Recently my attention was called to a prediction made in 1928 by the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema concerning the stand of the Christian Reformed Churches on the “movie question,” — currently called the “film arts” question. This prediction was made in an editorial about the showing of the film, “Martin Luther, His Life and Times,” under the auspices of a Christian Reformed Young Men’s Society at that time. The entire editorial contains instruction about drama and the movie which would be well worth repeating today. But for the present I wish to quote the prediction which occurs at the close of the editorial. This is quoted from page 198 of Volume IV of the Standard Bearer:
“I will not emphasize now, that these ‘good movies’ will create a taste for all movies, and that it is not at all impossible, that under the auspices of some Reformed (?) body all shows and theatres will be open unto our young folks.
“Why not? Concede the principle of the theatre and what remains is only a relative matter.
“Presently you may see consistories investigating whether or not a play or movie is good or bad, in order to determine whether or not anyone becomes subject to the discipline of the Church by attending it.
“And within a short time we will see the day, that the whole matter of the theatre and vaudette is dropped, or their frequenting is sanctioned by some Synod. Perhaps some future Synod will pass a resolution that the attendance of theatre and vaudette is not at all a sin, providing we as Christian people strive to make them as good as possible and that we protest whenever something ungodly is presented.
“Such was the final outcome of the Union-question.
“I venture to prophesy that such will be the end of the amusement problem.”
Such was the prediction made thirty-nine years ago.
That prediction has now come true.
For proof of this I offer the following significant statements gleaned from the 1966 decision of the Christian Reformed Synod on “The Church and the Film Arts.” The following quotations are taken from the “Acts of Synod, 1966, of the Christian Reformed Church,” pp. 33, ff. “Because sin entered the world, even the best works of man are defiled with sin, (cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Question 62), but sin is being restrained by God’s common grace.”
“The difference between believers and unbelievers cannot always be detected in the products of their cultural activities, but it becomes evident in their motivation, direction, and purpose. (Romans 1:1-2)”
“Every area of human life is a battlefield between good and evil, where the Christian must learn to discern and to do the will of God. Therefore the Christian must accept and enjoy whatever things are true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely (Philippians 4:8), and he must reject and shun all evil.”
“The Christian must not only abstain from and protest against evil in the world, but he must also call society to the obedience of Christ, thus serving as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. (Matthew 5:13-14)”
“The Christian must make discriminate use of the products of culture, in harmony with the Scriptural principle of Christian liberty.”
The above are a partial quotation of the devious principles adopted concerning the Christian’s relationship to the world. If one analyzes these principles, he can figure out how the following synodical statements concerning the “Film Arts as a Cultural Medium” were adopted. Always one must remember, of course, that the term “film arts” is a euphemism for what is commonly known among us as “the movie.” The latter term has a bad sound; the term “film arts” is supposedly more palatable, probably because it sounds more “cultural.”
But here are the statements, quoted in full:
“1) The film arts as actualized in the cinema and television is a legitimate cultural medium to be used by the Christian in the fulfillment of the cultural mandate.
“2) If our Christian witness is to have relevance and redemptive value in modern society, it is necessary for us to make the meaningful distinction between the film arts as art forms, which are to be judged as legitimate media of culture, and the film arts products, which are in each instance to be subjected to the moral judgment of the Christian community.
“3) Although the film arts as a cultural medium is largely under secular control, its products are no more and no less secular than the products of other media such as the daily newspaper, the radio, or the literature of our western world, and can be used similarly for cultural edification.
“4) Since the film arts is a cultural medium that can be used for good or evil, the products of the film industry must be judged on their merits in the light of Christian standards of excellence.” Translated into simple English and interpreted charitably, this means briefly: “good movies” are okay!
The remaining sections of the decision bear out still more emphatically that the Standard Bearer’s prediction of 1928 has been fulfilled. The section on the “Christian Evaluation of the Film Arts” has the following statements:
“1) In keeping with the directives enunciated above, it is incumbent upon the mature Christian to exercise a responsible personal freedom in the use of the film arts.
“2) Recognizing that the film arts are largely under the control and administration of non-Christian agencies (why not say “ungodly?” H.C.H.), the Christian must exercise a Spirit-guided and enlightened discrimination in the use of the film arts.
“3) The Christian should reject and condemn the message of those film arts products which sanction sin and subvert the Christian interpretation of life. (Ephesians 5:3,11-12)
“4) A Christian may witness a dramatic presentation of the realities of life which portrays a redemptive struggle between good and evil when such a portrayal helps him in his struggle to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21) and thus makes a contribution to a more fully oriented citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
“‘5) Responsible discrimination should also be exercised in the use of the film arts products from broadly Christian sources.”
From the section on “The Cultural Task in the Field of the Film Arts” we quote point 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 represented as a cultural and moral witness to the church and society: for we are ‘the salt of the earth… (and) the light of the world.’ (Matthew 5:13-14)”
Finally, the decision includes some pronouncements about the “Pastoral Task of the Church” in this matter. Of these we quote points 3, 4, and 5:
“3) Those entrusted with the care of the flock must earnestly warn against all movie and television products which portray or promote a philosophy of life and a way of thinking that is contrary to the Christian way of life.
“4) There must be a candid recognition and promotion of such film arts products as are able to meet the test of those Biblical principles and form part of the cultural wealth of our society.
“5) The congregation must be educated in a practical way so that its members may become more qualified to distinguish between good and evil in movies and television programs.”
It will be evident from a perusal of the above synodical pronouncements that, while it required many words for the Synod of the CRC to say it, nevertheless they have said what was predicted thirty-nine years ago, namely, that a future synod will sanction the frequenting of the theater and will pass a resolution that the attendance of the theater is not at all a sin, providing we, as Christian people, strive to make them as good as possible and that we protest whenever something ungodly is presented.
And what, we may ask, is the principle behind this whole decision? What has led to this synodical denial of the absolute antithesis?
The 1966 Synod made that very plain.
It is this: “…sin is being restrained by God’s common grace.”
In other words, here is another fruit in the sphere of the practical life of the church which is a direct result of the fundamentally wrong course chosen by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, when they adopted the Three Points of Common Grace. Following the principle of “common grace” and the “restraint of sin,” the Christian Reformed Church has, in effect, brought an end to the so-called “amusement problem” by getting rid of the problem, not by solving it.
I call attention to this not in order to say, “We told you so….” But I do so, first of all, with a view to warning those who are serious-minded about their Reformed heritage and the Reformed way of life. Let them take note of the fact that the error of 1924 is more and more bearing its evil fruits! And let them take note of the fact that the error of 1924 is indeed a devastating error, not only from the point of view of the Arminianizing tendency of the First Point and the “general, well-meant offer of salvation,” but also from the point of view of the common grace theory of the Three Points and its bearing upon the antithetical calling of God’s people.
At the same time, this may serve as an occasion to warn our own churches, and particularly own young people. In this connection I may conclude by quoting the concluding words of that editorial written in 1928: “But in the meantime I warn our own young folks not to go along with the present tendency. Rather go in the radically opposite direction.”