Drama is a sin that continues to plague the people of God from year to year and from generation to generation. There is more drama in the world today than ever before, and yet less and less it is pointed out and warned against as a sin to be avoided. We have become strangely silent about drama. Perhaps the reason for that is that most of us have in our homes television sets with which we watch drama, and if we condemn drama we condemn ourselves. It seems that we are willing to let the issue of drama die so that our “sacred cow” can live.
Drama is certainly nothing new. In fact, “the story of these dramas goes back at least to 3200 B.C., and the content of the Pyramid Texts seems to indicate that it may be extended as far back as 4000 B.C. As a matter of fact, Herodotus, 5th century B.C. Greek historian, asserts that the Dionysiac festival was transferred from Egypt to Attica, and it is certainly out of this festival that the drama arose in Greece. In any case, whether the drama itself, or merely the festival from which it arose, came from Egypt or was spontaneously recreated by the Greeks, the drama seems to have originated in religious tribal dances such as exist among primitive peoples today. The first crude dramas, whether Egyptian or Greek, told stories and legends of some god, having originated in rites of worship held in the god’s honor.” (Encyc. Americana, 1949 vol. 9, p. 304) From the above quotation we can see that drama has its origin in pagan tribal dances in honor of idol gods. Drama was developed to a high degree in the pagan civilization of the Great Empire of Greece. Drama reached its “golden age” in Greece nearly 500 years before Christ under men such as Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.), Sophocles (c. 496-406 B.C.) and Euripides (485-406 B.C.). After the decline of Greek dominion, drama was revived by. the Romans, “and during the final phase of the Western Roman Empire, which fell in 476 A.D., a vulgar and frequently obscene form of theatrical entertainment called the ‘mime’ became popular.” (Encyc: Am., 1949 vol. 9, p. 306)
Since drama was present and active during the time of Christ and the writing of the Scriptures, one may wonder why the Scriptures are not more explicit in condemnation of this sinful pagan practice. I think that the Scripture stands in sharp condemnation of drama. Paul tells us in I Cor. 1:22 that “the Greeks seek after wisdom.” That wisdom of the Greeks was manifested by their philosophers, poets, dramatists, and polished orators. That wisdom was the wisdom of the world. Paul says in I Cor. 2:1, 4, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Why did Paul take that position? Because God had rejected drama as a means to save His people. The Greeks in their wisdom could have argued that there was no more effective means to convey a message than through drama. But God had a better way. We find in I Cor. 1:21, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
The church through the ages has reprobated drama; but now some churches, think that drama can serve as a legitimate means to convey the truth of God’s Word. Not only are the people of God confronted with drama from the world with its television, movies, and live stage productions, but also in the church and in Christian schools. Churches have offered various pageants, and morality plays. Christian high schools have regularly sponsored dramatic presentations with their class plays. Christian grade schools have also presented various plays and operettas. Parents who send their children to a member school of the National Union Of Christian Schools usually find that they use the “Revelation-Response” Bible Curriculum. This curriculum employs drama as a method of presenting lessons from the Bible.
This situation places us squarely before the question, “Is drama a legitimate means to convey the truth?” If it is, then the main concern of the child of God is to discern between “good drama” and “bad drama.” If the situation is thus, then we ought to have movie and theater reviews in the Standard Bearer, along with a television viewing guide, so that we are enabled to make use of the good and reject the bad: If drama as to its form is permissible, then our main concern is whether or not the content is presented according to the Word of God as interpreted in our Reformed Standards.
To my mind the question of drama stands or falls here. I take the position at this point that drama is per se wrong, and that the question of “good drama” or “bad drama” is irrelevant. Drama is not a proper means of presenting the Truth!
The fundamental error in drama is impersonation. Impersonation is defined as assuming or acting the person or character of another. Impersonation can be distinguished from imitation. To imitate means “to follow as a model, pattern, or example; to copy or endeavor to copy in acts, manner, or other wise.” Imitation is a good and important means of learning to walk in the ways of God’s truth. Children learn by imitating parents, teachers, and their pastor, These in turn must be careful to imitate God so as to be good examples for the children. The Word of God calls us to follow examples of godliness. The word “follow” in the texts cited below means to imitate or mimic. In II Thess. 3:7 we read: “For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you”; In III John 1:11 we read: “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good.” We can see from this that imitation is not per se wrong, but commanded by God and therefore is to be distinguished from impersonation.
Impersonation is the main element in dramatic presentations. For drama to be successful and effective the actor must suppress, as much as possible, his own God-given personality and enter into the thoughts, moods, feelings, and actions of the person he is portraying. The same is true for those watching. They too must “give” themselves, heart, mind, and soul to the drama, if they are going to “go through” the experiences being enacted.
A child of God may not put aside or suppress his own personality which God gave him. Rather he must live honestly before the face of God in thankfulness and obedience, and do that through his own God-given personality. To do otherwise and to impersonate, is fundamentally a lie. A lie cannot be and is not a proper vehicle to present the truth. The end does not justify the means.
