The new Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, consisting principally of those who left the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod in the dispute about the inerrancy of the Bible (and other things), has presented to it a proposed constitution. This is of interest because it sets forth the position of this body on the question of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. The constitution begins:
We are persuaded that the Church’s one foundation is our Lord Jesus Christ, proclaimed and celebrated in the Gospel. Upon him and him alone our faith rests. Every approach, no matter how well-intentioned, that makes faith in Christ depend in any way upon something other than the Gospel alone—such as rational proof, ecclesiastical authority, religious experience, or a doctrine about the Bible—in effect lays another foundation and asks us to put our trust in something other than Christ alone. . . .
We believe that the Scriptures are God’s written Word, recorded by people of faith and inspired by the Holy Spirit, to give us the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
God reveals himself in history and through history, as we see most crucially in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God made flesh. The Scriptures are also historical documents: the Old Testament is our heritage from God’s people Israel, and the New Testament was written and collected in the early Christian community. We cannot understand the Scriptures apart from that historical context, and any interpretive approach is inadequate which does not take it fully into account. We acknowledge in humility that our understanding of the Scriptures is only partial, and that we need to grow constantly in our knowledge of them, using every insight which the Holy Spirit grants to his Church.
As to the use of Scripture, it is false to say that faith in Jesus Christ depends on a particular understanding of how the Scriptures were inspired. Our trust in Christ does not flow out of some prior faith in the book which tells us of him; it is the gift of God through the Gospel, proclaimed and celebrated in many ways, including our Holy Baptism.
On the contrary, it is the other way around: our expectation that the Holy Scriptures will import to us the infallible Word of God flows out of our faith in Christ who is the Bible’s center. Among those who treasure the Scriptures in this way there are differences of interpretation and varying views of the nature of the Scripture’s inspiration; but these differences in no way undermine or destroy faith.
Our faith is not dependent upon rational theories about the Bible; it is dependent solely on the grace of God, who calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, and sanctifies and preserves us in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. Any teaching other than this betrays the chief treasure of Lutheranism.
With faith in Christ, with reverence for the Scriptures which testify of him, and with awareness of our limited understandings, we need to search the Scriptures continuously to learn more of what they say about God’s gracious acts on our behalf and his will for our lives. That is the purpose of Bible study: to seek out God’s living Word for us. We will not disdain any tool which helps us in that search.
Thus does this body manage, piously, to deny a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith. Let us likewise be warned concerning this great evil which threatens even now most of the denominations of our land.
Some ten years ago, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (1966) received a lengthy report concerning the “film arts” and adopted a number of resolutions for the guidance of the church that “good” movies might be enjoyed by the membership. We have had occasion, in the past, to call attention to this report and its sad consequences. Bear with me while I do this again. Among other things, the report pointed out that television viewing made movie attendance acceptable too:
The advent of television, which is an essential combination of radio and the film industry, is, from a practical point of view, forcing us in this direction. TV is found in 89% of our homes. This is tantamount to a de facto acceptance of the film arts and the film industry as a legitimate cultural enterprise. It is therefore incumbent upon Synod to acknowledge this if it is to make any relevant and fruitful deliverances with respect to the use of the film arts by the members of the Church. (pg. 339)
The report continues by pointing out that the presentation of sinful acts is permissible in the film arts under certain circumstances:
It is also possible, however, to incorporate sin in a dramatic presentation in such a way that it occupies the proper place it has according to God’s revelation, as a reality that must be overcome. Such a presentation serves a cathartic purpose and has redemptive value. It helps in the struggle against evil and is morally acceptable. The film critique and reviews of Christians of other church groups have helped promote this type of film. For this we must be grateful, but we must also ask if there are not qualified members in our own Church who could make valuable contributions. There is a positive task of claiming this area of the film arts for the Kingdom of our Master, Jesus Christ. It is a strategic area and the time is short, but of this task also it is true: Blessed is the servant doing the work of the Master when He comes!
The following is part of the concluding statements, adopted by the 1966 Synod, concerning the cultural task of the church in the field of the film “arts”:
1) There is a large educational task that must be initiated by responsible agencies at the various levels of life in the Church.
a. The membership of the Church must become more sensitive to what is good and what is evil in the film arts so as to come to a meaningful evaluation and a discriminate use of the same.
b. It is imperative that the Christian community should engage in the constructive critique of the film arts, being led by those who are specialists in art and in Christian ethics.
c. The fruit of this effort (b) should be presented to and shared with our modern society and the Church in general as a cultural and moral witness: for we are the “salt” of the earth and “light” in a secular world:
Of course, there are many things wrong with the report and its recommendations. It is, admittedly, based upon the view of “common grace.” It repeatedly speaks of “film arts“—placing a beautiful front on the film industry. And it assumes that it is correct to conclude that since most Christians watch television dramatics, therefore it is not possible to refuse movies in the theatre to them. Yet the report presents the clear suggestion that the calling of the Christian, is to watch movies with “Christian” discernment. And who must guide in all of this? The leaders and educators in the church.
