In the World Ye Shall Have Tribulation

Rev. Spronk is pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois.

These words of Jesus in John 16:32 perhaps conjure up in our minds pictures of saints suffering severe physical persecution. Physical persecution is certainly one way that those who confess the name of Jesus Christ suffer tribulation. The disciples to whom Jesus spoke these words suffered physical persecution. They were arrested, beaten, exiled, and martyred. And throughout history many who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ handed down by those disciples have endured like physical persecution. But tribulation comes in forms other than physical persecution. The church of Jesus Christ in North America may not suffer physical persecution, but she is nevertheless under attack from the world. In this article I will focus on a couple of ways that the devil uses movies and television as powerful tools to attack the church.

The recently released documentary film “Religulous” is a blatant attack upon the Christian faith. The title of this film, which is currently showing in movie theaters across the United States, is a combination of the words religion and ridiculous. The purpose of avowed agnostic Bill Maher, who has the disgraceful distinction of being the film’s creator and star, is to show how ridiculous religion is. Chicago Sun Times‘ film critic Roger Ebert explains,

The movie is about organized religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, TV evangelism and even Scientology, with detours into pagan cults and ancient Egypt. Bill Maher, host, writer and debater, believes they are all crazy. He fears they could lead us prayerfully into mutual nuclear doom. He doesn’t get around to Hinduism or Buddhism, but he probably doesn’t approve of them, either.

The reviews of the film indicate that Maher’s criticisms (though they are inexcusably profane—the film is rated R) of false religions are on target. He exposes the incredibly silly belief of Mormonism that God lives on another planet and will reward faithful married couples with their own planet when they die. He ridicules scientology’s strange belief that the earth is inhabited by people, and other planets are not, because of the actions of someone named Xenu. He targets orthodox Jews for their legalistic observance of the Sabbath. He derides militant Muslims for their insistence upon seeking the death of “infidels.”

The film also ridicules the silliness and corruption of false Christianity. One is almost tempted join with Mr. Maher in excoriating the Roman Catholic Church and televangelists—the former for its shameful sex abuse scandal and the latter for their shameless greed. One is also almost tempted to join with Maher in ridiculing the two men he meets that claim to be Jesus. Ebert gives his impression of these encounters:

Maher meets two representations of Jesus. One is an actor at the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando. He stars in a re-enactment of the Passion, complete with crown of thorns, wounds, a crucifix, and Roman soldiers with whips. I suppose I understand why Florida tourists would take snapshots of this ordeal, but when Jesus stumbles, falls and is whipped by soldiers, I was a little puzzled why they applauded. The other Jesus, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, believes he actually is the Second Coming—i.e., Jesus made flesh in our time. He explains how the bloodline traveled from the Holy Land through France to Spain to Puerto Rico. He has 100,000 followers.

We agree with Maher that these false forms of Christianity are ridiculous, but we do so for different reasons. Maher judges them in the court of his own opinion. We judge them in the light of Scripture. Scripture exposes the sins of the Roman Catholic Church, the greedy televangelists, and the false christs. Scripture exposes the sins of false Christians as very serious sins that will bring upon those who do not repent great condemnation. Therefore, we do not laugh, as Maher does at these errors (or the errors of non-Christians for that matter).

Though the film takes aim at various false religions, it is in the end a direct assault upon Christ and His true church. In the film Maher launches an assault upon the truths of Scripture, especially the miracles recorded in Scripture. He is astounded that people actually believe Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale, that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that Jesus is coming again. According to the reviews, Maher condescendingly attempts to make those who hold these views look silly and irrational—and dangerous. Maher slanders true Christians by implying that they are willing to wage physical warfare to defend and promote their beliefs, possibly even earth-destroying nuclear warfare.

Maher’s rejection of the Bible as God’s infallibly inspired Word is nothing new. His lie that Christians who “irrationally” believe the truths of Scripture pose a serious threat to society is also not new. In Thessalonica Paul, Silas, and Timothy were accused of being those “that have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6); in Rome the early Christians were blamed for the Empire’s decline and eventual downfall; and in Europe Reformed Christians were often accused of seeking to overthrow the legitimate earthly rulers. The lie is not new, but what is somewhat new is that the lie is now spread to millions of viewers by way of a movie screen.

As Christians we ought to take note of this form of persecution, and we ought to prepare ourselves and our children for the future, knowing that this form of persecution will likely soon lead to physical persecution. The way to prepare ourselves is not with earthly weapons, as Maher expects we will prepare, but rather with the spiritual weapon of God’s Word. The objective is not to kill those who oppose the church but to persevere in confessing that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord and bring glory to God’s name. We hope for final victory in heaven not on earth.

The devil uses the television screen as well as the movie screen to attack the Christian faith. A recent study confirms that the effect of sinful television shows is not only that they present sins but that they lead many of their viewers into actively committing the sins portrayed. Lindsey Tanner of the Associated Press gave the following account of the report (Chicago Tribune, November 3):

Groundbreaking research suggests that pregnancy rates are much higher among teens who watch a lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior than among those who have tamer viewing tastes. “Sex and the City,” anyone? That was one of the shows used in the research.

The new study is the first to link those viewing habits with teen pregnancy, said lead author Anita Chandra, a Rand Corp. behavioral scientist. Teens who watched the raciest shows were twice as likely to become pregnant over the next three years as those who watched few such programs.

Previous research by some of the same scientists had already found that watching lots of sex on TV can influence teens to have sex at earlier ages.

Shows that highlight only the positive aspects of sexual behavior without the risks can lead teens to have unprotected sex “before they’re ready to make responsible and informed decisions,” Chandra said.

From this account it is obvious that the researchers do not view premarital sex as a sin. The ‘sin’ committed by the teenagers, in their opinion, is that they have “unprotected sex,” which leads to pregnancies. Television is blamed for leading the teenagers to engage in unprotected sex. What then is the solution? The researchers do not give suggestions, but, later in Tanner’s article, Psychologist David Walsh is quoted as giving this answer:

…the message to parents is to talk to their kids about sex long before children are teens. Parents also should be watching what their kids watch and helping filter messages sex-filled shows are sending, he said.

As Christians we have a different view of the problem. It is a sin for the unmarried to have sex. Our concern is not that our children will be influenced by TV to have unprotected sex but that they will be influenced to have sex, period. Thus, we also have a different view of the solution. Yes, parents must take action. But instead of watching the filthy shows with their children, they must simply prevent them from watching the shows in the first place.

That children are influenced by watching sex on TV to engage in this particular sin ought to alert believing parents to the fact that by watching other sins on TV our children will be influenced to commit them too. Taking God’s name in vain, disobedience to authority, bearing false witness, stealing, etc, are all sins that are portrayed on TV shows. The devil certainly wants believers, especially the children of believers, to see these programs—and to imitate what they see!

No, there are not any studies confirming that the devil is attempting to use television to attack the church in general and the youth in particular by seeking to lead them into all kinds of sins. But this is the sober reality. Will we let our children watch the sinful TV programs and willingly let Satan attack them? That is not an option. Spend time instead engaging in spiritually edifying activities—especially watching and praying—knowing that even more vicious attacks are coming.