God calls us to a life of absolute responsibility before Him so that “all men shall give an account of every idle word they have spoken, which the world only counts amusement and jest.” (Belgic Confession, art. 37). The fact is that by impersonating someone else one does not escape his responsibility before God for the things that he says or does. If a man becomes drunken and goes out and kills another person, is not that person responsible before God for his deed? He certainly is! He is doubly responsible. First for disregarding God’s command concerning drunkenness, and secondly for murder. If a man wants to participate in drama, either by watching or acting, he violates God’s command to be temperate, which carries the meaning from the original Greek of “self-control.” Thayer in his Greek Lexicon defines “temperate” as “The virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites.” Temperance or self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit, is contrasted in Gal. 5 to the works of the flesh. Part of the list of the works of the flesh inGal. 5:21 reads: “envying, murders, drunkenness, reveling and such like.” Secondly, the man who participates in drama becomes partaker in the acts which he portrays and therefore responsible for them. The command of God to His people is to be in control of one’s self at all times; and one does not do that with drama. Drama has an intoxicating influence on a person, and he does not remain in control of his whole being.
Someone may argue that this would hold true for the acting part of drama, but not for the watching part. But we deceive ourselves if we think that we can remain objectively detached from the drama. Say, for example, you walk into the room and your children are watching drama on television. You are annoyed, but you sit down at a distance to judge it. Soon you move in a little closer. Next, you are telling the children to quit talking. Quickly the hour is gone. Drama has a way of moving a person from one mood to another and carrying him along from one emotion to the next until that person is rapt by the drama. That is the intoxicating power of drama. The lie of the devil is that you can handle it; and if you believe that lie he will soon have you eating out of his foul hand.
One may agree at this point that the drama of the world is wrong, but still maintain that drama could be a legitimate means to convey the truth. If we only act out biblical themes, then drama can be used in churches, and in school programs and plays, and in textbooks for covenant children. Or someone may object that little church and school plays are so innocent and harmless that we need not take a hard line with respect to them. The truth is that drama is wrong in any form and that we must flee from it and teach our children to do so from little on.
Would you like to have your child assigned the role of Cain, Esau, Pharaoh, Pilate, Herod, or even of Satan, and be urged to impersonate or even to imitate one of these wicked persons?
One may object that I have chosen the worst examples. Let’s then choose the example of Jesus Christ. Could one—may one—act the life and deeds of the perfect and sinless Son of God? Could one who is a corrupt sinner stand in the place of the Sinless One? Blasphemy! Choose another example. Have a dramatic portrayal of the life of the apostle Paul. He has a dramatic history. Depict him in his murder, blasphemy, and persecution of the church. Then show his sudden dramatic conversion. Then follow his labors as a missionary, filled with moving events. In such a presentation, who would stand on the fore, Paul or our Lord Jesus Christ? You know that the only point and purpose would be to make of Paul some sort of a saintly hero and at bottom to glorify man. Yet Paul himself emphasizes time and again that he is nothing and that Christ is all. Paul has determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and Paul says that he counts all things as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” chides Paul in Gal. 3:3. Drama is a work of the flesh, and the wisdom of the world. Are we now going to use it to be made perfect?
Another objection that is often raised is that there is no difference between reading a dramatic novel and seeing the book enacted. There is, however, a difference. Reading, of course, is not in itself wrong. The Word of God admonishes us to read and study books. With reading it is much easier to maintain the necessary objectivity and self-control. That does not mean, however, that there are no restrictions on what God’s people may read. For example, a child of God may not pick up a trashy and sensuous novel and “give” himself to it without self-control. That would be equally as wrong as drama. Parents must supervise not only what their children read but also how they read. We must control ourselves and imitate the best things.
We must look for and live in the fruits of the Spirit in our own lives. We must not do that in an unnatural or artificial way, which yields no true fruit of the Spirit, but only a make-believe fruit. The point is that our struggle, to live our lives before the face of our God is a serious matter, and not something to be played with. That is true with respect to the acting out the lives of either believers or unbelievers.
In the case of acting out the sins of an unbeliever, one plays sin or plays with sin, and that, of course, we may not do. We must ourselves have a proper biblical view of our own sins first of all. That will lead us to hate sin and flee from it in ourselves and in others. Secondly, the acting out the life of a believer leads one to have an unreal or superficial view of God’s sovereign and gracious work in His people.
We pray “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”; and the Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 52, interprets that to mean that “since we are so weak in ourselves, that we cannot stand a moment; and besides this, since our mortal enemies, the devil, the world, and our own flesh, cease not to assault us: do Thou, therefore, preserve and strengthen us by the power of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may not be overcome in this spiritual warfare; but constantly and strenuously may resist our foes, until at last we obtain a complete victory.” We must recognize our own weaknesses and sin and not attempt to stand in our own strength but pray God for His grace and Holy Spirit to stand against sin and thus to glorify His name.