One is, however, appalled at the “leadership” which is provided. Repeatedly, the worst of films are recommended for viewing by the Christian. Calvin College, the leader and innovator in the field, has a terrible record in this regard. I have observed repeatedly in their Chimes that movies of the worst sort are presented at Calvin. Some college courses require the student to observe movies as part of the course. The Chimes of Dec. 10, 1976 describes one of the films which is scheduled for presentation:
The Film Arts Committee of Calvin College will present a three-day festival of films directed by Stanley Kubrick during the upcoming Interim. Three films by Kubrick, one of America’s most recently established auteurists, will be shown between Thursday, January 6 and Saturday, January 9. . . .
Carl Byker, chairman of the Film Arts Committee, comments on the committee’s rationale for presenting the Kubrick festival, saying, “Given that each film establiihes a world of its own, the Film Committee attempts to present films which relate to the &tory of cinema and the direction cinema will take in the future, and which comment on the nature of things in the real world.
“The Film Arts Committee thinks that Stanley Kubrick satisfies these objectives in a way which few other modem American directors do. . . .”
Byker states that “A Clockwork Orange is timely to the, Calvin community in that it speaks to moral and esthetic problems which we face. The film discusses the question of the stability of society versus the suppression of its dissidents, the nature of behavioral modification, the nature of religion in society—all of which, the Film Arts Committee thinks, are relevant to the Christian Community.”
Now Clockwork Orange is one of the most pornographic, devilish of films produced by a degenerate world. I have not, obviously, seen the film. I do not attend movies—and believe viewing them on television is also not in harmony with the Christian life. But I have checked reviews in other magazines on this film. In the Christianity Today, July 6, 1973, a review is given of this (and similar) film by Harold O.J. Brown. He writes:
Most significant is the apparent feeling that what is coarse and degrading when produced for hoi polloi (peep-show pornography on skid row) is elevating and liberating when it successfully exploits the jaded bourgeoisie (“art” pornography, from stage shows like Oh! Calcutta through “social commentary” pornography such as I Am Curious (Yellow) and A Clockwork Orange to the crass but lucrative self-prostitution of Brando in Last Tango). . . .
The Christian has a biblical mandate to think about and concern himself with what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious, with what is edifying and imports graces. cf.
Such a mandate effectively rules out the frequenting of such spectacles as A Clockwork Orange . . . where one is not merely degrading oneself, but is in effect paying the wages of prostitutes and their promoters.
But even the secular public, which does not feel itself bound by the biblical injunction, can only be debased by productions of this type. The medium of the film, especially in the hands of a brilliant director, is uniquely gifted to impress images on the beholder’s mind that can continue to affect or even to obsess him long afterward. A Clockwork Orange has only evil characters, ranging from the contemptibly despicable to the violently vicious; it is difficult to imagine a full-length feature film dealing with so many different kinds of people and situations without a single character who is in any sense worthy of approval or respect, but A Clockwork Orange does it. The implication is clearly that everyone is corrupt; one has only to choose his corruption. . . .
I’m sorry to have to report the above. It is a matter of public knowledge. It points to the sad consequences of “common grace” applied here to the “film arts.” The late Rev. H. Hoeksema warned years ago that this fruit would be evident. He also warned the CRC that when they began shoving such apparently innocent films as Martin Luther, they were opening up the flood-gates. Let us, too, be warned. Increasingly one hears within our own churches the argument that since most of the people watch dramatic presentations on T.V., there can be no reason for condemning movie attendance. Rather, I would suggest that there be a serious re-evaluation of television viewing, to see if perhaps we are not following the same path as the CRC. Let us not kid ourselves about watching only the “good” movies. Those willing to return to such “vomit,” will find pleasure in all manner of corruptions.
After preparing the above material, a large article caught my eye in the Grand Rapids Press, Jan. 7, 1977. It reports a cancellation of the showing of the film, Clockwork Orange. Among other things, the article stated:
The film, A Clockwork Orange, can’t get the time of day at Calvin College.
Originally scheduled to be shown Saturday night, the film was canceled by Calvin President Anthony Diekema.
The action may become Diekema’s most controversial since he took over administrative reins at the college last year. The cancellation is the first of its kind in the 10 years the college has sponsored a film series.
“About every two years, there’s a controversy over one of the films,” says Carl Byker, a junior, who chairs the Film Arts Committee at the college. “But any trouble was always after a film had been shown. This is the first time a film has been vetoed. . . .”
The cancellation followed the film’s endorsement by both the Film Arts Committee and the broader Cultural Affairs Coordinating Council. The two groups composed of students and faculty, supported the scheduling of the film by votes of 5-2 and 6-1, according to Byker.
Irvin Kroeze, a professor of English and film studies and a member of the film committee, said he was “comfortable” with Diekema’s decision, but added he thought the film worthy of a screening at the college.
“I think it’s a good film,” said Kroeze, who has seen it three times. “It’s explosive and offensive in some ways, but it has a positive message. . . .”
Diekema, who had not seen the film before canceling it, told faculty members in a memo that “this is an especially strategic time” to evaluate the degree to which “Calvin College has met its mandate as set forth by the Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1966. . . .”
The cancellation, claimed Byker, was precipitated by a petition circulated among Calvin students in November and December that objected to some of the choices made by the film council this year.
The film council, made up of four students and three faculty members, selects films each spring for the next academic year. The petition, which netted 600 to 700 signatures, Byker said, isolated the selections of: “Chinatown,” “Women in Love” and “A Clockwork Orange.”
“The president let himself be pulled along by the pietists at Calvin,” says Byker.