THE MESSENGER is the organ of the Free Reformed Church of North America. In its January issue, 1976, Vol. 23, on page 1, an article appeared on movies, religious or otherwise. We wish to quote from this article. May we all take this to heart—also our young people, but not only our young people.
In a final article I want to give you a bird’s eye view of the attitude our Reformed fathers took to plays and theatre going.
In general it can be said that as far as the Reformers were concerned, their attitude to acting was negative. Not only were they opposed to professional acting—any decent man was disgusted with the extremely low morals of most professional actors—but they were also against plays put on by amateur actors.
Calvin, at any rate, would not hear of it. His motto was: whether good or bad productions, no stage plays! And why not? According to him, plays corrupt character, lead to neglect of true service and are a waste of time and money, encourage immorality, pull down the Holy Scriptures, and promote idolatry. Only once did Calvin permit the staging of a play in Geneva. But this was really against his will. It was actually a concession to the citizens of Geneva who were still very fond of plays, and he did not think it wise to forbid everything right away. Calvin did allow a certain type of school plays, however, to h students overcome their shyness and to improve their speech. But the stipulation was: absolutely no Biblical material.
The Reformed churches all adopted Calvin’s opinion. Synod after Synod decided that the Holy Scriptures are not to be used as source material for plays. The Synod of Nimes in 1572 stated: “The Scriptures were not given for our amusement, but to be preached to our edification and comfort.” Many Dutch Synods spoke in a similar vein.
What our Heidelberg Catechism says about images in the church was also applied to religious plays. Such “books to the laity” were condemned on the ground that “we must not pretend to be wiser than God, who will have His people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of His word.” (H.C., Question and Answer 98) “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God”—that was the text which our fathers always quoted in this connection, and rightly so.
The English Puritans were just as adamant in their rejection of plays. They condemned the Elizabethan stage as “a home of paganism, obscenity, and profanity.” (Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. VII, p. 78)
Then, after quoting from these Puritan fathers, and also referring to C.H. Spurgeon’s strong opposition to play-acting of any kind, the writer writes as follows:
Today, however, not much of this sentiment is left in Reformed circles. Movie attendance is since long acceptable in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, as well as in the Christian Reformed Church on this continent. What about us in the Free Reformed Church? Officially we are still opposed to it, but I fear that many of our young people frequently attend movies and other worldly amusements. And not only our young people! Many of their parents, while never setting foot inside a theatre, will watch the same movies at home on TV.
The writer has more to say, but I believe that this is sufficient. What the writer has to say about Calvin, the Reformed churches, our Heidelberg Catechism, is pertinent and should lead us to sit up and take notice. That Calvin did allow a certain type of school play does not mean that we should follow him in this. But it is striking that he was absolutely against all Biblical material.
The RES NEWS EXCHANGE of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod writes of this in its issue of Vol. XIII, No. 2, Feb. 3, 1976, page 1145, and we quote:
(Grand Rapids) According to a declaration issued conjointly by committees oft the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (CCKN) and the Reformed Churches (Liberated, Unaffiliated), the two churches have taken substantive steps toward approaching one another. Far-reaching agreement was found to exist on the subject of the “appropriation of salvation.” This subject involved questions such as rebirth, the experience of faith and conversion, the place of the covenant and God’s promises in preaching. These have long separated the two churches. Part of the discussion dealt with the question whether the one church did not focus too exclusively on preaching conversion and the other too exclusively on preaching the covenant promises of God. Both sides agreed that a balance was necessary to avoid, on the one hand, undermining the certainty and assurance of faith and, on the other, a placid sense of having arrived.
When the churches of the Secession of 1834 (De Afscheiding) and of the Doleantie (led by Dr. Abraham Kuyper) united in 1892 to form the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands, those who refused to go along with this merger became the Christian Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (not to be confused with the Christian Reformed Churches in this country).
Apart from the relative significance of this possible merger, one must concede that important questions are at stake here, questions such as: rebirth, faith and conversion, the place of God’s covenant, and God’s promises in the preaching.
