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Is The Reformation In Favor Of Ungodly Movies? 

It is a moral truth which is inescapable that once one gives himself over to sin, one sinks deeper and deeper into sin’s mire until he is held fast by sin’s chains. God is not mocked. He punishes sin with sin. It is also a moral truth that when a church opens the door, be it ever so slightly, to sin, the result is that the door opens wider and wider as sin rushes into the church and engulfs her. 

I was reminded of this by a recent article which appeared in the Chimes, a student newspaper of Calvin College. Evidently, the Thespians, Calvin’s dramatic club, recently put on a play entitled “The Death of a Salesman.” This play, written by an unbeliever apparently, had a great deal of obscene and blasphemous language in it. Before giving the play, the speech department of Calvin watered down the language so that the obscenities and blasphemies were substituted with other expressions. According to the article in Chimes, this was done on the grounds of “cognitive dissonance” which, roughly translated, apparently means, “the negative reaction that a Calvin audience would have to taboo words” which “would obscure the impact of the play for the typical viewer, rather than amplify the meaning.” 

Chimes reviewer takes a very dim view of this. He writes:

The language used in the recent Thespian production of “Death of a Salesman” was appalling. Appalling not because it was violent, brutal, obscene, or forceful, but rather because it was watered down. . . . 

. . . The speech department chose, through the emasculation of (the) language, to partially emasculate (the main character), and finally, emasculate the play.

Now, maybe this is true. I have no way of telling. Perhaps it could be argued that the obscene and blasphemous language in the play was such an integral part of the play that to take it out and substitute for it “watered down” language, destroyed the play itself. The solution to the problem is, of course, not to render a play which includes this language, but to ban it forever from the College. 

However this may be, the article makes some interesting assertions about the nature of the play and the role which Luther and Calvin played in the Protestant Reformation. The gist of the review seems to be that Calvin and Luther were doing the same thing the play does. The reviewer writes:

Even if cognitive dissonance could have occurred during “Death of a Salesman,” the speech department stands in direct violation of the idealogical roots of the Reformed Protestant tradition when it puts the college’s dramatic offerings through the strainer of agreeability before producing them on-stage. Had Calvin or Luther bowed to a fear of cognitive dissonance between their beliefs and those of the majority of their contemporaries, the Reformation might have been stillborn.

It is true, of course, that Luther and Calvin did not give any regard to any negative reaction to their teachings by their contemporaries, and did not worry unduly about the “impact” of their teachings on the “typical” listener. But this was because of the fact that they bowed with complete submission to the Word of God and were concerned only about faithfulness to His Scriptures. They feared God and were not afraid of the might of Rome, nor of the power of the empire. Would that Calvin College was so interested in faithfulness to the Scriptures. Then it would be understood that Scripture forbids any blasphemy and all unclean speaking. But the reviewer goes on:

It is futile to draw a distinction between Luther’s 95 theses and “Death of a Salesman” because they both stand as powerful statements of God’s truth: Luther’s theses as clear ecclesiastical exposition and Miller’s play as a shattering, tearing expose of man groveling in his weakness before the height of his infinite potentiality. Calvin’s speech department no more has the right to suppress the full truth of (the main character in the play) than did the Roman Catholic Church to persecute Martin Luther.

So this blasphemous and obscene play is comparable to Luther’s theses! And that because Luther wrote concerning indulgences and their evil while the main character in Miller’s play was too weak to attain the height of his infinite potentiality — which, presumably, means that he was too weak to become God. And on that grounds, to cut out blasphemous and obscene language is to persecute those who write such stuff. So Calvin College was persecuting Miller, I guess; and perhaps the audience as well. But there is more:

The most disturbing implication of what the speech department did to “Death of a Salesman”, however, is not that the action portends a regression into Roman Catholicism, but that it points to Calvin’s maddening timidity about confronting itself and the Christian Reformed community with the true fabric of reality, be it unsettling or unassuring . . . .

Now the moral to the story . . . . 

By treating the play this way Calvin College has, according to the reviewer showed that it lacks the courage to confront people in the same predicament as the play’s main character honestly. It has failed to “grapple with them successfully.” And so it has denied itself the possibility of finally coming to love them.

Both Calvin and the Christian Reformed Church need to realize that their only hope of being completely and honestly in touch with God’s reality is to put complete faith in God. Calvin will have to muster the courage to go ahead and challenge the church and the community with “Death of a Salesman” and every art work like it, in their entireties, without fear that our financial magic carpet might suddenly be jerked away. If Calvin keeps telling the CRC and itself only what both want to hear, it will lose all hope of being the uniquely dynamic and inquisitive center of learning it has the potential to be and will finally cease to serve God end the church altogether.

This is what happens when the door is opened to ungodly amusements. It is true that this is only a review by a student and not an expression of general sentiment within the church. But the fact remains that the College and the Church permit this kind of stuff to be published without rebuke and answer. And it is also true that the agitation of today is often, if not always, the ecclesiastical position of tomorrow. This is the way it has gone with the entire question of the film arts. First, attendance at the movie was forbidden; then the controls were relaxed and members were encouraged to attend “good movies” and to develop a distinctively Calvinistic concept of the film arts. But now every movie is reviewed in ecclesiastical periodicals, and often these movies are judged favorably. Now the cry is being made for the showing and acting of movies and plays which are thoroughly evil — and that under the guise of being in harmony with the Reformers. 

Sin is never anything to toy with. It is a cruel monster which brings those who serve her into its dreadful bondage.

Dissent In The Gereformeerde Kerken 

The following article appeared in the latest RES Newsletter:

(Lunteren, the Netherlands) Talk among the “Verontrusten” (The Concerned in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) of conducting separate church services prompted the Synod to deliberate on how to maintain dialogue with them in order to preserve the unity of the church. Sentiment was to go with them the extra mile. However, it was pointed out that if they did start to conduct separate services, it would be difficult to initiate dialogue on the Synodical level because Synod would be obligated to assert the church order which condemns the proposed action. Most of the Synod, however, favored suspending any such formal action and instead called for continuing discussion. The Synod decided to invite The Concerned to meet the moderamen in January. 

The Synod also received an appeal from five ministers asking for an ‘unambiguous rejection’ of five points pertaining to the ‘new theology’: 

1) the view of Scripture that sees God’s Word as a human testimony of a past religious experience; 

2) the theory of evolutionism which attempts to explain the origin of life and men without reference to God’s creative power and which denies the historicity of Adam and Eve; 

3) Dr. H. Wiersenga’s view of redemption; 

4) the political gospel which horizontalizes faith and the Kingdom; 

5) the view of the church which would admit on an equal basis those who adhere to no confession. 

The appeal claimed that anything is better than allowing the churches to continue on their present course of confusion and error.

It might be the best thing that ever happened to the “Verontrusten” if Synod would “assert the church order.” They obviously have no right to do this, for they have violated it with impunity heretofore. But to assert it might force the “Verontrusten” to see that secession is the only solution to the problem of apostasy in the Gereformeerde Kerken.