Also in brother Van Baren’s contribution reference is made to the movie question and to recent editorial comment on it. The brother raises some questions which are worth considering and, I believe, in need of clarification. After reflecting on his contribution and after consulting my recent editorials on this subject, I make the following comments:
1) It is indeed true that our churches have no synodical decision on movie attendance. Whether any local consistory has a decision, I am not in a position to say. This does not mean, however, that my article of March 15, “In Support of Movies” was a mere personal opinion. It means that the article was not expressive of an explicit denominational stand. As to the weight of that article, I would say rather that it had all the weight of the authority of Scripture behind it. And that should speak loudly to the Christian!
2) I wish to clarify the issue, which I had thought was already clear. When I speak of movie attendance, I am not referring merely to motion pictures. There is no sin in a motion picture as such; the movie camera is a very ingenious and useful invention. And if brother Van Baren means by “certain travel and adventure movies” motion pictures of travel and adventure, whether taken by professional or amateur photographers, then it certainly may be granted that such movies can be both instructive and entertaining and are not necessarily of the spirit of antichrist. When I speak of movies, however, — and I thought there was rather general agreement on that score, —I am referring to dramatic productions on the stage or on the motion picture screen. These, I believe, are without exception not lawful entertainment for a Christian.
3) Let there be no misunderstanding on the score of Christian liberty. For one thing, we must surely not restrict Christian liberty to the area of the so-calledadiaphora, or indifferent things, things which are in themselves neither good nor evil. Christian liberty is a broader concept. It is the freedom of the regenerated and sanctified man of God in Christ according to which he willingly and out of the principle of the love of God in his heart lives and walks in conformity with the will and precepts of the God of his salvation, as revealed in His Word. It is precisely my contention that such a walk in Christian liberty will mean that the child of God willingly and out of the principle of the love of God, desirous to conform his walk to the precepts of the Lord, will spurn the movie as a mode of entertainment. And it is precisely my contention that when the Christian, who ought to walk in Christian liberty, seeks his entertainment in the movies, he is changing his liberty into license.
4) Now what are our objections to the movie? And are these objections a matter of mere logic, reasoning, sound sense; or are they a matter of the ethical principles of Holy Scripture? If by “textual proof” brother Van Baren, or anyone else, wants a literal injunction of Scripture, “Thou shalt not attend the movie,” he is doomed to disappointment. The Scriptures do not engage in such legalism and spelling out of precept upon precept and line upon line. The Scriptures do not do this in any area of our life. Rather do they spell out the spiritual, ethical principles which must guide our life in all its facets. And it is in the light of these principles that the Christian must also view the matter of the movie.
In this connection, in the first place, if we consider the movie materially, i.e., from the point of view of its contents, there really is no question as to whether it is Christian or antichristian. All one has to do is consult the theater page in the daily newspaper with the question in mind, “To what do all these ads appeal?” The answer is extremely obvious to him who has eyes to see: they appeal to the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life. If, therefore, I would preach on a passage like I John 2:15-16, I would certainly include in the homiletical application of that text the warning against movie attendance. Or if I preached on Psalm 119:37, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanities; and quicken thou me in thy way,” I would certainly include, among other things, the movie among those “vanities.”
In the second place, — considering the movie from the point of view of its source, — what must be the conclusion of the Christian? Also this is not a difficult question. Whether that source is, geographically speaking, Hollywood or some other movie production center (for example, in Europe), we all know (whether as a practical matter we are willing to recognize and face up to the fact is another question), —but we all know that the movie has its source in the foul fountain of the world. Now what is the spiritual, ethical principle here? It is this: a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. In other words, the Christian is on the very face of it simply “kidding” himself when he goes to the theater seeking spiritually sound entertainment for himself as a regenerated child of God. It is patently impossible for him to find it in the theater because the very source is corrupt. Of course, if you begin to philosophize on the basis of a so-called common grace that some good can come out of the world and out of the natural man, then you can begin to justify what comes out of the world in the way of theatrical productions also. It is precisely then that you begin to have all kinds of problems as to which are good, legitimate movies and which are bad. Then you must begin to set up official or unofficial boards of censorship to pass judgment on the movies. Then at your Christian colleges you must have a faculty-student committee to determine which films are going to be shown on the campus. Then, too, you get tensions between faculty and students as to who will have the greatest voice in such a board of censorship. This is what has happened at Calvin College especially in the past year. And it is rather peculiar that while the 1966 decision of the Christian Reformed Synod appealed supposedly to Christian liberty in regard to the (euphemistically denominated) “film arts,” the result, unless they want to let the bars down completely, is not less legalism, but more.
In the third place, — and this is my most basic objection, — the fundamental ethical error of the movie (understood in the sense of dramatic productions portrayed on the motion picture screen) is that the dramatic production is always the lie, the living lie. In fact, the more the actors can succeed in lying, the more successful they are considered to be. To be successful actors they must not be themselves, but they must as much as possible be the characters they are portraying. And the audience, to be successfully entertained, must be made to live along as much as possible in that same world of the lie. The result when holy things are dramatized is blasphemy; and the result when sinful things are dramatized is a compounding of the sin. And surely, it is not a question for a Christian whether lying can be in harmony with the precepts of his God?
Finally, in this connection let me remark that in the March 15 article cited I was not busy setting forth positively my principial objections to movie attendance. I was engaged polemically against Dr. John Bratt’s use of fragment of a text in support of his so-called “principle of discrimination” with respect to Hollywood movies.
5) Why do I and why do and should our churches inveigh against movie attendance? There are many good reasons for this. And the fact that there may be other evil practices against which our churches do or do not speak out strongly has nothing to do with speaking out strongly on this subject. As far as theStandard Bearer is concerned, a not insignificant part of its task to continue to be a testimony toward the Christian Reformed Church with respect to the issues which led to our being cast out. The movie issue as it is currently troubling the conscience and the life of the Christian Reformed Church is a direct and practical outgrowth of the error of common grace. This is plain from the decision of 1966 which I quoted in an earlier article. For this reason, in part, I called attention to it. In the second place, I do this for the instruction and warning of our own Protestant Reformed people. And I believe our pulpits should do this also.
First of all, I believe that as a practical issue in one’s world-and-life view such a matter as the movie points up dramatically the devastating practical results of the common grace theory, — a theory against which our Protestant Reformed people must be warned and the evils of which they must see.
Secondly, I believe that our people should not only theoretically be a people of the antithesis and an anticommon grace people. But they must be such practically also. It will not do to be doctrinally opposed to the theory of common grace, and meanwhile in practical life to live out of common grace principles. Doctrine and life belong together. Our life must seal our doctrine and adorn it.
Thirdly, I am cognizant of the fact that movie attendance (and in this I include movie attendance via the private screen on television) is not a mere theoretical evil among our people. When I was formerly an active pastor in a congregation, it was always a source of sad disappointment to me that so few of our young people could testify, when asked at confession of faith that they had not indulged in the corruptions of the movie. I have no reason to believe that my experience was unique in that regard. And with the advent of television, I verily believe that the evil of movie attendance is greater than ever.
For these reasons I believe that instruction and warning are timely. I do not believe in legalism. I would not care to have our young people stay away from movies merely because “the church” says they must stay away, and certainly not merely because I say so. They must be warned against this evil, and they must indeed be instructed to walk in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free, —with God’s Word as a lamp unto their feet and a light upon their path.