In the GOSPEL WITNESS, a magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches of New Zealand, on page 7 of its March, 1976, issue, we have an article under the above heading, and we quote:
BILLY GRAHAM’S COMPROMISE
This has been apparent for a long time, but the following report should clear all illusions from everyone’s mind. Preaching at Leighton Ford’s “Reachout” in Milwaukee, on Sunday, October 21, 1973, Dr. Graham said: “This past week I preached in a great Catholic cathedral, a funeral sermon for a close friend who was a Catholic . . . and as I sat there going through the funeral mass, that was a beautiful thing, and clear in the Gospel that I believe. And I think in a meeting like this it’s wonderful of all of us to gather together and realize that we represent different denominations, but believing in the same God. And so I say, God bless the Christians of Milwaukee of all denominations.
Is comment necessary? Here is a clear example of how far a man can get from the truth once he takes the first steps of compromise. The mass is totally contrary to Scripture and there is no Gospel in it. The entire thing is a system of salvation by works—dead works. Furthermore, people who have never been regenerated by the Spirit of God simply do not worship the same God as Bible-believing, born again Christians. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of our times is the widespread confusion that has been sown by Dr. Graham and other evangelists. Any “Gospel” that is compatible with Romanism is surely a false Gospel.
We agree: no comment is necessary. According to our Heidelberg Catechism, and in harmony with the divine Scriptures, the Romish mass is an accursed idolatry. How can a truly Protestant evangelist deny the fundamentals of Protestantism and of the holy Scriptures as Dr. Graham did that Sunday of October 21, 1973?!
The Grand Rapids Press had an article in its April 3, 1976, issue, page 6-A, reporting the ousting of four Lutheran district presidents. We quote the following:
ST. LOUIS (AP)—A controversy within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod over ordination of graduates of a breakaway seminary reached a critical stage Friday when the head of the synod fired four district presidents. The presidents said they will defy his order.
But Dr. J.A.O. Preus, whose decision was unprecedented in the 129-year history of the 2.8 million-member synod, said he did not believe their ouster would precipitate a split in the church.
“I don’t anticipate anything happening in the way of anyone leaving,” he told newsmen. His decision followed meetings Thursday and Friday with the four district presidents, who are all from the eastern half of the United States. Included in the ouster was Harold L. Hecht of Detroit, president of the nongeographical English District.
“The congregations are quite synodically minded in that part of the country. I don’t see any mass resignations of pastors or congregations,” said Preus.
It was the first time the denominational head had used the authority of the office to oust regional church presidents elected by their home districts. The action signaled a test of strength between denominational headquarters and home rule, a tradition in Lutheranism.
The district presidents, who hold an office comparable to that of a bishop, were removed for ordaining graduates of Concordia Seminary in Exile (Seminex), formed in February 1974 following a doctrinal dispute between moderates and conservatives over interpretation of the Bible.
This action of Dr. Preus is surely a step in the right direction. The attention of our readers has been called to this Seminex in the past. This breakaway seminary is liberal, denying the fundamental truths of the Word of God. We say that this action of Dr. Preus is a step in the right direction. However, we understand that there are more district presidents who support Seminex and have departed from the conservative position of the Lutheran Church. What action will be taken with respect to them? We hope that Dr. Preus did not take this action against these four district leaders because he is assured that there will not be any mass resignations of pastors or congregations in their parts of the country. This action should be taken only for the sake of and in the interest of the truth.
In the Banner of March 26, 1976, page 20, Dr. James Daane reflects upon an article written by William and Marianne Radius in the Christmas issue of the Banner upon the subject The Risk of Loving. We will not quote their answer to this article of Dr. Daane. The article of Dr. Daane reads as follows:
OF LOVE AND RISK
We owe much to William and Marianne Radius for the many excellent articles they have co-authored for us Banner readers. This fact makes me reluctant to express criticism of their article The Risk of Loving in the 1975 Christmas issue of the Banner. I have reference specifically to the assertions that when in love God created the world and in love sent His Son to redeem it, God was taking a “risk” because it is always a risky business to love. I disown the idea that God is the cause of man’s rejection of God, but I would disown no less that in His loving act of creation God exposes His love to risk and that his redemptive act was a “great act of risking His own Son.” I do not believe that either such determination or such acts or divine risks can be biblically supported. I do not believe that God ever runs a risk.
