness (cf. Matt. 23:23-28). Tozer points out that the actor plays the part of another, thus he must leave his own character behind while he assumes the character of another. Literally, he is a “hypocrite.” Thus, in a religious movie, someone must take the part of a Judas, a Herod, a Pilot, a Pharaoh, or another evil person. He must “act” the part of a sinner. This the Christian must not do. The Christian must never “pretend” to sin to act like he is sinningwhether that sin be lying, anger, lust, greed, violence, or slander. If there is a problem with the “religious” movie, there is an additional problem with the “secular” moviefor someone must play the part of the sinner in those movies as well. While this does not necessarily relate to the viewer, it can be said that the actors and actresses must face this problem of portraying sin.
Third, most movies do contain sin of various kinds. Depicted on the screen are a wide range of sins of the flesh and spiritlust, immorality, immodesty, greed, covetousness, envy, materialism, drunkenness, smoking, drug-taking, slander, hatred, violence, cruelty, retaliation, foolishness, disobedience to parents, rebellion against the government, feminist women, rebellious wives, irresponsible husbands and fathers, and hundreds of other manifestations of sin. All of this is condemned in no uncertain terms in Scripture, and those who practice such sins shall not inherit the kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-7; Col. 3:5-8; 1 Thess. 4:3-8). When we see such sin, we can very easily be led into those sins, if only in our mind. Jesus warns us of the danger of viewing evil and thinking evil: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29).
Instead of imagining the many variations of sin as seen in movies and on television, Paul would tell us to concentrate our minds on something else. The apostle writes, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Are most movies true and honorable? Are they pure and lovely? Are they right and of good repute? Are they worthy of praise? The answer is obviously No. When we expose ourselves to the sins of the world too much, we will find ourselves influenced by the world. We will find our own pure characters defiled. “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Fourth, the more God-fearing people of the past were able to see the dangers in plays, movies, and television. Consider a few comments about plays nearly 2,000 years ago. Here are the words of Clement of Alexandria (ca. AD 195): “Let spectacles, therefore, and plays that are full of indecent language and abundant gossip be forbidden. For what base action is there that is not exhibited in the theaters?” Tertullian (ca. AD 197) spoke of “the immodesty of the theater” and writes: “We will now direct our discourse from there to the theater, beginning with the place of exhibition. At first, the theater was actually a temple of Venus. And, to speak briefly, it was because of this that stage performances were allowed to escape censure. That is how they got a foothold in the world. For oftentimes the censors, in the interests of morality, put down the rising theaters.” An another place, this author writes: “Are we not, in like manner, commanded to put away from us all immodesty? On this ground, again, we are excluded from the theater, which is immodestys own particular abode. . . . The very harlots, too, victims of the public lust, are brought upon the stage. . . . Let the Senate, let all ranks, blush for very shame! . . . Is it right to look on what it is disgraceful to do? How is it that the things that defile a man in going out of his mouth, are not regarded as doing so when they go in his eyes and ears?” Much more could be said about the condemnation of drama in the early years of America.
What makes nearly all movies objectionable? I was thinking of this in the middle of the night recently and took the time to record my thoughts. As I thought through this matter, a few considerations came to my mind. Movies are virtually always produced by people of the world. They reflect the reasonings and way of life of their creators (playwrights, producers, directors, and actors). It would be highly unusual (and maybe impossible) for any to reflect the reasonings and way of life of the saint of God.
Someone may respond, “Well, isnt it okay to be exposed to this way of life and this worldly reasoning, for this is part of life? God surely doesnt want us to be a recluse, a hermit, one who is out of touch with the way people of the world think.” But there is a difference. Normally we are exposed to the worldin the neighborhood, on the job, in the market, and at other places. But then we are on the “outside” observing them, sometimes observing them sinning (e.g., through smoking, acts of lust, manifestations of greed, etc.). When this is the case, we can retain our own holy thoughts and can evaluate their way of life from the “outside.”
However, in the case of a movie, a drama, we are brought “inside” the person of the world. We see the person that the actor or the actress is playing. We see their inner reasonings, their motivations, and their justification for sin. To view a movie properly, we are to “think as they think” to derive benefit from the film. We “place ourselves in the shoes” of the leading man or leading woman”feeling” their feelings and “thinking” their thoughts. Whey they feel rage, lust, greed, envy, or hatred, we tend to feel the same wayfor we have followed their fallen reasonings through the drama.
This is very dangerous, for a movie asks us to leave our own characters behind and place ourselves, for a short time, in the position of the movie characters. We assume the characters of someone of the world. What character is this?
God describes for us the character and reasonings of those in the world, and He uses graphic terms to do this. Paul says that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God” (1 Cor. 3:19). He further writes, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless” (v. 20). The apostle writes, “that you walk no longer just as the [unbelieving] Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Eph. 4:17-19; cf. Romans 1:18-32). Paul then adds, “But you did not learn Christ in this way” (v. 20). Read over this Ephesian passage again and see how God views the inner mental and spiritual workings of the man or woman in the world. As we view a movie, we tend to leave our holy reasonings behind, for a time, and assume the corrupt and fallen reasonings of the characters. Should a Christian do this?
If you are a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17), your situation is far different from those in the world. Our character and way of life is vastly different from those who are part of the world. We are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, and ever other quality or fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22-23; Col. 3:12-14; Eph. 4:1-3; Phil. 2:1-4). Our “reasonings” have been transformed by the power of God, through the working of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God. We are not to leave our renewed mind (Rom. 12:2) or spirit of our mind (Eph. 4:23), but we must carefully guard it from intrusion and from corruption. We must think as a child of God, as a new person in Christ Jesus.
A movie, therefore, can be destructive of our spiritual life. It can bring “foreign” or corrupt reasonings into our mind and heart. It can “poison” our “sincere minds” (2 Peter 3:1) and make them something lower. Even if this should last only for an hour or two, it would be bad. But, sadly, the false and dark reasonings of the world and the fallen nature would not leave that simply. After watching (and mentally participating in) a movie of the world, we would carry this reasoning with us. At least some of the thought-processes would remain. It may affect us for an hour, a day, or even weeks after exposure.
This may be considered the Christian case against a worldly movie. Obviously, it is at least part of the case against the Christians exposure to many television programsthose that involve drama. Other principles would condemn most other types of television programs, but this article has special relevance for the shows with drama and the movies displayed on the screen of the theater and the television screen (or video screen).
Perhaps we would stop short of condemning all movies under all circumstances. Perhaps one may see some programs without adverse effect, particularly ones in which one is not inclined to identify with the characters. We wouldn’t want to condemn some medium if we can be benefited in some way, providing we watch over our heart and constantly evaluate everything–every act, every word, every attitude–in light of God’s Word. And there may be some television programs (such as nature programs, travel documentaries, political films, how-to-do descriptions, etc.) that pose less of a risk. Personally, I would rather avoid television altogether, and if there is anything positive to watch, use videos to see such items.
Let us all heed the counsel of Scripture: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Let us turn from the corrupt ways of the world as found in nearly all Hollywood movies, and let us guard our hearts through the Holy Spirit that we might present ourselves undefiled to the Lord.