The authors contend that in creating man in His image God took a risk because Adam was given by God the “choice” of loving or rejecting God. I know that this idea is widely held, but I think it untrue. Even in the case of Adam and Eve, loving God was an obligation (command), not an option. Had God indeed given them a choice, it would be unjust to punish them for exercising one of their God-given options.
Love, even God’s love, gets hurt in this sinful world. But this is not a chance God’s love takes, nor a risk it runs. Old Simeon after that first Christmas predicted the hurt when he said about the infant Jesus that He would “be spoken against,” or be a “sign of contradiction.” But the language of divine risk is the language of ultimate unpredictability.
How confusing is this article of Dr. Daane! He surely confuses the meaning of the words “choice” and “option.” And he disowns the idea that God is the cause of man’s rejection of God.
Indeed, the loving of God was not an option for Adam and Eve. Dr. Daane does not believe that Adam was given by God the “choice” of loving or rejecting God, and he adds that “Even in the case of Adam and Eve, loving God was an obligation (command), not an option.” Of course, it was not an option. It was not left to Adam and Eve whether they should serve and love God or not. From this viewpoint, Adam had no choice. He had no right to sin, to obey the devil. He had no alternative. It was his calling and obligation to serve and love the Lord his God.
However, Adam certainly had a choice, or he had to make a choice. He was confronted, on the one hand, by the command of the Lord that he might not eat of the forbidden fruit. But, he was confronted, on the other hand, by the word of the devil. He must obey the one and reject the other. He must say Yes and No, Yes to the command of the Lord, and No to the temptation of the devil. This is surely obvious.
Thirdly, this choice confronting Adam was of the Lord. How anyone can dispute this the undersigned cannot possibly understand. It was the Lord Who had given our first parent the prohibitive command in regard to the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And it was also the Lord Who controlled this incident in paradise, the garden of Eden. The Lord would have Adam serve Him antithetically, to love Him, obey His word, and to reject all evil.
Fourthly, the Lord is surely the sovereign and determining cause of man’s rejection of the living God. Dr. Daane writes that he disowns the idea that God is the cause of man’s rejection of God. However, Reformed theologians have often made the distinction between God as the First Cause and man as a secondary cause of his own deeds. Would Dr. Daane be so bold as to rule out the sovereignty and control of the living God in the fall of Adam and Eve? Do you, Dr. Daane, believe in what we read in Eph. 1:9, 10, where the apostle Paul writes, by divine inspiration, that it was the mystery of God’s will, according to His good pleasure, to gather in one all things in Christ in the dispensation of the fulness of times? Do you, Dr. Daane, believe in Isaiah 45:7? Do you, Dr. Daane, believe the Word of God as recorded in II Samuel 16:10, where we read that the Lord, had said unto Shimei: Curse David?
Finally, Dr. Daane, do you believe in the divine decree .of Reprobation? If you do not, then, of course, you do not believe in the decree of Election either. But, do you believe in what we read in Matt. 11:25, 26, where we read that the Saviour ascribes it to the good pleasure of the Father that “these things” were hid from the wise and prudent? Or, what do you do with the Word of God in I Pet. 2:8, where we read that the stumbling of the disobedient is that whereunto they were appointed? Finally, Dr. Daane, you yourself call attention in your article to the incident in Luke 2 of the aged Simeon. The old servant of the Lord says about the infant Jesus that He would be “spoken against,” or be a “sign of contradiction.” Why would He be “spoken against”? Why? Because, according to Luke 2:34, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel. God, we read in this text, has set this child for, unto, their fall. This is the simple interpretation of this passage in the Word of God. And this is the divine decree of Reprobation. It is for this reason that the aged Simeon can predict these things of this child, Jesus, inasmuch as this aged servant of the Lord speaks this word through divine inspiration. The Scriptures, Dr. Daane, are not timebound; they are the inspired, infallible Word of the living God.